Simple Bar Cart to Work of Art

Hi Friends,

Earlier this summer, as Lil and I were spending time at different moving and estate sales in the Hudson Valley, we came across this bar cart – sometimes we don’t know what treasures we will find!

black bar cart
Our $5 Moving Sale Find – Simple Black Bar Cart

We found the bar cart and other great items at a moving sale at a beautiful house in Newburgh that overlooked the Hudson River.  We ended up with the cart, some Crate & Barrel plates, End Tables, a throw blanket, and a bar set, all for a total cost of $20!  Motivated sellers give you the power as the buyer, but that is for a different article.  Today, we want to tell you about how we transformed our boring, black bar cart into something we will display and use at our new apartment.

Lil and I discussed our color scheme at our new apartment well in advance; this allows us to stay focused when we are out thrifting and shopping.  We elected to go with Gray, White, Gold, and Blue-Greens as our central color scheme, so when Lil and I began our bar cart project, the decisions were easy.

Lil started the project by spray painting the black bar cart with the Ocean Mist Rust-Oleum spray paint we picked up from the hardware store.

bar cart with spray paint
Freshly Painted Bar Cart

Then we taped off the edges so we could paint the shelves with our leftover chalk gray paint (purchased for our Coffee Table DIY).

bar cart grey paint
We carefully taped the edges so that our foam roller would only paint the shelves.
Bar cart untaping
Removing the painter’s tape once our grey paint had dried to reveal nice crisp edges

Lil decided to add a personal touch, so we bought a Krylon Copper Leafing Pen from Michael’s for $3 (originally $11 but we found another 70% off coupon through After some searching online for different fonts, we selected one that we both loved. What other word more fitting for a bar cart than “Cheers”?

Bar cart text measuring
Measuring twice, sketch once – we didn’t want our calligraphy to be off center
bar cart top
Lil was up early to work on the top of the bar cart – she’s still in pajamas!
Lil’s first attempt at calligraphy – thank goodness for starting with pencil and having a good eraser!
Bar cart version 2.0
Bar cart version 2.0 – it turned out to be a little too pretty and pristine for our tastes
Bar cart sanding
Roughing up the look of our bar cart with some good ol’ sanding

After we were finally happy with the look and feel of our bar cart, we needed to seal it since it would be in a high-traffic area (living room) and would definitely see drips and spills in the future. We sprayed on the polyurethane we had available; while researching, we discovered polyurethane would provide the best level of protection.  However, we quickly realized the spray-on form was a mistake as it seeped into the ridges and created a yellowish discoloration where there was an excess.

Yellowish streaks from excess polyurethane – lesson learned.

We ended up being able to cover up the discoloration with leftover spray paint and re-sanded for our desired distressed look – crisis averted! We looked up the next best sealant and decided to go with Minwax water-based polycrylic. We applied two coats with a synthetic brush, allowing for an hour of drying in between coats. No yellow discoloration this time, yay!

Bar Cart Final
Bar cart version 3.0 – A Work of Art

Here’s a sexy spreadsheet of cost comparing our DIY vs buying brand new low- to mid-tier versions:

Cost Savings Analysis - bar cart

The “Start From Scratch” price is based off of a the cost of materials for the Lil & Big tutorial without coupons/discounts, but the photo example is from a wonderful tutorial by Kelli & Kristi at Check it out!

Lil’s takeaways:

  1. Since we didn’t have a tutorial to follow for this project, it was important to agree with Big on the overall look and feel of the piece – we both wanted a more rustic/coastal vibe and weren’t quite satisfied with the cutesy look of Bar Cart 2.0.  We decided that the quickest and most economical way to resolve this was to scuff up the mint green spray paint with some light sanding – problem solved!
  2. If a project doesn’t turn out the way you had pictured it in your head, don’t give up and don’t settle! Take it as a learning experience, ask yourself, “HOW can I improve this?”, and make the piece something that will “spark joy” every time you look at it.

Big’s takeaways:

  1. Water-based polycrylic is now our preferred method of sealing our projects. It takes a little more effort to apply but seems well worth the effort to avoid streaking and yellowing.
  2. Build off of confidence! After our successful coffee table DIY, Lil and I were confident and motivated to work on our bar cart.  Lil took the initiative on this project, and I was happy to play my role.

We hope you found our DIY furniture post helpful and interesting! Feel free to drop us a comment below and follow us on Instagram to see how our bar cart fits into our new apartment 🙂

These were some little steps to big savings!


Lil & Big


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