In this post, we’ll show you how to turn an old chest of drawers into a simple and rustic, yet beautiful and elegant faux card catalog cabinet (apothecary cabinet)!
Ahhhh, the town dump! Is there any finer place to shop for your home furnishings? There’s plenty of fresh air, and the prices are always rock bottom! A few years back, Handan and I came across a hideous chest of drawers that must have crawled straight from 1965 right into the dump. I swear I could hear The Monkees and The Yardbirds and The Animals still drifting up from its dirty brown drawers. Still, ugly or not, it was sturdy and sound, so into The Donkey (our car) it went. We’d find a use for it.
And we did. Sorta.
It sat in our garage and collected dried-out plant bulbs, expired vegetable seeds, and forgotten odds, ends and doodads in its drawers, while the top grew stacks of old cushions and decaying cardboard boxes. The whole lot was sprinkled with three generations of mouse crap and left to fester.
Until Handan had an idea.
As it usually happens, I was happily minding my own business and probably thinking about food when she ambushed my serenity with a new project idea. She wanted some sort of faux card catalog/apothecary cabinet, she said. It’ll be easy, she said. She stressed the easy part.
“My babes, you need to do this in an easy manner that people can understand and follow, so they can try it themselves if they have an old furniture.” She said.
“Easy? Woman, if I wanted easy, I would have stayed single!” I said.
Phew! I think I lost her. Anyway, here’s the piece. And I gotta tell you, I cleaned it for this picture. You should have seen how much mouse crap there was. And just so you don’t go around telling your neighbors that the Navages live in a mouse-infested rat-hole (wait, what?), I have since, ahem, dispatched the foul vermin.
(Actually, I think mice are lovely creatures, and I’d keep them as pets, if I could. But as a responsible, married, family-tending homeowner, I’m only allowed to eradicate them with remorseless efficiency).
Now, I know a lot of you are all googly-eyed over “mid-century modern” or whatever the hell they call that period of stylistic misfortune, and after seeing the picture of what we found, you might feel compelled to tell me that I’m an idiot for destroying its beauty. Don’t bother. I have a wife for that sort of thing.
She heard me.
That was a close one! She almost caught me! Now where was I? Ah, yes, the mid-century modern monstrosity. I pulled out the drawers and carried the carcass down to the basement to assess the piece and formulate a plan.*
*“Formulate a plan” is loosely defined as “Hammer first, ask questions later.” This methodology generally leads to problems, delays, complications and an angry wife.
For the first time ever, Handan followed me downstairs. I was starting to feel like I had a boss staring over my shoulders. I kept saying things like, “Ooh, I can make it so it has cabinet doors AND real drawers!”
And she’d be like:
“But babes, how about if I use my router to make some rabbet joints and then…”
“Okay, but what if I…”
In the end, I saw that her way was indeed the best way, and I was wrong and a very bad man for suggesting otherwise.
It’s time for me to take on projects that almost anyone can replicate, just like Handan does. So that is what I did with this project. Though you may not have the exact 1960s chest of drawers, it doesn’t matter. Any chest of drawers will do. You will see what I am doing, and you can do it too. Though I may have used tools you don’t have for this build – a table saw and router for example – the same results can be obtained with a handheld circular saw and sandpaper. Though this project did take some time to complete, there was nothing difficult about it.
This re-purpose would be pretty straightforward. I needed to gut the existing carcass, pretty it up a bit inside and make doors with faux drawers on them. Let’s take a look.
It was an old piece, and most everything inside was secured with glue and flat-head screws. I started with the screws…
…and then worked the pieces off by any means necessary. I used a reciprocating saw for some parts (a hand saw would work just as well)…
…a mallet for other parts…
…a mallet and pry bar for the stubborn glued bits…
…and my fist for the back.
Once I had Hulk-smashed the piece into submission, I cleaned up various protruding bits and bobs with a hammer and pry-bar and then did a quick stain-job on the inside surface. I didn’t prep the wood or sand or do anything. This cabinet will store my photography gear, so the inside didn’t need to be perfect.
I had an old can of 50/50 Jacobean/Ebony mix, so I used that.
Since it was a chest of drawers in its previous groovy life back in the 60s and 70s, there wasn’t a shelf floor on the inside. I had a few boxes of weathered hardwood boards that I bought from Home Depot about a year ago, and I decided to trim them up and use them as a floor for my cabinet. I put a bead of glue on the existing wood supports and laid the pieces that I had cut.
I had to notch the center piece around the center support post.
I secured each piece with two brad nails on each end. A hammer and finish nails would work just as well and would add to the look.
The weathered boards gave a perfect rustic look to my DIY faux card catalog cabinet.
I then sanded the sides, top and the forward-facing edges. I wasn’t sure at first if I would re-stain the piece or put a new top and sides over the old, but after sanding the wood, I saw that there was some interesting stuff going on with the grain and with the wood’s natural color.
Once I had it sanded smooth, I filled in some of the deeper scratches with wood filler. Again, since I was going for a rustic look, I wasn’t concerned with getting it perfect. I brushed on some pre-stain to condition the wood for the stains I had in mind.
I like to experiment with stains, and I’ll be preparing a full stain-layering tutorial in January, but I’ll just briefly explain here. I kept it pretty basic, since I didn’t want it too weathered or distressed. Here is the lineup I used:
That’s pre-stain, Weathered Oak, Classic Gray and Jacobean. The Weathered Oak doesn’t give much color, but it’s fantastic at drawing out the wood’s natural color. I followed that with Classic Gray and then a light coat of Jacobean. In my tutorial in January, I’ll show you techniques to get a more weathered and aged look, but that wasn’t what I was aiming for here. I just wanted to highlight the cool colors of the wood and make the whole piece darker.
You can see some of the imperfections that I couldn’t sand out. That’s fine. It gives character. Call it “Farmhouse” and move on 😀
I wanted to add a bigger base to the bottom that would protrude a bit on each side in order to break up the squareness of the cabinet. I used good-quality 3/4 inch birch plywood for the base. I cut it to size on my table saw, but it’s usually easier to cut large plywood sheets with a handheld circular saw, two saw horses and a circular saw guide.
I placed the base against the cabinet bottom to make sure I had my measurements correct.
It looked good, so I laid it flat again and stained around the edges.
I again placed it against the base of the cabinet and then secured it with clamps.
I pre-drilled counter-sunk screw holes around the base and then screwed the base to the cabinet. I didn’t use glue, because I wanted the base to be removable, just in case Handan didn’t like the way I had built it, or in case I messed up with the feet later on.
I liked the look of the base.
This is how the cabinet looked so far.
Click on ‘Next’ to continue.