Boring Filing Cabinets Get A Midcentury Modern Makeover

Hi Friends,

Big and I have been to several estate and moving sales around the Hudson Valley over the past couple of months ( is a great resource to keep up-to-date on local sales and auctions). At one particular moving sale in Newburgh, NY, we acquired a pair of filing cabinets for $4 each, as well as a black bar cart with complete stainless steel bar set, Crate and Barrel dinner plates, and a throw blanket for an additional $12 for a grand total of $20!

These filing cabinets were in good condition but were just a little plain for my taste. Big would have been happy keeping them as is, but I wanted to freshen them up a bit.

Filing cabinet, newly acquired and pre-makeover

My thought process:

  1. Where will these go in the Little Big Apartment: In the living room, on either side of our IKEA Kivik couch, which we purchased in excellent condition from Craigslist for $100!
    1. Since they’ll be in the living room, having 3 drawers just isn’t functional – we need room to store our throw blankets, pillows, magazines, etc.
  2. What style: Midcentury modern
    • White/grey and natural wood tones along with the clean lines would complement the couch and coffee table well.
  3. How do I do this DIYtoWealth style – straightforward while saving the most? See below!

To resolve the issue of appropriate storage for living room use, I removed the 2 bottom drawers; this opened up a space more functional as storage for bulky items not easily stored in drawers (plus it looks a lot better!). Luckily, the tracks were plastic and popped off easily. Holes from the tracks were patched up with wood filler, left to dry for 15 minutes, then sanded down. While waiting for the wood filler to dry, I sanded and painted the outsides of the cabinets in a glossy white paint we had leftover from our coffee table project. The two top drawers that I intended to keep were sanded with 100 grit sandpaper and stained with leftover Minwax stain in Ipswich Pine  to give them a little more pop against the white outsides. Once the stain was given a few hours to cure in the sun, I painted a light coat of polycrylic to seal it.

Removing the bottom 2 drawers and tracks
One coat of stain was all it took!

Big and I later went to Home Depot to check out their “Oops” paint section, where we found a beautiful grey shade for $0.50!! 50 cents, y’all! That got Big pumped enough to help me with the rest of the project 😛

Always look for the Oops section in the paint area of your local hardware store for great deals.
Putting Big to work <3

We taped off the white edges with painter’s tape before painting the grey with a sponge brush.

On our trip back from Home Depot, we decided to swing by True Value, a discount hardware store. They had $1 bins outside full of handles and other accessories, so we picked up a couple of these brushed nickel pull handles.

Screwing the handle in was a piece of cake since we used the existing pilot holes.

Below are a view of the final products. The project took at most 2 active hours, costed a little over $10 total ($5.25 per end table), and made a HUGE difference in appearance and functionality.

Before and After
The pair of these end tables costed $10.50 – style doesn’t have to be expensive!

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

The “Start From Scratch” price is based off the DIY nightstand tutorial by our friends at Shanty2Chic. Their nightstand is so beautiful, would also function as a living room piece, and easily customizable – check out their awesome, simple-to-follow tutorial here!

Lil’s takeaways:

  1. My biggest battle was staining the drawers’ wood veneer. It was a cheap material, and despite sanding the surface down, the stain had a tough time sticking. I ended up staining all 6 drawers and picking my favorite 2, because they all cured differently. The key to staining surfaces like veneer – ahem, Ikea – is to sand sand sand! Also, keep your layers of stain thin and even; using a wash cloth to dab up excess can help. Letting the stain cure between layers is SUPER important; otherwise the new layer will just pull away at the previous layer, and you’ll have to start all over.

Big’s takeaways:

  1. I was initially skeptical of making such a drastic change by removing the drawers. However, I was blown away by the outcome.  So my first takeaway – if you have an inexpensive find like this, go for the home run in the makeover.
  2. Reuse material and supplies to save even more on cost and add continuity in your home.  We reused the white paint, polyurethane, wood stain, and wood filler from the coffee table – adding to the feel of our living room and saving on cost.

Do you have a fun story of sprucing up a secondhand furniture piece? Feel free to share in the comments section below. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Pinterest for more ways to save money while living stylishly 🙂

These were some little steps to big savings!


Lil & Big

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