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DIY China Cabinet Makeover (Steps with Pics!)

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Transform a china hutch into a stunning piece of furniture with this simple DIY china cabinet makeover tutorial. Get ideas for redoing an old hutch and learn how to paint a china cabinet!

Pinterest image of china hutch with text overlay "diy modern china cabinet stunning makeover"

Ever since we moved into our new house, I’ve been dying to have a large, black china hutch in our dining room.

The layout of our main space is long, with the dining room sitting between the kitchen and the living room, so I knew in order to fit one in there it would have to be tall and narrow.

I was also LOVING the look of the black cabinet with the natural wood back like these:

But the $1,000-$3,000 price tag was well outside my budget, so I set out on a mission to find an old hutch that could easily be transformed with a little TLC and elbow grease!

About a week into my search I came across this one on Marketplace for just $60!

Before picture of old hutch.

It was in decent shape, but needed a fresh coat of paint, new hardware, a new back (which I’d wanted to replace with wood anyway!) and new glass on the two side panels.

Overall, we spent about $400 total on this project, but you could do it for MUCH less.

We chose to splurge on laminate flooring for the back, which was $70 rather than the $15 you could spend on basic 1/4″ plywood and we purchased fairly expensive hardware.

The replacement glass was also a decent portion of the budget, but if you were tight on cash you could even leave them without glass!


In the tutorial below I’m going to show you everything you need to know to create a stunning refurbished china cabinet – from the prep work, all the way to the decorating of it.

I hope this helps you get a lovely new piece of furniture in your dining room on a budget!

Wide angled shot of black china cabinet with middle door open to display dishes and decor.

China Cabinet Restoration FAQ

Let’s begin by reviewing some of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to converting a china cabinet.

How do I update my traditional china cabinet?

I’m so excited to teach you just this in my tutorial below! There are lots of simple things you could do to update a traditional china cabinet – here are a few of them:

  • Paint or stain it a new color
  • Add lights to the interior
  • Change out or paint the hardware (hinges and handles)
  • Add or remove glass panels
  • Install decorative trim or caning to the cabinet doors
  • Add a decorative wall paper or paint color to the back panel

For our painted china cabinet makeover, we painted, added a wood panel to the back, changed out the hardware and added glass panels.

What can I turn my china cabinet into?

While I love a china cabinet that actually holds china, an old hutch can be transformed into many different things!

Most china cabinets are two pieces – a deeper, closed storage bottom piece and a narrower, open (or glass), shelved top piece – which can be an advantage when converting a china cabinet.

The best way to transform the a china cabinet into a new piece of furniture (or two) is by using the two parts separately.

Try adding feet to the top cabinet section and make it a stand-alone cabinet or bookcase.

The bottom piece can easily be used as a buffet in a dining room, a media console in your living room or even a sofa table behind your couch!

In our last home, we even used the bottom of an antique china cabinet as our bathroom vanity!

Do I have to sand a china cabinet before painting?

Depending on the condition of your china cabinet, you’ll most likely want to do some sanding before you paint.

If you use a quality primer and paint, the sanding can be minimal because you’re just trying to give it a surface to adhere to.

But, if you have a china cabinet with a lot of damage that needs fixing (see below for more details) then you may need to do more sanding to prepare.

Can I paint my china cabinet?

Yes, yes you can. I LOVE paint and the way it transforms furniture!

If you have a china cabinet that’s structurally sound and you want to paint it then I say, go for it!

I’ve got detailed steps below that will walk you through how to easily get it painted and freshened up for your home.

Can a hutch without glass still be refinished?

Absolutely! In fact, our hutch didn’t have glass when we bought it and now it looks like an expensive piece of furniture!

The question you have to ask yourself is if you want to keep it without glass after it’s been refinished or if you want to do what we did and replace the glass.

I’ve shared our super simple method for installing hutch glass in the tutorial below, and if you like the look of glass I’d encourage you to add the glass back in.

But, if you like the look of an open shelf hutch with the glass panels, then by all means, restore the hutch and leave it with open shelves!

My one recommendation, if you do decide to leave it without glass, would be to consider removing the “door” framing on the front of the hutch (assuming it has some.) That way it looks like it’s an intentionally built “open shelf” hutch, rather than a doored hutch missing its glass.

Ok, let’s get to it, shall we? πŸ™‚

How to Refinish a China Cabinet or Hutch

For a printable copy of the materials and instructions, scroll down.

Materials Needed:


Tools Needed:


4 Steps to Update an Old Hutch

STEP 1: Disassemble and Repair

The first thing you want to do is get your cabinet ready for its makeover.

Begin by disassembling it – remove all the doors and drawers and unstack any parts that come apart by design. (Ours had a cabinet hutch atop a sideboard, so we pulled those apart as well.)

Garage floor covered with drop cloths with parts of a disassembled china cabinet sitting on top.

Since we planned to replace the back of the top piece, we removed that old backer board as well.

If your cabinet smells musky, check out this article on how to remove smells from old furniture pieces.

Remove all the hardware (hinges and handles/knobs) and set aside if you’re planning to reuse them.

