Art in the Wildwood: China Hutch Makeover

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I like remodeling and upcycling vintage stuff, and I have a thing right now for the distressed-yet-graceful French Country look. I bought a china cabinet off Craigslist awhile back so I could do a cool china hutch makeover like you see on Pinterest, and those crazy artsy vintage diy blogs.

What I really wanted was to use the china hutch as a bookshelf. I needed it to have a good French Country shape and have wood shelves so I could put books on them. I bought this china hutch for about $100. Not the best bargain in the world, but it was in really great shape and had the look I wanted, and no glass shelves. We took the glass out of the doors and sides so it’s easy to reach in and grab books.

Time To Start the China Hutch Makeover:

China Hutch Makover: Before pic

This is what the china hutch looked like moments before I began the grand China Hutch Makeover. Wow–look at all the dust!

I didn’t have any other place to work except for the front porch, so the china hutch got dragged out there by my long-suffering husband. We couldn’t figure out why it was so heavy, until I started working on it and realized–duh, we forgot to empty the drawers!

It actually stayed out there for the better part of the summer and fall because…well, I got sidetracked. But I figure a few thunderstorms and some dust only added to the weathered look, right?

First step (after actually emptying the bottom part of the china hutch) was to remove all the hardware and take off the doors.

Then I sanded the whole piece enough to scuff up the finish. I hate sanding. For awhile, I dreamed of learning how to make furniture. But you can’t really do woodworking without sanding. It’s dusty, and it roughs up my fingers, and it takes effort. Yes, I’m whining. Deal.

China Hutch Makeover: Sanding

Step two of the China Hutch Makeover: sanding. Oh joy. My favorite.

After I got all the sawdust cleaned up, I glued little carved wood appliqués to the doors. You’ll see them in a bit. Then, it was time to do a little prep work for later when I would age the china hutch. See, in a lot of French Country decor, the pieces are supposed to look old, weathered, chippy, with multiple paint layers and scuffs and crackles. Sort of like the whole “shabby chic” thing in some ways. That’s the look I wanted for this china hutch makeover–a really worn, old look.

But who wants to sit around waiting for their china hutch to age naturally? Not I. So there are some tricks to make it easier to speed up the process. The first is to use some type of wax–some people use candle wax, but I used paste wax–and spread it lightly on any place you want to later have chippy or worn-away paint. I put it on corners, edges and curves–any place that an old china hutch might have its paint worn or chipped away by wear.

Next, I painted the entire thing a peacock blue. Right over the wax. I used an eggshell or satin finish–nothing too glossy. It had a primer built into the paint so I didn’t need to prime separately.

China Hutch Makeover: Blue

Blue China Hutch! I thought it looked pretty cute this way, too.

China Hutch Makeover: Blue doors

See, there’s one of the wood ornaments I put on the china hutch doors! This door is upside down. You can also see some of the places where I put the paste wax already showing through.

Once the blue base coat was dry, the next step in the china hutch makeover was crackle-painting! Have to say, I have a love-hate relationship with crackle glaze. Love the finished result–when it turns out well, but I find it quite tricky to work with.

Basically, crackle paint works when you paint it over a dry base coat and then paint over that with a top coat of paint in a flat finish–usually in a contrasting color so the base coat shows through the crackles. I used a shade of white–only on the outside of the china hutch. The glaze plus the difference in finishes makes the top coat of paint crackle. You have to put the glaze on, wait just the right amount–not too quick, not too slow–and then paint over the top of it with the top coat color.

That’s the theory anyway.

I’ve used Elmer’s glue as crackle paint before–it’s cheap and supposed to work well. I didn’t have good results, but it’s probably just my inexperience with it. This time, I got crackle glaze. It worked a little better, but it’s too easy to mess up the crackle finish by painting over an area more than once. It’s also more difficult to use on vertical surfaces.

You also don’t want to crackle paint the entire china hutch. That’s a bit overkill, even for someone like me who loves crackle finish.

After the crackle glaze and top coat were on and dry, I found I needed to touch up non-crackle areas with the white top coat paint because the blue was showing through more than I wanted it to.

When all the painting was complete and dried, then it was time to get out the sandpaper again–this time for a task much more fun.

Or should I say, it was a task that was much more…distressing?

Remember all the corners and edges and such that I put paste wax on? As soon as I brushed the sandpaper along those areas, the paint came right off. I sanded away other areas too, trying to make it look realistic. The key is to figure out where the china hutch would naturally wear, and then sand those edges.

About that time, the bug guy came to spray our house for bugs. He’s a very nice fellow, but not artsy at all. He thought I was going to strip all that crackle and chippy paint and make it look brand new. When I told him this was a china hutch makeover to make it look older and more beat up, he seemed truly confused!

After all this distressing work (I know–I’m wearing that pun out, but I can’t help myself), I decided the china hutch needed to look even older! Enter…gel stain.

I smeared gel stain all over the cabinet, little bits at a time and then wiped it down with a clean rag. I didn’t want the stain getting too dark. But it settles into the chips and cracks, and brings out all those details as well as making the china hutch look old and even dirty.

The guys at Lowes didn’t think gel stain would work over a painted surface. They obviously don’t read home diy design blogs. It works great–just have to let it dry and not overdo it.

I didn’t like the way the gel stain looked on the blue inside the china hutch. So I decided to add fabric on the inside. I glued it using spray adhesive, and smoothed out all the bubbles with a brayer.

After that, the paste wax made another appearance. I rubbed it on as a top coat and sealer on the china hutch. Wax on, wax off…ooh, some of you are too young to know where that’s from. Let me help you. After most of the wax was rubbed off, I went back over it, buffing and rubbing until it had a soft shine.

I let the china hutch sit for about a day so the wax could harden, and then my husband helped me put all the hardware back on. I found some really cute knobs at the craft store, so I added those, too.

And here’s the china hutch, makeover complete! I really love how it turned out. The fabric was a perfect addition. You can’t see it in the picture, but there is a bit of gold shimmer to the fabric in the center.

China Hutch Makeover: After

I just love looking at it! Can’t wait to fill it up with my books, but I’m letting the wax cure a bit longer before putting things on it.

China Hutch Makeover: After Door detail

Closeup showing the door–with its ornamentation, new knob, and worn, distress-y goodness.

China Hutch Makeover: After detal

Here you can see the fabric I put up along the back of the china hutch.

China Hutch Makeover: Before and After

I think even the bug guy would have to agree that the new version is best!

China Hutch Makover: Before pic

Before: Boring.

China Hutch Makeover: After

After: Amazing!

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