Keyed Up

By Kate Riley October 7, 2009

I almost fell over backwards when I saw this key art all over Restoration Hardware’s latest catalog spread.  How cool are these keys so beautifully framed? 


What’s not cool (at least to me) is the price.  At $199 dollars each for an 18 x 18 inch square, I had to choke a bit.  You see, a few months ago I purchased some of these same skeleton keys for $2 dollars each at my favorite local salvage warehouse.  I plan on featuring them in my ‘Home for the Holidays’ Etsy shop – coming later this month.  I always thought they’d be so beautiful framed in a collection.  So I laughed when I saw Restoration Hardware’s images. 

rh desk with keys

Images via Restoration Hardware

A few days ago, I was doing some discount DIY framing, working on a photograph for my master bedroom.  One of the other projects I finished was my own miniature version of framed skeleton key art. 

key art from side 

These were so easy to make.  The most difficult part is finding the right key.  Luckily, I had my own stash. 

First, I gathered up some discount frames, some textured wallpaper (from a treatment I’ll be doing in my family room), some keys, hot glue, some champagne colored craft paint, and some balsam wood trim (available at any craft store)

key art supplies

I purposefully purchased frames that had extra room in between the glass and the rear of the frame to allow for the depth of the keys. 

extra space frames 

I cut my textured wallpaper and adhered it to the back of my frame with some spray adhesive. 

trim wallpaper

Then I painted the balsam wood with the craft paint in the champagne color, and trimmed it with a steak knife to form a frame. 

cut with knife

I glued the frame and the keys to my textured wallpaper with hot glue.

hot glue keys

hot glue frame and keys

I stuck them all in my black frame behind the glass, and now I have my own key art.

cg key art

These smaller versions cost about $11 each.  But even if I had done this on a larger scale, with a larger frame, it would still be far cheaper than you know who. 

These keys are really interesting up close.  They’re all so unique and different.

keys up close

Don’t you just love reminders like this of our past ?  I do.

key art from side

These two are going to go somewhere in the medley of art I still have to display in my living room.  I’ve just picked up this mid-century sideboard from the local St. Vincent de Paul thrift for $50 dollars.  It was originally $100 dollars, but I was lucky to be there on 50% off furniture day. 

$50 dollars for this piece !  It’s solid wood American of Martinsville, and I have no idea what it’s worth.  I’d say more than $50 dollars.  And I am not sure what I’m going to do with it as far as the finish.  I will likely replace the hardware.  Should I stain it darker?  Maybe.  Paint it?  Probably not.  Leave it alone?  Perhaps. 

I’m going to sew a silk fabric runner for the top and then eventually get around to hanging some art above it. 

antique sideboard

The wood detail and paneling is traditional, but still fabulous.  This will certainly come in handy during the holidays when we entertain.  Plus, it’s one more project for me to think about. 

Next, I’ll show you my DIY framing in the master bedroom  and give you the grand tour.  I’ve never shown you the master bedroom.  It’s time.  Stay tuned. 


  1. Wow the framed keys are beautiful. Who would think to frame old keys. Well done. I would definitely pay $11 dollars for one over $199. Great find on the sideboard.. You definitely lucked out on that one. It’s so gorgeous.

  2. You did a great job. I just got the new magazine in the mail and it is ALL wonderful and ALL expensive. Beautiful though. Can you believe charging $200 for that?

  3. I don’t know what happened to my comment so I am posting again. I think you did a great job on the keys. I love the new magazine that came in the mail. All of it is beautiful but can you imagine asking $200 for that?

  4. I am so amazed at how much they want for such simple things… I always try to find ways to make it myself… Yours turned out so pretty…


  5. You never cease to amaze me!!! Of course YOU were doing THE SAME THING that RH was doing before they even published it. And, your mid-century modern piece is fabulous. Can you tell me what the 3rd pull is for? ( I noticed 3 pulls side-by-side–is it decorative or functional?