Then, carefully examine each piece of the hutch for damage and repair it using wood filler or spackle and let it dry thoroughly.

Ours had a lot of damage along the edges of the sideboard, so we filled in those spots, as well as a few dents on the front of the top piece.

Top piece of a china cabinet laying on the ground with white spackle patches throughout the front face.

Once your filler has dried all the way, go through and sand the entire piece.

We used 220 grit sandpaper on ours since it was already painted, but if you’re prepping a wood piece without prior paint, you might consider something 150 grit to help remove the stain or clear coat first, then finish off with a round of 220 grit.

How to Fill Hardware Holes in Drawers

This is a little mini-lesson within the china cabinet redo, but I thought Chris’ technique was so cool I just had to share!

We chose to use new hardware on the drawers of our hutch with holes in a different place than the ones already there (the drawer handles it came with had holes 3″ apart, but the handles we bought needed holes 3.5″ apart…)

So, Chris filled in the holes before we painted the drawers and here’s how he did it:

Step 1 – Stuff the existing hole with a bunch of wooden toothpicks.

Gloved hand placing a bunch of toothpicks into a hardware hole on the front of a drawer.

Step 2 – Hammer the toothpicks down until they’re snug, adding more toothpicks as needed to tightly fill the hole.

Hammering toothpicks into the hardware hole on the front of the drawer.

Step 3 – Trim off the tops of the toothpicks with a hand saw and then superglue the top of them together.

Super glue being applied to the hole stuffed with trimmed off toothpicks.

Step 4 – Spackle and sand until smooth.

We did have to spackle and sand a few times, but after a few coats of paint the old holes were completely invisible!

Isn’t this such a creative hack?! I loved it. πŸ™‚

After you’ve sanded the entire hutch and feel that it’s smooth and ready for paint, use a rag to dust it off. You want to make sure there isn’t any dust on the cabinet when you go to paint it.

We chose to move our hutch pieces into the house for painting, both to escape the dust and have warmer drying conditions.

Parts of a hutch atop a dining room table covered in painting plastic.

STEP 2: Paint

Now that your china cabinet is patched up and sanded down, it’s time to start painting!

There are a few things you need to decide before you begin:

  1. What color do you want your china cabinet to be?
  2. Do you want it to look shiny or matte?
  3. Are you doing a different color, material or wallpaper on the backside?

Let’s review each of these.

How to Choose your Repurposed China Cabinet Paint Color

There are so many fun color options for china cabinets. If you like bold colors like robin’s egg blue or sage green, then go for it!

Of course, the traditional colors you might consider are black, white, and gray (both light and dark.)

I recommend choosing a color that will be timeless in your home, meaning no matter what season it is, or how your decor style evolves, it will always feel cohesive.

Now, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a stand-out piece that everyone notices, it just means you probably don’t want to do yellow if you know that color won’t match your home when it’s decorated for Christmas. πŸ˜‰

We knew from our inspiration pieces that we wanted something that resembled black metal and was a high-contrast to the light colored items we already owned, so we went with a true black paint for our hutch makeover.

How to Choose your Refurbished China Cabinet Paint Sheen

The sheen of paint you choose determines how shiny your finished hutch will be.

Flat/Matte or chalk paint have almost no shine to them and tend to be less durable to scuffs. High-gloss has the most shine and is typically the most durable.

Evaluate your preferences and choose a sheen that’s good for your china cabinet makeover.

We chose semi-gloss paint for ours in an effort to make it look more like the black metal china cabinets I’m so fond of.

Repurposed China Cabinet Ideas for a Decorative Back or Trim

There are many ways to add distinct, unique decoration to your old hutch makeover.

One of my favorites is making the inner, back wall of the upper cabinet a different style than the rest of the hutch. This could be through a different paint color, the use of wallpaper, or even like we did, stained wood instead of painted wood.

Another fun idea would be adding cane to the doors!

Don’t shy away from something you think is awesome – that’s the beauty of DIY – you get to make it exactly what you want. πŸ™‚

How to Paint a China Cabinet

Ok, now that you’ve decided what color of paint and what sheen you’re using, as well as any other fun elements you’re going to add, it’s time to get painting.

If you plan to do something decorative on the back panel, remove the back panel from your cabinet completely before painting. You don’t want to paint it along with the rest of the pieces and it will be MUCH easier to work on if it’s not behind the doors and shelves.

Most china cabinets have simple, 1/4″ plywood backs that can easily be removed and then reinstalled.

The first step (which we didn’t do because we were painting ours with a fresh coat of the same color) is to PRIME the entire thing. This is our favorite primer and we typically brush the corners first then roll the flat surfaces with a 4″ roller (1/4″ nap.)

Don’t skip this step – it’s critical to the success of your china hutch makeover!!

Once the primer has dried completely you can move on to painting.

We gave everything one good coat and then went back over anywhere that looked like it needed another (especially the spots we repaired with the white spackle.)

Like I mentioned above, we had to spackle, paint, and then re-spackle and re-paint a second time over the drawer holes we filled. Here’s a peek at the second round of spackling.

Close up of a drawer front with spackle patches waiting to be sanded.

