before and after

before & after: a tale of 2 cabinets

by Grace Bonney

there are a lot of forlorn-looking cabinets sitting around fleamarkets and goodwill these days. and sometimes all they need is a little bit of love (and a coat of paint or wood stain) to perk back up. these two before & after projects are all about those sad cabinets- and finally finding an owner who’s willing to take a little time to spruce them back up and bring them home.

our first cabinet before & after comes from designer kate zimmerman of jetkat design. kate picked up this armoire at an estate sale for $50 and decided to bring it home for a makeover. after sanding the entire piece down, kate applied a white stain and cut a piece of wood to fit the door on the right. she covered the wood with affordable ikea fabric and voila! a brand new dresser that now has a loving home. great work, kate!

the second cabinet makeover comes from d*s reader emily smith of the publishing laboratory. emily’s sister rescued this cabinet from a curb in south carolina, despite it’s rotting wood and dingy exterior. emily and her boyfriend decided to tackle the makeover project themselves. after taking it apart, they refit it with new wooden back panels and shelves and cleaned and sanded any salvageable parts. after a fresh coat of paint, new knobs, hinges and a pretty curtain- it’s good as new! great work emily and justin!


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  • Wanting both of them! I’ve been needing ideas for our metal cabinet with peeling white paint and pleated glass. Love these…will have to see if we can incorporate some of the fun of these into ours.

  • As much as I love D*S, I find a lot of issue with many, and many, Before & Afters. Today’s cases are great offenders — both readers had really interesting old pieces, with quirky aged details (see red decal on cabinet glass), and they’ve simply been sanitized, affixed with cheap looking fabric and new hardware? Design and style live in one’s ability to recognize a good piece when found, and to maintain its charm. These pieces have lost their charm…

    • MR

      i understand not wanting people to transform older pieces, but i think sometimes rotten wood is just rotten wood, and not “charm”


  • Love these make-overs. I have a similar cabinet in need of tlc…any quick way to tell if there might be lead paint involved before I start sanding/removing the current layers?

  • I applaud both these items. I agree that the second cupboard could’ve kept the red decal on the glass (so chic!) but I think they turned out great!. I also did a before & after on my blog… not as great as these but my 1st project I think it did quite well. :)

  • I love the first cabinet before better than than after. The nice, dark wood, the mirror, and that red insert. The after is not really to my taste as it is a bit country. The second one turned out really nice!

  • Not feeling the first one… that contemporary design on the fabric doesn’t mix well with the overall shape of the cabinet and the rustic finish it’s been given. I probably would have painted it that dark grey color you see in the fabric.. but that’s just me!

  • These cabinets were originally created to be USED! If they have been refurbished and repurposed then the original intent of the piece has been honored and it is a job well done! You can see that they have loving homes and are no longer on the junk heap, HOORAY!

  • Carrie–what’s your blog?

    I love the shape of the first cabinet but I think the fabric pattern is a misstep (though I love the color against the wood color.) I think the pattern clashes with rather than enhances the detailing at the bottom of the cabinet.

  • My favorite detail in the redesign of the top cabinet is the renewed design of the mirrored cabinet door into a mirror that sits inside the cabinet. A very simple, but smart update.

    On the bottom shelf, I think the red decal COULD have been left on the window, however, I also think it looks great without it. And I don’t think taking the decal off the window takes away from the integrity of the updates. My younger sister put a decal on the window of our house when she was 8. It’s been there now for 15 years. If someone wants to remove it 30 years from now, will that be usurping the antique quality of our home? Or just removing an ugly sticker that’s been there for nearly 50 years?

  • I actually agree with MR. The second cabinet needed some care, but the end result looks a little Ikea with the doors replaced with curtains. I just generally like older items when they (to borrow the phrase) keep their charm.

  • It’s getting a little snoozy with all the after haters lamenting the loss of past-their-heyday wooden pieces. I live in a 170 yr-old house and very much appreciate “original charm” and would never mess with the good stuff. Most of these things are not antique-worthy to begin with. These befores have been used in real life by real people and are themselves probably not untouched. Fresh paint breathes new life -and always has – and too little of it creates a musty used furniture shop look.

  • Thanks for the kind feedback! If I had it to do over, I’d save the little design. In fact, it’s my one regret. That said, this cabinet was hours from a landfill when my sister found it. At the time I wasn’t thinking of faithful preservation or quirky detail so much as feeling nervous that I’d just brought home a colony of CDC-worthy mold.

    I totally hear MR on the fabric critique; it is cheap. But that’s precisely what made the project worthwhile to me—I didn’t have to feel guilty about disgracing an antique with IKEA material and knobs, or potentially ruining the whole thing with our lackluster carpentry skills (though I think Justin did an awesome job, especially given that I hovered over him and made a pained expression with every cut). We tried to save the lower doors, but they no longer fit.

    My only splurge was the hardware, which had to be special ordered from a place that does reproductions.

    Thanks to Grace for posting and to everyone else for commenting!

  • i love both of these. i especially love the blue fabric used for the second one.
    i would love to come across some old unloved cabinets to bring back to life for my hallway (or anywhere!)

  • I need to find some unique pieces like this to do up, all our furniture is new from the shop and quite plain. Great job on both cabinets, I think I’d like the second without fabrics, just with nice decor on the shelves.

  • 1) i have and love those ikea trays – they’re my backsplash in my kitchen hutch! :)

    2) emily, i would be interested to know how you felt about putting that much work into something that ended up needing to be almost completely rebuilt?

    i find myself finding these type of project pieces frequently on craigslist. but at a certain point my coworker who helps me with this stuff (he’s amazing; it’s like working down the hall from the entire staff of “this old house”) is usually like “it would be easier and cheaper to buy a piece that was more structurally sound.” i often end up doing so. would you say it was worth it?

  • Oh the second cabinet is particularly inspiring to me as I have also found an old, beat-up cabinet recently. I started repairing it outside on my deck but foolishly left it out during a storm so now the back is all warped/rotting. Maybe if that couple had the guts to tackle an equally challenging piece of furniture, I can do it too. *fingers crossed*

  • Thanks, Grace for posting our projects! It was so much fun working on the armoire with my then- new boyfriend (happy to report he’s now my husband). I’m still looking for the perfect hardware for the drawers, but the simple Target knobs will do for now.

    Thanks to everyone for commenting (good ones and not-so-good ones)!


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