Vintage Painted China Cabinet Makeover- A Full Tutorial!

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Welcome to another edition of Transformation Tuesday where I join the talented Lacey from Rock Solid Rustic to share our newest DIY transformations. This week’s theme is sprucing up some outdated pieces with the cost effective power of paint!

Check out Lacey’s awesome tutorial on how to paint a bathroom vanity. And keep scrolling to the bottom to see my china cabinet makeover!

Easy Instructions on How to Paint a Vanity

If you don’t have the money, or time, to renovate your entire bathroom, you can easily refresh it and change the entire look. Adding a coat of paint, new hardware, and framing a builder grade mirror can make a big difference on a budget. Read on to see how to paint a vanity – the proper way.  

Click here to see the full tutorial!

Vintage China Cabinet Makeover!

One of the pieces in my home that is nearest and dearest to my heart is my grandmother’s china cabinet, that my grandmother actually inherited from her parents. I love having something in my home that has stood for years in both of their homes. That housed their china that they ate meals off of. That now holds my grandmother’s china in my house.


Although this is a great quality china cabinet made by Bassett, the looks were a little outdated and not our style. In fact, I almost didn’t take it. But, luckily, I came to my senses. And with the help of my husband, we transformed it into this beaut.

Sadly, we didn’t take pictures of the process of painting it. I’m so glad we at least snapped some terrible before pics. But, I’ll do my best to take you through the steps.

What You’ll Need

  • Cleaner (bleach or TSP- trisodium phosphate, or both. Make sure to wear appropriate protective gear.)
  • Random orbital sander (I strongly recommend this. While you could do it by hand, this makes life so much easier.)
  • Sandpaper discs of varying grit
  • Hand Sanding Block or Sheets
  • Several Tack cloths
  • Shop Vac (optional)
  • Primer (Kilz is my fav)
  • Paint in your color of choice (I like Sherwin Williams) in high gloss or semi gloss
  • Paint trays
  • Disposable paint tray liners
  • Paint sprayer (optional) or small foam roller with handle
  • Paint brushes- (an angled brush works best, expensive but worth every penny!)

1.) Clean it up

My grandmother suffers from dementia (she’s now in an assisted living facility), and although my aunts kept her home clean, the china cabinet still needed a little TLC. I gave it a good scrubbing, first with a diluted bleach solution (1:1 bleach/water ratio) and then with bucket of Dawn soap. You could also use the infamous TSP for this step. TSP is known for it’s ability to really clean up all the nitty gritty stuff, but you have to be careful when working with it. Warning: Always wear protective clothing such as long sleeved shirts, gloves, and goggles due to it’s toxicity.

I then let dry for a few hours.

As always with painting, the prep work is crucial. Cleaning thoroughly before hand ensures you get the best results. It’s tempting to jump ahead straight to painting, I know. But I promise you if you do the prep work first, it pays off ten fold.

2.) Sand, sand, and sand some more

This is the most dreaded step for me. Sanding furniture is almost akin to nails on a chalkboard. It’s messy, loud, and a pain in the butt. But, it’s gotta be done.

For the majority of the sanding, we use a random orbital sander like this one here. These electric sanders have an attachable small sanding disc that can be discarded and replaced as needed. They work by moving the sanding discs in tiny circular motions in random orbits, hence the name. This part really isn’t too bad, actually. They also have a little bag attached to capture the majority of the dust (warning- there will still be a mess). Plus, once you plug it in, it does the majority of the work for you.

For those that have never used one of these before, they’re relatively inexpensive. You can find them anywhere in the $25-60 range, or maybe even cheaper.

Another expense to keep in mind will be the actual sandpaper discs that you attach to the sander itself. They come in different sizes, so just make sure you get the right size for your sander.

Types of Sandpaper

One important thing to determine is what grit of sandpaper to get, which basically tells how “rough” the sandpaper is. There are a ton of different kinds, but the following are the most common ones to use for home projects.

  • Coarse (40-60 grit): Use this for the heavy duty sanding jobs, such as removing finishes or paint
  • Medium (80-120 grit): Use this to smooth finishes, remove blemishes and imperfections
  • Fine (~200 grit): Use in between coats of paint for a professional look

Start with a medium grit for most projects.

Unless the piece I’m working on is in really rough shape, I start with a medium grit. I’ve found this is usually sufficient to remove the polyurethane finish and also does a good job of “roughing up” the wood. Which is exactly the whole point of sanding. You want the paint to have a suitable surface to adhere to.

