I’m so very excited to introduce Treasure Hunting, a new monthly column for DIY Wednesdays. If you’re like me, you can often be found browsing the aisles of thrift shops, scouring the tables at flea markets or haggling over prices at yard sales. Sometimes you inherit a random item unexpectedly, or perhaps you walk past give-away piles on the street and feel an involuntary cringe over the wasted possibilities. This column stems from those experiences and from a love of objects and their formal properties.
I’m not advocating aggressive hoarding habits by any means, but there are some seemingly mundane, disposable, obsolete objects in the world that are not entirely without merit. Treasure Hunting will take these objects and find a way to make them wonderful again, through their visual impact as a collection or their value as a new and improved functional or decorative item.
The first post is about old keys. The key is a pretty standard tool that we all own, but as a design object, it’s spectacular. The possibilities for using keys in interesting and beautiful ways are endless, so forgive the length of this initial post; they won’t all be this lengthy, I promise. I hope you enjoy the new column and stay tuned for all the treasures yet to come! — Kate
Image above: A collection of keys from JeepersKeepers
CLICK HERE for the full post on old keys after the jump!
Nothing combines form and function quite like a key. Their beautifully peculiar notches and curves are not just for decoration; the shapes are dictated by the maze of gates inside their corresponding door lock. Maybe if I studied locksmithing a bit, the process would be demystified but as it stands now, keys are magical. They certainly look magical. With a humble purpose, low price point and everyday availability, keys are an untapped resource for creating a captivating home display.
This style of loosely composed objects as wall décor seems so effortlessly chic to me. I love how it catches the eye, and then allows it to wander off the composition. The beauty is not only in the overall visual impact of the varied shapes and sizes. It’s also in the details you can only see close up, the intricacies and history behind each rusted or labeled key. Another benefit to this display is that you can add to it as time goes on, enriching it with an ongoing collection of pieces found here and there.
How to Get the Look
1. A successful composition can be loose and organically shaped, or rigid and linear. First, measure the size of the wall space you have.
2. Tape off the dimension on the floor so you can roughly plan out a composition to see if it works and to give you an idea of the spacing you need.
3. Begin hanging the keys on the wall using a hammer and small picture-hanging nails or brads. These will cause minimal damage and allow you to make a few adjustments without causing any eyesores in your wall.
4. If you have trouble finding varied sizes or shapes of keys, consider drawing silhouettes of keys onto decorative paper, fabric or wood veneer and add them into the mix. The combination of 2D and 3D objects can be quite striking if there is a common shape that keeps them unified.
Framed Key Art
Sometimes quantity in a collection is unnecessary. I love the look of a single object or group of objects hovering in a frame. The focus given to a seemingly mundane object once it’s framed is mysterious and visually quite interesting. Placing a small collection of keys in to a framed wall piece is a quick and easy way to display the objects.
How to Get the Look
1. Find a frame or frames that will fit your key collection. If you want to have glass in the frame, you will need to use a shadow box or a frame deep enough to fit your keys. Paint or treat the frame if necessary.
2. Use a piece of cardboard, foam core or wood as the backing for your piece. Cut it to size, so it will fit perfectly within your frame.
3. Cover the backing with paper, linen or a fabric of your choice. Use spray adhesive to attach the paper or fabric to the backing.
4. Use small nails or tacks to hang the keys in place. If your keys are lightweight, you can choose to use a small dab of hot glue at the top of the back of the key to permanently set the keys in place. Remove any loose glue threads by blowing on them for a few seconds with a hairdryer.
5. Carefully place your keys in the frame and replace the backing or glass, and it’s ready to hang!
Keys are like little mysteries unto themselves, which is why they can be charming just on their own to give as present or wear as an accessory. You can personalize a plain key with paint, gold leaf, decoupage and other craft techniques, or you can simply use a beautiful antique key on its own — either way, keys are little treasures that make the perfect objet d’art.
How to Get the Look
1. You can fake the look of these beautiful cast porcelain keys by dipping real keys into plaster-of-Paris or thick white paint. First, bend a few paper clips open and hang them on a string to make drying hooks, and place a layer of newspaper or paper towel underneath the drying station.
2. Mix up the plaster-of-Paris or paint in a small bucket, ensuring you have enough liquid in the bucket to submerge the entire key. Give the key several coats, allowing it to dry between each coat. This will help achieve that thick, made-of-clay appearance.
3. Attach the key with a pretty ribbon to a gift, or string the key on a chain to create a lovely pendant.
Now that you’ve discovered several ways to use a collection of keys, it’s time to go hunting . . .
Where to Look
1. eBay — On any given day, there will be at least 50 auctions for antique or old keys happening on eBay. It’s probably your best resource for finding keys in a short time line, plus it allows you to compare many collections at once and pick the one you like best. Some great search terms are: antique key lot, old key lot, skeleton key lot, or just plain keys, old keys, antique keys, etc. People who label their items “antique” vs. “old” usually view the objects as more valuable and price them that way. I like to start with “old” because you find some undiscovered gems hiding in there sometimes.
2. Flea markets and yard sales — These can be hit or miss whenever you’re looking for something specific, but they will usually have the best deals. If you frequent the same flea markets and see the same vendors every time, you can mention that you’re in search of keys. Usually these vendors have the time and resources to do a lot more searching then you do. If you mention what you want and you’re willing to pay a little extra (within reason), this can be a great connection.
3. Etsy —The vintage selection on Etsy is much more selective and curated than that available on eBay. As a result, you’ll find far fewer items, but you can pretty much guarantee they will be quality specimens. However, this curatorial aspect coupled with the straight sale format (as opposed to eBay’s auction style) means higher costs. Etsy would be a good option for someone looking for one or two special items, and I would check here only if eBay and flea markets have failed to provide any treasures.
4. Hardware stores — If you are going for a more modern look or need a large mass of keys to complete your display, you should consider adding standard keys into the mix. Hardware stores often have tons of mistake keys that would normally go to the trash. If you plead the case for art, some of the managers might soften to you and let you have them instead. Anything for art!
You can use these resources to hunt for keys of all shapes, sizes and eras. Once you’re on the lookout, you’ll start to see them everywhere. While antique keys are a more valued find, don’t spend over a few dollars for a large antique key unless you’re determined to have it. Depending on the size, try to pay around 50 cents to a dollar per key, especially if you want to amass a large collection. Like I said, consider adding handmade paper keys into the mix, as well; be creative and experiment with what you have.