We picked up an antique china cabinet a few years ago with the intention of turning it into something beautiful and unique. It took a long time for us to get around to starting the project, but now that it’s done, this restoration has given us something to cherish.
Back in the summer of 2015, Handan and I spent some time combing through the wares of a little vintage/antique furniture shop in northern Connecticut. The owners, a husband and wife team, collected old pieces of furniture and other odds ‘n’ ends and either sold them as is if they were antique or vintage and in good shape, or they restored them a bit with paint and then sold them.
The Navage Patch hadn’t been born yet, but the seed was firmly planted. Handan and I were on a mission to collect old things to work on with the notion that we’d be writing about them someday soon. We found a few great pieces in that shop that got us excited – they’d make excellent projects and hopefully excellent posts for the future blog.
One piece we bought that day turned into my epic adventure in veneering known as Veneer & Loathing. You can read all about that long and harrowing odyssey here. For those who think that’s a weird title for a post, it’s a play off of Hunter S. Thompson’s book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
We bought a few more things that day that I don’t remember. Handan would, though. She remembers everything that she’s ever bought, where she bought it and how much she paid for it. She can look at our
pile of crap neat stacks of future projects in the basement and list off every tag sale, vintage store, dump, road, classified ad, Craigslist post, or thrift store that contributed to the slag heap fine collection.
The other piece I remember is the subject of this post. It was an antique…something. Bookcase? Cabinet? Wardrobe? I can’t say for sure. Whatever it was, it had seen better days. It obviously had doors at one point in its life. Hinge holes gave testament to that. It also had movable shelves, as evidenced by the shelf pin holes that dotted the interior. But what really grabbed me were the
big wooden boobs fancy corbels and intricately carved lintel.
The couple wanted $750 for it. It was pretty awesome, but it wasn’t $750 awesome.
We asked the husband if he could come down on the price since we were buying some other stuff. Without hesitation, he came down to $500. His wife perked her head up from what she was doing.
Still too much. But we wanted it. I turned the floor over to Handan.
Within seconds, she had the price down to $300, providing we bought the vintage desk (Veneer & Loathing) and a few other things.
Handan and I walked out with big smiles.
The wife watched us go with a frown. Then her eyes turned on her husband.
The poor guy. I’d been on the receiving end of that look before. I didn’t envy the evening he had ahead of him.
When we got the thing home, we unloaded it into the driveway, and I took a few “before” photos.
The thin backing was warped and stained.
The top looked like it been spit on by charcoal-chewing giants.
The inside bottom had a few half-round dowels nailed into it that looked like some disinterested brat had made a half-assed attempt at a Lincoln Log house.
We moved it inside, and there it sat, incomplete, but full of promise.
Could we turn it into a bar?
Would we make it into a bookcase?
How about an entertainment center?
The ideas flew, but none stayed to roost. After a time, we stopped talking about it.
Soon it became a dumping ground for random crap.
When the pile of random crap grew taller and started to teeter, I built some temporary plywood shelves…
…so we could pile even more crap into it.
And that’s how it would have stayed indefinitely were it not for Handan pushing me to get off my ass and do something about it. She wanted to see it with glass doors, glass shelves and lights. And she wanted it now.
Yet still it sat there, burdened by junk I just couldn’t be bothered to put away.
Months later, the ultimatum arrived. We were planning the dining room makeover, and this cabinet would be a prominent feature in the new room. Either I built the cabinet, or I could find myself a cozy one-bedroom apartment on the dark side of the moon.
Hmmmmm…the dark side is supposed to be lovely this time of year, but I decided the wisest course of action would be to build the damn cabinet and impress the hell out of my wife. I’ve successfully completed at least one of those tasks.
Our first task was to remove the old backing. It was too warped to save. Handan and I made quick work of it.
My next job was to sand some of the old finish and re-stain it. That was a job best done outside, so we moved it into the garage to await a day warm enough to work without freezing to death.
Some of those stains on top had penetrated too deep to be sanded out, so I let them be. The stain we were planning to use should cover them.
While we waited for a warmer day to stain, I started building the doors Handan wanted. I used white oak from Home Depot, as the grain pattern looked similar to what the cabinet already had. My plan was to build a simple mitered frame.
But before gluing the frame together, I routed the inside edges of the back to give a 1/2 inch recess that was 3/8 inch deep. This is where the glass panel would sit.
When the frame was fully assembled, I cut some trim pieces to fit on the front. Professional window makers and glass cabinet makers will scoff at my DIY method. They use special router bit kits specially designed for window installations. But those router bits are fairly expensive, and the process gets a little more complicated. The method we chose worked well, and it allowed us to pick a trim that closely matched a decorative pattern that was already in use on the cabinet.
I first needed to trim the trim (wait, what?) a little so it would be the exact thickness I needed. I then measure the lengths I needed, cut them and mitered the ends. When I had all the pieces cut and trimmed, I glued them around the interior of my door frame.
Notice in the picture above that the trim is flush with the recessed face. When the glass is inserted into the frame, it will also rest against the back of the trim piece.
Below is the front view. You may be wondering how it will turn out with an oak frame and pine trim. Normally, with regular stain, it would look pretty noticable and crappy. But with gel stain, you have a lot more color and shade control, so it’s easier to blend two different species of wood.
Here’s a corner with one piece of trim.
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