    I have another question for you. I really would appreciate your decorative advice on this. Last weekend I went to the Warrenton-RoundTop Antique Fair in south central Texas. (A-ma-zing!!!!)
    One of my purchases was a set of rusty Art-Deco bookends that is approx. 7inches tall and 4 3/4 inches wide. I would really like to know what you would do to the finish on these?

    Thank you in advance for your advice & please keep on doing this wonderful blog,
    Pat B.

  6. wow, all of your projects have inspired me to start looking at catalogs as inspiration for projects rather than places to shop.

    I have to say though, i like the way the keys look against the newspaper more than the white background, it gives it it more of a vintage-y, hidden secret vibe.

  7. Super cute. Love the keys. I can’t imagine paying $199 for those – plus yours are original and one of a kind!

  8. OMG…If you look at the comments from the day you posted those keys…I totally wanted to buy the keys and do this with them!!! Now I want to even more!!!

  9. I love this key idea! So great and you did such a great job framing them! I’ve seen a similar idea that was really cute where this couple framed a key from every house they had lived in.

  10. Loving it! The new sideboard is beautiful. I wish I had the knack to pull everything together like you do….I lack that talent…sigh

  11. I love keys… They are such a mystery! I am looking forward to redoing my own master bedroom when we move back to the States in a few months. New furniture, the works! Can’t wait to see yours!

  12. oh wow, $200, for that! just goes to show that if they don’t think they have competition, then they think they can charge anything, or maybe they just don’t want to sell any!

  13. You have the most amazing furniture thrift store finds! My local thrift store is good for everything but furniture. They’re furniture is way overpriced, well into the $100-$250 range in not very good condition and no 50% off days!

    I’m jealous. I actually remember shopping at St Vincent De Paul’s as a child. I didn’t know they were still around. (I grew up in Oakland and my parents still live there.)

    I can’t wait to see what you do with it.

  14. Oh Wow! $50 for the sideboard! What a fantastic find! You’re one lucky gal ;)
    Also, I love the idea of the skeleton keys. Thanks for the inspiration.

  15. LOVE LOVE that piece- I would not do a thing to it-except lilke you said -the hardware. WOW what a deal. I found a buffet a few weeks back at a garage sale for $40-its not as fancy as yours but I am sooo at a loss as to what to do with it. stain it? paint it? leave it? I may email you a pic of it for your opinion if thats ok.


  16. Great ideas and I can’t get over the price of that piece of furniture! Jeez…even $100 would be a steal! Thanks for the inspiration! My friend Sandy introduced me to your blog and I’ll be forever grateful!

  17. What a great piece. I am on the lookout for something the exact size. I want to use it as
    a vanity in my masterbath and put two sinks in it. I have to go to the nearest thrift stores and
    start looking.

  18. oh my word!!! that sideboard is absolutely fabulous…i think i might venture your way just to shop at your thrift stores…you can’t find much in mine (i live in southern california)….i would definitely leave it that stain…but some new hardware would look fab…
    great key project…rh is way overpriced…your version is much more attractive

  19. $199??? That is just the craziest thing. Who would pay that? I remember when Pottery Barn had framed initials a few years ago. Basicly, printed out initials in a black frame for something like $30…$5 or less when made at home. I like your framed keys much better than the Restoration Hardware ones!

  20. No, don’t stain it. It looks beautiful just the way it is.I even love the hardware. It has character.

  21. These are FABULOUS!!
    Thanks for my welcome to WP :) It’s been a crazy switch and we’re trying to work out all the glitches, but I lost all my subscribers in the process and I am still mourning that. Starting that all over is making me sick, but oh well…Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I guess I ‘ll just have to build it again. :)

  22. This is so funny. I have the exact same idea too. I’m going to frame the skeleton keys and hang them in my dining room. I love Restoration Hardware, but not enough to pay $199 either. I have some skeleton keys that I found in my great grandmothers basement. So I think I’m going to use those.

  23. Love the key art work. So cute. The side board is to die for! I love the grandeur of it! I would personally leave the wood finish as it is- and no I am not one of those people afraid to paint wood. I love to paint and stain but that is already gorgeous! New hardware would be perfect. Great find and can’t wait to see what you do next!

