Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Ugly Duckling Jelly Cupboard

A few months ago, I saw a truly ugly cupboard in a preview at Shumate's Auction in Warrenton.  I could tell that it was once a lovely little jelly cupboard, but a prior owner did some pretty awful things to it.  I have been looking for a jelly cupboard ... one on the smaller side ... and I knew I could transform this one into something special.

The other auction-goers must have been terrified of the awful appearance of this cupboard, despite its solid construction and great proportions, because I bid WAY less for it than the maximum that I had set for myself.

No one appeared to be willing to look past the horrible 70's green antiqued paint job.  The cupboard once had some sort of feet, which were long gone, and the glass in the doors was definitely not original.  (Notice that beaded detail in the drawer?  Remember it, because you will see it again in a minute.)

The first step in the cupboard's transformation was to scrape and sand the surface to get rid of the drips and debris that were in the green paint.


The olive green was a great starting point for my plan of multiple layers of color.

I painted the inside and the outside of the cupboard with a base coat of Annie Sloan's 'Country Grey'.  Once this was dry, the outside of the cupboard got a coat of 'Duck Egg'. 

I sanded the whole cupboard with my fine-grit sanding block, then heavily wet-distressed it with a Scotch Brite scrubbing pad ... just like I did to my brother's kitchen cabinets.  (Click HERE to see that project, if you missed it or need a reminder.)  Always remember that distressing replicates natural wear that a piece would have received over time!

You can see all three colors of paint, and a bit of raw wood, after the door is distressed.

The cupboard needed a bit of patina added to its new paint job.  With previous pieces, I have used clear and dark wax to achieve this.  One day recently I had a realization ... clear wax becomes part of the finish and is repairable and fairly permanent.  Dark wax, however, stays on top of the finish and can be removed.  (I'm not careful with my furniture, so I don't want anything that I may have to baby.)  To achieve the look on this cupboard, I thinned my custom-mixed chocolate brown chalk paint into a glaze, painted it onto the surface and quickly wiped it off.  The effect was perfect!


The beaded detail on the cupboard's drawer provided the perfect clue for me to replace the glass in the doors with beadboard.  I cut panels to size, painted them (using Olive for the first coat, since there was no ugly green paint to start with in this case).  This photo clearly shows the difference the glaze makes to the paint finish ... the door frame was glazed, the panel wasn't yet.

Replacing the missing feet on the cupboard was easy.  I bought four unfinished wood feet at Lowe's, and I went to work painting them to match the finish on the cupboard.  ('Olive', then 'Country Grey', then 'Duck Egg'.)  I distressed the feet very heavily, since feet on a piece of furniture receive lots of abuse from brooms, mops, vacuum cleaners, shoes, etc.

Painted foot on the right, distressed foot on the left.

Distressed and glazed foot on the left, and clear-waxed foot on the right.

For the hardware, I had the perfect antique knobs stashed away.  Why someone had globbed paint onto these beauties is a mystery.  It was a simple process to carefully loosen the paint by soaking them in hot water.  I picked the loosened paint off with my thumbnail, and polished the brass with 0000 steel wool.

Here is the finished cupboard:

Doesn't look like the same piece, does it?  I will always be amazed at the transformation power of a good paint finish. 

Shortly after I took the above photo in our dining room, I moved to cupboard to a better spot in our home office.  This new location is fairly dark and not so great for quality photography, but I couldn't resist snapping a shot of this little vignette of Alice posing by one of my husband's paintings.  (one day I will get around to actually attaching the painting to its new frame and hanging it on the wall ... not today, though.)

I hope the dramatic transformation of this cupboard will inspire you to take another look at those ugly-duckling items the next time you are at an auction or yard sale.  As long as the size is right, the proportions are pleasing, and the construction is solid, you can work miracles with a can of paint.


  1. You turned that 'ugly duckling' into a 'swan'! The feet made the piece along with the beadboard that you used instead of glass. I've been painting kitchen cabinets, but they are very ordinary compared to this piece. Great work!♥♫

  2. That ugly cupboard has undergone a true metamorphosis, it looks great now, especially with the beautiful Alice on the top.

  3. Oh that's a good one! you did a great job helping bring it back to life.. It had great bones to start with I have no idea why people look past that but good for you!

  4. What an amazing transformation! Now, if I could just muster some elbow grease, I've got something that needs transforming. Some day I hope to find the time, too.

  5. You are so talented with the paint and distressing! What a made this piece gorgeous! Love the pic of Alice!!

  6. What a beautiful transformation!

  7. Good eye Connie!
    That wasn't an UGLY piece--she was just cosmetically-challenged and you gave her a FABulous makeover!
    I was already loving her at your sanded down point, love your color combo's!
    ~btw~I would've totally worked ya for her. ; D

  8. I agree with freddyandpetunia's comment. I could see the lovely bones under all that paint but don't know if I would have been brave enough to give her a makeover though. I SO appreciate your tips on how you paint your beautiful pieces. I'm assuming that you did a clear wax job over the whole piece like you did the new feet you gave it?
    I love the new piece!!

  9. Thanks for the reminder, Velma. I completely forgot to mention the top coat. The body of the cupboard is clear waxed. The top is sealed with 2 coats of oil-based wipe-on polyurethane. With the two finishes together on the same piece, I practically dare anyone to tell which one is wax and which is varnish ... they're THAT similar.

  10. Beautiful job, Connie. In my imagination I have filled your jelly cupboard three times. I do so love small pieces I can move from room to room. Happy weekend.


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