before and after

Before & After: A Dusty Card Catalogue Gets Updated for Apartment Living

by Maxwell Tielman



Before & Afters on this site have a way of becoming hot-botton issues. Commenters frequently come down on both sides with regards to the same project—unleashing their fury with an exasperated “they did what??” or  their adoration with an equally spirited “I LOVE IT!!” As the editors with the unique privilege of sifting through submissions and presenting the best of what we find, we’ve learned that some of our favorite projects tend to incite the most impassioned responses and inspire the most debate.

This beautiful card catalogue transformation, sent to us by Taylor Haynes of Applegang, found us impressed, inspired, and bracing ourselves for what the blogosphere has termed “commentroversy.” Purchased at a yard sale for a mere $15, this ragged library cast-off gathered dust for three years while Taylor gained the inspiration (and motivation) necessary to tackle the project. This summer, she finally disassembled, re-assembled, painted, and meticulously transformed the card catalogue into two fully functional storage cabinets. We were in love. We had to wonder, though—would bibliophiles find the project to be a desecration of a historic relic?  Would wood-purists knock the new paint job? Whatever one’s opinion is about re-painting and re-shaping vintage furniture, there is no denying Taylor’s ingenuity in transforming this piece of now-defunct library technology into two beautiful, functional pieces of furniture. The original brass drawer pulls shine brilliantly against the new grey paint and the shortened height allows the pieces to work as a catch-all credenza or, if needed, coffee tables. And what will Taylor be doing with her fabulous re-purposed card catalogue? “Rumor has it these drawers are perfect storage for wine, whiskey, or your nightcap of choice,” she says. “I’ll be testing this theory soon!” Check out more photos and the step-by-step process after the jump! —Max



“To start,” Taylor says, “I removed all of the hardware from the drawers including removing the bars and plates from within the drawers.”


“I removed the boxes from their horizontal design and chiseled away the grooves that attached the boxes on top of each other keeping them stable. I then used a fine grit sandpaper on the two boxes and all of the drawers. Painted four coats of matte charcoal grey paint [Behr PPU18-19 matte] on everything, waiting for each coat to dry, and  sanding with a light grit on imperfections and repainting for a solid look.”


“Ideally, this would have been great with antique casters, but to stay within my budget, and with room to change it in the future (if I stumble upon some awesomeness), I opted for modern wood, square tapered legs. I measured out from the base of each box and pre-drilled the holes for the leg plates. I also used wood glue when installing the leg plates. The card catalogue bottoms were made from something like particle board, and I wanted to be sure the nails would hold.
“Again, trying to stay within a smaller budget and reconstructing something that has the flexibility to adapt and change over time, I purchased MDF panels for the tops of each catalogue box. I used a fine saw blade to cut each top to size and rounded the edges with sandpaper. In the future, I would love to splurge on a nicer wood option, but this is a great and inexpensive solution that looks beautiful!”



“I reinstalled the polished hardware to the exterior,” Taylor says, “and presto! A totally new look to a forgotten antique. Whiskey and wine, you’re next!”


Budget Breakdown

Library Card Catalogue $20
Paint (includes primer) $34.98
Paint roller brushes (2) $7.34
1/2″ 2’x4′ MDF panel (2) $18.84
3-1/2″ square tapered legs (8) $70.72
Heavy duty plates (for legs – 8) $19.84
Total: $171.72

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  • I can’t believe you got this for $20!!!
    So jealous. I have been looking for one for ages, but am always running into price tags upwards of $200.
    Great project – love the charcoal colour.

  • What a transformation! The black makes the brass hardware pop and I love the idea of adding the legs. Nice to see a modern re-imagining of an old piece.

  • I usually shed a sad tear when someone drops $1,000 on an antique dresser and paints it neon yellow…because it’s $1,000 and neon yellow is only going to be cool for so long.

    Now, spending under $200 to transform a $20 find? That’s applause-worthy! You took something cheap and close to becoming trash, and made it something you can keep for many, many years. Can’t be angry at that.

  • Great job, it looks wonderful, and I’ll bet you smile every time you see it!