You won’t be able to get in every nook and cranny with the random orbital sander, however. (Picture one of those round floor buffers trying to get into a corner.) And, unfortunately, you’ll have to sand those corners and tiny detail work by hand. This is the part I absolutely loathe.

They make little sanding blocks to use by hand or you can just use sandpaper by the sheet. I actually prefer the sheets because you can fold them in half or tear off smaller pieces to really get in all the grooves. You will have to replace the sheets frequently, so keep that in mind when stocking up on supplies. It doesn’t take long for the sandpaper to wear off.

Remove excess dust.

At this point, I usually grab a tack cloth, (or a regular damp washcloth works, just let the surface dry well afterwards), and wipe down the piece of furniture. Tack cloths are these cloths that have this tacky like coating on them which attracts fine things like dust. Remember, you still have to sand with the fine sandpaper so it doesn’t have to be perfect. I just like to get it cleaned up a bit. I’ve also used my Shopvac attachments for this part as well. It usually does a phenomenal job at getting up most of the dust and debris.

Now sand with a fine grit paper.

You potentially could just start painting at this point. But I highly recommend going the extra mile and giving your piece one more once over with a fine grit sandpaper. This step just makes everything ultra smooth which in turn means your paint will have an ultra smooth finish.

Clean one more time.

And then, of course, clean one more time. This time trying to remove all dust left behind. So, once more, wipe everything down with a tack cloth followed by a once over with the Shopvac to get everything as clean as possible.

Now, you’re ready for the fun part! Paint!

3.) Time to Paint (or Prime)

One of the best investments we ever made was buying a small, affordable paint sprayer. Once the learning curve of how to optimally operate the nozzle is out of the way, it makes the painting process much speedier while giving a more professional result, in my ever so humble opinion. The only drawbacks to using a paint sprayer I can think of is it takes more coats than using a typical roller and you have to have the space to use it as there is the potential of having splatter.

But if you don’t have one, no worries. Using a regular ol’ paint roller will get the job done just fine with great results.

One thing to consider is whether you will use a primer or not for your project. My husband and I tend to disagree on this point. He prefers to just go ahead and paint, knowing it may take more coats, and I prefer to prime first. I have found that when you prime first, you usually only need two more coats afterwards. So…. I vote prime first. And I’m always right, wink wink.

  • Prepare surfaces around the area in which you will be painting. Can use a tarp, dropcloth or even an old sheet to lay on the floor to protect from paint drips.
  • Bring all paint supplies to one central area. Don’t forget your disposable paint tray liner! You’ll thank me when you’re done, I promise!
  • Pour paint in tray and get to work. One tip to remember is less is more. I’d rather use less paint and have to do more coats than have a glooped up mess I’m trying to fix. Also, another tip. I think you always get a better finish when you avoid painting in a straight up and down line and instead fan out your brush strokes, almost like your painting a “W”.

Once your first coat is dry, you could go back over with your ultra fine sandpaper and give it a very light sanding. Then, of course, take your handy tack cloth (how many times have I said that word in this post?) and go back over again. Rinse and repeat until you’re satisfied with your final project.

This is usually the part where most people will tell you to apply a polyurethane to give your furniture a nice finished coat. I used to do this as well until a worker at our local paint store said he would advise against using it. His reasoning was that when using white paint, the polyurethane will yellow over time.

So instead, we’ve been using a high gloss or semi gloss paint with great results. The high gloss causes the surface to still be slick like it is when you apply polyurethane, which makes it in turn be easy to clean. Just do whatever floats your boat here.

Now, sit back and enjoy your beautiful painted china cabinet! I had so much fun displaying my grandmother’s china in it and changing it out with seasonal decor. Happy DIYing!

If you want to save this project for later, you can pin here:

Don’t forget to pin Rock Solid Rustic’s Painted Bathroom Vanity Tutorial here:

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  1. says

    Sanding is a pain, you are absolutely right about that. I just refinished a hutch of my own and repainted it white. And, boy was sanding awful. I didn’t have a handy random orbital sander, so it was me, a hand sander, and lots of elbow grease. It took forever.
    But, it was worth it, though, since I now have a cute hutch for my studio.

    • lifeonlakestreet says

      Man, you’re a better woman than me doing all that hand sanding! But glad you got it done and get to enjoy it now. That makes the process so rewarding!

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