Make A Storage Unit From Salvaged Materials. Step 1: Painting

Would you ever think that these dreary cabinets:

Make A Storage Unit From Salvaged Materials. Step 1: Painting

could turn into this?

Make A Storage Unit From Salvaged Materials

It just goes to show you that with a little imagination and inspiration, you can turn salvaged materials into something fun, useful and totally unique.

Let me fill you in on the details.  As you already know, we completely gutted and remodeled our house from top to bottom.  During demo, we made sure to save as many cabinets, doors and random (but potentially useful) things as we could so that we could reuse, recycle or repurpose the salvaged materials instead of just throwing them away.  These solid oak upper cabinets from the den were two of the pieces that were able to be saved:

Make A Storage Unit From Salvaged Materials. Step 1: Painting

Pretty uninspiring, right?  (And please avert your eyes from the disaster that is our garage).

We had two of these babies, so I schemed up a plan to turn these upper cabinets into a single base cabinet unit for my craft room.  There were a few steps in these cabinets’ metamorphosis that I’ll fill you in on over the next few days, but first here’s a quick painting tutorial on how the cabinets went from dark and dated to fun and fresh.

This is all you’ll need to get started painting your salvaged cabinets (or any other wood furniture):

~  salvaged cabinets

~  medium grit sandpaper

~ 1 quart oil-based primer, like Kilz

~  1 quart latex paint, color of your choosing

~  water-based polyurethane, finish of your choosing (I used Minwax’s satin finish)

~  foam roller and paint tray

~  foam brush

~  wood filler

~  screwdriver, pliers and hammer

1.  Remove handles and molding.  Since I was going to use these upper cabinets as lower cabinets, I removed the crown molding that had been added to the top of the cabinets – it came off easily using the back of a hammer.  The handles were also in a funky place for lower cabinets, so I just removed them with a screwdriver.  The last step was to remove all of the nails that had been used to secure the cabinets to the wall – they were finishing nails without a head, so they pulled out easily with a pair of pliers.

Make A Storage Unit From Salvaged Materials. Step 1: Painting

2.  Fill in the holes.  Not surprisingly, all of the nails and handles that I removed left behind bunches of unsightly little holes.  I just grabbed a tube of wood filler and crammed a bunch of filler into the holes.  Don’t worry about being too tidy here because you’ll sand off the excess later on.

3.  Get sandy.  You’ll want to go to town on your cabinets with medium grit sandpaper to remove any slick finish from the cabinets so that your primer can easily adhere to the surface.  This is also when you’ll sand off the excess wood filler for a nice, even finish.

4.  Bust out the primer.  Oil-based primer is just the ticket for painting wood – it’s super sticky and provides a great base for your paint.  Don’t worry that it’s oil-based – latex paint can go over oil-based primer, just not oil-based paint.  Funky rule, I know.

While some people swear by brushes, t when I’m applying the primer to wood I like to use a foam roller followed up with a foam brush for any tricky corners or drips.  I find that brushes leave behind brush strokes that can drive you crazy, while a foam roller leaves a pretty smooth finish.  Here’s what the primer looked like when I tried to use a brush that I had on hand rather than buying a foam roller:

Make A Storage Unit From Salvaged Materials. Step 1: Painting

See what I mean?  It can look pretty bad without a roller.

But don’t worry about your primer being even and perfect – it won’t be and it doesn’t need to be.  All you need to do is make sure to get a little primer on every surface that you’re going to paint so that the paint will stick.

Make A Storage Unit From Salvaged Materials. Step 1: Painting

5.  Roll on the paint.  You’re nearing the finish line at this point!  My cabinets took two coats of paint, and in all honesty could probably have used a third coat (sadly, I am lazy and decided to just go with two – still looks pretty good).  I chose to paint over the plastic inserts on the cabinet doors because I hated the color but liked the pattern – if I ever grow tired of the inserts, I can just remove them and add fabric, paint them in a cool mosaic pattern, etc.

6.  Protect the finish.  The last step in this painting project is to slap a few coats of polyurethane on the cabinets to protect the finish from nicks, water rings, or anything else that might hurt the paint.  Be sure to smooth out any drips, as they will turn yellow.

Make A Storage Unit From Salvaged Materials

See, painting furniture isn’t so hard!!  Stay tuned, I’ll be filling you in over the next few days on how to create a countertop for the cabinets with a salvaged door, how to assemble your new cabinetry, and how to customize the countertop with a colorful finish.

Check out steps 2, 3 and 4 for the finished cabinet.

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  1. kathy says:

    Wow, looks great! Was that a weekend project?

  2. Nicole says:

    Great idea to save old pieces and turn them into something new – way to recycle! I also love the rugs you bought. Very simple but pretty!

  3. Liz says:


    This is a project that could definitely be completed over a weekend – however, I like to do my projects in little bits and pieces whenever I get the time, so I worked on this storage unit over several weekends. It was fun looking forward to working on it for a few weekends!

