DIYs · For Your Creative Side

Trash to Treasure: Antique Armoire Makeover

Armoire Makeover Pin

I was on my way to get groceries. Really, I was. But as I approached the shopping center with Goodwill, I felt compelled to stop in and see what they had. (Does that happen to anyone else, or am I crazy?) We have been looking for some inexpensive furniture that will create storage solutions for our tiny apartment.

I headed straight for the furniture section, but didn’t see anything life-changing. (Goodwill typically disappoints me in the furniture department- that’s kinda why I thought it was strange that I felt like I needed to check.) As I was headed out, a piece caught my eye. Something about it immediately said, “old.” I peered closer. It definitely looked antique. I checked the tag: “Antique armoire – $24.98.” Hold up. They want $25 for this thing? Surely it’s not really old. Someone is probably confused. I started examining. It didn’t take me long to conclude that this was absolutely an antique- 1930s, in my best estimation. (If any of you are more skilled at determining the age of antique furniture, feel free to help me out in the comments.)

antique 1930s armoire makeover
Please forgive my photo quality- I was working in a small space with some weird lighting!

The piece was suffering from cracked and slightly warped veneer in some places, some damage to the inside shelves, and general wear and tear, but still had all of the drawers and original hardware. With minimal repairs and a coat of paint, this lovely armoire would have a new life. It was the perfect size and shape for my storage/ space problem.

The nice employee who helped me load it in my car (it fit with less than an inch to spare- just one more way I knew it was meant for me!) was excited that I had bought it. “What made you buy this piece?” he asked.

“It’s awesome!” was all I could really say.

“It is,” he concurred. “When it came in, my friend tried to convince me to throw it away. He thought it was a piece of junk!”

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, I thought. I told him about my plans to fix it up, hopped in my car, and smiled all the way home. I love when things come together.

antique 1930s armoire makeover
Original manufacturer stamp inside one of the drawers
You can see some of the wear and tear in these photos, as well as water spots that immediately popped up from unloading while it sprinkled.
I immediately fell in love with the lovely details in the woodwork, the hardware, and little keyholes
Found this on the side of another of the drawers. 🙂 Just another reason to love antiques! Underneath the name is the faint beginning of the word “loves”- the world will never know whose name was coming next… Don’t worry Betty Ann- I’m taking good care of your armoire!

Now, about the process. This was a relatively small project, but I’m not yet comfortable doing all the repairs myself. Husband planned on helping me, but when we realized we didn’t have all the tools, we decided on a visit to my parents’ to take advantage of my dad’s professional carpenter expertise and arsenal of supplies. Truth is, to fix up furniture, you either need skills or connections. So while I’m slowly acquiring my skills, I’m taking advantage of my connections. 🙂

While I do want to share my process with you in detail, I wouldn’t consider this to be a step-by-step tutorial. If you’ve got an antique piece of furniture that you’re considering fixing up, I would suggest watching video tutorials that cover the areas in which your particular piece needs help. Every situation is different, and everyone is aiming to create a different look with her finished product. There are so many awesome video tutorials out there for repairing veneer, stripping stain, re-painting, etc. Doing your research is definitely Step 1.

Let’s get started!

So after doing your research, gathering your supplies, and creating a plan of attack, your first move is definitely going to be to clean! Again, do your research here to see what method of cleaning is appropriate for your piece. Because of the cheaply done veneer on my piece, and the age of the stain, it was very sensitive to water. I wiped it down with a barely damp (almost dry) cloth.

To repair the chipped veneer, my dad chose to go with All-Purpose Bond-O. Now before you conclude that we are total rednecks, hear me out. Yes, wood filler would have worked also. But the benefit of All-Purpose Bond-O is that it works well for creating a skim coat repair. In some of the damaged areas, that’s all we needed. If you don’t have any prior experience using Bond-O, we suggest that you not start out experimenting with it on your one-of-a-kind antique find. It dries fast and hard, and can be pretty unforgiving.

If you are planning on using Bond-O on a project, here’s some expert tips to keep in mind:

  1. If you plan on staining your finished project, Bond-O is not for you. It will not take the stain the way that wood or wood filler will, and your repairs will be totally obvious. If you’re doing repairs prior to staining, research wood filler options and the best process for your needs.
  2. You should use gloves and follow all the manufacturer’s directions. It stinks to high heaven- you will want to work in the proverbial well-ventilated area.
  3. As the name suggests, it bonds to almost anything: metal, wood, stone, plastic, etc. To apply Bond-O, you will want to use a disposable tool such as a plastic knife or piece of a paint stirrer. You won’t be able to wash it off your applicator.
  4. Oddly, there are a few surfaces that Bond-O will not bond to: painted areas, tape, glue, and any areas that have any oil, dust, or residue. Use this to your advantage and tape off areas that do not require application.
  5. Each can of Bond-O comes with a tube of hardener. Without this element, the compound will literally never dry. The more hardener you mix with your Bond-O, the faster it will dry. Carefully read the can’s instructions for more information.
  6. Bond-O does adhere to itself, so you can work in layers. As mentioned, it can be pretty unforgiving, so be patient and use this to your advantage as well.
  7. Also, as mentioned, it dries hard and fast. Work quickly, and in small, manageable areas. The up-side to this is that it will be ready to be sanded and painted sometimes as soon as within a few minutes of application.
  8. After you apply Bond-O to the desired area, keep an eye on your application. When it reaches the consistency of natural clay, it can be molded or gently scraped with a chisel or similar tool. Chiseling off the excess is important- the more excess you have, the more difficult sanding is going to be. (Don’t try to chisel or mold when the compound is still gooey, or if the compound is too hard.)
  9. Speaking of sanding, you will need to use a power sander. Trust us.
antique 1930s armoire makeover Bond-O
Unfortunately my phone crashed not too long after I finished this project, so this is pretty much the only surviving photo of the actual process. 🙁 This shows gently chiseling off the excess Bond-O prior to sanding. Also note that we taped off the areas that did not need Bond-O.

