Have you ever had a piece of furniture that is lacking in detail and you wish you could give it a little personality, a little oomph?  I mentioned onlays the other day when talking about the table that I refinished {post HERE}, and so wanted to share a bit more about onlays, how you can use them, and where to find them.

What is an Onlay?

An onlay, also sometimes referred to as an applique, is a decorative architectural that is used to embellish an object.  They have a carved look and are three-dimensional, but flat on the back so that they can be adhered to a surface.  Actually, they get their name because they are being laid onto another surface.  They are relatively inexpensive and so easy to use because all you have to do is glue them on!  Here’s an example of how onlays can transform a plain piece of IKEA furniture into a glamorous dresser.

via My O’Verlays


Types of Onlays

In terms of materials, onlays can be made of either wood or resin {polyurethane}.  Wood onlays are most often made from Rubberwood, Oak, Alder, Cherry, or Maple.  Resin onlays are typically less expensive than wood, but are only appropriate if the piece you are using them on will be painted.  If you plan to use wood stain, you’ll need to purchase a wood onlay, but know that the onlay might accept the stain differently that the piece you’re using it on depending on the type of wood.

In terms of styles, some of the most common categories are Rosettes {square, round, or oval}, Swags, Vertical Drops, Acanthus and Leaves, and Decorative Centers.  There are so many shapes and sizes to choose from!



Why Use Onlays?

Onlays have been used on furniture, doorways, mirrors, mantels, and more for centuries and adding them instantly changes the look of a piece!  If you have a flat surface that could use a bit of embellishment, an onlay might be the answer.

Where to Buy Them?

You can usually find a small selection of appliques/onlays at craft stores, but these are made of either balsa wood or resin.  You can also find them in millwork stores and big box home improvement store, but the best selection can be found online.  Below are some affiliate links for purchasing onlays online.



While companies to manufacture appliques and onlays, the truth is that you can really use anything that has a flat back.  I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted for my console table, so I used backing plates for knobs.  Since I was painting the entire piece, the material and color were irrelevant!


So if you want to add a bit of va-va-va-voom to something you own, consider overlays!  They are easy to use and really customize the look of a piece.





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  1. Thanks for your post. I recently glued two wooden appliqués to an old wardrobe I painted and waxed with Annie Sloan products, and one fell off after about two weeks. Should I try to sand off the wax before I re-glue. What kind of glue do you use? Thanks for your help.

  2. Thank you for the unique ideas you shared above. I will try to apply for myself!

  3. Marlene Stephenson says:

    Thanks, good idea. Really creative and know I will be using it. Have a great evening.

  4. Bomar.com …you won’t be disappointed. you steam them and can bend them and apply them to any surface. Bomar.com for appliques

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