This built-in china cabinet is nice, but it was knotty …

china cabinet_before

The china cabinet sits in the dining room of the cute little duplex in Alexandria that my husband G bought almost 10 years ago—way before he ever thought about marrying me! He primed the cabinet, then painted it blue and white to match his plates. It looked great.

However, the knots in the wood started bleeding through both the primer and the latex paint making the cabinet look like it had the chicken pox. (And don’t tell G, but I thought the blue and white looked a little smurfy without the plates.)


We have been renting out the house for the past few years. When our tenant moved out-of-state in June, we decided it was time to sell. We have been working on the place for most of the summer and I am excited to share with you some of the projects we have completed, starting with this china cabinet.

We re-painted the entire inside of the house a creamy vintage white, but I wanted a little bit of color for the china cabinet to transform it into the focal point of the room.

(But just a LITTLE bit of color…nothing too crazy since we want the house to be neutral and awesome for its new owners!)

Sometimes I agonize over what color to paint a project. No time for that here! In my basement at home, I found a full gallon of a soft yellow color called Manila from Behr. We bought this paint last year for an accent wall in our office renovation project, but ended up not using it. The yellow was perfect for the china cabinet and the kitchen, which a previous tenant had painted barn red.

IMG_2523Before painting, I had to do something to treat the knots or else they would just show through again. Primer wasn’t enough.

Instead, I used Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac. I applied two coats per the instructions on the can, sanding lightly in between.

When it dried, you could still see the knots, but that’s OK. The shellac works its magic after the paint is applied.

About 90% of the knots were covered by the first coat of yellow paint. The second coat took care of the remaining stubborn ones.

That's me in front of the china cabinet. Photo by Joey, my 2-year-old son. He was playing with my phone while I was painting. I deleted all of the other photos he took. 27 shots of my butt--and 1 video!
That’s me in front of the china cabinet. Photo by Joey, my 2-year-old son. He was playing with my phone while I was painting. I deleted all of the other photos he took when I was on my hands and knees—27 shots of my butt … and 1 video!

My original plan was to paint the china cabinet and the kitchen the same yellow color to tie the two rooms together and call it done. Then we went to an open house at another property on the market in our neighborhood.

(Yes, we are THOSE nosy, nervy neighbors!)

They had an amazing updated kitchen with a spectacular backsplash.

Our kitchen has the same cabinets, countertops and sink from when the house was built—in 1949.

Suddenly, a new paint job wasn’t enough. I wanted a backsplash too. And an American Paint Company makeover for our cabinets. G just rolled his eyes at me like he does when I drastically expand the scope of a project after we are halfway done with it.

We selected a cream and gray-ish mosaic tile for our new backsplash and matched American Paint Company’s Crushed Tea to the tile for the cabinets. That would give our kitchen a little pizazz!

(But just a LITTLE bit of pizazz! We’re trying to sell the place here!)

I also decided that if we are doing all of this work, we might as well do it right. If the china cabinet was going to be the focal point of the dining room, the yellow was nice, but ho-hum. To truly transform it into a focal point, I added a wash of the Crushed Tea over the yellow—the same look I had in mind for the kitchen cabinets—to dazzle the new owners.

(But just a LITTLE bit of dazzle! I don’t want to freak out any potential homebuyers with my dazzle!)

china cabinet_progress photo 1

china cabinet_progressphoto 2

The technique I used to create this look was simple. I dipped my brush into the paint and knocked a lot of it off on the side of my paint container. Then I dipped it into water and knocked it off on the side of my water container. I swiped it onto the cabinet, then kept running my brush over it to feather out the paint and eventually cover the entire cabinet frame and exterior of the doors. I left the inside yellow.

If the paint looked too thick, I brushed on more water. If the mixture got too watery, I brushed on more paint. I kept layering the paint/water mixture in long strokes to create a textured look with lots of the yellow showing through. Crushed Tea is a rich color, but it is weird. It totally looked gray on this table that I painted and against the kitchen backsplash tile. However, against the yellow backdrop of the china cabinet, it looked more brown.

I let it dry overnight, then applied the Top Coat. I liked it OK enough, but I didn’t love it. It looked way too brown so I layered on more of the paint/water mixture all over. The Crushed Tea dried more on the gray side this time, although it still looks a little more brown in some of the photos. I sealed it with three more coats of APC Top Coat.

Now I really liked it a lot … but I still didn’t love it.

china cabinet_closeup1

china cabinet_closeup knobs

Then I got my next great idea … to add the tile from the kitchen backsplash into the open space in the china cabinet. My dad—who is an expert on pretty much any home improvement project you can think of—installed the peel-and-stick tile in the time it took me to run out and pick up lunch. This shot was taken before the grout was added:

china cabinet_tile closeupThe following week, my dad grouted the area with gray-tinted grout after the paint dried and the Top Coat had time to cure.

The last-minute backsplash on the china cabinet took three extra squares of the tile I bought for the kitchen at a cost of about $24.

(I already had the shellac, both colors of paint and the Top Coat from previous projects. We re-used the cabinet’s pretty glass hardware.)

Now … I LOVE it!
And I hope the home’s new owners LOVE IT too!

~ Courtney

china cabinet_after

P.S.—If you have been dreaming about a cute little vintage home in walking distance to the Huntington Metro station in the Fairfax County section of Alexandria, I hear there’s one coming on the market soon! Corner lot, great yard, awesome party deck … and a fabulous custom-painted built-in china cabinet in the dining room! 🙂

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