After the Bond-O dried, we sanded it, as well as all the areas of the armoire that were rough or uneven. For the wood areas, I sanded by hand, using an 80-grit sandpaper block. I was going for a well-loved, slightly worn look for the piece overall, so I purposefully left a number of small imperfections. If you want your piece to look brand new, you will most likely need to do a decent amount of sanding, starting with a lower grit of sandpaper, and finishing with a higher grit. (The lower the grit, the rougher the paper.)

Once the sanding was complete, we removed all the hardware. (If you’re needing to sand in an area near your hardware, certainly remove your hardware prior to sanding.) This is an important step that will streamline your painting process. If you cannot get the hardware off, be sure to tape it off carefully with painter’s tape. Don’t try to just paint around it, and please think twice before painting over it.

Next, we once again gave it a good wipe-down to remove all the dust from sanding. If you have created much dust, it would be a great idea to use a vacuum with a hose to remove the bulk of the dust before wiping with a damp cloth.

Finally it was time for my favorite step: painting! I chose to use acrylic chalk paint from DecoArt. I found it at Hobby Lobby in 8 oz. containers. There is such an amazing variety of paint types and finish options for painting furniture today- picking a paint can be daunting.

Here are some things to consider when picking a paint to refinish your furniture:

  1. How often will the piece get used/ handled? If you have a piece that’s practically just for looks, feel free to use just about whatever paint will create the look you’re going for, and you probably won’t have to seal it. Conversely, if you are painting kitchen cabinets, a nightstand, dining room chairs, or some other item that you know will be handled a good bit, definitely do some research about the best paint type for your project, and in many cases you will need a good sealant as well, especially if your piece will come in contact with moisture.
  2. How ornate is the piece? If you’re refinishing an item that is heavily decorated,  or has lots of nooks and crannies, you might want to consider spray paint. It will be much easier to get an even coat on all of the irregularities.
  3. What look are you going for? I chose to use a brush (if you’re looking for quality, we suggest Purdy brand brushes) on my armoire because I wanted to have a white-washed feel, and I wanted the brush strokes to show. If you want a very smooth finish without brush strokes, apply your paint with a roller, or use spray paint.
  4. If you’re trying to achieve a specific color, how many shades are available in the type of paint you will need to use? (Don’t forget that paint almost always dries to a slightly darker shade than you think it will.)
  5. Are you trying to cover stain or make a drastic color change? If so, keep in mind that stain (especially antique stain) will quickly bleed through a light color of paint. As in, your paint will literally pull some of the pigment from the stain, creating a darker color than you expected, or making a white look almost dirty. If you want to avoid this, paint your first coat using a stain-blocker product, or a primer such as Kilz. If you’re making a drastic color change, plan on buying enough paint to do two coats, maybe even three.

Now, about that chalk paint… I failed to take my own advice, and jumped into a paint choice without doing any substantial prior research. I did not realize how ridiculously thick chalk paint was going to be, or how difficult it would be to apply smoothly. Granted, it may just be the brand I chose, I’m not sure. This was my first experience with chalk paint. Thankfully, as I’ve mentioned, I did want a slightly worn, white-washed look for the piece, and had even chosen to use two different colors together to create a more mottled look. So the fact that the chalk paint did not apply evenly was not a huge deal for me. But it might be for you, so be careful. Also, I found it incredibly frustrating because it became goopy so quickly after applying it. If I tried to go back over a section I had just painted, to blend or even it out, the existing paint would roll up underneath my brush and literally just fall off, leaving chunks missing. Now there is a good chance that this may have been due to the stain I was painting over. It was very dry and dusty and although I did wipe it down, I may not have been thorough enough. I just know that ordinary acrylic paint has never quite behaved that way for me. Another frustration was that the smaller off-brand paintbrush I was using to get in the smaller areas of the piece had very soft bristles, and did not play well with the chalk paint. The paint quickly gunked up the soft bristles into the a gooey blob at the end of the brush handle, making application even more difficult. The stiffer nylon bristles of the Purdy brush I was using did better with the paint, but even this brush was the soft version, so I would definitely recommend using a stiff nylon brush with chalk paint, unless you just enjoy struggling.

After applying one coat of the chalk paint, I used a smaller artist brush to apply a light grey acrylic craft paint mixed with a bit of the chalk paint to the area of the veneer inlay that had originally been stained a darker shade. The scalloped veneer pattern was one of the first things that endeared me to the piece (along with the key holes in the drawers!), and I wanted it to stand out a little bit. Another little tip here: a small kitchen knife with a sharp, pointy tip is a handy craft tool! I used the tip of the knife to scrape the paint out of the crevices created by the inlay design.


I am just in love with the way it turned out, and thrilled at how perfectly it fits in the space I intended it for! It turned a wasted wall into a totally functional storage solution to hide all sorts of junk!

antique 1930s armoire makeover
Here’s a quick shot of the inside with all my junk stuffed in it- it holds a lot! I am in love with those big sturdy drawers in there!

Whew! This has been the longest post ever! But I’ve loved sharing with you about my latest project. I’m already looking forward to my next DIY.

What about you? What projects are you currently working on? Got any refinishing tips for us? Share in the comments below! 🙂

I'd love to hear from you!