My little sister gave me this craft store cabinet for Christmas. She couldn’t remember where she had gotten it, but had decided she did not want it anymore and asked if I had any interest. I said ‘of course’ and she said ‘Merry Christmas’. Let’s do this dollhouse cabinet makeover!
Edit: I have since learned it was from Michael’s. My suspicions were correct. 🙂
I quickly latched on to the ugly little thing, as I thought it would be a perfect make-over piece. I could see that the piece had good ‘bones’ to it. For it, I had two inspirational pieces in mind, the first is from Target, and the second, (now discontinued it seems) is from IKEA.
The first thing that I needed to do in our miniature cabinet makeover was to remove the awful header piece. Because it was a cheap craft store cabinet, the whole thing was constructed entirely of either balsa or basswood, and held on barely by wood glue.
A quick score and a slight snap and the ugly cornice was off.
The next thing I wanted to do was get rid of the knobs and the false drawer front.
While the door knobs popped out easily enough with a bit of sideways pressure, the drawer front wasn’t easy at all.
It took some time, but I finally was able to cut all the way through the glue holding the drawer front on. Unfortunately, I damaged the inside pretty badly.
Next under the knife, was the feet. Originally, I had planned on cutting the silly scroll work to just be straight. When I tried it with one edge that way and it just didn’t look right. With the cornice gone, and that type of foot, the scale of the cabinet just looked wrong.
I snapped the rest of the feet off and sanded everything.
Next in the cabinet makeover, it was time to tackle creating a real drawer for that fake drawer front.
I used two different thicknesses of balsa wood. I used the thicker piece for the bottom of the drawer, and I used the thinner pieces for the sides and the back.
Using the existing drawer front, I measured the new pieces and cut the piece.
I tested the bottom piece for a fit, perfect. I had to be sure that in addition to fitting in the space width-wise, that the drawer bottom was skinny enough that the front would still be flush with the cabinet face.
Next I measured and cut out the sides and the back. Then I glued everything together.
I used the edge of my metal cutting guide as a perfect 90 degree angle support.
Since I no longer had feet on my cabinet, I needed to create replacement ones.
I liked the look of the feet I did on the dresser I did last year, so I grabbed it to help me decide what wood thicknesses to use.
I cut four small little legs with my exacto knife. Then sanded them a tad, and glued them in place.
I used my mini corner brackets to prop the cabinet up while the glue dried. Having the cabinet’s legs dry under it’s own weight while standing upright helped ensure that it was straight and level and wouldn’t wobble.
Speaking from experience, always ALWAYS primer your unfinished wood / finished wood that you intend to paint / any and all projects involving paint. A good primer is worth the cost.
Digging around in our stash, I happened upon this one, and I’m in love. I use Valspar paint for most of my projects, but I’d never been brand loyal to primer before.
I like to start with the bottoms or the back first, so that when I turn the piece over to the more visible side, that side’s paint won’t get ruined if it is still tacky.
There are two reasons why you want to use primer, the first is to cover up the existing color. If your piece is unfinished, it will DRINK up your paint. Primer is thicker and you’ll use less. If it is already painted, you will spend forever trying to cover up the existing paint unless you primered it.
The second reason is to force any imperfections to appear now, while you can fix them, rather than after your final paint scheme is finished. Primer raises the grain on unfinished wood, so expect to do a bunch of sanding.
I had the good fortune of a hot and breezy day, so my paint dried almost instantly. I’m not usually patient enough to do small thin coats, but it truly is the best way to do it. Otherwise, you risk drips, and it takes forever to dry.
I relegated myself to literally watching paint dry and grass grow, and it worked out in my favor. Also, I saw 8 deer running through our field. Not what I expected as part of my cabinet makeover.
The primer helped me see that I didn’t do nearly a good enough job sanding flat the top where I removed the cornice. Where’s my sand paper?
Filling and Sanding
After you’ve completely covered your piece in primer (this should take a few thin coats), you’ll need to sand. Sand everything smooth, starting with a lower numbered grit sand paper, and if it needs it, work your way up.
I’m using 220 here, and that was enough. Be sure to sand smooth all surfaces. The better your sanding job, the better your final paint job.
To fill in cracks and to repair the top of the drawer space, I used spackling. This is the same stuff that you fix holes in walls with. It is sand-able and paintable, and dries fairly quickly.
I dab it on with my fingers, but you can use small tools if you don’t like getting your fingers icky. Make sure you press it down into all the gaps and holes, and the let it dry.
Once it is entirely dry, sand it flat and smooth again. Sometimes you can use a small knife to remove anything large, but be careful, it chips easily.
When you are finished sanding, take it outside and primer it again. You want a nice even coat to do your final paint job on, so repeat the process of priming and sanding until you are happy with how even everything is. Paint won’t hide any mistakes, so take care of them now.
Your final sanding job should be with a higher grit sandpaper. Here I’m using 600.
