Bathroom Cabinets Makeover . . . My First Ever “Grown Up” DIY Project!

bathroom cabinets makeover

This blogging thing is really getting to me! In a GOOD way, of course. :-) After over a year of blogging and researching and surfing and pinning….I finally succumbed to the DIY bug and decided to tackle a somewhat significant project in my house. I must have been a bit mental when I saw this tutorial by Monica at Monica Wants It and thought…that looks easy! I can do that!

Well, it wasn’t what I would call EASY…but I’m sure that’s due more to the fact that I’m a complete DIY newbie (or newb…as my boys would say)! Although…it really wasn’t HARD either. I’m sorry, I’m making NO sense. lol. I guess I am just GIDDY over how well it turned out!

About two weeks ago, with the help my daughter Britta, I decided to dive head first into my first ever “grown up” DIY project….refinishing the cabinets in the “boys bathroom”. (I figured I’d use their bathroom as the guinea pig project and if it wasn’t a colossal fail I would try it in MY bathroom.)

I must send out major props to Monica at Monica Wants It. When I saw her tutorial on Staining Oak Cabinets An Espresso Color I was immediately intrigued, because MY bathroom looked SO similar to hers in the BEFORE photos.  I was hopeful I could make them look like her AFTER pictures as well!  I won’t even TRY and replicate what’s she’s done because she has laid it all out in a detailed step-by-step tutorial.

Since I am such a neophyte at DIY projects…I pretty much followed her instructions to the T…but I did end up doing a few things differently. I assume this is typical because no two projects are alike. Am I right? I’m just guessing here. :-)

So here are my TIPS for accomplishing this project in your own bathroom….for what their worth. :-)  Just remember they are coming from a first timer.

  • When you are removing the old hardware from the doors and drawers…put everything in a bag or a box and HOLD ONTO IT until the project is finished. You will obviously be needing the inside hinges to reattach the doors, but the screws that came with the new handles I bought for the drawers turned out to be too short….so it was a VERY good things I kept ALL the original hardware. FYI…the replacement pulls and knobs I used are from the Martha Stewart Collection at Home Depot.
  • If you are like me and are put off by any project that involves SANDING…don’t let that stop you from trying this. The sanding component is minimal and using one of the sanding blocks that she suggests buying for the project is a BIG HELP. I definitely recommend getting one.
  • Not a fan of The Sock Method. The tutorial suggests using a men’s athletic sock (over a vinyl glove) to apply the stain. I tried this and it just didn’t work for me. I much preferred using the foam brushes. And make things easy on yourself…buy several foam brushes in several sizes and just throw them away when they dry out. They are super cheap and I HATE cleaning brushes. 
  • Speaking of stain…Monica INSISTS that General Finishes Java Gel Stain is the BEST stain for the job. While I’m just a beginner…I would have to agree. I absolutely LOVE how the color came out in the end. And while I bought the quart sized can…you could EASILY get by with the 1/2 pint size for a bathroom. I hardly put a DENT in the amount of stain in the can. A little goes a LONG way!
  • Before I applied the polyacrylic topcoat I went over any little areas that the stain hadn’t quite covered entirely and filled it in with a Black Sharpie. (A little trick from the hubster!) If I didn’t know where I’d used the Sharpie…I would never be able to tell.
  • I was very good about following Monica’s suggestion about LOTS OF DRYING TIME  in between coats. I think this is pretty important in the overall success of this project. However, I became impatient at the END of the project and did 3 coats of the polyacrylic topcoat in pretty close succession with no problems. It dries surprisingly fast! Just make sure each coat is even and not too thick.

That’s pretty much all I got folks! I hope you will check out Monica’s blog and tutorial. She obviously put a LOT of work into the tutorial and I am just SO pleased with the results I was able to achieve by following it.

bathroom cabinet makeover

Miss Britta got the project ball rolling by taking off the doors and sanding. Thanks sweetie! :-)

bathroom cabinet makeover

Looking better……..

bathroom cabinet makeover

 TaDa! Was I right??? Third coat did the trick!

