China cabinets have been around since the 17th century, and had a pretty good run until falling out of fashion due to the rise of built-in kitchen cabinetry, the decline of formal dining rooms, and the decreasing social imperative to showcase one’s prized set of porcelain china and glassware behind a set of glass doors.
But everything old is new yet again, and these days interior designers are integrating contemporary versions of your grandmother's antique reproduction china cabinets into modern kitchens to evoke the nostalgia of earlier times, or seeking out midcentury modern iterations to lightly restore and add authentic cred to vintage-inspired rooms.
Giving neglected thrift store furniture a makeover is hardly a new phenomenon, but a new generation of designers, stylists, and DIYers has developed a crush on the neglected china cabinets of old, fueled by a desire to upcycle, the grandmillennial trend, and a rejection of the clean-lined interiors that have dominated for decades. Sourcing drab and dated specimens gathering dust in the places where antique reproduction china cabinets go to die—basements, attics, thrift stores, flea markets, yard and estate sales, and online marketplaces—they breathe new life into these drab, neglected pieces with paint, wallpaper, new hardware, and an anything-goes spirit that has turned a once hyper-specific piece of kitchen or dining room furniture into a display case for just about anything.
Here are some simple and stylish DIY ideas for turning a dated china cabinet into a modern showpiece. Keep in mind that these ideas could work just as well for transforming other tired furniture in need of a light refresh, a serious makeover, or a total facelift, such as bar cabinets, hutches, and other wood cabinets.
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Wallpaper the Interior
Leftover large scale floral wallpaper from the bathroom of this renovated country cottage from Leanne Ford Interiors was used to bring new life to a china cabinet. The narrow shelves were also wrapped in the wallpaper to create a cohesive backdrop for chic black dishware. Soft white paint with an aged patina helps to give the piece a sense of history and authenticity, renovated not to look brand new but to look like it's always been there.
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Add Tropical Flair
Mauve paint on the outside and green-and-white palm print wallpaper on the inside transformed a drab secondhand china cabinet from @martinas_cosy_crib. The original glass shelving disappears against the background. Styled with a transparent lamp, a scented candle, a flower, and a curio box on top, it looks decorative even without any china or other objects on the shelves.
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Use Earthy Colors
Blogger and stylist Jeska Hearne from U.K.-based Lobster and Swan added earthy olive green paint to her “crockery cupboard” and loved it so much that she ended up painting the cabinetry in her rustic chic kitchen in the the same color. Hearne also took advantage of the empty vertical space above the cabinet to style the top with objects, artwork, and dried flowers.
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Let the Sunshine In
The interior of this vintage china cabinet from Fantastic Frank was painted in a sunny shade of yellow that acts as a foil for a collection of off-white dishware and glassware. The cheerful paint adds a dose of feel-good color that complements the antique white paint of the cabinet and pale gray walls of the spacious Berlin apartment.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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This white-washed china cabinet from blogger Liz Marie has an aged patina that fits seamlessly into her modern farmhouse decor. Styled casually with neutral toned accessories, vintage decor objects, and greenery, it's less about showcasing any particular items and more about creating a collected look that is homey and warm.
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Paint It a Bold Ombre
Take inspiration from this dramatic china cabinet facelift from designer and chalk paint guru Annie Sloan, who blended California sunset shades of vivid pink and orange to create a vibrant ombre finish on the exterior. The interior is painted in a deep turquoise for contrast. This would be a great base for displaying anything from glassware to woven accessories, or modern preserved flower displays under glass cloches.
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Jessica Akemon @mrsjessicadarling gave an $80 china cabinet sourced online a sleek DIY refresh, trading the tired looking wood stain for a jet black gel stain finish both inside and out. Then she added gold-toned cabinet pulls for contrast, and styled the interior with earthenware, accessories, books, and a black-and-white photograph.
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Lighten It Up
Remodeling a china cabinet doesn’t necessarily mean making it look more modern. Blogger Michael Wurm, Jr. of Inspired By Charm gave this china cabinet turned vintage Christmas crockery display case a "mini-makeover" by painting the previously brown interior white and replacing the old crumbling wooden shelves to freshen it up without changing its old school character. Styled here for Christmas, the neutral cabinet can serve as a rotating base for other holiday vignettes or collections.
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Pair White and Robin's Egg Blue
Confessions of a Serial DIYer gave a dated china cabinet a farmhouse bathroom-ready makeover by paining the interior in robin's egg blue and adding white chalk paint to the exterior and sealing it with clear wax. She swapped out the hardware, aging it using white and black paint and Vaseline.
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Swap Out Glass Shelving
Thistlewood Farms gave this thrift store china cabinet a modern farmhouse makeover by replacing glass shelves with wood, sanding and patching damaged wood with wood filler, then painting it white on the outside and pale gray on the inside to help the collection of white tableware stand out against the background.