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How to Makeover A Mid-Century Modern China Cabinet

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Keep a classic piece of furniture in the family! Learn how to makeover a mid century modern china cabinet with just a few materials.

Finished makeover on the mid century modern china cabinet.

This project has been in the works for months. I believe I started on it in October of last year. And what I thought would be an easy job quickly spiraled into a disaster. But we shall take it from the top. This is the story of a mid-century modern china cabinet that has been in my family since the 1960’s. I know because I was there. 

I had to give this china cabinet a makeover not because I wanted to but because I had to!

Showing the before picture of the China cabinet with glass doors and open shelves.

Disclosure: I was compensated for doing this post with product.  However, all the opinions stated here are my own. I only use products I love and would recommend to my viewers.

Materials Needed To Update This Mid Century Modern China Cabinet

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Adding Tung oil to the top part of the china cabinet.

​​We had this beautiful piece from the time I was a little girl and we had first moved to the USA. I remember looking at it as a kid, and being very indifferent to it! But as I got older and married I came to appreciate those smooth clean lines. It came with heavy glass sliding doors too.

So when I came back to New York this past fall it was definitely on my list of things to upcycle. I wanted to keep the beautiful wood tones and just add a bit of shine to it.

The How To:

I started by applying Tung oil to the whole piece.  Using a clean rag I just rubbed it on, waited an hour and wiped it off – twice.

Adding tung oil to the bottom part of the china cabinet.

Once you open the bottom doors, there is a utensil drawer and I found the manufacturer, Holman furniture from Pittsburg Texas.  I looked all over the internet but couldn’t find another piece like this. Hmmm…

Lucky for me I have a knowledgeable friend Ann Marie of the blog Iris Abbey told me that was a ” family-owned business, believed to be founded by Danish immigrants, Holman Manufacturing existed from the early 1900’s to sometime in the 1990’s. They sold their furniture to higher-end department stores.” This got me to thinking about the value of the piece.

Metal label of the manufacturer Holman.

Here we see the inside. Excuse the dust. The utensil drawer goes on the upper left hand side. I rubbed it down with Tung oil and was so proud of myself! But I speak too soon!

The bottom part of the cabinet with opened doors.

Till I came to this. It is the bottom left hand side and as you can see the veneer was damaged and peeling. I tried to nail down the pieces but that was not working at all!

The side of the bottom cabinet with damaged veneer.

​In fact more and more pieces came off. 

I was heartbroken to say the least. ​

The bottom part of the china cabinet with veneer peeling off.

And so I let it sit there for the better part of three months not knowing what to do and feeling disheartened. I looked all over the internet and found a great post on how to save it from The Navage Patch. But unfortunately my skills are not as good as Greg’s so I opted to try another method. 

I used a wood reclaim to even out the side of the cabinet as best as I could.  This took about five coats of the product. I think wood filler would probably work too.

Wood reclaim for the peeled off veneer.
Adding the wood reclaim to the side of the cabinet.

And then of course I couldn’t leave it like that so I had to paint it to hide the unevenness of the side.

But still wanting to preserve as much of the wood as I could, I painted just the sides and the top.  I used Americana Chalky type paint in Everlasting, which is my go to color – basically a white.

The bottom cabinet after it's been painted with white chalk finish paint.

​I mean it was bad enough I was painting the sides, but I certainly wasn’t going to paint the front with it’s lovely walnut grain patterns.

A close up of the front of the cabinet bottom unpainted.

As for the top half? I did something really strange to it. Because I use the china cabinet to store things and not as a display I needed to hide my mess. And believe me I have a lot more stuff than in this photo. My daughter is a baker and you would not believe the gadgets that exist for bakers. But as I said before, the sliding doors were made of glass. I thought of adding fabric but there was no place to hang it.

The top of the cabinet used as storage.

My solution was to use book pages and decoupage them onto the glass. This way I could hide all my stuff and have a nice neutral look for the doors. I used Mod Podge to glue the book pages onto the glass.

Decoupaged book pages onto glass doors of upper cabinet.

I also made the tough decision to paint the sides of the mid century modern china cabinet and top as well so it would look like a unified piece.

Side of the upper cabinet painted white.

