Switch it Up

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Show homes are great – always stylish and enviably tidy – but there’s inevitably something that’s missing. You can call it the heart or call it the soul of a room. We sum it up to personalization. A home should have something about it that makes it distinctively yours. Whether that’s wallpaper, paint or vinyl graphics, antique furniture or worn looking shelves filled with eclectic items, personal features reveal glimpses into the life and times of an owner and their interests.

But you already know that.

So today, we’re going to focus on something you may not have given a lot of thought to: the humble light switch plate. You know, the simple, oft over-looked piece of plastic that adorns every switch and electrical outlet in the house. With their narrow colour palette, ranging from white to off-white, light switch and electrical outlet plates are, lets face it, dull. So what can you do about it? Of course there are some beautiful custom plates in specialty stores. Or, you can simply do it yourself. The Pear Tree decided to do just that.

Let’s take a look at a couple of simple techniques you can do right at home to give your walls a splash of creative style.

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Materials:
* Light or electrical outlet frames.
* Scrap wrapping paper, magazines, photos printed on paper.
* Bits and bobs (buttons, tiny toys, anything).
* White glue
* Gesso (or any spray primer)
* Acrylic paints
* Paint brushes
* Matte or gloss finish

Embossed look

An easy way to add a little bit of character to a room while keeping with the colour scheme or theme: attach objects to the frame and paint them using a simple but effective wet and dry technique.

First, glue your items to the face of the switch plate. In this example, we used two stylized child buttons (remove the fastener from the back first).

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Next, prime the frame so it can be painted. A proper spray primer is best (available at any hobby or craft store), but you can also use several thin coats of gesso, like we did.

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After the base colour is completely dry, add a wash. Dilute your darkest colour with water, and wash the entire piece. Don’t worry about bubbles or streaks –
the idea is to flood the grooves and cracks of the surface to bring out the details. Let it dry completely, and repeat if you want a darker look.

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Now, take the third and lightest colour for drybrushing. Drybrushing is a technique where you apply paint on the brush, but then wipe off as much as possible so there doesn’t seem to be any on the bristles (but there really is). Immediately brush over the detailed area. Any raised areas will pick up the paint, highlighting them. Don’t apply too much pressure, as you don’t want to paint in the grooves and cracks, where the wash is. It takes a little practice, but you will soon get the hang of it. The result is an efficient method that brings out all the little details of the objects and brush strokes. The more passes you make over an area, the more paint will be applied to it and the brighter it will become.

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In another example of this technique, we used some grass that was going to seed, from the backyard. It was perfect for a more natural theme.

The Wrap

If painting is not your thing, then there is always the wrapped look. A quick and easy method, you can use just about anything from wrapping paper to magazine clippings, to your own digital photos. It is recommended, if you are using your own photos, to make sure you have them printed on a laser printer. Inks from many common ink jet printers tend to run when you use the matte or gloss finish on them.

Roughly cut out your paper, just slightly larger than the size of the plate. Take a generous helping of gloss or matte finish, and cover the entire face of the plate. Place your paper work on top, and rub gently to smooth out any bubbles.

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Turn the plate over and cut off the corner – but not too close to the plate. Apply gloss or matte finish to the top and bottom flaps, and fold into the back. Apply more on top and brush to smooth. The gloss or matte finish is a great medium for this, as it acts as the adhesive and makes the paper more pliable to work with and fold. Repeat this step on the sides, folding the corners like you would when wrapping a present. Let dry.

Once dry, apply a coat or two over the entire face of the plate. This will give the piece a matte or gloss finish, depending on your preference, while protecting it from wear and tear when used.

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Whether embossing or wrapping, these samples are only the beginning. There are countless things you can do with a simple switch plate, from painting a scene or using tiles for a miniature mosaic. The point is to be creative, have fun, and enjoy the finished product every time you flip that switch or plug in the kettle for tea. And don’t forget to appreciate that it’s uniquely your own.

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– Story and photos by Kyle L. Poirier

Give Away

Like the idea of decorated light switch plates but don’t feel like shopping for gesso? Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered into a draw for one of the four plates pictured above. Four names will be randomly chosen and announced Thursday morning, 27 May.

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Update: May 27, 2010

With five people commenting on four give-aways, we couldn’t very well leave one person out… so we’re pronouncing everyone a winner!

Congratulations Michele, Kelly, Jayne, Risti and Darcie! We’ll be in touch shortly.

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6 Comments

  1. I would love to win the grass one – good work on those!

  2. Great idea. I am inspired and now have another item on my to do list. In the mean time, I wouldn’t mind winning one.

  3. Wow! I am inspired!I want my whole house to have the green tree ones. Do you take orders???

  4. I don’t have those kind of light switches, but wish I did so I could have some cool switch plates!

  5. I’ve always been smitten with the showhome look. Maybe because all that tidy decorating makes it look inviolable to everyday dust and clutter. But personal signatures (besides laundry in various states) do make that house a home. These are charming as can be 😀

  6. ps. I’ve already chosen a place for the orange plug plate!

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