If like me, you had an old cupboard or wardrobe just lying around with nothing better to use it for, this might be a good idea for you!

Let me just start by saying how proud I am of the end product of this project! Where once it had been an eyesore, it is now a centerpiece of our parlor, a kind of ‘wunderkabinet’ if you will. Of course, looking at how it started, I couldn’t blame you for being skeptical at the outset! Let me walk you through it!

This old wardrobe was made almost entirely from presswood or chipboard, whatever you call it – and so being around 40 years old, had seen some hard and heavy use over the years. Back in the 1990s, I’d used it in the garage and stored tools and my arc welder inside it! The car also bumped into it a few times – naughty car – but that’s a story for another time! 😉

Both the doors had been opened too far and accidentally broken off and then refitted – and that happened several times! They weren’t always put back straight either! The thing had been glued and nailed together originally (for some people that seems to be enough – weird – I prefer screws) and with each move between rooms, the boards had slightly separated, making the structure a little more wonky and rickety! I think you get the point – it was getting shabby and had been repaired so many times it actually LOOKED a bit like a Franken-cupboard! In fact, let’s call it that – THE FRANKEN-CUPBOARD!

For some years, it had been used to hold our stationery and art-supplies, but ended up being used to hide clutter, spare blank DVD covers, a box of Xmas decorations, a plastic tree – and well, you get the picture!

Needless to say, during 2020 we had some time on our hands during the lockdown and rearranged the house somewhat. The bar in the outbuildings became my new workshop, while the old workshop was turned back into a greenhouse, and the former study in front was repurposed to become a parlor. The parlor was neat and clean, but it needed …something. In the corner, that old cupboard – not having a definite purpose other than to keep the crap and clutter we didn’t know where to put out otherwise of sight – lurked… The Franken-cupboard! (cue dramatic horror music)! What would I do with it? “Hmmm…” I thought.

Coincidentally, since I’d decommissioned the bar out back, all my bar stuff (decorations and bits) was in cardboard boxes cluttering the guest room, and the booze was jamming up the spice cupboard, which made cooking a little more tempting (sorry love!). I’d been looking for a place to set up a drinks cabinet or minibar in the house in lieu of an actual bar – which had been a waste of space really, since few of our friends actually drink much anymore, and having a bar all to myself was really just a big waste of space!

Setting up a mini-bar in the parlor made a lot of sense – after all, that’s where we intend to do any entertaining – IF we do any entertaining in future since COVID seems to have scuppered that sort of thing for the forseeable future!

I thought about all the dead spaces in the house where I could set up such a mini-bar – and THAT cupboard stood out like the proverbial sore thumb! My imagination didn’t need much prompting and took over shortly after that! I plotted and schemed!

As a mini-bar for the parlor, this shabby old eyesore would become something amazing! Closed, it would conceal its true purpose and just be an interesting gothic-looking cupboard to decorate the room rather than lower the tone. Open however, it would be an attractive, unexpected surprise lit by LED’s and filled with shiny baubles and bottles, gleaming glass, brass and chrome!

I started by emptying out all the clutter. We repurposed another smaller cupboard in the lounge (where we do our art) to store the art supplies close at hand. I found a few lost things in the process – isn’t that funny, hey? Once cleared, I set about stripping down all the removable fittings to make my job easier.

The Inside:

The inside of the cupboard was the heart of the matter. This was where everything important to the end result would be kept. Since the right hand door was the main door – the one that opens first (the left one has catches you can only reach if the right one is open), I wanted to place the bar fridge on the floor of the cupboard there. There was a set of three drawers there which I still wanted to use, so I had to dislodge them and move them to the left side. I did this by reversing the frame and remounting the drawer guides from the right inner side to the left inner side. This was surprisingly easier than it seems.

This done, I painted the entire inside of the cupboard space, opting for a classy black acrylic, applied by brush. Once this was dry, I sprayed clear glitter paint over the upper half of the black paint so that it would sparkle under the internal lighting I planned to install later.

Then, while all the paint was drying between various coats (2 each for the black and clear) I went back to the workshop to make a wooden bar counter out of some old roof truss beams I’d bought from a reclamation yard that morning for just R15 each (try doing that at a hardware chain store I’m not allowed to mention!) Some of them still had useful brackets and bolts attached, which I stowed away in my parts & materials bin for future use.

It’s amazing how quick and easy a job like making a beautiful bar counter can be if you have the right tools and materials, isn’t it? Having measured and cut the various beams to the right lengths with a cut-off saw, I nailed them all together using some very hefty roofing nails (and a hefty 6 pound hammer from the forge) and a little back-swing! I sanded the whole thing with a belt-sander and shaped the front edge.

This counter was very heavy once finished! In fact, it was a bit of an effort to lug it back to the parlor for test fitting and back to the workshop for adjustment – and then back again for final fitting!

I finished it with dark-stained wood sealer to give it a lovely rich color before final fitting. While I waited for it to dry, I fitted a pair of supports made from the same truss-beam which I screwed to the insides of the cupboard from the outside – which I did to avoid nasty sharp points sticking out through the surface. It also made for a stronger mounting. Naturally, I measured the correct height – to leave room for the bar fridge below, and a level!

When it was dry, I fitted the bar counter in place. I used a lot of old cast-off items in this project, including the grooved trim items that go round the top sides and rear of the bar counter – made from off-cuts of old Victorian era picture rails! I sanded these to expose various layers of paint and wood, and then sealed them with clear spray paint.