Wipe all the dust off your piece before starting the final paint job. Here I used a tissue, but any lint free damp cloth will probably work better.
Now comes the fun part of the miniature cabinet makeover! Painting the final color is always a lot of fun because you can use any color you like and the piece really starts to come to life. I decided to use this year’s Pantone Color of the Year, a deep Marsala Red for my little craft store cabinet.
Again, I start with the back so it has more time to dry. Using long overlapping strokes, paint your piece. Try to always have a ‘wet edge’ when you paint. If you paint only half an area and then it dries before you get to the other half, they won’t blend well and you’ll see a seam.
Painting doors are hard because you don’t want to accidentally paint something shut. Keep the piece moving and don’t let both the door and its frame be wet at the same time.
I painted the feet early so they would be dry by the time I stood the piece up. It was a bit difficult to get into all the corners. Sometimes a smaller brush is needed.
Isn’t is just GORGEOUS? I love the color! This dollhouse cabinet makeover is turning out so cute! Now, let’s add a bit of dimension to it, and wallpaper the back of each shelf.
I couldn’t find any paper in my stash that was quite like what I was looking for. I had a few yellows, but they were all too ‘dingy’ looking. So, I decided to make my own. Using PrismaColor Markers, I created a stripe pattern on a piece of scrapbooking paper. By overlapping the marker lines a bit, I was able to achieve more stripe colors.
The yellow looks so happy with the red Marsala. A perfect match. I decided in addition to doing the backs of the shelves, I also wanted to paper the back of the drawer.
Using my cabinet as my guide, I made pencil marks on the back side to cut my paper to fit each shelf.
After cutting them all out, I tested how well each fit and made a few adjustments. I also decided that just the markers wasn’t enough and included some orange pencil lines on my pattern as well.
Glue sticks do a pretty great job of holding paper in place, as long as they aren’t stressed. The back of a cabinet isn’t going to see much use, so the glue should hold fine Putting paper on the doors with a gluestick would probably not be the best idea though, because of all the use the doors will get.
I used a small scrap from the legs to push the papers down hard in the corners so everything could stick and dry properly.
Check that out, I just love it! Operation dollhouse cabinet makeover is nearing completion!
The last step was adding in ‘glass’ for the door. Real glass is too thick, and thin glass is expensive, but plastic does nicely. Plexiglass is also a fine option for windows, but for small doors like this, the thickness of Plexi would have cause more problems.
Using a piece of paper as a template, I marked out how large each piece needed to be. Because of how thin my plastic is, I decided to simply cover the entire back of the door, rather than creating inset panes.
I transferred the template onto my plastic with my exacto knife by creating score lines, then cut it out with scissors.
I used a modeler’s plastic glue to adhere my window panes. It doesn’t work as well on paint as it does plastic to plastic, but it worked well enough in this application.
Edit: It didn’t stand two seconds when my 6 year old cousin decided to look with his hands. Use a more appropriate glue, this works amazing for plastic to plastic ONLY.
I dabbed on tiny amounts of the plastic cement using a bit of wire, then pressed the panes down into the glue. I let it fully dry for a day and then that was it!
And that’s it! Pretty slick for a cheap craft store dollhouse cabinet makeover, huh? It took me the better part of two afternoons (initial cutting and reconstructing, then the back wallpapering and glass application) and a few quick 15 minute painting trips in the few days in between. I do plan on adding handles back onto the doors and drawers, but I haven’t found the right ones yet. I’m fairly certain they will be black, though I haven’t decided if they are pulls or knobs.
Edit: I’ve used this adorable cabinet in my dollhouse Valentine’s Day scene.
If you liked any of the tools I was using and think they might be helpful in your own miniatures adventure, I have Amazon Affiliate links to them for you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Should you choose to purchase any of these, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission. Know that I only recommend products, tools, services and learning resources I’ve personally used and believe are genuinely helpful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to purchase them. Most of all, I would never advocate for buying something that you can’t afford, don’t feel comfortable with, or that you’re not yet ready to use.
Nicely done! I got tons of those pieces from Michael’s craft store here in Los Angeles. They were $1 for a long time, then of course, the price went up! Still, they’re great to work with, and you’ve really made this one quite nice! I have a tip on deconstructing these pieces. Just microwave them for 15 seconds and IMMEDIATELY remove them and take off the part you don’t want! Use POTHOLDERS! They get quite hot! And have on hand pliers to remove those top pieces and a butter knife or case knife to pry out the drawer fronts. You will have to do this for each part you want to remove, being careful not to pull apart ANY other pieces as heating loosens the hot glue used to assemble them. They cool off in just a few seconds, maybe 20 seconds so you have to be quick and sure of what you want to do. Try it next time, it really does work! Love your photos, and tutorial!
Thank you so much for this tut. I have been wondering how this was done.
I call this style of design “Pancake House furniture”. Your solution is wonderful. I never realized it was this easy to get rid of it all. I particularly enjoyed seeing the wallpaper you made – very cheery. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to share your skills with us.