In high school, I spent my summers wake boarding and tubing with my boyfriend, his little brother, and our friends. We would go out on the lake for the day and have a ridiculous amount of fun until our bodies ached and we were starving to death, or until we ran out of gas for the boat. Then we’d haul everything in and head to Little Caesars for a couple $5 pizzas. We’d take our pizzas and head to the drive in movie theater that is a few miles from the lake. We’d wait in line and try to cover a few people with blankets and such in the car so that we could sneak them in without paying. I loved that drive-in with its old country feel and vintage marquees and flashing lights. We’d find a spot and pull up, sit in the back of the boat or truck or suburban or whatever and chow down, relax, make out a little, and watch the double features in the cool Idaho summer night. Those were some of the best times of my life and I remember those days fondly.
I’ve loved light up marquees ever since then and have been thrilled to see them growing in popularity in the decor and blogging world. Like these awesome light up letters by Restoration Hardware:
My friend Lexi and I (hi LEXI!) were shopping in Old Town Tomball (northwest of Houston) a while back and she completely fell in love with a fleur-de-lis marquee in one of the shops.
Being from New Orleans she came home and hunted one down for a bit cheaper online. Seeing hers on her wall made me absolutely adamant that I somehow create my own DIY Vintage Light-Up Marquee seeing as there was NO WAY I would be able to cough up the nearly $200 PER LETTER payment.
I thought about what I wanted to create and decided on the word “LOVE”. I’m usually not a “love and hearts and rainbows” kinda girl but I decided that it was the best all-encompassing word for what I and my family are all about. I often call my kids “Love” and when asked what I believe in I always say “love”. So, I decided I’d be “love and hearts and rainbows” just this once. Aside from that sentimentality, I also thought it might look cute in photo shoots. Here are some of the inspiring images I found online:
First off I gotta say this project was a MAGNIFICENT PAIN IN THE ass. There was quite a bit of trial and error involved which I hope to spare you all from by giving you tips and a very detailed account of what I found is the best way to make this baby.
Cost: About $75 total. (As opposed to at least $400 had I bought one in a similar size)
– Big wooden letters. I bought mine from Hobby Lobby. They are 18″ tall and priced at $12.99 each. I went in and bought one a day for 4 days each with a 40% off coupon which made them around $7.80 each.
– Globe string lights. I bought mine from Target. They are the brand RE (Room Essentials). I bought 2 packs of 25 lights.
– Locktite Super Glue. I bought 2 bottles and used about 1 and a half bottles for the project. This is important because this glue is heat resistant and bonds very very quickly. (To EVERYTHING. Including your fingers and clothing. I learned the hard way.)
– Hard plastic placemats. I bought mine from Target for $0.98 each. I used about 6.
– A drill and a drill bit that is as large as the size of the widest part of the light casing on the string lights.
– Small nails and a hammer.
– A large board. I used a piece of peg board that is about 2’x49″.
– 2 1″X2″ boards as long as the piece of peg board.
– Duct tape or other strong adhesive tape.
– Black spray paint.
– Silver spray paint.
– Craft paint in the colors of your choice. I used green, brown, and black for my letters.
– Spray paint for the boards in the colors of your choice.
– Foam craft brush.
– Round foam pounce brush.
Okay. So lets go through the process shall we?
1. Gather your supplies. Lay out the boards and letters to get an idea of how you want your end product. I had already painted the peg board and 1×2’s in the photo below.
2. Paint the letters in the color of your choice using a brush or foam craft brush. I used a color that I mixed from apple green, yellow, white, and brown.
3. Squirt a little bit of black and brown craft paint side by side on a dish or paint pallet. I use Dollar Store cupcake tins. Push the round foam pounce brush into the colors and pull it up. You should see that half of the brush is loaded with brown and half is loaded with black. Using a scrap piece of paper, pounce off the excess a few times until the brush is slightly drier.
4. Pounce the brush along the edges of your letters to create a vintagey-distressed look. I also drug the pounce brush along the face of the letters once most of the paint was off the brush (like a dry brushing technique) to give them a more rustic appearance. Alternate between the brown and black sides of the brush to give the edges variations in color and distressing.
5. Measure the plastic placemats into 2″ strips (or whatever you’d like) going longways. Cut out the strips with scissors.
6. Carefully line the strips up against the edges of the letter(s). Mark where the letters bend on the strips with a sharpie and then bend the strips accordingly. This will create the “metal flashing” in the finished product. It is best to bend the plastic now rather than try and bend it after its painted. *TIP* Do the “E” first if you’re creating the word “LOVE”. It will make all the other letters seem easy. Also, keep in mind that you will be lining up several strips around each letter so allow for some overlap that will create “seams” in the end product.
