Furniture Makeover: DIY Chalk Painted Wood File Cabinet

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 DIY chalk painted furniture now.

Chalk-Painted furniture-Tutorial-Using-Calcium-Carbonate

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.

DIY chalk painted 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.

Two of our other favorite pieces of furniture were from his parents as well: Mantel and my crafts Armoire.

DIY Chalk Painted Furniture Makeover

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.

Vintage-Furniture-Makeovers using diy chalk paint

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?

Furniture-Makeover-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.

How-to-make-a-wood-file-cabinet

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.

Furniture-Making-Ideas

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.

File-cabinet-makeover

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.

Furniture-Painting-Ideas

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.

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.

How-to-age-Brass

On white card stock, I printed out all the file drawer names that I created using  Microsoft Word. I used the font – Engravers MT. Visit my Free Printable Gallery to download your own labels.

How-to-age-brass-drawer-pulls

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

How-to-decorate-a-home-office
Furniture-Before-and-After-Vintage-Wood-File-Drawer-Cabinet

How to Add Bun or Wood Feet To Furniture

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

Furniture-Making-Parts

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.

How-to-add-feet-to-furnitur

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

Furniture-Makeover-Ideas

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

How-to-add-wood-feet-to-furniture

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

How-to-make-a-Wood-File-Drawers
Wood-Drawer-File-Tutorial
How-to-paint-wood-veneer-file-cabinets

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.

Vintage-File-Cabinet-Makeover

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 DIY chalk painted furniture as well as other furniture makeover ideas?

Head over to my Furniture Makeover Gallery page: Furniture Makeovers

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88 Comments

  1. Meliss Rogers says:

    Love this piece! Can you tell me where you purchased the bun feet?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Meliss – You can buy the Bun feet at Home Depot or Loews in the molding aisle. The Van Dykes REstorer’s catalog sells them to. VanDykes dotcom

      1. hi Diane! Can you tell me where you found the brass name plate pulls? I’ve run out of places to look! Thanks!

        1. Diane Henkler says:

          Hi Dadra – The label holders are original to the piece so I didn’t buy them, I only shined them up. You can however find similar ones at Van Dykes .com. Look for “Label Holder” or “Label Drawer pulls”.

  2. Do you know if we can paint over these cheap plywood bookshelf?
    These days they make cheap bookshelf that don’t really last long and i don’t like the colors.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Gao – Yes you can paint over laminate covered press board furniture. You need to sand the surface first to rough/scratch it up first, then use a good gripping primer. Glidden Gripper is the one I use. Then paint. If you want to use chalk paint, you still need to rough the surface up first, but do not need the primer. You can learn more about painting laminate in this post: https://inmyownstyle.com/how-to-paint-anything

  3. Katie @ Little House of Four says:

    This is such a beautiful and unique piece of furniture. I would LOVE to have this file cabinet in my own home. Great job on the makeover!

  4. YES! I would love to see more ideas. This is stunning.

  5. 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.

  6. Chelisa Treadway says:

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

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

  8. Jaye Brown says:

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

  9. Kathy Barte says:

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

  10. This is gorgeous!!! Great job!

  11. 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!!!

  12. Karen Baetzel says:

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

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      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.

  13. 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!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      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.

  14. Jane Wallace says:

    This is so unique and beautiful — I love it.

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

  16. Christine says:

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

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

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      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.

      1. 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!

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

  19. 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!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      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.

  20. 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!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      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.

  21. Elizabeth Morris says:

    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!

    Liz

    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!

  22. west furniture revival says:

    I WOULD LOVE TO FEATURE YOUR PROJECT, IF THAT WOULD BE OK PLEASE LET ME KNOW, LOVE IT!
    lauren

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

  24. ali thompson says:

    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!

  25. Gigi Ables says:

    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!

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

  27. Katharine from Kat's Almost Purrfect World says:

    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.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

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

  28. 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

  29. Sherry Tune says:

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

  30. Athena at Minerva's Garden says:

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

  31. Wow what a gorgeous piece! You really made it shine!
    xx
    Anne

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

  33. Sheryll & Critters. says:

    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!

  34. What a cool piece of furniture. Thanks for sharing!

  35. Krisztina Williams says:

    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.

  36. Salivating on my keyboard.

  37. 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!

  38. Christy Keyton says:

    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!

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

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

    Jenna @ rainonatinroof.com

  41. Laura @ Finding Home says:

    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

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

  43. 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.

  44. Carol in Kansas says:

    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!

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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”

  48. Sarah Vernon says:

    Looks marvellous!

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

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

  51. Shelly Andrade says:

    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!!

  52. 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

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

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

  55. 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!

  56. GORGEOUS makeover! Thanks for the play by play.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      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.

  57. Excellent idea! Inexpensive, stylish and easy to DIY! Thanks for the idea!
    Mike @ Gonautical.com

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

  59. Lauren from MomHomeGuide says:

    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!

  60. 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.
    Thanks,
    Vicki

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      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 -https://inmyownstyle.com/2012/05/plain-to-preppy-stool-makeover.html 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.

      1. 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,
        Vicki

  61. Stephanie@cre8tive says:

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

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

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

  64. Sandra Miller-Long says:

    Absolutely gorgeous!

  65. Susan @ SunfowerHugs.blogspot.com says:

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

  66. maria Gaven says:

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

  67. Krafty Max says:

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

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      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.

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

  69. It’s fabulous! I love it!

  70. Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

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