05 March 2014

DIY: painting the antique china cabinet (part 1)

So yeah. I painted the china cabinet!


Before I tell you how, let me back up for a sec and explain why. This china cabinet has been in my mother’s family for about six decades, and it’s only recently been passed into my hands. When my mother mentioned to my stepdad that I was painting it, he exclaimed, “But it’s solid oak!” Yes. Yes, it happens to be made of solid oak, which isn’t in terrible shape (though it’s seen better days).


But the stain? Orange. SO orange. Even my mother agreed that it was totally orange and that I could paint it – and she’s the one who had it professionally refinished back to the wood, only to be disappointed when it turned out so orange.


And why did she have it refinished? Because her whole family had painted it. It had been white, gray, and maybe a few other colors in there. That’s right, I come from a long line of DIY painters, and this china cabinet’s been subject to our many whims. Painting this cabinet is in my BLOOD.

It’s worth noting, too, that the professional restorer who worked with it in the 1980s(?) said the wood underneath the paint was gorgeous, like young wood. That’s because my family had protected the wood by painting it properly for decades. There can actually be benefits to painting wood furniture. (For the furniture itself, I mean. Obviously there are benefits to the furniture-owner who would simply prefer that the piece is painted.)


So. Although I can still hear the whinging of Apartment Therapy commenters all the way over in my little corner of the internet, I just wanted to say that YES, I thought about leaving it unpainted. I thought about it, and it wasn’t the right choice for me, or for this particular piece of furniture. That should be reason enough, but even if it’s not: three generations of family would be pleased that I painted it to my liking. I can’t really be bothered with the unnecessary opinions of random internet users who are disappointed that I painted antique wood furniture, since it belonged to MY FAMILY and now belongs to ME and is in MY HOUSE.

So! Moral obligations to wood furniture aside, I’ll admit that I did consider polyshading the cabinet to a darker shade. It definitely worked for the vanity in our old guest bathroom, the dresser in our bedroom, and our current nightstands!




Honestly, I think I’d still like that option someday for this piece. It would be fab in a dark walnut! BUT: that shade is just not right for this room. The office gets so little light, and as much as I’d love this cabinet in a darker wood tone somewhere else, someday, I didn’t want a dark hulking cabinet in a dark corner of a dark room. So that’s why I went with...


Swan White by Glidden, the same that I used on our RAST copycat nightstands! The paint chip is shown on our windowsill and a piece of printer paper. It’s definitely white (see the RAST above for reference) but not as white as it could be – it’s even a bit creamier compared to our trim color than the photo shows.

So how’s about a step-by-step? I already wrote a lengthy and fairly comprehensive tutorial on painting cabinets the right way, so I won’t rehash it ALL the tips and tricks here. Obviously, though, there was a ton of prep – even just making room to paint in our foyer (as it was still way to cold to paint outside). Then step one, was, indeed, to take the cabinet apart and keep track of all the antique screwy bits (separated and labeled in plastic sandwich bags!).


Step two was to sand and clean it all off. I admit I did rather halfheartedly, especially when you notice my ancient, seen-better-days sanding block.


But I did pay a little closer attention to areas, like those around the old pulls, that weren’t entirely smooth.


Step three was the tricky and surprisingly time-consuming job of taping off the parts I shouldn’t paint:


I’m a champion cutter-inner when it comes to walls, but I just didn’t think I could paint around those little details, and I didn’t want to spend time scraping that glass (it feels so thin)!

Now. Step four should have been to prime, which... I just didn’t do. I admit it. I was impatient with limited time, I was using paint-and-primer in one (TOTALLY not the same thing, but still), and I just didn’t think that this piece is subject to much wear and tear. I dig into it maybe once a week, tops. That said – if I wanted to really do this right, I should have primed. But I also don’t think it’s the end of the world that I jumped right in!


The only point at which I wished I’d primed was the back of the upper cabinet. It wasn’t the same wood as the outside (more plywood-ish), and I feel like it’s going to be subject to bleed-through over time. Ah well, I’ve got a solution for that which I’ll show you later!


For the most part, I used my favorite Wooster brush and a skinny foam roller. There actually weren’t many opportunities to use the roller, and even when I did, I liked the look better when I brush-stroked lightly over it, with the grain of the wood. It was better than the texture of our kitchen cabinets, which I always thought looked a bit lumpy or splotchy because of the foam roller.

Two coats later (in just one day! with a head cold!), this baby was ready to cure and let the paint totally harden:


But I did so much more than just put it back together! And since I’ve gone on so long already today, I’ll save the rest of the story for tomorrow.

In the meantime, can I just say how good it felt to get back in the painting groove? Even painting something like this – so time-consuming, so nerve-wracking – was so enjoyable! I actually don’t have too many things around the house that I’ve wanted to paint (well, besides the walls), but I think once the weather warms up, I might rethink that!

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