How to Inexpensively Update a Cabinet

10 Materials
3 Hours

Transforming furniture doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Seriously! Let me show you how to inexpensively (and easily) update a cabinet.Toys here, toys there, we have toys everywhere! Legos and Little People and Hot Wheels, oh my!If you are a parent, you can probably relate to these statements. The amount of toys that one child can amass is pretty astounding. I know I was amazed at how quickly the toys accumulated after we had our first child. And then we had another one…Unfortunately, we don’t have a dedicated play room in our house. So, our main living room serves double duty as a play room for the kids. As someone who doesn’t like a lot of clutter, the toys can easily drive me nuts. After we had our first child, we got a cube storage piece for the living room. It has always worked well for us because it provides easy access to the toys for my daughter, and the baskets we use in it hide a lot of the toys, which helps keep me sane. So, it’s always been a win-win for everyone. ( Click here for other ideas on how to organize toys.)Since having my son, though, the toy collection has grown (despite my best efforts to keep it somewhat thinned out), and we had collected a few toys that didn’t quite fit in the cubes; therefore, they’ve just been sitting out on the floor next to the toy cabinet. Talk about driving me nuts… So, I have been on the hunt for a small cabinet to put in the living room for a little extra storage space.I needed something fairly small, and I really didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it. If you read my recent post about my Top 10 Tips for Decorating on a Budget, you’ll know that one of my top tips is patience. And let me tell you, my patience paid off on this one.After a couple of months of keeping my eye out at garage sales and estate sales, I finally found a cabinet at an estate sale that I thought would work well for what I needed. It was definitely a bit of an ugly duckling, though. It needed a facelift, but I knew the potential was there. With just a bit of time and work, I was able to completely transform it to fit my decor, and my total cost was only about $30 (since I had most of the supplies on hand already)!So, without further ado, here’s my tutorial on how to inexpensively update a cabinet.
Step 1
I found this cabinet at an estate sale and was able to snag it for only $10! Isn’t it a beauty? ;)The first thing I did was clean it off well, and rub the whole thing down with some liquid sander. This is a much faster and easier way to prep surfaces for painting than traditional sanding. All you do is pour some of the Klean Strip on a rag and rub it all over the surface you are painting. Let it dry for at least 10-15 minutes, then you are good to go.
Step 2
Then, I (okay, okay, my husband actually) took the doors off and removed all the hardware for painting. I put my cabinet on a paint tarp and propped the doors up on a couple of sawhorses. Then, I put a coat of primer on it. I happened to have some Zinnser Bullseye 1-2-3 on hand, leftover from when I  painted the backsplash in my kitchen. So, that’s what I used.
Step 3
Next, came the chalk paint. This was a bit of an experiment on my part, which I am happy to say worked brilliantly. I knew I wanted the cabinet to be a teal/mint color, but I was unable to find the color I wanted. I had a brand new tube of Craft Smart acrylic paint in Spearmint on hand, though. So, I purchased a quart of Rust-Oleum white chalk paint and mixed the two together. I simply squirted some of the acrylic paint into the chalk paint, put the lid back on, and shook the can vigorously. I ended up repeating this process until I had used the entire tube of acrylic paint. (If you’re looking for a good core workout, this will totally do the trick. Ha!) I honestly didn’t expect to need the whole tube, but I didn’t want the color to be too washed out. So, the whole tube it was!
Full disclosure – I did have some stain from the cabinet that bled through the paint and just would.not.cover. Since I a) wanted to keep this project cheap, and b) just wanted to get the darn thing done, I decided to not worry about it, as I was planning on distressing it anyway. I was hoping the distressing would cover up some of the bleed through, and guess what?! It did! Maybe it didn’t exactly cover it up, but it all just blends in now as part of the distressing.
Step 4
For distressing, all you have to do is start sanding paint off until you get down to the wood stain. (I used a 220-fine grit sandpaper , which is fairly fine, but it won’t leave harsh scratches in the surface.) It’s easy to sand down corners and edges, where a piece would naturally get distressed. For this piece, I also took a fair amount of paint off of the flat surfaces, as well. You can do as much, or as little, distressing as you like. So, just have fun with it.
Step 5
Finally, I put a couple of coats of Minwax polycrylic finish on it. I know that most people will finish off chalk paint with wax, but the polycrylic is much more durable and is a permanent finish. Knowing that this cabinet might get some abuse from toys being pulled out and thrown in, I went with the most durable solution. It also gives it a nice, shiny, polished look.I used a small paint brush to paint the finish on, but you could also use a foam brush . It goes on just like paint, and you’ll want to make sure to use long brush strokes across the surface. It needs a couple of hours to dry, and again, I did two coats.
I bought new knobs for it, and the cabinet was transformed. It fits perfectly in my living room, and is exactly what I needed in the way of extra storage. 
I was actually quite impressed by how well this $10, cheap-o cabinet turned out.
So, there you have it – how to inexpensively update a cabinet. What do you think?
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Have a question about this project?

1 question
  • Christine Ewing
    Christine Ewing
    on Sep 4, 2020

    Looks good, I have a small cabinet I use for cookbooks. I rarely use the cookbooks! Lol. I want to paint it to go with the farmhouse style of my new home. I love your color but will probably stick with cream and maybe a natural color top. Are you satisfied with the liquid sandpaper? It wasn't hard to use?

    • Yes! I absolutely love the liquid sandpaper. I use it pretty much any time I have to paint wood. I've used it on kitchen cabinets, trim (such as baseboards/doorframes/etc.), and pieces like the cabinet. It's so easy to use, and I have always found it to be effective.

Join the conversation

1 comment
  • Liz
    on Sep 16, 2020

    Another tip for disguising bleed through when you haven't used a primer first, is to distress the painted piece with dark wax.

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