Painting A Wood File Cabinet With DIY Chalk Paint

by Diane Henkler on 01/18/2013

I finally finished the vintage wood file cabinet I have in my studioffice.  It took a bit of time to complete, but worth all the effort in the end. It is my favorite piece of furniture now.


I decided to paint it with homemade chalk paint I made myself using Calcium Carbonate Powder.  I thought about staining it, but the veneer was in bad shape in too many places. Plus, when I started sanding the wood color was uneven. I didn’t want to see all the variation and patched areas through the stain.

I am EXTREMELY happy with how it came out. It is one of those projects that turns out just how you envisioned and has you wishing you had done it years ago.

Furniture-Before-and-After-Makeover In My Own Style

This looks like one piece of furniture, but it is actually two separate and unrelated pieces of furniture that I combined to make into one very functional piece that fits perfectly in the space between the two windows in my studioffice.

The top shelf unit was a hand-me down from an uncle.  The bottom vintage file cabinet was handed down to Ed and me from his parents. I remember his dad telling me that it was from the Pennsylvania Railroad offices in New York.  It was made by the Remington Rand Company – Library Bureau Division.

I painted the top section (shelving unit) a year ago using Sherwin Williams Alabaster in a satin finish.  I painted the file drawers with the same paint, but I made it into chalk paint and used wax to bring out a subtle sheen on the surface. I did not age the finish with sandpaper or a dark wax. I used clear Johnson Paste Wax. Many think that chalk paint is just used when you want to distress and age pieces.


I know you are asking – Why would I use chalk paint instead of the unaltered latex paint so the pieces would match?

If I used latex alone, I would have to use two light coats of primer to make sure the tannins in the wood did not bleed through, plus two coats of paint.  Since I wanted to keep the drawers moving freely – too many coats of paint would have made them too thick and they would not close smoothly. With the chalk paint, I only needed two coats, plus the wax finish – the drawers now glide effortlessly open and closed and have perfect paint coverage.

Remember the Before


Previously I had used the file drawers as a component in the partner’s desk that I built for the room.   I took that apart when I got a new desk.  I needed more storage in the room, but didn’t have the space – so I placed the shelving unit on top of the file drawers to create a brand new piece of furniture.  I bought bun feet at Home Depot over a year ago for it and then it sat just like you see it above for the past year just waiting for its makeover.


Many of you wanted to know how it was made or wanted to see the drawers open.  Like the armoire in the room  – the cabinet comes apart into separate pieces.  The veneer was damaged on both sides and on some of the drawers.  I needed to add wood filler to smooth it out. I then sanded all those patched places so the surface would look smooth once it was painted.


It needed feet to raise it off the floor so it would not block the HVAC vent.  The addition of the feet has given it a chic new look.


How to Make DIY Chalk Paint

I tried a different ingredient to make the DIY version of chalk paint for this piece. I used Calcium Carbonate powder. It works just as well as the Non-Sanded Grout or Plaster of Paris that I have used in the past.  I posted about and used this same recipe – just replaced the grout with calcium carbonate powder.


I was told the paint wouldn’t harden as much when calcium carbonate powder is added as it does with the grout or plaster, so I wanted to try it.   You can buy it at the health food store.  When the paint was dry, I waxed and buffed it to bring out a subtle shine. I will do another post next week about using the calcium carbonate powder– comparing it with the other DIY chalk paint recipes and CeCe Caldwell Chalk Paint.

Aging-Brass techniques

I removed the original hardware – pulls and label holders years ago. They were brown plastic and had a Bakelite quality to them. They were in bad shape so I replaced them with the brass.  Over the years the brass has aged nicely – not highly polished anymore, but a little pitted, tarnished with just a bit of the golden glow peeking through.


On white cardstock, I printed out all the file drawer names that I created using  Microsoft Word. I used the font – Engravers MT.


I cut each label out along with a piece of clear acetate to protect each label and slid both in a holder.



How to Add Bun or Wood Feet To Furniture

Adding the wood bun feet to the underside of furniture is quite easy.


You will need a Straight Top Plate for each foot. They sell them at Home Depot. Make sure you get the straight, not the angled type – the packaging looks the same.


The screw on the bun foot screws into the center hole on the plate.


