How I turned a bland cupboard into a beautiful drinks cabinet in an afternoon

Upcycling doesn’t always have to involve charity shop furniture.

Love entertaining at home but lacking a focal point to store drinks and glasses? Then my recent Habitat drinks cabinet upcycle might just inspire you.

After expanding my collection of glassware, I realised I needed somewhere bigger to store it all. Although I’d saved several bar trollies to online shopping baskets, it was clear they wouldn’t fit the bill.

The options? Lose valuable kitchen cupboard space to store everything or find an alternative. Online shopping ensued and I finally stumbled across the Morillo metal cabinet and it had all the elements I was looking for. It was blue to match my decor, had ribbed glass fronted doors and would fit like a glove into a space between two windows.

And although I’d have loved to spend hours searching charity stores for an upcycling project, time is scarce. So, with a solution jumping out at me, the deal was sealed and it arrived within a few days.

crystal cut champagne saucers with pink champagne and slices of blood orangeCredit: Shutterstock/Svetolk
My new glasses needed a home of their own

Had I made a bad choice?

But instead of tackling the build, the cabinet sat in the box for some time. I knew it wouldn’t be too difficult to put together – as Maureen Lipman would say, “If there was an ‘ology’ in flatpack I’d have a master’s degree,” – so I couldn’t figure out my lack of enthusiasm for putting it together.

And then it struck me – visually I’d realised it was just a bit too plain. I have magenta pink cushions and a disco ball in my living room. Faced with the competition, the unit was at risk of fading into the background.

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Could it be time for a project?

Fantasising over upcycling projects and home makeovers is part of the territory when it comes to being a homes and interiors writer. Of course, when it comes to execution of the ideas, they’re not always successful.

I recall a homemade wooden dining bench in Frankfurt that eventually collapsed under the weight of too many party guests, and a poorly attached curtain pole in London that nearly decapitated my ex-husband in the middle of the night (it was an accident, your honour, I swear.) The tomato-red hallway in the Docklands, however, was a roaring success – despite needing sunglasses when you walked inside, rather than outside.

Nonetheless, if there’s a bank holiday in the month, and I’ve got no other plans, I’m happy to take on an easy DIY project. Faced with an annoying box in the hallway, and still nowhere to store glasses, I realised it was time to flex my creativity with a cabinet upcycle.

Choosing your materials

The benefit of updating a new item is the potential for less prep. There are no nails or screws to remove, neither are there layers of paint or varnish to dissolve.

But you’re still working with a specific material, which means there may be constraints.

I narrowed my choices down to the following:

It was a metal cupboard, so I had to consider if I wanted the hours of priming and painting parts of it. Or the expense of a specialist multi-purpose paint.

I live in an apartment with no outdoor space, which makes some jobs nigh on impossible. Smaller items can be placed inside a cardboard box and sprayed, but a cabinet is just too big.

I was comfortable with the outside being blue, it was the inside I wanted to improve. But there were also internal shelves, which meant stickers would barely be seen.

Standard wallpaper paste wouldn’t adhere to the metal and using spray glue to attach it presented the same issues as using spray paint. It would also be quite tricky to ensure it stuck correctly. Repositioning it would be hard work.

Picking a self-adhesive wallpaper

The wallpaper industry has seen a flurry of new ideas and inventions in recent years, which means you no longer need to master the art of pasting to get the wallpaper look.

Self-adhesive wallpaper is a relatively recent but handy alternative to traditional wallpaper, and comes in a variety of designs. Having settled on a tropical print with bright pink flamingos as the perfect partner to my pink gin glasses, I set to work with my choice. It wasn’t too Barbiecore, but still a great way to decorate with pink and perfect for a fun cabinet upcycle.

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For more clever ideas with wallpaper, read our living room wallpaper ideas.

The tools you’ll need

I’d thoroughly recommend investing in sharp scissors when working with wallpaper. An applicator tool to help remove any bubbles that might appear as you attach it is also essential.

I already had one at home for applying window film. However, you can easily find them to buy online. Mine had a hard and soft side, and I mainly used the soft side to avoid the paper ripping.

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Measuring before you start

If your paper has a repeat pattern, make sure you think about how you want the final result to look before you measure and cut your paper to size.

As my design featured a large flamingo with smaller ones either side, and I wanted the largest flamingo to be central, it meant running the wallpaper down the middle of the panel, which left gaps either side to fill.

How you choose your starting point will depend on the design of your paper and the repeat pattern.

If buying more than one roll, check the batch numbers

If you can, measure the item you will be decorating prior to buying the wallpaper. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow the guidelines regarding how many rolls you will need to achieve a successful repeat pattern. If you need to buy more than one roll, always check they are from the same batch number. There can be colour variations in different batches.

Step-by-step guide to upcycling a Habitat Morillo cabinet

  1. Remove the back panel from the box and place it in a clear workspace, giving yourself room to move around it.
  2. Note the centre point (or your preferred starting point if your pattern doesn’t need to be centralised) and position the roll of wallpaper in place (leave the backing intact) and measure the correct length, adding a little extra to each end.
  3. Cut the panel to length, check your positioning and then set to work applying the paper.
  4. Start at the top and peel a little of the paper away at a time, immediately smoothing it onto the surface. You have a few seconds to readjust but be aware that it sticks in place quite quickly.
  5. Using a combination of your hands and the applicator tool, keep working your way down the panel following the same process.
  6. Avoid trying to apply large sections at a time. The paper is extremely adhesive, and you could risk ending up with a huge air bubble you can’t remove.
  7. If you spot small bubbles and can’t lift the paper in time, work on pushing them to the outside edge as soon as you can.
  8. Trim any excess from the top and bottom of the panel with a sharp Stanley knife.
  9. If you have more surface area to cover, line up your paper so that the pattern repeats correctly and repeat the process.

The finished product

Once the unit was assembled, it was simply a case of filling it with glasses and other items. Had the unit been made of wood and easier to drill through, I would have also considered installing some plug-in LED strip lights to the perimeter of the back panel. The metal construction meant I didn’t have the tools for the job.

Nonetheless, there are a variety of rechargeable LED strips available, and I may consider adding one in the future.

Would I use the paper again? Absolutely. It turned what was a lovely, but standard unit into something far more personal to my home.

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Sarah Harley

Written by Sarah Harley she/her

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Since first picking up a paintbrush and experiencing the joy of re-decorating her bedroom in a questionable red, white and grey scheme as a young teenager, Sarah Harley was hooked on the world of interior design. This obsession even led to a real life ‘Grand Designs’ project in 2005 when she donned a pink hard hat and appeared on TV screens, project managing the renovation and extension of a Grade II listed 17th century Folly in South Wales.

Throughout her career, Sarah has gained an array of experience in several different roles, ranging from copywriting, PR, events management and photography to interior design and home staging. With her two passions being the written word and the joys of a beautifully designed home, Sarah’s mission is to open the door on the world of interiors, inviting readers in to help them work their way through the vast choice of products, ideas and trends so that their own homes can reach their full potential.

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