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How to Easily and Inexpensively Renovate an Armoire - or Not

Updated on October 31, 2012

The Right Way or the Easy Way

As we all know, hindsight is 20/20. So, after going to the major efforts to prep this armoire for painting, I wish I had just painted and kept a bit of the paint on hand to touch up scuffs. But, if you want to do it right - in other words - if you want it to stand up to dings and scrapes for decades to come, you can do what I did as described in this article.

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The Purchase

Hopefully, you or someone in your family has a great old armoire that could easily be refinished for a whole new look. I did not, however, but by chance, when I was with my daughter who was signing up to volunteer at a local thrift store, this beauty caught my eye. It was a bit large for my space, but was solid wood. I reasoned that a dark paint would make it look smaller (similar to me wearing black clothes in an attempt to look thin.)

The price was right at $75 - but to my astonishment, all furniture was 25% off for a 4th of July sale. Yup, I grabbed it for $56.25, and made a quick call to a relative with a truck.

The key for me, what I had been looking for, was a very solid piece with classic styling and trim. I saw a lot of nasty looking 80's armoires on Craig's List, but I was just focused on shape (notice the trim, the feet, and the doors), since I knew the color would change.

Choosing the Color

Driving to Home Depot, debating colors, and driving back were, probably, the most time-consuming parts of this task. I ended up choosing a dark gray to match my sofa, since these are background pieces, meant to support the final punches of color in the living room.

Also, there is the issue of sheen. Well, we all know the order: flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. While the idea of a lacquer-looking case sounded glamorous and quasi-oriental to me, I am modest enough to know that I am not that great of a painter, and gloss finishes show all (paint strokes, etc.) So, I settled with a quart of satin.

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Prepping for the Prep

Since I had plans to thoroughly sand this beast ('doing it right'), inside and out, I pre-prepped by covering up the intake vent in my apartment (so as not to spread the dust everywhere), I covered most of my furniture with sheets (to avoid massive amounts of dusting and vacuuming after the sanding), and opened all my windows.

I rolled massive amounts of thick plastic under and around the armoire. I even used an old, uninflated pool air mattress. The abundance of plastic was, again, because I'm aware of my limitations as a painter.

Tip: If you are covering the floor with plastic by yourself, roll up the plastic (or air mattress). Unroll about a foot. Tip up one side of the armoire, and using one of your feet, position the roll under the armoire with the flat portion of the rolled-up plastic under where the feet will land when you lower the armoire. Next, move to the other side of the armoire, tip it up, and with your toes, drag the plastic toward you to completely unroll it. ("Necessity is the mother of invention." - Plato?)

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Sanding

Again, I would omit this entire section if I had it to do again. It was very physically hard, took a long time, was quite an expense in orbital sandpaper, and covered everything with dust. However, the reason I could have gotten away with this method is that I was going from a light to dark finish. If you're going from dark to light, you'll probably have to remove the original finish or plan to apply many coats of the new color, which would take forever (allowing for overnight drying of each coat), and would look not so great if you got a scratch, revealing the dark color below.

Anyway, I borrowed my neighbor's orbital sander (with a dust catcher - which, by the way - really doesn't catch much dust), and bought some fairly expensive orbital sandpaper in two grits: 100 (for the first sand) and 220 (for the finished sand). In addition, I purchased some 3M flexible sandpaper to sand the trim and anything else that wasn't flat, as well as a dust mask.

The goal was to remove the sheen so that the new paint would adhere well.

I had pictured this process taking maybe a couple to a few hours. Wrong! It took days, plus the expense of the sanding materials pushed my actual cost way up there. I developed muscles I never knew I had and had some great neck pain due to the weird angles I had to hold myself while hefting and pushing on the bleepity, bleep sander.

Painting

Right before I started painting, I realized that I didn't want to go to all the trouble of taping off the hinges and wanted a clean, new look. So, I decided to remove the hinges, which was no real trouble at all. I kept the corresponding screws with the corresponding hinges and knobs and set each in the cabinet where they needed to be reinstalled. I placed the doors flat on the plastic-covered floor.

The painting tools that worked best for me on this project (and were quite inexpensive) were a small, long-handled roller and a couple small sponge painters on a stick. Out of the little knowledge I do have of painting, is that you start with the detail work, the edges, and the interior of the door carvings, and finish with the large flat surfaces - this helps avoid drips from the trim work and finishes with even long strokes on the largest, most visible surfaces.

Since the floor was covered with a hefty pastic, I was wearing raggedy painting clothes, and all the hardware and doors had been removed, the painting went pretty quickly. I did need to later go over the large, flat surfaces with the sponge roller again, but the job only took two coats.

For the doors, I painted the interior door carving and outside edges first, then finished with large strokes of the paint roller. If someone peeked in from the outside, they might guess that I was playing Twister by myself.

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Reassemly

Reassembly took place the next day when my niece stopped by. I was going to tackle this on my own, but now I would advise getting help. The trick is re-balancing the doors so that they hang, open, and close properly. Also, in hindsight, I would have numbered the doors starting with the top left, as we found that each door fit uniquely. Basically, you need one person to hold the door steady in mid air while the other person screws the hinges back in. I had planned on pulling a Captain Morgan move with my knee held high in the air, holding the door up, while I screwed the hinges in with one hand, but in reality, that probably wouldn't have worked.

Screwing in the new porcelain knobs from Pier One ($4./each) was a breeze, and I must say, I luuuuuv them.

The Final Cost

  • Armoire: $59.06 (w/tax)
  • Paint: about $12.
  • Roller and sponge brushes: about $6.
  • Sanding discs/flex sanders/face mask: about $30.
  • New knobs: $16.
  • Ibuprofen: about $1.
  • Total: About $125.

Now, had I not sanded, the total would have been about $94, which sounds to me a lot less that over-reaching that $100 mark. Maybe it's just psychological.

But, if you are the 'do it right' kind of person and are willing to put in the days, expense, and muscle-challenging body poses, then by all means, do the job thoroughly.

But, if you're like me, skip the sanding, the expense, and the aches and pains, and just keep a bit of touch-up paint in a closet.

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