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DIY Vanity Desk Makeover with Attached Medicine Cabinet

A vanity desk is an essential piece of furniture in every woman’s bedroom right? It serves as a place to apply makeup, style hair, and store beauty products. A friend asked if I could give an old desk a makeover and attach a medicine cabinet to it for her daughter. I can’t wait to show you about this DIY vanity desk makeover.

This project is perfect for those who love to DIY and want to create a unique piece of furniture that is both functional and stylish. With just a few materials and not many woodworking skills, you can create a vanity desk that will meet all your needs and fit perfectly in your space. So, if you’re ready to take on a fun and rewarding project, let’s get started!

DIY Vanity Desk Makeover with Attached Medicine Cabinet

Antique Desk

Below is the old desk my friend wanted redone. Even though it’s solid wood, it’s not in the best condition. I love to refinish real wood surfaces, but unfortunately, this desk was not made from one solid piece of wood. The drawer face was a different type of wood than the top and the sides and the legs were also a different type of wood.

What does this mean? Even if I sanded the entire piece down to it’s raw wood state, all the wood will still have a slightly different finished look.

That’s when I decided to use a paint wash finish that will cover the old orange toned wood and still allow the wood grain to show through.

writing desk
antique writing desk

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Medicine Cabinet

The Medicine Cabinet she gave me had never been used. Sadly, it sat in her garage in storage for a while and grew some mold. Did I also mention that the bottom part was rotted out? Let me show you.

medicine cabinet

You can still buy this exact cabinet from Lowe’s today. So what could I do with it?

medicine cabinet

Do you see all the mold growth? First things first….clean and remove anything harmful.

Preparing the Surface

This DIY vanity desk needed a lot of work. I alway say, the prep work is sometimes the most important part.

writing desk and medicine cabinet

Cleaning the Desk and Medicine Cabinet

The first step in preparing the surface is to clean the surfaces thoroughly. Any dirt, dust, or mold on the surface can prevent the primer from adhering properly. To clean the desk and cabinet, follow these steps:

  • Remove any drawers or shelves.
  • Wipe down the entire surface with a damp cloth to remove any loose dirt or dust.
  • Use a mild detergent and warm water to clean the surface thoroughly. I used a soapy water solution for the desk. To clean the medicine cabinet, because mold was involved, I used a bleach solution after I washed it with the soapy water solutuon. See more about how to clean mold off furniture with this post.
  • Rinse the surface with clean water and dry it completely with a clean cloth. For the medicine cabinet, I pulled out the hose to fully wash it down. I let it dry and then I applied the bleach solution.

Removing the bottom part of the medicine cabinet

Since the medicine cabinet is a laminate surface with MDF underneath, I couldn’t sand away the broken and rotted pieces. This left me only one choice; to remove them. The actual cabinet part with the mirrored cabinet faces were ok, but the storage cubes underneath were in bad shape.

removing part of medicine cabinet

I used a skill saw and a reciprocating saw to remove the three bottom cubes.

removing lower part of cabinet

Then I sanded the bottom of the cabinet with an electric sander.

sanding the cabinet
medicine cabinet without bottom part

Much better! Now to get to work.

Attaching the medicine cabinet to the desk

Once the bottom of the medicine cabinet was clean, I sat it on top of the desk, measured to make sure it was center, and used two wood deck screws to attach the cabinet to the desk. Sadly I did not get any photos of this step.

wood desk with medicine cabinet attached

Long story short, I opened the cabinet and drilled the screws into the vertical wood piece on the back of the wood desk.

Sanding the Desk

Once the desk is clean and dry, the next step is to sand the surface. Sanding helps to roughen up the surface so that the primer can adhere better. To sand the desk, follow these steps:

  • Use a medium-grit sandpaper to sand the entire surface of the desk.
  • Sand in the direction of the grain to avoid damaging the surface.
  • Wipe down the surface with a clean cloth to remove any dust. My go to cleaner is also a liquid sandpaper product. It does a great job of lightly “scuffing” the surface to prepare for primer or paint while removing dirt and grime.
liquid sandpaper

Wood repair

I removed the top part of the writing desk in order to place the medicine cabinet on it. When I did this it left a handful of holes in the wood.

repairing wood with wood filler

I used a Minwax wood filler product to fill the holes. I highly suggest using a wood filler product and not wood putty when refinishing furniture. You can see more about wood putty vs. wood filler here. I also did a post about one of my favorite furniture refinishing products; Bondo.

minwax wood filler to repair a desk

Once the wood filler was dry, I sanded it smooth and then cleaned the surface once again.

sanding wood filler

Apply paintable caulk around the base of the medicine cabinet and wood desk

Truth be told I forgot about this step until I had already applied one coat of paint. Hindsight I would have applied the caulk at this stage of the makeover.

Applying paintable caulk around the base makes the DIY vanity look like one seamless piece of furniture rather than two random pieces screwed together.

Apply painters tape and remove hardware

The last step before applying primer is to remove the hardware and add the painters tape and plastic drop cloth to any surface you don’t want painted.

applying primer

Since the design plan is to paint the medicine cabinet and top of the desk, I needed to cover everything else.

I chose to use painters tape to cover the mirrored part of the cabinet and a plastic drop cloth for the base of the desk.

covering bottom of desk with plastic
covering cabinet mirrors with painters tape

Applying Primer

The final step in preparing the surface is to apply primer. Primer helps to seal the surface and create a smooth, even base for the paint. To apply primer, follow these steps:

  • Use a brush or roller to apply a thin, even coat of primer to the surface. You can spray the primer too, but I chose to use a brush.
  • Allow the primer to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Sand the surface lightly with a fine-grit sandpaper to remove any bumps or imperfections.
  • Wipe down the surface with a clean cloth to remove any dust.
  • Apply a second coat of primer if necessary.
Zinsser primer

I did apply two coats of primer because the medicine cabinet is a laminate surface (AKA paint doesn’t like to stick to it) and the desk needed two coats. After the first coat of primer on the desk, the tannins from the wood surface were already bleeding through.

after one coat of primer

This desk definitely needed two coats of primer. After the first coat of primer I did sand it lightly.

sanding primer coat

Sanding the primer coat ensures a super smooth finish. After adding a second coat of primer and allowing it to dry, I moved on to painting.