I always recommend allowing the paint to dry for a full 24 hours between coats and then for 2-3 days before trying to assemble and use your china cabinet. Many interior paints take a few days to completely harden and you don’t want to damage the piece after all your hard work thus far!


STEP 3: Finish/Install the Back Panel and Decorative Additions

Go ahead and skip this step if you decided to paint the entire hutch the same color. But, if you chose to do some fun detail on the interior back panel like we did, this is where that part of the makeover is completed.

Grab the back panel you took off in step 2 and give it the transformation you’re wanting!

We actually used vinyl plank flooring for the back of ours, so we measured the entire width of our hutch, figured out how many full boards we could use, then split the leftover for the two edge boards.

Starting with one of those smaller edge boards, we installed the far-left board first and then connected and nailed in one board at a time.

We found it was easiest to use an extra board and hammer to get the pieces to join together completely.

Here’s how it looked right after we finished installing the back:

Close up of wood-looking vinyl flooring installed back on an hold china cabinet.

Isn’t it pretty? πŸ™‚

This is also the step where we ordered replacement glass for the two sides from a glass company.

When those arrived, Chris used small glazing points to hold the glass in place. They were SO easy to use, simple shove the arrow part into the side of the groove for the glass with the arms against the piece of glass to hold it in place.

We ended up using about 6-8 for each small panel of glass.

STEP 4: Install Hardware, Reassemble and Decorate!

Now comes the best part – the assembly of your newly transformed hutch!

We recommend installing the hardware, then the doors, then the drawers and finally stacking the two parts (assuming yours came apart.)

China hutches can be very stylish pieces of furniture, even while maintaining their main function of storing your dishes.

Let’s dive into ways to decorate yours!

Black mid-century modern hutch with door open displaying white dishes and stylish decor.

China Cabinet Decorating Ideas

How to Style a Refurbished China Cabinet

Begin by identifying which dishes you want to store in the visible section of your hutch. I knew I wanted to have all of my white plates and bowls, my wine glasses (both stemmed and stemless) and my water glasses. I recommend putting matching dishes in neutral colors in this part of your hutch so they can stand out and display as decor.

Then, consider where those would be best to store for easy access. For me, that was in the center section for the dishes because I use them frequently and the side glass pieces don’t open. As for the glasses, those were used less often and could easily be stored on the sides.

Next, think of your hutch in terms of “sections” like a grid, with the dividers being the shelves and the door trim, and place one item or a small group of items in each square of your grid. You want to place something, whether that’s one item like our plant, or a grouping of items like my books and candle, in each of those sections.

Lastly, don’t forget to put a few things on top of the hutch (assuming your ceiling height allows for that!)

Here are a few of my biggest suggestions when styling your hutch:

  • Place heavier items on the bottom shelves (ie large stacks of plates or books)
  • Put groupings of similar items on different shelves or “rows” of your grid (ie my glasses groupings)
  • Don’t be afraid to leave a bit of empty space – the shelves do not have to be completely full of stuff!
  • Lean at least one decorative plate against the back wall (it adds a lot of interest!) behind other items
  • Put at least one artificial plant in it!
  • Try to add at least one or two things with texture (like my books and wooden bowls) to mix things up

Best DΓ©cor for a Repurposed China Cabinet

Here are some of my favorite options for decorating the interior of a china cabinet!

Dishes and Glasses

Close up of dishes on shelves in a black china cabinet with wood back.

Other Decorations

Close up of the insides of a china cabinet with white dishes, stemless wine glasses and a wooden back panel.

Before and After China Cabinet Makeover

You all know my favorite is a good before/after, so let’s see what a little TLC did to our china hutch makeover…

Isn’t it awesome?!

I still can’t believe how modern and expensive it looks! Many of my family and friends have made comments about how much they like it when the come over. πŸ™‚

And I love the way the natural wood back warms it up inside…

Side angle, close up shot of decor in a black hutch.

Ah, I’m just so pleased with how it turned out!

Here are the sources for the items in my hutch – if the item I have was thrifted I’ve found you a similar option:

So – you ready to give your old hutch a facelift?? Go for it!!

Be sure to tag me @joyfulderivatives when you share your wonderful DIY china cabinet makeovers. I can’t wait to see what you all create. πŸ™‚

As promised, here are the printable instructions:

Yield: 1 Hutch

DIY China Cabinet Makeover

DIY China Cabinet Makeover

Gο»Ώive your old hutch a facelift with this easy DIY china cabinet makeover tutorial!

Prep Time: 2 hours
Active Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate


  1. Disassemble your hutch by removing all the doors, drawers and separating large pieces.
  2. Remove all the hardware and set asside if reusing.
  3. Repair damaged spots with wood filler, including filling hardware holes you won't need anymore.
  4. Sand the entire piece using 220 grit sandpaper.
  5. Prime and paint.
  6. Add decorative back or trim (as desired.)
  7. Reinstall hardware, reassemble and decorate!

Let me know if you have any questions!



2 thoughts on “DIY China Cabinet Makeover (Steps with Pics!)”

  1. I did something similar, but took off the doors and put ribbed molding on the sides.
    Sprayed the original hardware gold.
    Love the backing you added!

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