And here are the BEFORE and AFTER photos:

bathroom cabinet makeover


bathroom cabinet makeover


Looking at those pictures….I almost can’t believe I did that!  

Final thoughts and impressions: SO pleased with how it turned out and would recommend the project to anyone! I think  it’s a good project for “first timers” like myself. A definite confidence booster. I learned a lot and can’t wait to start on MY bathroom next. I certainly have enough leftover stain to do it.



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  1. says

    Wow!! It really does look so much better! Love it! Great job for being a newb, actually it looks like you have been doing this for years can hardly believe it is your first try. My kitchen cabinets also need a serious makeover, but need to be lighter me thinks (they are very dark now). What an inspiration!

  2. Blaine says

    This looks great, what a terrific job! My bathroom vanity has the same old hardware, except the white ceramic parts are starting to fall off! I see that the long vertical handles on the sides were replaced with a single pull knob; did you have to fill a hole in the doors to do that? If so, how did you do that? Again, great job!

  3. says

    Jillie! This looks so fantastic! I know how exactly what you are talking about with regards to your DIY bug. I don’t know if it is the increased presence of ideas on pinterest and that numerous DIY blogs out there but I am itching to buy our first home in the next two years to get my DIY on. In the meantime, I’ve been toying with the idea of repainting my IKEA desk made of that cheap-o pressboard. DIYers claim that it can be done but I am so worried to “take the leap.” What boosted your confidence to jump in? Any recommendations?

    • Linda says

      Sarah,I know it’s been a bit but just wanted to check and see if you finished your IKEA desk with the dark gel stain!! I have an old oak coffee table and although it’s a huge old round thing, it could use a facelift. I know I should just DO IT!

  4. Landon says

    Wow! What an elegant look, Jillee! It’s amazing what a difference just changing the hardware makes, but that color if absolutely beautiful. I’d love to try this in my kitchen to update my look.

  5. Lori Morgan says

    OK…..I am sooooo ready to do every cabinet in my house heheheh. Yours look AMAZING!!!!! I know my husband is going to think I have really lost it now when I show him LOL. Like you said, start with the kids and then go from there. Thank you :)

  6. Paula says

    That doesn’t even look like the same cabinet! You are so brave to mess with DARK anything! It really looks amazing — thanks for the tutorial and for making it seem so easy. I might just try it :-)

  7. Christine V says

    Hi I love it….Question for you. How did you fill the holes on the door where the old handles were? I want to do this in my bathroom and have been avoiding it because of the door handles (of all things)! Thank you I love your blog.

  8. kim says

    Too funny! I just did the very same thing, using the very same tutorial, in MY boys’ bathroom 2 weeks ago. Yours turned out beautifully! (as did mine).
    I came to the same conclusions you did. I was trying to use an old t-shirt, as my husband didn’t have any mismatched socks, and I ended up tossing that method and using the foam brush. I found it so much easier. I was a bit impatient between coats 1 and 2, and while it didn’t hurt anything, it really doesn’t gain you anything because you end up pulling off part of the first coat that isn’t quite all the way dry. I thought she was on crack when she said to wait 12 hours… nope, she was right ;-)
    The one other thing I did differently was to use Minwax polyacrylic (waterbased) topcoat instead of General Finishes. The only reason for this was that when I first read her instructions, I didn’t notice that she specified a topcoat, so I hadn’t ordered it. My trusty Minwax worked just fine for me.
    I agree that while I wouldn’t exactly call it easy-peasy, it wasn’t hard. I thought it would be a one day project, but it ended up spanning 3 days to allow for drying time. And if you’re going for the dark finish, you really can’t mess it up.. you just keep adding coats until you’ve got it all covered. It would be harder to get an even finish if you were wanting a more sheer look.
    Congratulations Jilly on a job well done! It is beautiful!

  9. Deborah Jennings says

    I love this! Very professional looking! I think I would have to go with a much lighter color in my bathrooms though. Our main bath is pretty small. I am wanting to do it in a beach theme.