The plates get attached with screws to the corners on the underside of the furniture.


Add one to each corner, flip the piece over and you are done.



It took me a year to finally tackle the makeover and get this piece done.  My studioffice seems so much bigger now that the cabinet is happily pushed back against the wall and the HVAC vent can flow freely.


For all of you that have asked – here is a look inside what the file drawers look like.  Tabbed folders fit perfectly in the drawers.

Would you like to see more furniture makeover ideas?

 Click over to my Furniture Makeovers in the Project Gallery




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{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions January 18, 2013 at 8:54 am

That turned out to be a great looking piece, Diane!


2 Margo January 18, 2013 at 9:12 am

It’s fabulous! I love it!


3 Lynne January 18, 2013 at 9:16 am

Excellent piece . . . beautiful work . . . perfect results!


4 Krafty Max January 18, 2013 at 9:18 am

Very nice…. I only wish I could find one like it to refinish!! ~KM


5 Diane Henkler January 18, 2013 at 9:34 am

Thanks Krafty Max – It is quite a unique piece. I have had so many readers asking me to show the details of the cabinet so they can get one made like it.


6 maria Gaven January 18, 2013 at 9:53 am

Absolutely beautiful! You have inspired me to go to garage sales and find a treasure like this. Thanks for the great tutorial too!


7 Susan @ January 18, 2013 at 10:07 am

This is so nice! I love it, especially the addition of the feet!


8 Sandra Miller-Long January 18, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Absolutely gorgeous!


9 Ginger January 18, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Such a cool piece of furniture. It looks beautiful white and I love the pops of color above.


10 Susan January 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm

WOW! Such a great makeover and you did a great job on the tutorial as well.. visiting from MMS!


11 Stephanie@cre8tive January 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm

What a great tutorial and such a creative mind you have. You never cease to amaze me how you pull things together so beautifully!


12 Vicki January 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm

What a great tutorial, Diane!
My house reno is coming to an end, and I’m about to dive in and paint a dining room set white.
The one issue I’ve heard about homemade chalk paint, is that it’s difficult to make smooth.
Do you have any tips? I’ll be interested to hear which recipe you like the best.


13 Diane Henkler January 18, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Thanks Vicki – Some batches of the DIY chalk paint mixtures come out thicker than others which makes them go on too heavy – causing a rougher or uneven surface. I try to get mixture to the consistency of thin pancake batter. I have also found that some paint finishes and brands work better than others. I will be posting next week more of my DIY chalk paint findings. Using the Calcium Carbonate -I have found makes the smoothest mixture so far. The more you add the chalkier the finish will be. If you have never worked with DIY chalk paint before – start on something small to get a feel for it. My first batch and piece was this stool - I learned a lot about having to mix it well when I did that first project. Even if you are not distressing the edges or surface, I always quickly run my fine sanding block over the the last dried coat, before applying the next. I think it just helps – not only with adhesion, but surface leveling. I will post more next week.


14 Vicki January 18, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Thanks for the tips Diane, I love your blog!
I will start with something small:)
Can’t wait to see your post next week.
Take care,


15 Lauren from MomHomeGuide January 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Wow! What a pretty transformation! Congrats! I have a thing for old card catalogs, and your new chest looks like a really beautiful card catalog now!

I recently painted an old piece of furniture (to make a new spice cabinet for my kitchen), and now your projects makes me one to tackle new projects in my own home!


16 Rebecca January 18, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Beautiful piece of furniture! The paint job definitely meshed with everything. Thanks for sharing!


17 Mike January 18, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Excellent idea! Inexpensive, stylish and easy to DIY! Thanks for the idea!
Mike @


18 anna see January 18, 2013 at 6:10 pm

GORGEOUS makeover! Thanks for the play by play.


19 Diane Henkler January 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Hi Anna – Thanks. When I first inherited the piece, I loved it, but have always wanted to make it truly mine (as I do with all my hand-me-downs). Ed loves that I enjoy making over all his parents stuff. Knowing that makes it easy when I want to make them over to claim them as my own. Hope you have an enjoyable weekend.


20 Merri Jo January 18, 2013 at 8:20 pm

You did such a great job on the makeover, Diane. What a marvelous piece; it’s extremely useful, has sentimental value, and looks fabulous in your pretty office!


