Hartford Capitol Building, Hartford, CT

Gilding is a decorative technique that adds beauty and protection to any building element by applying fine gold or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, glass or metal, to create a lustrous and grand look. Gilding has been widely used as early as 2300 BC. The term gilding covers several techniques for applying fine gold or powder to solid surfaces to create a finished product that appears to be solid gold, at a fraction of the cost and weight. Gold is resistant to corrosion, which makes it an excellent metal for outdoor and indoor use, adding a protective layer to an otherwise exposed architectural detail. If applied properly and left undisturbed, exterior gilding can last more than 30 years, and interior gilding can last for centuries. The two primary methods of gilding are oil and water gilding, but the latter is not suitable for outdoor details.

Gilded Ceiling Detail, Hartford, Courthouse, CT

The earliest recorded use of gilding is currently estimated to be in Egypt, where it was used in tombs, coffins, sarcophagi and other artifacts. In Rome, gilding was used on ceilings of palaces and temples, which later extended into churches and government buildings in Europe. The gold leaves made today are about 100 times thinner than the ones made in ancient Egypt, but other than that, the technique has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Today, gilding is used in many ways, including domes, ceilings, walls and architectural details. Gold provides a reflective surface that can help lower cooling costs when applied to outdoor roofs (or even windows), and it offers a warm glow when applied to indoor elements.

The gold leaf used in gilding is gold that is hammered or cut into very thin sheets, thinner than standard paper and semi-transparent when held to the light. Two commonly used styles of gold are loose leaf gold and patent gold leaf. The term “loose” refers to the method of packaging, in which the loose gold leaf is packaged between thin papers that have been lightly dusted with rouge powder. Patent gold leaf comes adhered to a backing sheet, or wax paper, and can be applied by holding the protruding edges of the paper.

University of Vermont Ira Allen Chapel Gilding Restoration

Gold leaf is manufactured in a wide range of karats (kt) and can be modified with silver and copper for different colors and architectural themes. Gold is highly resistant to corrosion, which makes it an excellent metal for outdoor use. It provides a protective barrier that extends the service life of the product it is applied to, and it does not tarnish. An outdoor detail will require a 23kt to 23.75kt leaf that ranges from 96% to 98.5% in purity. Karats less than 23 are recommended for indoor use.

The results of this technique create a coating with unmatched perfection and brilliance worth the investment. The reflected light in gold enlivens flat surfaces and creates joy and fascination that will last for decades.

 

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