Back in his bachelor apartment days, my husband got a nondescript Danish cabinet. This cabinet was like a guy’s boxy T-shirt – no style when style is scary, and it filled a need without offending anyone. But it also wasn’t much worth looking at. So I decided to do a visionary DIY furniture makeover. Here’s the before and after:
Do you even see that Danish cabinet any more? It’s under there somewhere! We’ve always wanted an antique Chinese sideboard in the dining room, and saw many we liked over the years, but we never committed to spending for one. So for a challenge, I wondered, can this boring Danish cabinet be remade into antique Chinese style? Yes it can! Here’s how …
1. Chinese Hardware
To get the look, it’s most important to get Chinese style hardware. There’s an eBay store called Chinese Hardware that sells reproduction “antique” Chinese hardware of all sizes and styles. I love the quality of their hardware. It’s very heavy and substantial feeling, and they even included the antiqued brass nails to match. Here are examples of their hardware:
I decided to have fun with scale, and got ridiculously large 16″ long hardware for the size of our cabinet:
This hardware is still available even though I got it two years ago. Yeah, this project has been waiting to happen for awhile! Next, here’s how the cabinet was remade into Chinese style …
2. Chunk It Up
Chinese furniture is far chunkier and “blocky” looking than the original skinny laminated particleboard cabinet. So how about add another layer of wood? I simply glued, clamped and then screwed wood – okay, PLYwood – to the cabinet:
(Ugh, need a better camera for low light!) So what’s the obsession with particleboard and plywood around here? We really don’t have much furniture made of cheap wood. I wasn’t sure if this DIY would turn out well, so I didn’t want to invest in thick pine wood (which I had considered due to its lack of grain – Chinese furniture isn’t grainy) to “chunk it up.” If you do this project, you can use whatever wood you like. Next, I filled the sunken screws and any gaps between boards with wood filler. I also smeared wood filler over the rough ends of the plywood. I guess the ends could have just been sanded, but I’ve never used plywood before. I had no idea how well the edges would sand down. So I figured, maybe wood filler is like “duck tape.” Maybe it can solve all problems? The content of this cabinet is now probably 10% wood filler, 10% laminate, 80% mystery wood!
Next I sanded everything. Even the edges and corners were sanded and rounded. Antique Chinese cabinets don’t have perfect sharp corners and edges. They’re worn down and a bit rounded. Here’s an old Chinese cabinet in our family room, where you can see worn rounded edges:
3. Picturesque Doors
Chinese furniture doors can be solid color or have painted scenes. I wanted a scene, so I searched online for a poster, wallpaper or fabric with a chinoiserie image or other Chinese style scenery. I also looked for colors that wouldn’t clash with the celadon green and paprika colors of our dining room. And it had to look old. This Chinese wallpaper print at V&A was perfect:
Because this print was pricey when you factor in the Euro-Dollar exchange rate at the time, plus shipping, I chose a size that could be turned sideways, cut through the middle, and used across both doors. I measured and marked the space carefully for the print so it would be perfectly placed. Then I glued it to the doors:
I used repositionable spray adhesive to attach the prints, just in case I needed to adjust them. Then I brushed a few layers of Mod Podge over the prints for protection. Next I sawed thin pieces of beechwood to make frames around the prints:
The frames finished the prints nicely, instead of leaving the raw edges of the prints, which would just look like prints pasted on a door.
I chose milk paint from the Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company, to try a paint that I’ve never used before, and because it has a matte vintage finish. Plus it’s a “green” paint without toxins. I mixed Bayberry Green and Driftwood milk paint colors (1 part Bayberry Green and 2 parts Driftwood) for a brownish-olive color:
The Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company sells many colors that you can mix to make custom colors. They have milk paint color recipes here on their Facebook. You mix the powders, then add water to make the paint. DesignSponge has a great tutorial on how to paint with milk paint. DesignSponge cautions about flaking, but I used the Extra Bond that’s recommended to help the first coat adhere, and there was no flaking.
If you try milk paint and see the first coat is thin and streaky, maybe looks horrible, don’t panic! It fills in nicely as you add more coats. Also, it’s recommended you use the Extra Bond in the first coat, then use paint without Extra Bond in the next coat(s). However, for me, the coat with the Extra Bond dried to a nice deep finish with some luster, but the paint without Extra Bond dried chalky. I didn’t want the chalky finish. So I repainted and used Extra Bond in all coats. Last, I applied wax for a nice finish. I used Fiddes brand wax (from the UK and ordered from Websters in the U.S.) in Rugger Brown color for an old look. I left some dark wax build-up in the corners of the door frames:
5. Attach Hardware
Finally, the brass Chinese hardware was attached to the doors:
The seller of this hardware includes attachment instructions on their eBay pages. They recommend protecting the hardware when you hammer the nails because if you hit the hardware with your hammer, you’ll ding the antiqued brass finish. I just hammered very carefully. My nailheads have shiny spots on them, but I’ll touch them up with an antique gold paint.
But of course, the most important factor of any project around here is this:
Oops I made a mistake with the paint:
6. The Reveal
I was surprised to find the original cabinet really was made in Denmark and not China:
From “Nondescript Danish” …
To “Antique Chinese” …
(I’m sorry the photos could be better. This room is dark and it’s really hard to get non-grainy photos there.) We got global style at a fraction of the cost of real antique or even reproduction Chinese cabinets. Plus, the original cheap particleboard cabinet has now been strengthened for a longer life. This was so much fun, I’m looking for another plain cabinet to turn into “antique” Chinese furniture! Also if you’re curious about the unusual color of our dining room walls, I posted about the dining room color here. The “before” version of this cabinet makes an appearance in a few photos there.
This project is shared at:
Beneath My Heart | DIY Showoff | East Coast Creative | Funky Junk Interiors | Jennifer Rizzo | Miss Mustard Seed | PinkWhen | Remodelaholic | Southern Hospitality | Tatertots and Jello | The Shabby Nest