    ~ Liz

  4. natalie says:

    So pretty! I love it that you are recycling as well!

    Can’t wait to see what you have planned next.

    Have a great day! Hugs:)

  5. Averill says:

    Great job! I love how graphic and modern the plastic inserts turned out once you painted them. Can’t wait to read more about how you finished this one off!

  6. Joan says:

    You are amazing – I suspect a magic wand to be included in your instructions. You definitely saw something in those oh, so dreary cabinets, that no one else would ever see. I love the TOP to your giant cabinet! I think it is soo nifty. Wonderful job!

  7. :::Lyzz::: says:

    OMG, I totally did the polyurethane thing wrong because my dining table that I refinished did turn yellow! We had to resand it down and redo it! Great job on these bad boys!

  8. Tonya says:

    Great job! What vision you have! I LOVE it! (and am totally jealous that you have a craft room :-)

  9. Kristina says:

    WOW! We DO have ESP don’t we! Two paint tuts in one day!

    These look great and I especially love the circular design on the glass. AND I love even more that you save it and painted it :)

    I didn’t know about the oil based primer under latex and vice verse thing. It’s like that saying…how does it go..Beer before liquor never sicker…liquor before beer never fear? Ha!

    • Liz says:


      That’s hilarious, you just made me laugh out loud. Now every time I paint something I’ll be thinking, “beer before liquor . . . ” See, some things that you learn in college DO come in handy!!

      ~ Liz

  10. christy says:

    Wow Liz this is such an impressive project – I love the finished product! And great instructions. Can’t wait to read more!

  11. Wow, wow, wow, is all I can say. I am just swooning over your choice to paint the plastic inserts. That was BRILLIANT ! Great texture. The cabinets look wonderful, and I love the punch of color on top.

    Fab tutorial too.


  12. Melissa says:

    Wow, this is so fantastic. I can’t believe you turned those brown cabinets with golden glass doors into something so beautiful. You have great vision and talent.

  13. Randy says:

    What a terrific way to salvage old cabinets. I have some upper cabinets and was thinking about putting them back to back for an island.

    • Liz says:


      What a great use for your cabinets!! You could even raise them a bit by adding some trim to the bottom of the cabinets – kind of like a make-shift kick space. Please fill us in if you decide to do it! Happy salvaging . . . :)

      ~ Liz

  14. That is amazing. I absolutely love the vintage look of the cabinets with the scalloped detail on the bottom, but with the paint, it looks so new and fresh!

    I actually just installed new cabinets in my living room. I bought upper cabinets (the ones that are only 12 inches deep), added a scalloped edge to the bottom, then put 12 inch furniture legs on them. It reminds me of your piece here because of the vintage feel, yet it looks brand new.

    Also amazing is how the outdated amber glass inserts look so amazing and modern with a coat of paint!

    Very well done!

  15. Andy Porter says:

    I would NEVER have guessed they would look that incredibly cute!! Fantastic job! Thanks so much for the link!! Come back again!!

    Poppies at Play

  16. Treasia says:

    What a wonderful idea for re-purposing a set of cabinets. They look so pretty now and will still be very useful.

  17. it looks fabulous! I am going to check out your other steps…


  18. Emily N. says:

    What a difference! thanks for all the great photos and information :)

    ~ Emily N. from “too Blessed to Stress”

  19. denise says:

    great salvage job. You ended up getting to enjoy the hiding character of the pieces. Gotta love that scrabook paper top!

  20. Looks SO much better now and that top that you made is too much fun. Love all the bright colors!

  21. so cute & fun!

  22. You are a smart and very thrifty girl with a wonderful eye for the potential in things. Those ugly, dated cabinets look totally fantastic! What an amazing tranformation. Great job!

  23. fitty says:

    wow! you did that? awesome!

  24. What a fabulous makeover, those windows look so cute now.

  25. Those are absolutely awesome!!

  26. I absolutely love these!

    I really love the texture of the glass and how clean and fresh it looks painted!

    Way to go!

    Come back and join the party anytime!

  27. Michelle says:

    Wow. It’s so much fun to see old things repurposed and useful again. Nicely done.

  28. Alanna says:

    Awesome job!
    You make me want to run to the Re-store and buy some funky old cabinets!

  29. Condo Blues says:

    Love it! I want to turn a set of old cabinets into a work bench for my garage this summer. I had no idea you could prime & paint over nasty 70’s plastic inserts. My options just got a little bit better when it’s time to go cabinet thrifting.

  30. It looks amazing. I think I would modge podge circle of craft papers in those circles too.

    Thanks for posting to the party.

    I added your button to my side bar,


  31. WOW! This is amazing, and SO beautiful!

  32. Cat says:

    I have seen this on a few blogs and it’s absolutely amazing. Beautiful work and the perfect craft table!