Salvaged window shadowbox - after

Salvaged window - before

Why anyone would paint over window panes is beyond me. But that’s exactly what someone did to this window that I bought at a salvage yard for $20. It took a couple hours to scrape away all the stray paint and caulking, but the effort was totally worth it, considering I now have a fun beach-themed shadowbox. I tore all the tropical photos out of travel magazines. I can think of many other uses for salvaged windows, so there might be more window projects to come.

How to make a shadowbox window frame


  • painter’s tape
  • primer
  • latex paint
  • window cleaner and paper towels
  • masking tape
  • double-sided mounting tape
  • cardboard (one piece big enough to insert in the back of the window frame)
  • fabric (large enough to cover the cardboard)
  • photos, postcards, seashells, or other memorabilia


  • paint scraper
  • paint brush
  • vacuum
  • utility knife and/or X-Acto knife
  • self-healing mat
  • scissors
  • pencil
  • metal ruler
  • iron and ironing board

Scrape old paint off

1. Using a paint scraper, remove all the stray paint and caulking. Vacuum up the paint dust and scrub the window clean.

Tape each window pane

2. OK, now I know why a lazy painter would skip this step. Taping off each window pane is tedious (but necessary) work. The fastest and most precise method is to tape all four sides of one pane letting the excess tape overlap, trim each end with an X-Acto knife, then move to the next pane.

Prime and paint the window

3. Fill and sand holes, as necessary. Wipe clean. Paint one coat of primer. Let dry. Paint two coats of paint. Let dry overnight. Flip it over, and repeat on the other side.

peel off the tape

4. Carefully peel off the tape when the paint is dry.

cut the cardboard backing

5. Using a utility knife, metal ruler, and self healing mat, measure and cut a large piece of cardboard to fit the opening in the back of the window. I got this large piece of cardboard from Freecycle.

iron the fabric

6. Iron a piece of fabric that’s large enough to cover the front of the cardboard and wrap around the edge at least an inch.

wrap the fabric

7. Wrap the fabric around the front of the cardboard. Tape the overlap to the back with masking tape.

prepare your design

8. Insert the fabric-wrapped cardboard into the window to make sure it fits. Lay on your work surface and arrange your photos and memorabilia as desired. Then move the window aside.

tape the photos to the fabric

9. Using double-sided mounting tape, affix the photos and other items in place.

insert the cardboard

10. Insert the piece of cardboard in the window. Mine was such a snug fit that it stayed in place on its own. If yours is loose, you can tape or screw the cardboard in place.

Salvaged window shadowbox - after

11. I leaned mine against the wall, but you could also hang it vertically or horizontally with two keyhole fasteners. Hang from a stud or use a drywall anchors or molly bolts.