With paint in colors of red, black and gold and a stencil, you can take a plain wood or paper mache box and make it look like a souvenir relic found in the dusty corners of an antique shop in Shanghai. Global wares, give endless inspiration for unique DIYs! I thought it would be an interesting challenge to take a plain cardboard color box and turn it into an opulent red Chinese-inspired keepsake DIY stenciled box. Is it possible? Let’s see…
Chinese furniture, trunks and boxes have traditionally been covered with many layers (sometimes hundreds!) of lacquer that is colored with cinnabar and carbon to make the lacquer red and black. Lacquer dries to a hard, natural waterproof finish that protects the wood underneath. Then sometimes gold motifs, like dragons, plants and various birds and flowers, are painted on with each possessing its own unique Chinese symbolism to paint a visual story.
To make a stenciled box with this antique Chinese look, here are the supplies you will need:
- Wood or paper mache box from a craft store – I used the largest box from the Darice Paper Mache 3-Box Set found at Michaels
- Small Oriental Brocade Stencil Chinese Stencil from Royal Design Studio
- Chalk Paint® decorative paint in Emperor’s Silk
- Annie Sloan Soft Clear Wax and Dark Wax
- Royal Stencil Creme Paints in Flat Black, Antique Gold and Smoked Oyster
- Stencil Brush
- Chinese brass hardware found on eBay
- Paint Brush, Soft Rag, Painter’s Tape
You can quickly transform a plain box into a red lacquered look with a few steps:
Paint your box with two coats of Annie Sloan Emperor’s Silk Chalk Paint. Let it dry between coats.
Now pull out a Chinese stencil of your choice. Royal Design Studio has a Chinese Stencil Collection that you can choose from. I used the Small Oriental Brocade.
You can stencil a design on the top of the box as I did, or you can choose to stencil the sides, or both! I chose to box my stencil inside a black border, so I taped off an area for the stencil.
Wherever you want your design, stencil it with Flat Black Stencil Creme. Then, put the Chinese stencil back over the black pattern you just painted. Scoot the stencil up and over to the left or the right just a tiny bit, about 1/8″.
Now stencil again with the Antique Gold Stencil Creme. You can even paint the gold a bit unevenly as if gold paint was rubbed off over time, as might happen to antiques. You will be covering much of the black pattern, and when you’re finished painting with gold, just a shadow of the black pattern should peek out around some edges of the gold pattern. Finally, to add a little dimension to the gold, I very lightly streaked some Smoked Oyster Stencil Creme with long straight strokes of a stencil brush across the entire stencil.
Then I moved the painter’s tape to create a guide for a border around the stencil pattern. I painted the border with the Flat Black Stencil Creme.
After the Stencil Creme Paint is dry, apply a coat of Annie Sloan clear soft wax with a wax brush or soft rag. Let the wax dry and then buff it with a soft rag until the surface shines a bit.
As the last step, apply darker antique wax over the entire box including the stencil designs, unevenly so there is more color around corners and edges where an old-looking patina would naturally develop on antiques. You can even add some intentional streaks. You can add multiple coats of wax to control how antiqued the box looks.
The really distinctive part of Chinese furniture is the brass hardware. You probably won’t find this hardware in most craft and hobby stores. I found it on eBay from a seller that’s very conveniently called Chinese Brass Hardware. You will find that they have many styles and shapes of pulls, handles and latches. Some of their hardware is very large for tall cabinets and other hardware is small and perfectly sized for tabletop boxes like today’s DIY project. So one note of caution is, it’s hard to tell the actual size from the photos, so make sure you check the seller’s description of the sizes. I chose a piece that’s about 3″ tall and 4″ wide, with a “mushroom” style latch closure. The top half of the latch closure is about 1″ tall and it fit fine on the edge of my box top. This shop ships your hardware with all the brass nails and pins that you’ll need to install the hardware, and installation instructions are on their eBay product listings. I found with a paper mache box, I could just push the nails through with my fingers, then bent them on the inside of the box with pliers.
The combination of the Chinese style hardware, the red Emperor’s Silk Chalk Paint with its shiny waxed finish, and the gold stencil makes it look like you really traveled to Shanghai and brought back a souvenir!
You might be noticing that the finished box is sitting on a pretty black and gold reverse stenciled table top. You can find the process for reverse gilding on glass right here!