The round mirror was one I had lying around – and had formerly occupied a place in the old bar, as did the glass shelf with brass brackets. Since the back of the cupboard wasn’t actual wood – just a single piece of thin hard-board (called masonite in the building trade apparently) I knew it would need support. I added this in the form of wooden blocks outside the back board which hold the screws with which these items were mounted.

I used a hole-saw to make an opening in the back board, bottom-center for any power cables to pass through. The LED strip lighting adds the finishing touch, doesn’t it! I fitted that using black ripcord and black cable saddles and a black table-lamp switch on the back of the front lip. That saved me extra work by not needing to paint the cables, saddles and fittings black later, because they already blended in! The lights face inwards towards the back and the mirror, and really give a nice effect.

Once I started fitting the interior, it was hard to stop! I added a glass rack on the ceiling, and the tube-steel wine-rack on the left-hand side.

The Doors:

No, not the band! It’s the Franken-cupboard!

Since both doors had previously been broken off the cupboard (chipboard has its limits) the hinges had been relocated higher or lower than their original mounting positions. The left door was in better shape and I didn’t need to change much about it, except that I added another two standard hinges to it to give it more resilience. Better weight and stress distribution means it will be sturdier and last longer.

The right door was different in that I wanted to make a big change to how it operated! I admit I was a little ambitious in this regard! Instead of just opening the door and having it occupying a walkway running past the right side of the cupboard, I wanted the door to fold all the way back until it was flush against the side of the cupboard!

To do so, I came up with a hinge design I made by welding two plain steel hinges together to make one hinge with an increased range of motion! In order to support the weight of the door, I made and fitted four of these hinges to it.

This works perfectly fine for the purpose, and the door will still open normally, with additional hang because of the extra joint in the hinge which also means taking a little care while opening and folding it against the side. I also made a spring-clip at the back edge of the cupboard side to hold the door in place while fully open. It looks very nice in this position, and as you can see in the photos, I added a few extras to this door – a pinboard and a “Bar” sign my love Kay made.

When closing the door with these hinges, care needs to be taken to hold the door upright from about halfway so the hinges close properly until fully closed against the other door, at which point the lock holds it there perfectly fine.

Once that was all done, I still needed to decorate the outside!

The Legs & Crown:

I wanted to spice up the look of the cupboard, and the legs were very plain, very straight things! I decided to make wooden covers for them that would dramatically enhance the appeal of this item. Using cardboard (from a pizza box!) I drew and cut a template using the legs themselves as a reference, and then made the leg covers in the pictures you see next. I attached them using screws.

I followed this example with the crown – the top pieces I made to spice up the top of the otherwise bland shape of the cupboard. I made these from masonite board and strips of 2×2 cm plank, glued and nailed them together, and fitted them to the top corners with panel pins.

The Doors (encore):

The doors were very flat, plain items. I decided to decorate them using hardwood beading strips – the type used in fitting exterior door window panes for this task. I bought six lengths at a hardware store, but ended up only using four of them on this project. Again I measured, carefully. Using my miter-saw, I carefully (great emphasis on carefully) cut them into strips at 45 degree angles. This hardwood is very brittle and more than once, the saw blade shattered the edge of the strip!

Once I had the strips cut, I set about gluing them to the doors in two differently-sized rectangle formations – squares at the top of the doors, rectangles at the bottom. The result looked like what you can see in the photos.

Since the beading strips had a lower profile than the exterior door handle on the right door, they don’t touch the side when the door is opened back all the way against the side of the cupboard.

Once all this was done, the next, final thing I needed to do was apply paint!

It’s important at this point that I mention a drop cloth! These have saved my bacon on many occasions – it’s never enough to say “Oh, I’ll be careful” because that doesn’t help much when you’re staring at the pot of paint that fell over on the carpet completely by accident! Hindsight is a terrible thing indeed! An old bed-sheet works just fine and you can use it over and over again for other projects.

I wanted the best result I could possibly get, so I went all-out and bought two aerosol spray cans of expensive arty-farty decor paint that worked out to about R400! It was supposed to give a nice crackly pewter-silver effect with lighter and darker bits once applied. I have to say though that I was quite disappointed in that the end result looked nothing like what was promised. Despite following all the instructions and shaking the tins etc. the whole cupboard looks like it might have if I’d just got two tins of much cheaper plain silver paint! Not to say it doesn’t still look stunning of course – just that it could’ve looked better! Needless to say, I will go with my intuition again next time, and just get the cheaper commonsense option. Sometimes less really is more.

I opted to contrast the legs and crown from the rest of the cupboard by hand-painting them black acrylic with differently sized brushes. This was done AFTER I’d finished spraying the silver paint to avoid overspray and having to needlessly mask-off anything. I used different-sized brushes to keep inside the lines! 😉

I allowed it all to dry and touched up bits here and there where necessary. Reassembly of door handles and such should wait until everything is nice and dry to avoid smearing – and swearing when you discover finger prints where you touched it not realizing the paint was still tacky!

And that’s it! One mini-bar in a cupboard!

Once done, and pushed back into its proper place in the corner, I stuck in the bar fridge, and arranged glasses and bottles and other bar bric-a-brac, and then packed the drawers with bar-related items. As you can see, I still need to restock the fridge and wine rack! 😉 At least the guest room is now absent of cardboard boxes – and the spice rack only contains spices again!

Right – who’s coming over for cocktails?

Below is a video where I present and demonstrate the Frankencupboard aka mini-bar!

Photos included – enjoy!

Have a DIY day!


If you’d like to send Christina Engela a question about anything on this site, or her life as a writer or transactivist, please send an email to christinaengela@gmail.com or use the Contact form on her author website.

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