Save some money and make your own home bar

Retrofit an old cabinet, and you will create something you'll be proud to drink to.

Posted: July 13, 2007

Those beautiful freestanding bars look impressive in the glossy home catalogs. And they carry pretty impressive prices.

For a fraction of the cost, you can retrofit a cabinet into a bar that blends with your decor and fits your budget. And, as a one-of-a-kind, this piece will reflect your style in a unique way.

Start with a cast-off bookcase or cabinet - any piece you can envision holding the beverages, glasses and accompaniments. Then dress it up with paint and some distinctive wallpaper.

Over the space of a couple of days, following these steps, your great-looking bar will be ready to host its first party.

Find a suitable piece. The cabinet we refinished was purchased for $225. Remove the shelves, if necessary. Make a solution of water and Murphy's Oil Soap, following the instructions on the bottle for ratios. Dampen a soft rag with the solution and wipe all the surfaces.

Make sure your cloth is only damp, not wet, to keep from damaging the wood. Do not use furniture polishes because they contain waxes and glossing agents that will coat the wood and hinder your primer and paint jobs.

Remove the existing finish. Use a medium-grit sanding sponge to take as much off as possible. This allows the paint to adhere better and provides a smoother finish. If necessary, use a finishing sander (a small electric sander). Be gentle; you don't want to gouge the wood.

If the piece has nicks or holes, fill with a hardening wood filler. Fill holes until the filler is mounded over the surface; let dry.

Sand the spots flush with the surface. Wipe the surfaces again with the Murphy's Oil Soap mixture. If desired, use a hair dryer to blow away any dust that might later lodge in the paint and mar the finish.

Prime the cabinet. Skipping any surfaces that will be covered with wallpaper, brush a heavy primer such as Kilz over all surfaces. One coat will do; it doesn't need to be opaque. The primer acts as an adhesive for the paint, in addition to covering any dark spots or blemishes. Let the primer dry, preferably overnight.

Apply paint. Use a sponge roller to prevent visible strokes, but use a small paintbrush for any detail work. Let dry. Sand very lightly with fine-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge and wipe with the Murphy's Oil Soap solution. Apply a second coat of paint. Allow to dry overnight.

Apply polycrylic. This is a clear-coat finish that will protect the paint from scratches; it's different from polyurethane in that it does not have a yellow tinge. Polycrylic comes in matte, satin and gloss finishes. Use whatever finish you prefer.

Allow the polycrylic to dry overnight. Sand with ultrafine-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge and wipe down with Murphy's Oil Soap solution. Add another coat of polycrylic and allow to dry overnight. Don't rush the drying time; the finish should not be tacky.

Prepare the wallpaper. We covered our bar with a vintage-style paper - very hot right now. The paper you buy should come with instructions on how to apply it; save them.

Measure the inside of your furniture piece. For the back wall, I just measured the interior. For the bottom half-circle, I made a template out of kraft paper. The width of the wallpaper design was wider than the back of the cabinet, so I had to do some matching to get that designer look. I needed to do the same for the bottom half-circle. Cut the wallpaper into all the pieces you'll need before you start to apply any of them to the furniture.

Hang time. Following the instructions for hanging your wallpaper, apply it to the interior of the cabinet. In our case, that meant folding the wallpaper pieces into what is called a book fold and submerging them in water.

To imagine a book fold, envision your wallpaper as a piece of ribbon candy. The paper is folded in a series of S-curves without creases and with the paste sides touching. I let ours sit about five minutes to activate the paste. I removed the paper from the water and applied it to the chosen surfaces, matching where needed.

Wet a wallpaper sponge and smooth any wrinkles or bubbles. If the paste is activated correctly, the wallpaper will take a moment to adhere. Trim with a sharp razor blade if necessary. Allow the paper to dry. (You will have a lot of wallpaper left for future craft projects.)

Restore the shelves. Scrape any paint smudges off the glass with a sharp razor blade. Use a soft brush or feather duster to clear away any paint flecks. Clean the glass.

Then, of course, stock the bar.

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