  • I prefer the before. It would have been great to see it restored with its original proportions. The after would have been better with straight taller wooden legs and base to contrast with the black and gold which seems too flashy for me. It would give it back a bit of its original charm.

  • Sorry just saying but I agree, I love the before, the wood looked like all it needed was a good cleaning.
    The after looks drab.

  • I really like the new color with the original hardware, but personally would have kept the original vertical arrangement. What a steal for $15!!!

  • I also prefer the before. The after looks very Ethan Allen faux vintage. But it could be worse.

  • I have a gorgeous solid oak card catalog from my daughter’s grade school. It was in top notch condition, so I left it as I found it. It does indeed hold wine bottles perfectly when the rods in each drawer are removed. I’m old enough to have used card catalogs for many years and appreciate when they are cared for and respected. I think this makeover is terrific!

  • I have an old card catalog in my house similar to this but with three sections! It’s still in its original state but this kinda makes me want to make one of the sections into a cofee table! So cool!

  • I think it looks great! I would love to find something like this at such a great price. Just because it’s wood, doesn’t mean it’s good. I love that you embraced the transformative power of paint – and it really makes the beautiful brass hardware stand out!

  • I would’ve loved to see it stained instead of painted, i think it lost it’s ‘used/lived in’ charm a little with the excessive sanding – just looks like two new pieces of furniture (which i guess is good also?)… but i guess it wasn’t an antique piece and you DID get it for a steal – so good on ya!

  • I wish a store would just sell these. They are so hard to find! I like the after, its very functional. I might paint it a fun color like yellow too.

  • I really like what she did; the hardware looks beautiful against that colour.

    Opening and closing all those little drawers would drive me crazy; I would rather use what little space I have for a more functional piece of furniture. But I’m glad these beautiful old card catalogues are finding new life.

  • great makeover!
    would love to know where you got the handles… Im thinking of going on a similar project myself

  • I would have kept the vertical setup too (I don’t dig the blocky feet), and with the gray paint it now just looks like a metal file cabinet. (I’d have stripped and stained it a darker color that brought out the grain.) But that’s the beauty of DIY… SHE loves it! It’s something she’ll use and smile at every time she walks by. So it’s still awesome!

  • As a librarian and a design enthusiast, I really like the result. As another person commented, the hardware is really the star of library catalogs, and the charcoal paint helps it standout, but is still a nice, conservative color that will stand the test of time. I understand alterations are sometimes necessary for better functionality, but I think it would have looked just as great kept in one piece. The legs look a little bulky to me, but as the designer mentioned, those can be replaced.

  • I’m DEFINITELY on the side of the before. Card catalogues come from a bygone era and signs of age are part of their special charm, lost forever when someone repaints! I have one which I bought in eastern Europe. It holds all my carefully sorted sewing notions.

  • Yeah….I would’ve put that sucker right up on ebay (mid century library card cabinet = gold mine) and used the money I made to buy something closer to what I liked. The after shot just looks like something brand new, as if it came from a large department store. Excellent renovation skills, but…the result is a letdown for me. What I do love is the lead in here which pretty much says ‘I know you will all hate it.’ :D

  • This would be amazing for a studio, perfect size drawers for brushes, and individual colors of paint. I can see each label a different color, brush size, or medium… great find, amazing skill. Everyone has their own esthetic preference. I do like the idea of dark stain, I would have to have it vertical for the practicality and ease of frequent use! Beautiful work tho!!
    I would love to have one in my studio!

  • Beautiful!! I have a card catalog I am refurbishing too. Mine was free. I was in the gym of the school where it was used. A local business was using the building for a sale and I saw the card catalog in the hall. When I asked they told me I could have it!! :) I am curious as to what you used to polish the hardware. Thanks!

  • Can anyone help me figure out how to remove the hardware? I looked at it and couldn’t figure out how to get the metal knob out. The hardware on mine looks exactly like this one, and for all the googling I’ve done, I can’t figure it out.

    • Hi Sarah!

      Although it isn’t shown in the photos, most handle type hardware has a attachment on the inside of the drawer that can be removed with a screwdriver. Is that not the case for yours?