21 Donnamae January 18, 2013 at 11:13 pm

You did a great job…love those bun feet! Enjoy your weekend! ;)


22 Kate January 18, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Fantastic! I’m thinking about trying some chalk paint on a little desk I have. This is a good motivator.
Thanks, Kate


23 Jeanine January 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Wowsa …what a fabulous job…great post with so much info!!!

Do you think I can use chalk paint over an old mahogany piece without the reddish color bleeding through or should I prime…it is a vanity with lots of drawers.

I also want to add some stencils to the piece…can you stencil over chalk paint??

You are a wealth of knowledge..Thanks so much for sharing with us!!

all the Best, Jeanine


24 Shelly Andrade January 18, 2013 at 11:39 pm

This turned out SO cool! I would LOVE to have this piece in my house, I might actually be able to get organized with a filing system like that ~ love it!!


25 Terry January 19, 2013 at 12:08 am

Impressive. They even look good stacked. What a cool file cabinet.


26 Jamie January 19, 2013 at 1:06 am

WOW, this is amazing! I can’t believe how amazing it turned out. I’m a new follower ;)


27 Sarah Vernon January 19, 2013 at 5:19 am

Looks marvellous!


28 Gina January 19, 2013 at 7:06 am

That looks so great! I’m eager to read your comparison of the homemade chalk paints. Last year I made my own with calcium carbonate (right after that I saw recipes with non-sanded grout etc). I searched high a low for the calcium carbonate finally finding a small amount for a high price. Everywhere I went the people were clueless when I asked for it (health food store too). It worked but was not as creamy and easy to use as ASCP. The best part was the custom color I used and the price. It was only a small piece I was painting and ASCP at the time did not have the smaller samples nor the color choices.
I’ve been eager to try other recipes for chalk paint and get to work on several things I’ve had waiting to be worked on for years! You’ve inspired me to “get ‘em done”


29 Tiffany January 19, 2013 at 7:06 am

What an amazing transformation! And it’s good to know you have projects that sit around for a while too. Maybe there is hope for me yet. :). I’m glad you enjoyed that rainy day; I like to take advantage of those, too.


30 Eileen January 19, 2013 at 7:44 am

Nice collaboration of pieces, coming together so lovely. I can see that this was a big project, but so worth it. PS I love the changes in the weather. Rainy days let us shift gears and sometime the best thing is to be able to have that luxury of staying in and being cozy.


31 Carol in Kansas January 19, 2013 at 9:13 am

Awesome piece of furniture and I love your transformation. I wish we were neighbors…I would so love to sit vand visit over a cup of coffee! Have a lovely weekend!


32 Kim o January 19, 2013 at 9:38 am

Awesome job, Diane. I love it. I’m in the process of redoing an old oak mission-style desk. It has a veneer top that is breaking away, did you glue yours in any spots. Also, did you sand your chalk paint at all after you applied it or in-between coats. I find when I do to get the rough strokes smooth, sometimes too much comes off, hence, the distressed look? and, I don’t always want that. Still learning. Thanks for your inspiration.


33 Cindy January 19, 2013 at 10:07 am

This turned out great!! Are the two pieces of furniture attached to one another, and if so, how did you do it?


34 Laura @ Finding Home January 19, 2013 at 10:26 am

Oh my goodness – this is perfect. It is definitely a goal for me to find a cabinet like that someday and you provided the perfect inspiration!

Take care, Laura


35 Jenna January 19, 2013 at 10:41 am

Love, love, love! The color is great and the feet added so much character! Great job!

Jenna @


36 Sylvia January 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

BRAVO!!! Beautiful, useful, love it. What a wonderful piece. You did a great job, as usual.


37 Christy Keyton January 19, 2013 at 11:25 am

THAT is a GREAT piece of furniture – so unique! I love your makeover and the bun feet are perfect. Thanks for showing how easy it is to add those! I love chalk paint – have used Annie Sloan and CeCe Caldwell, but have not tried to make my own yet. Thanks for all your tips. I really enjoy your blog!


38 Lara January 19, 2013 at 11:50 am

What a gorgeous piece of furniture now! Thanks for the inspiration – and information on how-to. I’ve found lots of unique furniture in thrift stores and I think I’ll get brave and try chalk paint. Thanks for sharing!


