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.
[nextpage title=”Page 1 of 4″ ]
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.
And before we go any further, be sure to follow us on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram, and click the subscribe button at the top of this page to sign up for our email list so you’ll never miss a post!
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.
Click on “Page 2 of 4” below to continue.
[/nextpage][nextpage title=”Page 2 of 4″]
After installing the outer trim, I filled any small gaps with an easy homemade wood filler. You can find how to make it in this post. I then sanded both sides and prepared the surfaces for staining. We decided to use General Finishes Java Gel Stain. It was our first time using gel stain, so we didn’t really know what to expect. People had been singing its praises online, but we’d also encountered many god-awful, hack-job pieces of furniture at tag sales and vintage shops that had been butchered by incompetent gel stainers. I hoped we wouldn’t join that list!
First things first. Open the can.
Then, a thought. Maybe I should read the directions?
But reading is getting harder these days, especially in the immediate vicinity of my eyeballs. So as I stretched to find a comfortable viewing distance, Handan laughed at me and took pictures. What a woman!
When she’s a wrinkled old bat hobbling around with a cane (which, let’s be honest here, isn’t very far off), I’ll get my revenge by replacing the rubber cane tip with a frictionless ball tip, heheheh.
Once I had deciphered the tiny print, I set to work with a foam brush and then immediately wiped it off with a rag. Java is a dark color, so I wanted to wipe it off right away, just in case it was too dark.
The color we got was pretty good.
But is wasn’t dark enough. So then I got to reading, and I learned how gel stains should be used.
Gel stains, since they are thicker than regular stains, tend to sit on the surface of the wood instead of absorbing into it like thin stains do. To get the deep, rich color, I decided to leave a little on the wood for the second coat. I brushed it on liberally with the foam brush, but instead of wiping away all of the excess with a clean cloth, I started wiping away with the same spot of cloth. Once the cloth was saturated with stain, I kept wiping with the saturated spot. This thinned out the stain on the wood, but still left a thin layer on top. This is where you can run into trouble, if you’re not careful. Improper wiping technique can lead to noticeable streaking, blotches, drips, runs and all sorts of unsightly outcomes. But if you do it just right, you get unparalleled color, as you’ll see in a minute.
I had ordered custom glass for the doors and the shelves.
Once the stain was dry, I installed the glass to check the fit and to start making the inside trim.
Look at the color of those doors now! The General Finishes Java Gel Stain is awesome! Also pictured is the trim that I used for the inside of the doors. I followed the same procedure as the outer trim. When the pieces were cut, I didn’t glue them just yet, as we first wanted to hang the doors without the glass, as it was heavy, and it would make the door-hanging more difficult.
We ordered hinges from House of Antique Hardware. While we waited for them to arrive, we stained the cabinet with the java gel stain.
The picture below shows unstained wood on the left, wet stain in the middle and wiped stain on the right.
I highly recommend General Finishes Java Gel Stain for all of your wooden boob staining needs. What a decorative décolletage she has! Now that’s a bust you can trust!
After we stained the cabinet, I went to Parkerville Wood Products to buy a new backing. I chose 1/4 inch red oak plywood, as it had a cool grain pattern that was similar to the rest of the piece. I checked the fit. Perfect.
I brought the plywood into the basement and stained it.
Before nailing the backing into place, we first wanted to install the lights and the doors. It’s much easier to work on an open cabinet!
To install the lights, I drilled a hole into the top part of the back. I was pretty sure it was hollow, and if so, we’d be able to run the wires up and out the back, so they wouldn’t be seen.
Sure enough, it was hollow, so we measured and marked where the lights would go and where to drill the hole in the inside ceiling for the wire.
We would be using some old round LED lights we got at IKEA a few years before. Here is Handan showing the light placement.
We’d take care of that ugly cord in a minute.
But first, as is always the case when working with Handan, I had to be assaulted by the camera.
She thought the pencils sticking out of my hat were “cute,” so she wanted to take pictures of me. BAH! I’m not cute! I’m a galumphing troll! By the way, that Budweiser sign on the wall behind me is the last remaining thing that belonged to the previous owners. It has hung there on the garage wall, crooked, for nearly 5 years. This summer it will come down, as we will be doing…(what for it)…A GARAGE MAKEOVER! [insert wild cheering here]
Click on “Page 3 of 4” below to continue.
[/nextpage][nextpage title=”Page 3 of 4″]
I drilled the holes for the wires…
Pro tip: wear safety glasses when drilling. Don’t be a doofus like Captain Pencil Head shown above and below. Especially when drilling above your head.
As it turns out, flying sawdust didn’t soothe my eyeballs like I thought it would.
We needed to fish the wire that we would stick up from the ceiling out the back.
Turns out this wasn’t very easy with just a tiny hole to work with. So I did what any sensible antique restorer would do: I grabbed a reciprocating saw and tore a huge freaking hole in the back.
Antique purists may want to avert their eyes.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I KNOW!
Listen, it’s our antique, and we’ll treat it any way we damn well please.
Besides, I’ll patch things up later. I promise.
After snaking the wires up and out, we attached the lights with double-sided tape.
We moved the cabinet back inside the house. We were getting close to the end. But we still had to install the hinges.
I had ordered two sizes, unsure of which would fit.