  24. You read my mind! I’ve been wanting skeleton keys for this exact purpose (and to make earrings out of – saw it in a music video once) but I haven’t had any luck in finding them at around here. Yours are absolutely gorgeous. Now if I could only find some keys for myself…

  25. I love that! I think it’s funny what some of “those” stores try to sell stuff for and how easy it is to make yourself. Your versions are beautiful and look great on the sideboard. I had never heard of such a thing until about five years ago and now I really want one—just not sure I have the space! I say, if you want to know, change the hardware but don’t paint it! If anything maybe give it a pretty stain color a tad bit darker so it stands out from your wooden floors and isn’t so close in color? Maybe? I don’t know, just a thought!

  26. Well done. Love the look. Not sure how you find time to treasure hunt, do the projects, blog, enter contests? If you are on drugs…please pass along a prescription…I want some:) Holly at

  27. Your framed keys turned out beautifully. I bought a set of framed keys (3 matted frames with lovely old keys) for less than $40 for my brother and sis-in-law several years ago. AND, they are prettier than the RH ones. He loved them and they are hanging in his oh-so-perfectly decorated home.

    I also LOVE that piece of furniture. Wow! It is so solid and the detailing is beautiful. Yep, I am certain it is worth far more than you paid for it. I can’t wait to see what you do with it and how you use it and decorate it.

  28. I bought a bag of small keys and locks at a garage sale not too long ago. I was going to either frame them or make some sort of Tiffany inspired necklace out of them. Thanks for the inspiration to get going with this.

  29. As usual, I like your version better than “the other guy’s.” I like the way you arranged the keys, and the extra frame inside is genius.

    We have a St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop not too far down the road. I don’t get in very often b/c it’s sort of hard with a 3 1/2 year old and a 1 1/2 year old, but they do have some great buys.

    Your sideboard must be the steal of the century…amazing! I’d love to see what you come up with for new hardware. You could leave the stain as is for now to see if it grows on you. I agree that you’ll be lucky come holiday time. :)

    Thanks for the visit today! :)

  30. What a wonderful post. I’ve seen those keys in the RH catalog, and I’ve heard other bloggers talk about framing keys. . . you actually show us how you did it. Thank you.

    On top of that, you show us your wonderful furniture find (congratulations on a wonderful deal!), which prompts me to find out if there are special discount days at my thrift store.

    And to crown it all, you used the word “purposefully” instead of saying “purposely.” Thank you for that. I do so love to hear our language used correctly. :)

  31. That turned out so cool!

    I just realized that I haven’t been getting your updates through Google. I just fixed it, so hopefully I won’t miss out on anything else :)

  32. Well now I know what I can do with some of the two BAGS of old keys my husband got on Ebay, when we were searching for a key to open an old breakfront we’d bought from an old east side Manhattan apartment. The framed keys look terrific! I really like the tip for using the Balsa wood to give the needed depth under the glass.

    As for the sideboard, that is an excellent buy. These older pieces are so well made — dust boards between drawers, real wood, dovetailed and not stapled drawers. . . . they will last long enough to become antiques!

    I rarely find furniture bargains at thrift shops, but Craigslist? I couldn’t furnish a house without it now! Lovely blog, too — I wandered over from Houzz!

  33. Amazing! What a steal that was!!
    And I love what you did with the keys.
    I got a set of old keys at a yard sale this summer – I paid about $2 for 7 of them and the man who sold them told me it made him sick to see them go for that price as he’d paid close to $100 for them… not sure what they are! But I had been planning on using them in my sons room with a pirate theme, and now I am not doing pirates in there any more.

    They are super chunky/big keys but I am going to see if I can create something similar to this for our living room maybe. Thanks for the inspiration!

  34. What a great idea. I love old keys, they remind me of visiting my father when I was little. He lived in an old house with a skeleton key in every door, except for the one I lost :)

  35. Hi Kate, where actually I can get the balsam wood ? Which craft store ? Do Michael has it ? I need to frame an object and I was happy for the idea to use balsam wood as fillet ; a small frame is quite expensive..?? Your infor is highly appreciated…!!

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