’80s Melamine Cabinets Look Nothing Like You Remember in This Chicago Home
One renter’s unique storage solution.
Published Sep 24, 2020 12:10 AM
White melamine kitchen cabinets are one of those things homeowners hate so much, they’re willing to give them away for free just so they don’t have to look at them any longer. But have you ever wondered where all those cream-colored boxes end up? You’ll find a good chunk of them in the home of Apartment 528 owner India Shannon. The super-flat door fronts and built-in oak wood handles that, to everyone else, scream the 1980s are her favorite things about the cupboards. “I love how clean and streamlined they are,” says Shannon, who began buying vintage cabinets back in 2010. “I’m not really a fan of the traditional Shaker.”
The brilliant part is, Shannon isn’t simply putting the boxes back in the kitchen where they normally live. Using glossy oil paint in punchy shades of blue and red, she gives them a modern twist and uses them for organization elsewhere. The fad everyone thought died lives on in her home, though they don’t look anything like how you might remember them. Ahead, Shannon breaks down everything you need to know about reviving these hidden gems and turning them into practical storage.
The Web Is Your Friend
Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are gold mines for vintage kitchen cupboards. If you’re lucky, you can score them for free (the most Shannon ever paid was $60 for a set of 10 wall and base units). Before settling on them, she asks the seller plenty of questions about the condition of the cupboards, noting things like water damage. “Double-check the measurements to make sure they’ll work for your wall’s layout,” Shannon points out, adding that many times the pieces look like they might be the same dimensions, but if they were originally custom-made for a kitchen, they might not be the same height or depth.
Skip the Prep and Go Bold
The one and only major change Shannon makes to the pieces is painting the fronts and sides vibrant colors, skipping sanding and priming altogether (the plastic-y surfaces absorb paint well). “It just rolls right on,” she says. For the cupboards that make up the coffee nook in her kitchen, Shannon used an oil-based Rust-Oleum product that’s extra-durable and resistant to scratching, and custom-mixed the colors to get the perfect coral hue. The cupboards in the guest bedroom, which house inventory for her shop, are swathed in alkyd paint from Behr that gives them a hard, glossy finish, while the floating credenza in the primary bedroom is a combination of standard cabinet and furniture paint, the least-durable solution she tested out.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Along with their streamlined fronts and sleek handles, Shannon loves that these old-school boxes are easy to customize. For starters they can go with frames from other eras. The base of the coffee station in the kitchen is actually a metal cabinet from the ’50s, but Shannon added two shorter ’80s ones that would have once lived over a stovetop. The neon credenza in the bedroom, mounted to the wall with heavy-duty anchors, has a wood-slab top Shannon cut and stained to closely match the handle color. “The only thing I’ve seen other people do to these types of cupboards is to paint the wood white so it matches the rest of the cabinet,” she says. “I’ve never really understood it. That’s my favorite part.”
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