Painting the Desk

When it comes to a DIY vanity desk makeover, painting the desk is one of the most important steps. It can transform the look of the desk and give it a fresh, new appearance. Here are some tips on how to paint the desk.

Choosing the Paint Color

The color should complement the room’s decor and reflect the user’s personal style. Some popular paint colors for vanity desks include white, black, gray, and pastel colors like pink, blue, and green.

My client’s daughter wanted a pale pink color. I decided to mix two colors I already had on hand for a muted pink color.

pale pink for custom DIY vanity color

Applying the Paint

Once the paint color is chosen, it’s time to apply the paint. I used my Wagner paint sprayer. You can also apply the paint with a roller and angle brush if you wish.

Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Thin the paint before adding it to the sprayer (if necessary)
  2. Spray or apply thin even coats
  3. Allow paint to fully dry before adding another coat
  4. Two coats are most always necessary
After spraying paint on the new vanity

I applied two coats of paint and let it dry overnight. Doesn’t it look better already!

Applying sealer

Sealer is a super important step for any furniture piece. Don’t skip this step! You can check out my list of the best clear coats for wood furniture here.

I chose to use the Minwax One Coat water based Polyurethane. I’ve had good luck with it in the past.

Minwax one coat polyurethane

I applied it with a brush and did two coats. The biggest key is making sure to not have any drip marks.

applying polyurethane

Once the sealer coat (or coats) are dry, you can pull the painters tape and drop cloth off the desk.

cutting painters tape off

I always score the painters tape before pulling it off to prevent the paint from pulling with it!

vanity desk makeover before paint wash

Applying Paint Wash

I’ll be honest, when I first looked at this desk, I figured I would apply a gel stain finish. I wanted to cover the orange wood tones without removing the pretty wood grain. I also thought a nice contrast between the light paint and dark wood would look great. But after I finished the painting process with the cabinet, my thoughts changed.

Rather than a dark wood finish, I decided to go with a lighter paint wash or white wash finish. I recently did a full tutorial on how to create a paint wash with just paint and water. It’s similar to a white wash finish, but with a colored paint rather than white paint. Check out that post for more details on a color wash/paint wash technique.

The first step was choosing a color. I chose to use the same paint color and paint wash ratio (1:1) that I did with my previous cabinet makeover.

Once I mixed the paint wash, I grabbed a few lint free cloths and applied the wash liberally all over the wood working in sections. I applied it in the directions of the wood grain to one leg and then let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it off. This is one of the easiest ways to hide an ugly wood color or tone the color down.

applying paint wash to desk

You can see above where I’ve applied the wash vs. where I haven’t.

paint wash on corner of desk

I love how the paint wash gets in the wood grain and highlights it. This will also create a similar finish to using a lime wax product. The only different is that you have to put a top coat on this and you don’t have to top coat the wax product.

paint wash on desk

Once the paint was dry, I added one coat of the same polyurethane I used for cabinet and top of the desk.

vanity desk after paint wash

Almost done! Here’s a fun before and after the paint wash.

before and after paint wash

The pulls

The hardware is an important part of the furniture piece. Hardware is like jewelry to a dress; It’s the last step but can make or break the finished look!

I originally wanted to paint the pulls an antique gold color. I quickly changed my mind when I realized it’s hard to get my go-to-gold, Rub N’ Buff, to stick to the silver pulls.

Instead, I used a regular old oil rubbed bronze spray paint. You can see more of my favorite metallic paints here.

spray painting pulls

DIY Vanity Desk

I’m so pleased with how this desk turned out!

DIY Vanity Desk Makeover with Attached Medicine Cabinet

I hope my client is happy with this piece!

DIY Vanity Desk Makeover with Attached Medicine Cabinet
DIY Vanity Desk Makeover with Attached Medicine Cabinet shelves

The vanity desk and medicine cabinet will not only look great but will also be super functional.

DIY Vanity Desk Makeover with Attached Medicine Cabinet

I hope you can see how easy is it to create a DIY vanity cabinet desk.

Make sure to check out a few other furniture flips here before you leave!


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  1. Caye says:

    Hi Lindsey. Love what you did! That’s a good re-make.
    I would like to share, however, that washing mold with bleach does not work. I had to have connection with a mold expert years ago and he told me that mold is not deterred by bleach. Bleach will only lighten the color of the mold and interrupt the growth for a short time, but it will come back. He showed me the mold I thought I had removed from a wall with bleach, was indeed coming back after only a couple of months. He had a special light to focus on the areas where the mold was. I was amazed!

    There are products out which will help with mold but my favorite is the very odiferous Tea Tree oil. I used it on a very old and moldy folding screen and did the job outdoors. There is also a Kilz product which is reported to work well.

    I stick in my 2 cents because there are individuals who have severe reactions to mold, and I wouldn’t want to take the chance of selling an item if the mold could come back.

    • Hi Caye,

      I appreciate your comment. I’ve actually been down a rabbit hole not long ago researching this. A few years ago I wrote an article about removing mold from wood where I followed Fema’s guidelines on getting rid of it. It suggested a soapy solution, hot water and then a bleach solution. Thank you for telling me about Tea Tree oil! I will definitely look into this and do more research.

  2. Elaine Staller says:

    Please send regular posts!