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Upcycled Kitchen Cabinet to DIY Kitchen Island

The first project I tackled upon moving in, was creating some extra storage in the kitchen.

Most of these old bungalows have really small kitchens. Surprisingly enough, that wasn’t our issue! The kitchen was a decent size, but the layout left us with few usable cabinets. We actually had more cabinet space in our apartment’s galley kitchen. Being that I refuse to throw anything away, we needed some storage that wasn’t in the form of a cardboard box, stat.

Side Note: Did you know cockroaches and spiders both love cardboard? They do. They also love wicker. Please return to this post once you get done replacing all of your boxes with Rubbermaid tubs. I’ll be here.
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There was a perfect space in the kitchen for an island, but unfortunately they are hella expensive.

This is gorgeous. It is also $600.
This is pretty nice. It is also $600. (Credit:Overstock)


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They must like this as much as I do, because it costs about as much as my car. (Credit: Pottery Barn)

This left me with buying a (sometimes, when you aren’t looking at Pottery Barn.) more affordable kitchen cart, or building one myself. While I like the idea of the open cart, I know how the inside of my cabinets look.

Not pretty.

Mine would look just like this. Except, replace the fresh flowers and lanterns with a half eaten bag of chocolate chips and a pile of burnt cookie sheets. (Credit:HGTV)


I have also found that everything gets really dusty in LA, really fast. Since I don’t like the idea of eating sooty smog particles, and I DO like the idea of being able to hide my mess behind closed doors, diy won out.

Because I was low on time, I decided to hunt down a cabinet that I could up-cycle into my island.

In my hunt, I saw a lot of dressers that could have worked, but I decided having doors was more useful to me than drawers. Wide dressers are also generally lower than countertops. So, if you go that route, you may need to add legs or wheels to the bottom to make your prep surface a usable height.

*Standard countertop height is 3ft*

Like this cute one featured on Apartment Therapy


I scrounged around the local thrifts stores, and finally found my cabinet at the Habitat for Humanity Restore for about $30.

Looks just like my pics, no?!

Keep scrolling to the bottom, I promise it gets better.

It had a broken drawer, and was missing a door, but lucky for me, they sell cabinet doors for like $2 a pop. I just grabbed one that was close enough.


Everything sanded, screw holes filled, ready to go.

The back wasn’t solid, because kitchen cabinets are usually against a wall. No worries, I attached a thin sheet of something or other back there for support before wrapping the 3 outer sides in beadboard.


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Don’t worry, we’ll cover this.

Sorry, I really don’t remember what I wedged back there, probably plywood or underlayment? Really, anything that isn’t too thick will work. You just want to add support, and make the surface flush with the sides. So, if someone knocks against it, it won’t just cave in.

I attached the beadboard with glue and nails, and caulked any gaps.

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The drawer got new slides.

Mmm…so smooth.

And I replaced the handle with an oil rubbed bronze bin pull.

I love a good bin pull.


The extra door got new hinges, and the entire thing got sanded and painted a buttery yellow color.


{Martha Stewart: Tahini} Which is now discontinued, because the universe hates me. Finally, I slapped on 2 coats of Polycrylic to make it easier to wipe clean.

Then there was the countertop…

No countertop came with the cabinet. I really wanted butcher block, but that wasn’t in my budget. BUUUUT…I found this dumpy old countertop-of-sorts with one angled corner at the Restore on my next trip. It was only 2 bucks, so I figured, why not?! WHY NOT?

Fact: I will buy anything for $2

We* first cut the opposite corner to match the angled one.

Then I wanted to refinish the whole thing.  The finish was not only ugly, but super thick, and would melt into this goo when I tried sanding it off.


Ohhh, that fucking countertop.

The wood was also quite soft, so I had to be careful to sand equally all over. If I stayed in one place a second too long, it would create a nice little crater. Hey, what do you expect for $2?

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Eventually, I got the top sanded to my liking, and slathered it in butcher block conditioner, as recommended by other bloggers.

Uuuummm, NO.


That crap didn’t want to completely soak in to this god forsaken excuse for wood, no matter the amount of buffing. I wax-on, wax-offed like the Karate Kid for days, yet it maintained a quality similar to that of a stick of fresh churned butter. There seems to be a theme here. I was afraid to accidentally brush against it and get oil stains on my clothes.

A countertop with which my stomach can not come into contact, is too high maintenance.

Commence with sanding the countertop a second time.

I look like this more often than I look like my profile pic. Eat your heart out.

I am not 100% sure of my thought process. This part is kind of a blur. I know I sanded it again. I also know I bought some incredibly toxic oil-based finish, because oil and water don’t mix. Hence, not being able to use a water-based finish.

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“Good enough” is something I hear myself saying often.

I probably don’t remember because I lost a few brain cells while wiping that shit on.

Still looks pretty good after 2 years of neglect!

I hurt my environmentally friendly soul to do so, but it worked.

Nothing, however, stands up to leaving a leaky battery on your countertop, or to citrus juices, which there is a lot of floating around in here. Whatever, it looks decent, and it’s functional.

I had originally wanted to add moulding around the top and bottom and to the corners, but because the countertop has no over hang on the sides, I had to leave that off until we can afford to replace it.


In the end, I am pleased with how it turned out. My partner likes to point out to visitors that I “made that” which usually seems to elicit a state of shock and amazement. I assume that means it looks pretty good. I always am quick to correct that I merely refurbished it, but the response is the same. I’ll count it as a win.





Total Project Cost: around $50-$75

Materials used:

Old kitchen cabinet


Circular Saw

Paint roller/brushes

Palm sander


New hardware

Drawer slides



Polycrylic for base


Check out more pics of the island in action in my kitchen post.

*Shout out to Mom and Dad who visited while this was being transformed! It’s nice to have helpers, especially ones who are better at calculating angles than you. Muah! *



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