How To Update A Boring Bathroom, Part One: Painting the Cabinets

You know the look, the builder's stock cabinetry, the rectangular frameless mirror stuck on the wall, the boring chrome faucets, the white laminate countertop or marble counter with the all in one sinks...pretty uninspiring even for a bathroom. It's hard enough to get up and face yourself in the mirror every morning without doing in in an ugly bathroom. But it doesn't have to be that way! You can give your bathroom a big boost as a do-it-yourself project just by updating the vanity area. And if you're reasonably handy, you can get it done in a long weekend or two!

Planning Your Bathroom Style

When I redid my bathroom vanity area, it was only the first step of an entire master bathroom renovation. I had to do it that way in the interest of money and time. So my renovation will go as follows: vanity area, toilet, bathtub, shower. I chose the least challenging project first. I initially decided on a color scheme for my bathroom. Since I had recently re-done my bedroom in chocolate brown and Caribbean blue, the color choice was already made for me. I also wanted to go with a luxurious, spa-like atmosphere in the bathroom which is the reason for the bite-at-a-time projects...an all-out bathroom renovation can cost in the thousands!

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Painting A Bathroom Vanity

My bathroom vanity was typical builder's stock cabinetry, without even any drawer pulls or knobs to dress it up! It was in a blah shade of pecan that had faded over time and looked pretty boring. So I made up my mind, I was going to paint the vanity. I was a little frightened by this project at first, but decided if I started small with the drawers first, it wouldn't be quite so scary.

Here's my supply list:

  • 2" trim brush
  • sandpaper, fine and medium
  • primer
  • semi-gloss enamel paint
  • drill/driver
  • cabinet knobs & drawer pulls
  • tack cloth
  • pencil
  • measuring tape
  • TSP (trisodium phospate, a cleaner)
  • 2" to 3" wide foam brush
  • polyurethane sealer


Priming & Painting The Cabinet Doors

I pulled all the drawers out and using my drill driver, removed the cabinet doors. Because I didn't want to get paint on the hinges, I removed the hinges with my drill/driver and a flat head screwdriver. I washed the drawers and doors down with TSP first, along with the vanity to get whatever surface gunk like make-up splatters, toothpaste, etc., off. I hauled the whole lot out on my deck where I sanded them all with medium grade sandpaper to take down the remaining finish and get them ready for painting.

I gave them a coat of primer with the two inch brush, then a coat of paint with the foam brush. This is where extreme patience enters the picture! You really need to wait till one coat dries before you start the next coat to get the kind of finish you want. While the drawers and doors are drying, you can go inside and work on the vanity base and just keep alternating, so you won't be tempted to start a new coat of paint when the last one is not dry. Then I sanded everything down with very fine sandpaper, then painted two more coats, sanding between each one. I used a polyurethane sealer to seal the paint, so they wouldn't get scratched so easily from everyday use.

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Putting Knobs & Drawer Pulls On Your Cabinets

On to the easy part! Well, you think it would be the easy part, but believe it or not, putting knobs and drawer handles on can be a very tricky job. You can drill the holes in the wrong place, you can drill the holes too big, any number of not very nice things can happen even if you think you've measured correctly. There is a great cheat that you can buy at your local home improvement store and it's a knob placement template. It has various holes in it in different locations depending on where you want your knobs to be. Trust me, invest in this handy little thing and you will be glad you did! Use a permanent marker to mark the holes for drilling.

Drilling The Holes For The Cabinet Knobs

Here's the tricky part....key to drilling the holes is choosing he right size drill bit. Your drill bit must be the same size as the screw that came with your knob or you will have a hole that's too big and have a dangly knob. Another thing that is sometimes an issue is the screws that come with the drawer handles. there are very seldom the right length and you will usually end up buying longer screws. Just make sure they are the same diameter of the screws that came with the knobs and are long enough to screw 1/4" into the knob once they go through the drawer or door. Use your template to decide where to place your knobs and drill frim the front to the back of your drawer. Use your drill/driver or a Phillip's screwdriver to screw your knobs on and you are done!

The Vanity Base Complete

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Comments 5 comments

annmackiemiller profile image

annmackiemiller 5 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

the before and after are great


cardelean profile image

cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

You did a fantastic job. It is amazing what a little bit of updating can do for a room. When we moved into our house we painted all of the rooms, changed the light fixtures and the flooring and the place looked brand new. Great step by step process and photos.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Ann and Cardelean. I still have miles to go...stay tuned for the next several chapters to this story!


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

Wow - looks great. I have a 1970's blah bathroom. I'm bookmarking your bathroom Hubs and may tackle mine soon. You chose a great color - what is it? Rated up!!


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Suzie. I'll hunt up the paint can and let you know the color. I just remember the guy at Lowe's who mixed it said it reminded him of Werther's Butterscotch!

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