  10. Carrie says

    It’s amazing what a paint/stain job does to the decor! I just finished redoing our bathroom vanity a couple weeks ago. Since ours was a cheapo laminate, I went with the primer/spray paint combo, and I love the results. I didn’t go completely dark, I left the drawers, doors, and fake drawer panel a bright white and used a stencil to create an awesome design. If we had had a nicer vanity though, I probably would have gone with Monica’s tutorial!

  11. Liddia says

    I started doing this to my bathroom last night. We have painted cabinets though. After only one coat on my cabinet door, I love it and can’t wait to keep going. I used the sock method for the door but I think I got the first coat on too thick. I might try the foam brush method tonight! We’ll see!

  12. says

    Jilly, that’s fantastic! It almost looks like black spray paint, with the coverage you got. Hard to believe that it’s a stain! I wish I could do something like that to our cabinets, but we’ve got the nasty biulder-grade particle board cabinets, so we’d have to totally replace them first… boohoo. Congrats on a job well-done!

    • Tanya says

      Hey Brittany, I did this on my bathroom cabinets about a year ago. They are that funky builder grade stuff too. I sanded just enough to remove the protective finish, then stained over top. It worked great. They are beautiful now. The gel stain can go over laminate.

      • Jenifer says

        I was wondering about the laminate/partical board. We want to do something like this in both of our bathrooms and possibly the kitchen. I’m so excited to hear that it will work on this builder grade junk we have. Time to talk the hubby into a new project!

  13. Mary says

    I hope you will like this much dark in a bathroom. You did a beautiful job, but I liked the cupboards the way they were. The dark ones will show scuff marks, soap, etc much more than the light wood grain ones would have. Maybe the picture makes them look darker than they really are. Anyway, I love your Website and the sharing of ideas that you do!

  14. Daniela says

    Love your stuff! I’m a Real Estate agent so whenever I see a great Home DIY project I instantly think of my clients who are looking to put some sweat equity into a fixer upper. Thanks! I was wondering about cabinets which are not solid wood – just a veneer type door. Would it still work you think? Were your cabinets solid wood? Many homes have builder grade, low end cabinets. Thoughts? Thanks!

  15. Trixie says

    You have such great taste, Jillee! I saw this post and thought, “Wow! That looks really familiar.” So, I went on my Pinterest boards to check and sure enough, I had pinned Monica’s original post for this project. You, are obviously the do-er between the two of us though. LOL. My pin is just sitting there on my board all lonely. ;)

    Have a great day!!

  16. Amanda says

    this is a great idea for real wood cabinets but if you have any fake wood cabinets or want to do colors you can use the restore system by rustolum! it is great i have seen it done and I am getting ready to use it in my kitchen and bathroom soon. you can even do a glazed finish with it!!! i am excited to get rid of my ugly 70′s cabinets.

  17. Linda says

    Wow! So cool!! I redid my kitchen cabinets 15 years ago & I stripped the wood all the way down to bare wood. Now I know that I didn’t need to do all of that work! Just a little sanding will do. Maybe I’ll redo my bathroom cabinets finally……..


  1. [...] it was getting an itch to do some home project and a few days later we he was following this blog tutorial that I found on pinterest.  I will admit that I was a little nervous, what if this didn’t [...]

  2. [...] What’s worse than builder grade? When it comes to home decor, honestly not much is worse than builder grade.  When the Hubs and I built our house back in 2009 we went with mostly builder grade finishes to save on overall cost, with plans to make changes ourselves.  This past Fall I got it in my head that we needed to stain the vanity in our master bathroom. I mean I had seen it all over Pinterest, so why not?  Surely if these women could do it, then so could I!  I used Jillee’s tutorial which can be found here: One Good Thing by Jillee. [...]

  3. […] get them both to fit in the picture. Future plans include repainting the vanity (maybe with this gelstain technique?), replacing the shower doors with a lovely floral curtain and seeing what we can do with some […]

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