7. Once you have all the strips bent the correct way for each letter (make sure to keep them grouped together with their correct letters), spray paint them black on both sides with primer+paint spray paint. (I used Rustoleum Double Cover).
8. Once both sides of the plastic strips are black and dry, lightly spritz them with silver spray paint. By “spritz” I mean hold the can far from the strips so that little speckles of paint fall onto them instead of a solid stream. Don’t be too concerned about uniformity. This step will transform the plastic strips into faux metal flashing. I use this trick a lot to create faux metal out of plastic.
9. Decide where you need to drill the holes for the light sockets in each letter. This step takes a lot of patience and finagling. Keep in mind how many bulbs you have and plan accordingly. I had 50 bulbs to use over 4 letters. My letters all contain a different number of bulbs (with “E” having the most bulbs because its shape required more details), but the end result uses all 50 bulbs. I would advise marking your drill spots in pencil as you might find you need to erase and re-do this step several times until the amount of bulbs as well as the spacing is right. Also, the most important thing is to make sure the holes are centered on the width of each letter. You and your ruler will be good friends after this step. When you’re finished marking the hole spots, drill the holes. *TIP* MAKE SURE your drill bit is the same size as the largest part of the bulb socket or you won’t be able to fit the socket through the hole. The sockets on my light string had a bigger lip at the opening so thats what I had to gauge my drill bit size off of.
10. Once you’ve drill the holes in the letters and the faux metal flashing is dry, wipe down the letters and get ready to glue and nail the strips to the sides of the letters. I used Loctite Super Glue because it is heat resistant (which is pretty important when there are 50 glowing bulbs nearby) and because it adheres really quickly which is needed since there is no way to clamp the strips to the letters to let them dry (your hands and fingers will be your “clamp” for about 15 seconds). *TIP* This glue means business. Try not to get it on your clothes, hands, or anything that you don’t want to have permanently STUCK. If it does get on your hands (it got all over mine) don’t stress. It will come off after a shower and cleaning a sink full of dirty dishes.
Line your now painted strips up to their accompanying letter and make sure all the bends and curves and seams line up correctly. One strip at a time, in small sections, glue the strips to the sides of the wood letter. I did this by applying the glue to the wood letter’s side and then pressing and holding the strips firmly into place about 5-6″ sections at a time. *TIP* Line the back of the letter up to the edge of the strip. I also used tiny nails and a hammer in a few places to really secure the strips to the sides of the letters. If the strips come up in a few spots (which they might after you’ve been messing with the letters long enough), just squirt some more glue into the crack and press and hold again until dry. Also, make sure to glue the seams of the strips together. This will make it look like old overlapping flashing.
11. Once the faux flashing is securely in place around the edges of the letters, start pushing the empty light sockets through the holes back to front. Keep in mind spacing and where you want the wires to connect to be the least visible. I started at the top of my “L” and then joined the “O” towards the bottom, then the “V” toward the lower middle, then the “E” at the top. The tail of my lights with the plug end came out the bottom far right of my “E”. I planned it this way purposely. Depending on what word and/or letter you are creating, this will vary. Just plan ahead and change things if needs be as you go.
I also used duct tape to tape the wires down to the letters in the back. I’ll have you know though that unfortunately the duct tape didn’t hold well to the raw wood back so I had to glue it down in a few spots with the super glue to keep the wires from being visible from the front of the marquee. Hopefully you can come up with a better solution but if not, the duct tape + glue method worked o.k.
12. If you’d like, assemble the backboard using a piece of painted peg board and 2 1″x2″ boards turned on their sides and painted and nailed into the peg board about a foot or so apart horizontally. I did this so that my letters would float away from the board, creating space for the ends of the sockets and the wires to hide.
13. Arrange the letters onto the backboard. Be sure that the light sockets on each letter are lined up correctly so that the letters can lay flush (with the exception of the taped down wires) to the 1×2’s. This means that when planning your holes, you’ll need to keep in mind that the letters need to each have a space to sit against the boards where there is no socket poking out beneath to keep the letter from laying flat. Confusing? Yeah. I thought so too. I told you this was a pain in the ass project. But totally worth it still right?
14. Once the letters are lined up and flush(-ish) to the 1×2’s, nail them, being SUPER EXTRA careful not to nail where there are wires taped down underneath, to the 1×2’s in various places to secure them to the backboard.
15. Lastly, HANG ‘ER UP and let ‘ER glow! I used 2 Gorilla Hooks to hang it securely on my kitchen wall. The hooks fit right through the pegboard holes.
Someday soon I’ll slipcover the ugly striped settee, but for now Sawyer sure looks cute under my LOVE sign.
So there you have it! I hope that helps make things go a little smoother for you as you try your hand at creating a DIY Vintage Light-Up Marquee. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas! What would you create? A letter or word? Let me know!