Before and After: Solid Oak Heirlooms Are Lovingly Refreshed With a Modern Touch for $100

published Mar 20, 2023
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antique wood china cabinet before renovation

It’s no secret that most older furniture is sturdier and more solid than what you can buy today. Sometimes, though, these relics just don’t quite mesh well with today’s trends. And when this happens, don’t be afraid to refinish a classic piece of furniture to make it fit your current needs — sometimes a little bit of paint and elbow grease makes all the difference.

When Kimberly Evans inherited a solid oak Bassett China cabinet and buffet after her aunt passed away in 2012, she knew she had been entrusted with a treasure. “My aunt purchased this solid oak cabinet and buffet, along with the matching table and chairs, back in the early ’70s when I was just a little girl,” Kimberly says. Her aunt lived in Chicago at the time but relocated to Mississippi, where the set was waiting to be claimed.

“Two of my sons and I drove to her home, rented a U-haul truck, loaded it with my beloved auntie’s furniture, crystal, and china — and brought it all back to our home in Georgia.” Relocating the massive set was no small feat, but Kimberly wanted it to be a focal point in her home. It just needed some work.

While the set had good bones and a lot of history, it didn’t complement Kimberly’s style. “Though I really loved the set, I was having new Brazilian cherry flooring installed and wanted to modernize the overall look of my home,” she explains. “So, I decided to try my hand at upcycling what I already had.”

To start this project, Kimberly made sure she had a clean and well-prepped surface so her refinishing job would last. “I sanded the pieces very lightly, and after making sure that it was all clean and dust-free, I used Valspar paint in ‘Caviar.’” 

Kimberly took about two weeks to paint the piece, working in short spurts in the evening amidst her job and other responsibilities. “The process was extremely easy and amazingly satisfying,” she says. To honor her aunt and her father, who also passed away, Kimberly decided to incorporate both of their memories into the refinishing project. She left the original color in the interior to honor her aunt, and added golden bumble bee pulls in homage to her father, whose nickname was BeBe. In all, the project cost about $100 from start to finish.

“I love how the black color totally modernizes the pieces and the drawer pulls just give it a personalized flair that makes it even more unique,” she says. 

Now when she hosts family or friends, they can enjoy a piece of family history within the context of her taste. 

When asked if she would do anything differently, Kimberly said she is entirely happy with the facelift. For anyone who may be wrestling with the choice to update a family heirloom, she encourages them to try it — Kimberly enjoys the piece more now than she would have if it remained in its original condition. 

“Just do it,” she says. “I’m proud that I was able to use items that my aunt had cherished for years and turn them into statement pieces that reflect my own sense of style.”