A Vintage China Cabinet

Hello everyone.. if you’re here for the first time then you’re very welcome and if you’ve returned then, thank you! I have been more than a little excited to share today’s up-cycle with you. This vintage find is special for all kinds of reasons not least because in its original state it looked sad and neglected. And it smelt. A lot.

Let me begin this post by saying I am by no means a professional at these up-cycles. There are many ways to paint, distress, transform old junk but this way works for me.  It’s easy, quick and any DIY project that doesn’t take too long to complete is good for me. As another side note, I up-cycle inexpensive treasures, not antique heirlooms.  The way I see it is if I don’t rescue these beauties, the next stop could be firewood.

The challenge? A sad eBay find which needs some love. This vintage beauty had a cracked pane of glass in the door, wonky shelves and scratches and scrapes galore.  Oh and that distinctive odour I mentioned? The smell that comes from being housed in a damp and musty garage for way too long and possibly living in a smoky environment before that. Here she is minus her doors and shelves.

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See  what I mean? Not the prettiest vintage find you’ve ever seen.  I have wanted for some time now, a display cupboard for beautiful china tea sets. Lucky me that I have two. One set is rather unusual and I inherited it from my Grandmother. The other beauty is a mix of Royal Albert and Royal Osbourne gifted to me from a very close and dear family friend.

My ‘Nan’s’ tea set is a delicate white, bone china affair from yesteryear. No markings to give away names or dates but well over 75 years old. I recall my grandparents dining room was for ‘best’ and only ever used at Christmas, Easter or for family parties when my uncles returned from their homes abroad. When I was little I loved spending time with my Nan and if I was a good girl (and if I was the only grandchild visiting) I was allowed to sit quietly in front of the glass fronted display cabinet and play.  I would take out a tea-cup oh so carefully and hold the cup up to the window.  And if the light was favourable, I would tip the cup up as though to drink some tea and there at the bottom of the cup was the face of a beautiful Japanese lady.

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Every time I got to play with this tea set was special. Every time I saw the lady’s face I was surprised. And I would line up my dolls in their best party dresses and pass them cups of tea and repeat my Nan’s words to be very careful indeed. Imagine my delight when I found this tired old cabinet; I knew exactly what would live in here.

And so to today’s vintage make-over. My first job, to replace the glass which I did inexpensively by a local and friendly chap. The shelf supports only needed a little readjusting; perfectly within the realms of my DIY skills and this amazing primer sorted out the smell and prepared the way for my new favourite paint. A note of caution, this primer dries very quickly and you should aim to try and not go over and over it.  Otherwise it takes on the identity of Copydex glue, all stringy and stretchy. I used a masking tape to keep the paint off the glass, ok to try to keep it off.  This is how it looked with just a coat of primer.

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Farrow and Balls Skimming Stone offered the degree of ‘grey’ I was looking for.  This piece will live in our sitting room for now which doesn’t get too much natural light so anything darker wouldn’t have worked. This is the same paint I used for the kitchen cupboards (that’s going to take more than one post to cover that little challenge!) yet looks totally different on this vintage piece and in this darker room.

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There are many tips and tricks for seeing how different colours look on different woods and walls but in my opinion it’s often trial and error which helps make your choice. I applied two coats which was all this piece needed, one coat in the morning and the other after lunch. This is the inside and back of the door after two coats. When I take off the tape I use a sharp razor blade to take off any bleeds of paint and that gives a professional paint meets glass look.

I’m hopeful you’re starting to see ugly duckling to swan happening by now. I’m a great fan of distressing my painted furniture.  When the children were younger, the more distressed a piece, the less fussy I was when toy cars knocked into it! For this task I simply take a sandpaper block, wrap a fine grade paper around it and ever so lightly wipe the block over the part of the furniture which is most likely to take the knocks. Light pressure will usually just take off the a top layer of paint. Apply more pressure if you want to go down to primer and even more for the original wood.  This stage is very much up to personal taste.  And of course this distressing stage can be omitted entirely depending on your taste. Finally I used a clear wax to seal and protect. My preference is this Briwax clear and for me one generous coat is usually enough.  There are lots of shade choices in this range and I’m sure in other makes too.  Allow the wax to dry completely and then, with a lint free rag, buff, buff and buff some more.  You need a bit of stamina for the buffing! Any wax on the glass can be removed with white spirit or rubbing alcohol which in turn will clean the glass beautifully. And so, now with her gleaming shell and sparkling glass, it’s back in with the shelves, back on with the door…

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and finally, the best bit…the very best bit…styling this pretty vintage china in this beautiful vintage cabinet. Complete with a pretty new handle of course.

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And now my dilemma is this. There’s only enough room for one set of pretties. The cabinet had always been earmarked for my Nan’s set but in sharp contrast the mixed china is all things bright and beautiful. It is just the sort of English delight that should be used for afternoon tea in a cottage garden on a warm summers day.  And at the moment it is a warm summers day.  Very warm. So for now, the delicate floral has a home and the hunt goes on for a second, sad and neglected cabinet. Let me know if you see one.

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Whitewood and Linen

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