My Charity Shop Furniture Makeover - creating my 'cabinet of curiosities'

One of the pieces that has been key to the success of the studio is my huge glazed cabinet. It's one of the focal points of the room and not only allows me a space to play with flowers and style my treasures, but gives me a place to hide away all manner of unsightly, but necessary items. In real life, in order to have pretty shelves, you need somewhere to actually put all that not-quite-so-pretty stuff.

On my moodboard for this space, I'd always had a picture of a vintage 'cabinet of curiosities' - the kind you might expect to see in an old apothecary shop, filled to the brim with bottles of tinctures and jars of potions. When the time came to furnish the space, because of the scale of this room and the size of cabinet I was looking for, everything I saw was over £2K - the truly swoon-worthy vintage pieces I fell for were double that. I didn't want to spend that much on a cabinet for a garden building for so many I started trawling Gumtree. I hit the jackpot when I found my little ugly duckling for just £20.

Ok, so it isn't what my husband would call a 'grown up' piece. It's a 1950s (ish) cheap veneer job, it's chipped and damaged, it has stick on moulding (which for love nor money I could NOT prise off), but it is the perfect size, has the ideal ratio of hidden storage v display space and gives me pretty much exactly what I asked for.......and did I mention it was £20?

The before photos are dire - it was all orange tinged veneer with twiddly repro handles, but it was full of potential. I won't offend your sensitivities by posting any, but if you are desperate to see a before picture - head over to my 'Studio' tab on Instagram Stories. You'll see her in all her glory there.

The process:

  • The whole thing got two coats, inside and out of Annie Sloan's 'Graphite'. I had some left over Farrow & Ball 'Railings' matt emulsion so I added some of that in there too (which is why there's a hint of navy with the charcoal). There was no real prep other than a good clean. After two coats and a day's drying time, I did a top coat of clear matt 'Decorators Varnish' by Polyvine.

  • Originally the cabinet had glass shelves up top - I swapped these over for some 18mm MDF that I had cut to size at my local timber yard and painted those the same colour.

  • I fitted new 'unfinished brass rectangular cup handles' - bought on Amazon for around £7 each (they seem to be more expensive at the moment). They fit neatly over the old holes so I didn't need to do any filling or sanding thankfully.

  • Going forward, I'll probably add some patterned wallpaper to the back of the inside of the display area - I'm on the lookout for a moody, botanical floral paper. I also need to find three brass ball knobs to the base cupboard doors.

Lessons learnt:

  • Check whether the piece will fit your car before committing to the purchase and factor in the cost of transporting your piece if you can't drive it home yourself. I paid £100 to have this beast delivered home from the charity shop. It was worth every penny, but you don't want to take the shine off your 'bargain' by having a surprise delivery charge when you weren't expecting it. I use for my random, one-off eBay/Gumtree deliveries like this.

  • Absolutely, definitely use masking tape to protect the glass from paint. A classic case of do as I say, not do as I do. I was in such a rush to get this one done so I could start shooting in the space, that I didn't prep properly and only masked up the front of the glass and not the inside- it was SUCH a pain to clean the glazing afterwards.

  • When I use Chalk Paint, I water down the paint down slightly more than suggested and opt for multiple, thinner layers. I find I get a much flatter finish which I prefer.

  • Don't underestimate the time it takes. This giant needed two coats, plus the top coat of varnish. It's a MASSIVE cabinet and it took a lot of painting - then add in the drying time and the time to clean the glass. So whilst the cabinet cost me just £20, it took three days of my time.

The verdict?

I love it. It's given me everything I had hoped for and more and it's an incredibly affordable way of getting a whole lot of storage. What I haven't told you yet is I also bought another cabinet at the same time. I couldn't resist. It's even more beautiful than this one, but it's currently awaiting its makeover's going to be waiting a while.