Rebuilding Vintage Cupboards

One of the plans that I have always had for my kitchen remodel was to remove the dishwasher that was added into my cupboards. The opening was pretty sloppy, and the placement of the cheapie dishwasher bothered me. It didn’t feel right for the space and I don’t use a dishwasher so it was all just an eyesore.

In order to make the best of the dishwasher, I used a stainless steel contact paper to cover the face of it, and it looked okay in the kitchen. When it was time to install my new counters, they told me we would have to drill into the countertop to secure the dishwasher, which I did not want to do. We decided now was the time to remove the dishwasher and to try to rebuild the cupboards.


We were never able to figure out how the cupboards were cut apart in order to put in the dishwasher. The hole was too big for one door, but not big enough for 2. After thinking through what we could do, we decided to do a stack of 4 drawers that mirrored a few other areas of the cupboards.

Rebuilding Vintage Cupboards | Style & the Suburbs

One of the biggest challenges for the project was sourcing birch wood for the project. Unlike now days, my cupboards were made with 1″ solid birch wood. Back in 1950, the original homeowners requested that the cupboard doors be made of solid pieces and not even have seams in them!

After quite a bit of research, we found a specialty lumber store called Young Blood Lumber that has been in Minneapolis since 1876. They had birch boards that were wide enough for drawer faces and in the correct thickness for the project. We also needed boards to build the frame that held the bank of drawers together. For anything not showing on the face surface (like the drawer box and interior support), we used pine which is cheaper than birch.


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We had to rebuild the frame of the drawers into the existing space and worked to make sure each piece sat as tight as possible with the existing frame so that it wouldn’t be as noticeable that it was pieced in. We also had to rebuild a support system for the countertop to sit on so that it wasn’t a big open hole where the dishwasher used to sit.


We put a lot of effort into planning the heights and widths of the drawers so that they would have the same spacing and layout as the rest of the kitchen. There is another bank of 4 drawers on the other side of the kitchen, so we matched the heights exactly to them.

First, we replaced the top trim moulding and then begun to add the shelves that the drawers will sit on as they slide in and out.

Rebuilding Vintage Cupboards | Style & the Suburbs

After the inside structure was in place, we added in the new birch frame. We attached the frame with screws and wood glue to try to make the seam as tight as possible. After the glue dried, I sanded down the entire area to make everything flat and smooth. For minor cracks, we filled them in with wood filler.

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The drawers themselves required special routed edges, that my dad was able to create himself with a special router. The drawers were put together with dowel pins and wood glue so they are very sturdy. It took a lot of testing and trying to make sure they were exactly perfect for the openings.

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The drawers also have slides attached to the bottoms that sit on a track in the shelves. It was really cool seeing the space turn from a giant hole to real drawers! I was also happy that the drawers didn’t end up being as wide as I thought they were going to be after adding the space for the frame. They look pretty normal in the space, and will be perfect for storing kitchen odds and ends! Also the grain of the birch wood is stunning and I see why they made cupboards out of this wood.

Rebuilding Vintage Cupboards | Style & the Suburbs

Rebuilding Vintage Cupboards | Style & the Suburbs

We also had to match the color of the new wood to try to blend it into the existing wood finish. I was planning to revarnish all of the cupboards during this project and replace the hardware, so it helped that everything was being refreshed at the same time. The existing cupboards were only varnished, with the yellowing occurring with age, so it was important to find a stain to create a yellow color that wasn’t too opaque.

I ended up using an amber toned shellac that gave the wood a perfect yellowed tone without covering up the grain. After doing the new drawers, we realized the bottom section of the cupboards had a muddier and darker look than everywhere else in the kitchen. It appears that they were given another coat of varnish at some point.

Rebuilding Vintage Cupboards | Style & the Suburbs

In order to clean it all up and make everything in the kitchen match, we ended up sanding down the entire lower section and redoing with shellac. It was a bigger undertaking than planned, but it turned out really nice and makes the wood look beautiful!

Rebuilding Vintage Cupboards | Style & the Suburbs5C409433-6FFE-454F-B718-AE1E9F048CDD

Since the varnish will be applied with a spray gun, we have to wait until it’s warm enough to do outside in the garage. For now I replaced the cabinet handles and we are moving onto new floors! It’s so exciting to see it all coming together!



Rebuilding Vintage Cupboards | Style & the Suburbs


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