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Incorporating Gold Into Interiors

“Every room should have some gold in it. It reflects light, and to me it’s not formal. To me, it’s happy.”

In the realm of decorative arts and furniture design, few elements exude opulence and elegance quite like gilding. A practice that dates back centuries, gilding has adorned everything from intricate picture frames to the grandest pieces of furniture.

Shabti and Coffin of the King’s Son Wahneferhotep, Middle Kingdom, ca. 1981–1640 B.C. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The origins of gilding can be traced to ancient civilizations, where gold leaf was applied to statues, religious artifacts, and tombs. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were early enthusiasts of this art form, recognizing the transformative power of gold in elevating the aesthetic appeal of their creations. As civilizations flourished and waned, the tradition of gilding persisted, the torch always passed to a subsequent generations of artisans.

A gilded manuscript cutting from a choir book, Germany, 15th century. From the Victoria & Albert Museum collection. Gold was associated with the divine, and gilding was used to symbolize the sacred nature of the text.

In the medieval era, gilding found new expression in illuminated manuscripts and altarpieces. Monasteries and workshops became hubs of gilded craftsmanship, with skilled artisans employing gold leaf to embellish religious texts and sacred spaces. The radiant glow of gilded surfaces became synonymous with the divine, symbolizing the heavenly radiance that filtered through medieval religious art.

In a bedroom designed by Williams Lawrence, a large 18th-century Italian mirror hangs against striped cotton walls above a silver gilt mid-century commode. Photo by Fritz von der Schulenburg.

The Renaissance marked a zenith for gilding as artists and craftsmen elevated its application to new levels of sophistication. Furniture of the era, adorned with intricate gold leaf patterns and motifs, became a status symbol for the European elite. The luxurious appeal of gilded pieces transformed palaces and salons into displays of wealth and cultural refinement.

Settee (one of a pair), Attributed to Johann Michael Bauer, ca. 1763–64. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As the Baroque era unfolded, gilding took center stage in the world of decorative arts. Elaborate mirrors, ornate furniture, and intricate frames became canvases for the exuberant use of gold leaf. Baroque artists embraced the drama of gilding, creating pieces that reflected the grandeur and opulence of the era’s cultural and social milieu.

An 18th-century Italian gilded table with a base of carved dolphins wrapped around palm trees. From a Williams Lawrence project in Palm Beach. Photo by Francesco Lagnese.

The 19th century witnessed a revival of gilding, spurred by the Gothic Revival and Rococo Revival movements. The allure of gold leaf persisted, adorning the furnishings of Victorian parlors and the frames of burgeoning art collections. In the 20th and 21st centuries, gilding has continued to evolve, blending seamlessly with diverse design styles and finding a place in contemporary interiors.

Bunny is a believer in incorporating a bit of gold into every room–and in disproving the conception that gilded finishes can only be used in a formal context. Though innately opulent, gilded furniture or wall decor can be more approachable when mixed with other finishes or more stark surroundings.

Our best-selling Hourglass Table comes with either a silver or gold gilded base made of reeded wood. Photo by Reid Rolls.

In the Bunny Williams Home collection, some of our most popular pieces feature a gilded finish, achieved by either applying gold leaf or gold paint to wood or metal. Traditionally, during the gilding process, gold leaf is applied over a base layer of gesso, which provides a smooth and stable base for the application of the metal leaf.

A close up view of the base of our Hourglass Table.

An antiqued effect can be achieved by applying gold leaf on top of a layer of bole, which typically has a reddish tint, and then slightly distressing it so the bole shows through, as is done on the base of our popular Hourglass Table.

A new introduction, our Giselle Console combines a masterfully carved, painted gilded base with a dark marble top, perfect for using as a bar or serving table in a dining room. Set against dark walls and a simple painted floor, it feels grand but approachable.

Our Bailey Side Table mimics the technique of hammered metal, but is in fact crafted from painted gilded wood. A gold shelf acts as a surface to display objects which, when viewing through the glass top, are framed like a still life.

Our Reverse Regency Mirror is a long-time best seller. The gold leaf finish highlights the mirror’s hand-carved scale pattern. 

As we traverse the annals of history, the story of gilding emerges as a shimmering thread woven through the fabric of decorative arts. From ancient civilizations to the present day, gilding has remained an enduring symbol of refinement. Whether gracing the halls of palaces or the living rooms of modern homes, gold continues to captivate with its brilliance and enduring allure.

Posted to Collection on December 19, 2023

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