39 Patty January 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Salivating on my keyboard.


40 Krisztina Williams January 19, 2013 at 7:18 pm

It is so genius how you took that dresser and put it on it’s side!! I do that a lot, but I never thought to do it with drawers like that. Incredible!! And I love to how-to on adding legs. I really needed that for an upcomming project.


41 DeDe@Designed Decor January 19, 2013 at 8:37 pm

This is absolutely beautiful! I just started a new link party and would love if you would come on over and share your post or social media sites.



42 Marilyn January 19, 2013 at 10:29 pm

What a cool piece of furniture. Thanks for sharing!


43 Sheryll & Critters. January 20, 2013 at 10:31 am

Your ‘after’ is so beautiful. I must try to remember to gamble and spend that dollar on the lottery (I first need lucky numbers), so I can contract you to ‘fix’ my tiny house.

Once again, another perfect redo!


44 Jo-Anna January 20, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Oh Diane this cabinet is to-die-for! I love absolutely everything about it! Those file drawers are incredible!


45 Anne January 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Wow what a gorgeous piece! You really made it shine!


46 Athena at Minerva's Garden January 21, 2013 at 12:26 am

What a unique file cabinet with history–I love how it looks now with the bun feet and the pretty paint job!


47 Sherry Tune January 21, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I am in love….love….love with this piece. It is FANTASTIC!!!!!


48 Rachel January 21, 2013 at 10:34 pm

This is genius and I want this in my house immediately! Seriously – can you somehow make a duplicate and just ship it over to my place? Haha


49 Katharine from Kat's Almost Purrfect World January 24, 2013 at 6:08 am

My old bookshelf that won’t take polishing, cause it’s so worn out, would probably benefit with this type of paint treatment. I’ll let you know what happens.


50 Diane Henkler January 24, 2013 at 11:32 am

Hi Katharine – It should adhere fine. You are going to love how it looks once you polish it with a wax coating.


51 Maude January 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm

This piece is the epitomy of the word “creative”. The brass hardware and all of the printed cards are fabulous!!


52 Gigi Ables January 25, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I LOVE that you admit to it taking you a year to get this DONE! I too get things started then get stalled and move to another project before completeing then first one. FUN WHEN THEY TURN OUT JUST RIGHT LIKE THIS !!!
On another note!! This is TRULY a one of a kind piece, BUT another lady,Kristzina Williams thought it was a dresser you turned on its side …!!WOW!! You COULD take a small dresser like a lingere chest or childs dresser and convert the drawers to make a similar piece… Gotta love it! Everyone sees things so differently! Thanks Kristzina!


53 ali thompson January 29, 2013 at 5:23 pm

holy cow. this is amazing. i love everything about what you did! looks so perfect all together. you did such a great job. well done!


54 Lomr February 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm

What a huge difference, never thought of using chalk paint before.


55 west furniture revival April 6, 2013 at 9:54 pm



56 Elizabeth Morris August 12, 2013 at 2:12 am

I am so happy I came across this post! That file cabinet is just beautiful! You have got me inspired to make my own version! I HATE my hanging file cabinet and I’ve never found a lateral one I like enough to spend the type of money stores ask for them. This is a beautiful alternative! Thanks for all the photos in the post. Makes it a lot easier to sketch out a plan! I do have a few questions for you though if you don’t mind getting back to me when you have some down time…how do you organize your paper work in them? It’s probably obvious but I can’t quite visualize it. Thanks so much!


P.S. I am now hooked on your blog. I spend about an hour before writing this just browsing all your post and am so inspired!! Can’t wait to get your new posts in my bloglovin feed!


57 Kim September 17, 2013 at 5:08 pm

After seeing this I ran into one very similar at an estate auction. I spent way too much on it. It is oak and has all the hardware. I am thinking of painting it like yours…did you paint inside the cubbies? Did you use a brush or roller? I am not sure if I will lower the value of the piece with paint…Mine has large oak drawers on the bottom and the color is not consistent with the top where the cubbies are. I also have 2 pull out boards between the cubbies that I don’t know if paint will come off when you slide them. Input appreciated!
Thank you!