​After painting it with the chalky finish paint, I finished it off with Ultra Matte Varnish.  I did about 3 coats in a few hours.  And you’re supposed to let it cure for a while, but I put the upper part on the bottom cabinet because I couldn’t stand my messy dining room any more. The matte is really matte, no shine at all.  And it kept my white color white, no yellowing!

Mind you, this wall all done in one day after the initial procrastination period of three months.

Americana Chalk finish paint and ultra matte varnish.

And here it is finished and looking a lot better than before.  

I think if you didn’t know the full story you might get mad at me for painting it but now that you know I’m sure you understand and forgive me!  “wink”

Finished makeover on the mid century modern china cabinet.
Bottom half of china cabinet.

Although I was reluctant to paint it I find that it makes a world of difference to the room. The dining room has no windows at all hence these bad pics you are seeing.

Finished makeover on the mid century modern china cabinet.

​I’ve managed to preserve enough of the wood so you can see the walnut grain.

Top of the china cabinet.

A close up of the decoupage which was done on the inside of the glass to allow me to have access to the glass handles in order to pull the doors.

Close up showing the walnut piece of china cabinet

 It took me a very long time to finish this mid century modern modern china cabinet project but not because it was a labor intensive job. It was my indecisiveness at what I should do with this lovely piece. In the end, I feel that I was able to preserve the integrity of the piece while at the same time hiding it’s imperfections with the paint. And as a bonus it really helps to make the room look larger now with the white paint.

This is the same room which previously housed these bookcases.

Side view of updated china cabinet.

In the end I was happy to be able to save this cabinet from my childhood days, even if I didn’t appreciate it back then. It would have been horrible if it had ended up in the basement. I still have a few years till I get that good – or maybe I never will, but at least I know my limitations.

If you like mid century modern china cabinet and other modern furniture make sure to go and visit Iris Abbey.  Their blog is a wealth of information on these sorts of pieces. 

Now that this mid century modern china cabinet has been saved from the basement I can honestly say that all that procrastination on my part was worth it.  I desperately needed a cabinet to store all the baking stuff and this was the best solution for it. What do you think?

Finished makeover on the mid century modern china cabinet with text overlay "mid century modern china cabinet makeover."

More Furniture Projects:

Table made from director's chair and cassette tape holder
The Showcase Table
MCM sideboard painted with milk paint
MCM Sideboard

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Stacy Dozzi

Sunday 19th of February 2023

I have this exact piece from my grandmother! I’ve searched for information about it with no luck until now. Must be very rare. Thank you so much for sharing!


Monday 17th of August 2020

I just picked this up in PERFECT CONDITION at goodwill for $28! I love it so much...its nice to have an idea of something to do with it if someday it becomes...well...not so perfect. I'm in love with this piece...and $28! They had no idea how special this buffet and hutch is!!! I literally squealed with delight when I saw it there!


Monday 19th of March 2018

Repairing veneer is definitely NOT for sissies, and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and grab your paintbrush. This piece was worth hanging on to. Lots of storage! Have you considered frosting the glass? That's a look that one sees fairly often with mid century modern furniture and it's super easy and inexpensive to do. We did it on a couple of kitchen cabinets at the cabin and it looked better than I had imagined.


Tuesday 20th of March 2018

Doreen this house is so small I wanted to have just this piece in the dining room and the table set because we have a closet for a kitchen so it is very easy to accumulate clutter. In fact I moved furniture out of here to give it a bit of an airy feel. I really like your idea about the frosting, I'll have to look into that once things settle down.

Katerina Konstantinou

Monday 19th of March 2018

This is a huge project Mary. What a great transformation! The idea with the decoupage is very clever!


Tuesday 20th of March 2018

Katerina I was desperate one day and needed a super fast solution. That is what I came up with because I was reading this book and really hating it so I gave it another purpose Haha!!


Monday 19th of March 2018

You did a great job on it Mary! The mix of white paint and the natural wood look really nice together, so I don't think your fears were founded. I'm struggling with a piece here right now trying to decide whether to paint it all, paint some of it, or leave it alone. You'll see more about it when finished.


Tuesday 20th of March 2018

I agree Florence white seems to make everything better, at least that is my current motto! Good luck on your piece I'm sure it will turn out great.

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