DIY: Painted Thrift Store Cabinet

By Kate Riley May 22, 2009

I’m up to my old tricks again, picking up bargain furniture for cheap at the Goodwill thrift store, and transforming into something better for my home.

Some of you might actually like the “Before” and I have to tell you, I did too, but it was terribly scratched up at the base and on top, and for fifteen dollars, I felt no guilt in painting it.  The finish was also a speckled stain you see on a lot of old furniture, and up close it looked very old fashioned.  So I decided to paint it white for my daughter’s room because it was the perfect size for a narrow wall. 

It was a bit more challenging this time, because the piece was heavily varnished, and had a lot of paneling that required more attention.

How to Paint Heavily Varnished Wood Furniture:


  1. Medium grade sandpaper
  2. Disposable paper mask
  3. Oil based primer and brush
  4. Paint color of choice
  5. Wipe on polycrylic

Step One:  Sand with medium grade sandpaper to remove most of your varnish if possible.  Make sure to wear a disposable mask, or you will end up inhaling microscopic dust – no thank you !  Wipe off dust with moist wipes and allow to dry completely.

Step Two:  Cover entire piece with primer.  In my opinion, oil based primer is more durable and provides stronger coverage than water based primer.   When dealing with heavily varnished furniture, you absolutely must use primer.   Allow it to dry completely.  I like to use cheap brushes with oil based primer and dispose of them when done instead of cleaning them since clean up with mineral spirits is no fun.

Step Three:  Cover your piece with two coats of paint.  It’s my experience that one coat never covers completely.  You’ll be glad you did two coats, especially when using a white or light shade of paint.

I chose to use a brush application of paint instead of a spray application because of all of the paneling involved.  Sometimes when you use spray paint, you get drips, and it’s really tricky to go back and correct them without causing streaking in your spray paint job.  When you use a brush, you can easily correct drips.  Allow both coats of paint to dry completely.

Step Four:  Add a coat of wipe on polycrylic to protect your paint and your hard work.

I chose to “wallpaper” the back of this cabinet with some inexpensive wrapping paper I found on clearance.  Just a little double sided tape is all you need.

I also splurged with my Restoration Hardware gift card, and purchased two glass knobs for the cabinet to match her room’s decor and add a little sparkle.  I love just these.

I had very big plans of using this piece for a sensible storage solution for books and toys.  My  “client”  has made other plans.  I’ve been informed that this cabinet is now a home for all things furry.  Otherwise known as a “critter condo”.

Some “clients” just have a different vision.  Oh well.  :)


  1. ADORABLE!!! It looks great! Love it! ps. I’ve been looking for a cabinet like that… lucky you to find one!

  2. The mirror looks like it was MADE for that piece….I LOVE it so much! It looks adorable with the critters in it, too! FANTASTIC job!!


  3. Fantastic! I especially love the glass knobs. And the wrapping paper is perfect, too. :)

  4. That turned out so well. A critter condo is HILARIOUS! I love it. I totally share this hobby with you. It’s so fun to make old unusable stuff actually cool and nice. Thanks for sharing!

  5. oh my, you have done a spectacular job it looks fantastic!! I love the “Critter Condo”!!

    Have a great weekend BBQing!

  6. I absolutely ADORE that cabinet and the glass knobs. I want to put those knobs in every room of my house. And maybe random piles of them all over…okay, maybe not, but I do love them!! Cool project!

  7. Beautiful!!! Reminds me very much of a cabinet in my grandma’s house. :) Love what you did with it!

  8. Ros, I just knew I had seen a cabinet like this somewhere ! Thanks for reminding me of Katies’s cabinet !


  9. That is gorgeous Kate! For $15 I would have scooped that up also. I love how you went to the next step and “wall-papered” it

  10. I just found you blog and I love it! I love this piece too! I have a couple of questions when painting…what kind of Poly do you use? does it matter if its oil-based? should I use a brush or spray? Also I recently redid a chair, I sanded then used krylon spray primer, then used kryson spray paint “ballet slipper pink” I did the first coat of the pink and then ran out of paint so I wated 24 hours and did the second coat, within a few min the paint started cracking and bubbling in various spots? what did I do? I distressed the chair so it didnt look horrible but still its not exactly what I wanted and I dont really want to start all over. what is your advice?

  11. What a great piece for a narrow wall. It is perfect for her animals. Love it. Hugs, Marty

  12. Kate, that's a great makeover. I just love to rescue old pieces like this. I'm really enjoying your blog. I saw that pretty aqua lamp you found. If you have not yet found a drum shade, check out Walmart. I was in there this week & they have a really pretty tannish linen drumshade, great price.

  13. What a freakin fabulous makeover!
    Will you come with me to my Goodwill…I never see things with an "eye" of a makeover.
    I will be your bff if you shop with me :>)

  14. Looks great! I know zinnser primer quite well…just finished using it on the kitchen cabinets we just painted cream and glazed!

  15. Looks great! Just a question on the poly, have you had it turn things yellow? Is there a certain type to use to avoid the yellow look? I’ve heard that white tends to yellow under poly.

  16. You seriously KILL me. This is amazing. I love the interior. You got vision, girl.

  17. It came out so great! I especially love the “wallpaper”. That is by far, my favorite part. Plus, hey even webkinz and creatures need a beautiful home, right?!
    Thanks for sharing!

  18. What a perfect memorail day project…and the critters look mighty comfy in their condo!

  19. That is adorable! It makes me want to run to the thrift store or hit the garage sales this coming weekend!

  20. Hello,
    Came from Kimba's to check you out. Love what you did with that cabinet, it is truly a treasure. I love anything white, don't know what it is about it, but just love it!!
    You did a remarkable job and I bet your daughter just loves it. I like how you decorated it and put the mirror over it as well. Very Classy. I will definitely stop by again. Come visit me if you get a chance.
    Blessings, Nellie

  21. I have just found your blog and soooo excited!! whoo hoo!! I am dying to try some of your tricks!! I have a question tho..what type of brush did you use? mine always leave the brush marks. If you use a roller, again, what kind? and what kind of poly did you use? thanks!

  22. If you get drips while spray painting, you can remove them immediately by using painter's tape. Just put tape over the drip and peel off — drip gone! Repaint and you're good to go!

  23. I just loooove all you work, I just bought a cabinet in dark wood and I want to paint it in white.
    You are a great inspiration :-)
    And thanks for all your information because I need it !!!

  24. I’ve stumbled across your blog today and I’m very impressed. You’ve inspired me to start my own blog – I’ve been repurposing furniture for 15 years – wow, can’t believe that much time has passed.

    I do have a question I notice you recommend sealing many of your products with a wipe on coat of polyurethane. Do you ever experience any yellowing over the paint?

    My first project I painted a headboard a beautiful granny smith apple color. I purchased a waterbased urethane called polycyrlic and it turned the color to dingy brown. I had to let it dry, sand and repaint the apple green again. I decided not to put any coat on it and I’m amazed at how well it has held up over the years. I purchased a valspar cabinet paint in a satin finish and had lowes color it for me.

    Look forward to your reply.

  25. What kind of polyurethane do you use?? Mine turned my painted piece yellow after a couple weeks. :( Is there a way to take the yellow off without redoing the whole piece?

  26. Thanks so much for all your great tips Kate. I had the same problem with the Miniwax polyurethane turining my freshly painted high gloss white table an ugly yellow. Can I try to sand the poly off and add another coat of the white paint, and if so, what poly do you recomend for a high traffic kitchen table?

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