58 Diane Henkler September 21, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Hi Kim – I did not paint the drawers – I did not want the paint to effect the smooth slide of each drawer. I used a brush to paint it, but a roller would work just fine. As far as the value of the piece. If you are not going to try to sell it, then the value you place on it is how much to like it. Some may say you ruined it by painting, but everyone has a different opinion and style. Unless it is a priceless antique that you want to use as an investment – go with your gut feeling and make it your own.


59 Madie January 23, 2014 at 7:57 pm

I love the piece. I want to make on and I’ve only been staring at the pics for hours. I just can’t figure out one thing…are there drawer slides in there? I can’t seem to figure that part out. I’ve seen older wooden pieces with wooden slides but I don’t see any on this piece. Thank you so much for sharing. Your ideas are fabulous and inspiring!


60 Diane Henkler January 24, 2014 at 12:00 am

HI Madie – There are two pieces of wood that run along inside each drawer opening. The drawers just fit right under these when you push them in. Nothing else is in the drawer openings and the drawers themselves have no slides or anything on them. The have flat bottoms.


61 Gayle February 16, 2014 at 11:16 am

I Love It! So Refreshing. Thank You for sharing specifics (font size) it’s Gorgeous.


62 Jenny February 22, 2014 at 7:22 am

Do the drawers hold hanging file folders? Can we see an inside of your organized drawers? It is so beautiful and unique!


63 Diane Henkler February 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Hi Jenny -

They are old fashioned – no hanging file folders. We use regular folders. I will take a photo tomorrow and add it to the post.


64 Beth March 3, 2014 at 7:40 pm

That was the same question I had. My office is in my living room, so to have functional storage that looks good (and not out of place) is key. This unit is perfect – I’ve never seen anything like it!


65 Christine March 3, 2014 at 9:45 am

that is FABULOUS. i would pay good money for a unit like that. i LOVE it


66 Sam March 5, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Wow. Amazing transformation – so inspiring. Popping over from BHG. You’ve got my vote!


67 Diane Henkler March 5, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Thanks Sam


68 Jane Wallace March 6, 2014 at 8:41 pm

This is so unique and beautiful — I love it.


69 Tanya March 8, 2014 at 7:24 am

Your file cabinet is a “MASTERPIECE!” Combining two individual hand-me-downs into such a visionary piece. You are amazing. It is spectacular and so unique. Thank you so much for sharing your inspiration!


70 Diane Henkler March 10, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Hi Tanya -

Thanks so much. The file cabinet sat in its previous state in my studioffice for a long time before I got the idea to add the bookshelf to the top. It is a really unique piece – I feel fortunate that it was handed down to my husband. We had been given quite a bit of furniture from his parents when we were first married. We have sold or donated a lot of it over the years, but this piece was a keeper.


71 Karen Baetzel March 9, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Elegant and beautiful!! So excited to have enjoyed Diane’s creativity for 26 years! Few blogs justify the bandwidth, but this one delivers!!!


72 Diane Henkler March 10, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Hi Karen -

Thanks so much for the vote and high praise. XO I truly appreciate it. Ed is my biggest promoter. Gotta love him for getting the word out to you.


73 Mary March 13, 2014 at 11:48 am

Diane… Love this makeover! I am amazed at your work, it is always beautiful!! Thanks for some really great ideas… Good Luck in the Makeover Madness Challenge Bracket… You should take this one hands down!!!


74 katie March 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm

This is gorgeous!!! Great job!


75 Kathy Barte March 14, 2014 at 12:58 pm

This is a great piece. You have been an inspiration for me. Thanks.


76 Jaye Brown March 14, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Love it Diane, you have always impressed us with your talent. Miss you and the family.


77 Lisa L. March 16, 2014 at 5:28 am

Amazing! You are very creative and have such a keen eye, Diane! Thank you for sharing your projects with us. xo


78 Chelisa Treadway April 3, 2014 at 8:04 am

This is so beautiful! Exactly what I want! Its perfect! Love your blog :)
Treadway Made


79 Milla April 15, 2014 at 6:57 pm

This is awesome! You’ve inspired me to start testing my carpentry skills. I’ve always wanted library catalog still storage area. I’ve been hunting for one but they cost too much. Now I might just try to build one so I want to thank you. Oh and you gained a new follower.


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