DIY July: how to upcycle a bathroom vanity

Watch as artist Carla Grace, upcycles a $40 garage sale find into her dream bathroom vanity. She also joins us as a guest writer to share her experience and the process. With a new kaboodle benchtop and handles, this project blends vintage charm with modern flair.

This DIY July, we’re excited to welcome Carla to kaboodle as a guest writer, as she shares an in-depths recount of her experience and the process of upcycling a $40 dresser she found at a garage sale, and turning it into her dream bathroom vanity. Toping it off with a kaboodle benchtop and handles, this project blends vintage charm with modern flair. Watch the transformation and keep scrolling to hear from Carla!

Now, let’s hear from Carla! 

“Hi there, my name is Carla Grace. I’m a full-time wildlife artist with a knack for seeing the best in everything – even old furniture. I’ve been planning my dream studio for years, and a unique bathroom vanity was at the top of my list. So, when I stumbled upon a $40 dresser that has seen better days, I knew it was time to roll up my sleeves and work some magic. Little did I know the adventure that awaited me!

phase one – the plan

I knew the dresser was laminate, but I had hoped to be able to create a faux wood look. After trialing that idea (nope, you won't see any pics of that disaster), I decided life was too short and opted to paint it instead. 

I removed all the old hardware and the table top (which I still have in case I do something with it) and started sanding! This was a light sand due to the laminate, and I knew I would be priming and painting it anyway. It was a fairly easy step, which encouraged me to keep going. 

phase two – height adjustment

You see, I am a very tall lady, so I have high expectations for my counter height. In its original state, the dresser measured 750mm from the floor to the top of the table. I needed it to be 900mm - a fair request! So, I devised a plan to add some height to the dresser evenly by adding 50mm above the drawers, 50mm below the drawers, and then another 50mm to the legs. The leg part stumped me due to their curves, but I figured it out. 

As I wanted to spend less on this restoration, I chose to use structural timber that we had left over from an old shed that we demolished. I needed to learn to use a table saw and cut them all to size.

These are the steps I took:

  1. Cut the timber to size.

  2. Attach the timber to the top of the dresser without crying because you can't find anything in your husband's workshop, and it takes five times longer to do anything. Used glue and screws. Nothing fancy. 

  3. Attach the timber to the base, following the lines of the existing design.

  4. Cut little versions and give the ends a 45-degree cut so that they look fancy. Attach these to the corner of the dresser to attach the legs.

  5. I filled in all the gaps, possibly using two tubs of the stuff, and hoped it was strong and steady enough to stand upright.

To finish this part of the process, I hit the dresser with a lot of gap filler and wood putty, then sanded it until it was so smooth you couldn't see where the additional timber was added. Up next are the drawers, as I needed to make this dresser appropriate for holding a basin and its associated pipes. 

phase three – rebuilding the drawers

The drawers were clearly the misfits in the whole collection of parts that make up this dresser. They now sat awkwardly in the middle of everything and needed new faces to hide the fact that I had added extra height to the dresser and that there would be a pipe running through the middle of them. First, I would need to rebuild the two top drawers so there would be a 100mm gap between them.

So, I got my jigsaw out and cut a section out of them, keeping the sides of the drawers intact, and simply put the sides back on. I also removed the centre brace that was holding the drawers up, cut that down the middle, and reattached it under the correlating drawer. Surprisingly, this shotgun approach, with no previous planning or experience, worked! This brings me to the remaining part of the cabinet rebuild: the drawer faces. This was to be the saving element to the whole design. I would add a 6mm MDF panel over the front of the drawers and then a small moulding that would match the shape of the legs. So, let's see how that turned out… 

I am not going to lie… this was very much like a jigsaw puzzle to me. I had done this before, and so I dove in without really preparing things properly. I cut the first sheet of MDF too small, and then I stopped thinking altogether and ended up cutting three small drawer pieces and only one large one. Third time lucky, and going slowly, I finally had all the correct panels cut. 

You would think I had learned my lesson, and I guess I did after cutting the strips of moulding too small the first time. So, the second time, I got it perfect and attached all the parts evenly to the new drawer faces. 

With that done, I got my husband to come and have a look and glared at him until he admitted the dresser was looking rather good. "Well done." I agree; thank you. Now, I'm moving on to the preparation for painting and the painting itself.


phase four – painting

Painting is kind of my thing… however, painting cabinets is a slightly different style and one I was hoping my paint spray gun would be able to do nicely for me. So, with a wondrous sense of confidence, I started the painful preparation phase of the process. I sanded, dusted and washed every single groove and surface. Once it was ready, I eagerly brushed on two coats of BIN, which is one of the best shellac-based primers, in my opinion. A lot of yellowing was happening with the old timber, so I needed a solid primer. 

Once the two coats of primer were dry and I had recovered from hating painting the thing, I prepared my top coat. I was torn between painting a dramatic colour and standard white. I'm no fun, apparently, because I chose white to match my studio cabinets. I tricked myself into believing I would repaint it later, that white is a safe bet. My husband agreed. I wish I had rebelled. But I chose Linen White Chalk Paint and applied the recommended two coats. My paint gun didn't like the chalk paint, and it sprayed it out in lumps, so I had to paint it by hand. Great. 

phase five – the handles

My business branding is white and gold. Since the cabinetry throughout my studio mimics it, I continued this into the bathroom. I chose the little gold cabo handles that remind me of the childhood game of knucklebones. I love them. They are discrete and easy to grip. They were also easy to attach to the drawers, so this part of the process was pain-free. Very much like the calm before the climactic storm of the story… the recessed sink.


phase six – the benchtop

I knew recessing the sink into the kaboodle benchtop would be a challenge, as I had never done anything like it before, and I desperately didn’t want to wreck the beautiful biancoccino benchtop. The handy thing was that I could order my benchtop cut exactly to size using kaboodles customisable service.

This is probably the only part of the whole process I approached slowly and with caution. I measured everything five times and tested the method on separate wood slabs. However, I still managed to ALMOST destroy the countertop in the process…

I knew the jigsaw would chip the marble laminate, so I flipped the counter over to ensure the rough side would be on the bottom. This worked the first time I cut the hole, only to discover that I had cut it too small and off to the side a little. Getting the jigsaw to cut perfectly straight along the line was also tricky, meaning that I needed to hit the line perfectly on the good side of the bench. Desperate, I turned the counter over and cut the hole again. Thus, chipping the heck out of the laminate's edge – I hoped that silicon would solve all my problems. 

With the hole the right size, I then had to make sure it was PERFECTLY round and even so that the round sink would sit evenly in the hole. I fussed about the hole's perfectness for around two hours, sanding a little here and a little there until, finally, the sink sat snugly without tipping. I ensured the gaps were evenly spread around the circumference before grabbing my silicon and calking gun. 

I had to cut a chunk out of the vanity's inside to install the mixer and once it was in I could secure the counter to the cabinet. I couldn't be more pleased with the vanity's finish. Now, folks, I just need to build my studio bathroom itself so that I can use the vanity!

If Carla’s vanity transformation using kaboodle benchtops and handles has inspired you to take on an upcycling project of your own, you can use our store locator to see kaboodle on display and pick up swatches from your nearest Bunnings. For more ideas and inspiration, visit our design blog or follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.