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Form, Function, and Fun

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

Turning an old toy chest into a filing cabinet with a bohemian feel

In a previous post, 6 Great Places To Find Furniture for Projects, I talked about a bundle of items purchased from a NextDoor furniture advertisement. At the time of the post, all three of those items were still on the “to do” list, but today one has FINALLY been completed. Woo hoo!

The piece completed this weekend was once a child’s toy chest. “How does she know that?”, one might wonder? The stickers on the front of the chest was one clue, but the chest still had several toys in it when it was delivered so it was a fair assumption.

Looking beyond what it was and more about what it could be, I decided its new life would be as a filing cabinet for my home business. I was in desperate need of one:

As my business builds, it is crucial that I have all expenses and income organized in a manner that will allow me to update my business budget quickly. There may be an opportunity to get new inventory that requires a split-second decision, and if I don’t know how much I can spend I will either lose out on an opportunity or overspend. Neither situation is cool. Final decision: a filing cabinet.

A few things needed to be considered before beginning the actual work to turn this chest around. First, it is currently being used as an end of the bed chest. My little three-legged cat also uses it as a way to get in the bed, and that function is still necessary, so the final resting place for the filing cabinet would remain at the foot of my bed. That was actually the perfect place as my home business computer station is also in my master bedroom. I turned this 1990’s style TV entertainment cabinet into the perfect place to put my computer set up so having the filing cabinet within easy reach of that area would be ideal.

Second, regarding the style of the final piece, I needed this filing cabinet to work with both the computer station and the overall feel of my master bedroom. Finally, I wanted this to be a fun piece, and I had some new ideas on how to make that part happen.

Here is the final result! I think this covers all of the items covered above, don’t you? It isn’t matchy matchy (if you have read any of my posts, you know that is NOT my jam), but the colors blend with the computer station. The black picks up the black stripe on the wall, and the design is mimicked in the curtains. (This last one was an unplanned, pleasant surprise once I put the piece in place!)

This was a fairly easy turnaround, but let’s walk through how I went from child’s chest to a filing cabinet with a bohemian feel.

Materials used:

§ Black paint

§ Stripper

§ Black hinges

§ Green frog tape

§ Stencil

§ Vaseline

§ Paint sprayer

§ Daubers

§ Howard’s Wood conditioner


After wrestling the chest from the master bedroom down to the garage/workshop, the first thing to do was remove the lid from the bottom of the chest. That was simply unscrewing the chains that held the lid on as the hinges on the back that should have also connected the two were not screwed in on the bottom half of the hinge.

Then I wiped the inside and outside of the chest just to remove any dust or dirt from little kitty paws.

This was a good, solid wood chest so I didn’t want to overwork any part of it, including the design. I thought about the computer station and my master bedroom and realized both had small touches of black. The wall had a small stripe, and the computer station had the black steel legs as well as a rim of black around the top. Painting the majority of this piece black would tie all of that together.

I didn’t want the chest to be completely black, though, but also didn’t want the design to be overwhelming either. I could paint it all black, then stencil a white design on it that would break the black up some. Or I could paint the bottom black, the top white with opposite stencil colors on each area. Ugh…a conundrum! What to do?

Then I thought about the sanded/stained areas on the computer station and thought about how I could use that in the design. Final decision was to paint the bottom black and leave the top the stained wood. On the bottom, though, I wanted the wood to show through as a stenciled area, then reverse that on the top with a black stencil. To do that, I needed someway to protect the stenciled area when I’m spraying the bottom black.

I remembered a time when I used small amounts of Vaseline in past pieces when trying to get a chippy look and thought that would work here on this larger, stenciled area also. Vaseline is a petroleum-based product that is usually used by humans to soothe, soften, moisturize, condition, clean, and protect your skin and prevent chafing and friction. There are many other uses for Vaseline, but the intent here was to protect the wood from being painted. I couldn’t visualize rolling or brushing paint over the Vaselined stencil as it could potentially smear the stenciled design. So, have to use the paint sprayer!

Steps to do a Vaseline based stencil:

1. Before any painting gets done, the stencil must be taped to the piece. Figure out how you want the stencil to travel. For this piece, I wanted it to go up the front side, down in the piece, and then come up the back inside and on the top. The top stencil would be painted versus the Vaseline procedure.

2. Once I decided on the flow of the stencil, I begin by taping the stencil to the bottom right corner.

3. I then loaded my plastic paint scraper with Vaseline and applied to the stencil evenly. Try not to make the application too thick as you could lose the integrity of the design.

4. You can see here that I did overload the stencil here, and although the design was not impacted, I did have to stop and clean the stencil which increased the total time to complete the project.

5. Continue to apply the Vaseline to the stencil, untape and remove the stencil, then repeat these steps throughout the entire flow of your design.

Tip: when placing your stencil the first time, mark the top of the stencil lightly with a pencil so you have a frame of reference for the second time you place the stencil. This will also help you to keep the flow in line.

6. Once you have vaselined the entire flow of your design, begin spray painting!

7. Spray lightly, even if you have to make two passes. If it is sprayed heavily, there could be drips or big globs of paint gathering around the Vaseline which could smear when removing.

8. After the paint dries, take your plastic paint scraper and scrape the Vaseline off the piece. If you’re working with wood, scrape in the direction of the wood if possible.

9. What is left is the original color of the piece (or in this case, the original wood)

Pretty cool, right?

The final design is the top of the piece. However, the wood needed to be lightly sanded and then conditioned before I could stencil the final design.

To do the top stencil, follow the same general rules regarding taping and placing. However, to do a painted stencil, I always use a dauber.

It is very important to make sure the stencil is firmly taped down because if daubing on a stencil with gaps, you will have paint in other places besides the actual stencil. Your design will be impacted.

Final design complete!

To keep the design intact, I always spray a polyurethane on the entire piece. That protects the piece for a longer period of time as well.

OK so the whole intent was to make this a filing cabinet. We have the “pretty” done. Now we need to finish the practical.

I found this hanging file frame at Lowes (link above in materials list).

It was a quick put together. I also got this wall hanging file that I wanted to screw into the inside front of the chest for unfiled documents to reside until I could enter into the budget and then file accordingly.

Here is the piece in place.

I'm happy with the end result and am heaving a sigh of relief that I can now start to be organized!

Hope you enjoyed this post and hope this inspires you to try this method on something you own!


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