Mirror, mirror on the wall

Someone in a forum I follow recently asked about painting a mirror so the dark wood around the frame doesn’t reflect once you’ve changed the color of the frame.

If you stop to think about it, it really is tricky. It’s impossible to get a paint brush between the mirror and frame and most first-time painters wouldn’t even think about this until they were done. That was my first ah-ha moment anyways.


I had finished cleaning and painting this beautiful vintage shadow box mirror only to see the ugly brown wood where the frame hits the mirror. I couldn’t live with that. My only option was to remove the backing. Lots of work and you really need to be careful not to break the mirror.

This is a mirror I recently worked on. Probably early American style from the 70s or 80s.

mirror with photo bomb doggie

Here’s the steps I now use when painting mirrors. First I remove the backing carefully if there is one.


A lot of times you’ll find vintage mirrors and the backing is gone. Reserve all your nails, screws, supports, etc. in a small cup or container to reuse.

You’ll want to scrub it down really good. Sometimes these have been stored in damp basements, barns and musty sheds. After scrubbing and rinsing then give it a quick scuff sanding with a fine grit sandpaper and clean again.


Next up is the painting. I usually give the mirrors at least two coats of good paint allowing overnight dry time in between. Be sure to paint that inside rim and backing as well for a fresh new look. That inside rim is so important because that reflects back onto the mirror and is visible once assembled. So paint it well and neatly. I tend to seal my painted mirrors with a coat of clear or dark wax depending on the look I’m going for.

backside painted

After thoroughly dry, it’s time reassemble. I use all the parts that came with it originally if they’re in good, solid shape. At times you may need to add some cardboard to hold the frame tightly against the back or cut a totally new backing. I use luan for this. It’s fairly thin and pretty affordable and easy to cut. I trace the pattern onto the luan and cut either larger or smaller depending on if I traced the outside or inside of the mirror frame.

Be careful assembling, especially if you are screwing or nailing into the backing, so you don’t hit the mirror. The truly old mirrors could be a quarter inch thick and more. They weigh a ton and shatter everywhere if broken. Safety goggles is a good idea when working with the glass portions. Also make sure if you’re using new hanging wire that it is strong enough for the load.  These vintage mirrors can be beautiful once painted and cared for and look great hanging in our homes today. The dark teal mirror is available in our Salvaged Wildflowers’ booth at The Vintage Farm House in Holly. Good luck on your next mirror project!

Here’s the finished projects (sorry, the shadow box mirror is sold).

For more tips on things around your home, painting, transfers, etc. check out our groups’ Designing Dames Facebook page. I’m with three other talented women – all small business owners – and we’re offering tips and techniques on a variety of subjects.

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