With the weight of the door, I was leaning towards the big ones. Of course, if I had paid more attention to detail, I would have realized that the big ones were way too big for the cabinet. There’s only a small strip of wood on the sides on which to mount hinges. Okay, the small ones, it was!
Although they were billed as “flat lay,” the center pin prevented them from truly laying flat. Handan solved that issue by suggesting I make shims to go behind the hinges. Brilliant!
I drilled holes though the shims and super-glued them onto the hinges. That solved the problem, and we mounted the doors.
The hinges we bought have removable pins, so the hardware could stay on the cabinet and the door when we removed them to install the glass. We just pulled the pins, and I took the doors back down to the basement to install the glass and the inner trim.
When the glue dried, we taped off the glass and the door frame so I could gel stain the trim.
Handan made me smile. Usually, I prefer to work with a slight sneer and a scowl 🙂
As promised, we patched up the holes in the back.
Next, we installed the doorknobs, which we also bought from House of Antique Hardware.
I drilled the knob hole with a piece of scrap wood underneath. This not only allowed me to drill all the way through without damaging the table, but it also prevented tear-out on the opposite side of the door.
Once the knob hole was drilled, we installed a magnetic door catch on each side of the middle partition.
And we installed the metal plate onto the inside of the doors.
I finished installing the knobs. We were so close to finishing!
Click on “Page 4 of 4” below to continue.
[/nextpage][nextpage title=”Page 4 of 4″]
Just a quick coat of General Finishes Gel Topcoat…
…and it was time to install the custom glass shelves and call it a wrap!
Handan donned her gloves and inserted the shelf pins.
The final moment had come.
The room was silent.
The air was still.
The dogs whimpered in their beds.
I picked up a shelf, and we held our breath as I placed it upon the…
“What the hell! Babes, this stupid shelf is too small!” I said.
Handan took the shelf from me to confirm what she’d already seen. I left the room.
The two interior cabinets were 25 inches wide. The glass in Handan’s hand was 24 inches wide. I was the one who measured the space. I was the one who ordered the glass. I was the one who screwed up.
It’s all fun and games when it comes to writing the post, but my years of screw ups were starting to get to me. Handan took it very well. She was amazing. No judgement at all. I wasn’t so kind to myself. It’s times like this that I wonder if I’m losing my tenuous grip on sanity. Would I even realize if my mind was slipping? I questioned my very existence. How could one man make so many mistakes, month after month, year after year? How could one woman keep forgiving him? She is a treasure, and I am so lucky to have her. [and I’m lucky to have you, my babes! – Handan] I don’t know how or why she puts up with me!
I pushed those thoughts aside and headed out to order more glass. I was going to order 24 7/8 inch glass, but I changed it to 24 15/16 at the last minute. A one week delay, thanks to Knucklehead McGillicuddy and his Incredible Shrinking Brain!
Well that one week ended this past Friday. I picked up Handan from work, and we headed to Manchester Glass in our neighboring town. The owners were kind enough to give me a 50% discount on this order since I botched up my original order. Handan and I picked up the new order and headed home to install the glass and finish the project before my parents arrived for dinner that night. I unwrapped the glass and tried to install a shelf.
The shelf was too long. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it to fit.
This was bad. We needed to finish the project done so I could write this post. We needed to finish the project so we could move on with our lives.
But the glass was too long!
It was 4:25 PM on a Friday. Manchester Glass would close at 5:00. It was a 25 minute drive. We had company coming for dinner at 5:00. I hadn’t started cooking dinner yet.
I called Manchester Glass and explained my predicament. They said that if I could get there by 4:45, they’d be able to grind a little off the length by 5:00. I told them I’d be there, though I knew there was no way I’d make it in time. I grabbed the glass and ran out the door.
While driving through Manchester center, I hit every red light, slow poke driver and left-turner, all during Friday evening rush. I pulled up to Manchester Glass at 4:56 and ran inside with the shelves. There were two people ahead of me, and by the time it was my turn, it was already past 5:00. I was sweating bullets. The guy took the glass, and I asked for another 1/8 inch to be taken off. I thanked him profusely. It was Friday night. I knew he had better things to do than fix my mistakes. But he did it with a smile and without judgement. That’s how you run a business. That’s how you get loyal customers. If any our readers live in the Hartford area and need custom glass, please don’t hesitate to call Manchester Glass.
I drove back home in the same infuriating traffic. I arrived at 5:40, but there were no cars in our driveway. Weird. I went inside and installed the glass, finally, into our antique china cabinet. It was a prefect fit.
My parents showed up 45 minutes late (a good thing), and we ordered pizza instead of eating the Afghan pilaf I was planning. Instead, I will make that dish today, for my babes’ birthday 🙂
Okay, enough drama, enough yapping, enough prelude! Let’s get on with the glory shots, eh?
We filled the cabinet with our treasures, many of which we picked up during our travels overseas.
Carved soapstone elephant from India
And it really comes alive when the sun goes down!
Dining Room Makeover Checklist
Moodboard and plan. Paint the room. Create a gallery wall and design printables for it. Decide on the rug. Buy Chairs. Build dining table.
- Build a small console table.
Makeover/upcycle antique wardrobe.
- Makeover/paint the buffet table.
- Decorate dining room.
Click here to see more dining room makeover posts as we continue to cross items off our checklist!
We love it when you share our posts on Facebook and Pinterest!