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How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Use one to spruce up your entry, or bring one inside to double as a pantry door or as an elegant dressing vanity when fitted with a mirror and hooks

Windowed Cottage Doors
Photo by Julian Wass

The Victorian-era cottage door was the people's door. A door for the regular Joe, "the bone and sinew of the land." (That last one comes from the writings of the snooty yet influential 19th-century tastemaker A.J. Downing.) Metaphors aside, the cottage door was indeed designed for America's working class. Constructed of wood stiles and rails, with glass in the upper portion and carved moldings and decorative appliques in the lower, it dressed up the exteriors of the most modest Queen Anne, Italianate, and Stick-style houses of the late 1800s.

Cottage doors still hang in front entries nationwide, but my money's on New Orleans for having the most per square mile. That's where durable ­cypress doors decorate the facades of thousands of shotgun cottages. And it's where I scoured The Bank Architectural Antiques shop for a vintage beauty of my own. Prices range from about $350 for an unrestored door that's missing its glass to $650 for one that's intact and ready to install.

Local fire codes require that I have a steel front apartment door, so fortunately for me, my plans for the cottage door centered on improving the look of my interior, not exterior. Besides using one to upgrade an entry, a cottage door makes a handsome pantry or cellar door. One that's missing its glass can be built into a wall between the kitchen and dining room to serve as an elegant pass-through. Inspired by a mirrored coat tree in the hallway of the 1890s carriage house I grew up in, I transformed mine into a mirrored dressing vanity with hooks for hanging clothes. Turn the page to see how to use a cottage door to make your own stylish storage unit.

Just like an old window, the glass in a vintage cottage door is typically cased in wood, with a decorative stool and apron moldings at the bottom. To transform my door into a dressing table, I widened the stool to create a sturdy shelf for holding grooming supplies and my morning cup of coffee. I then filled the empty space above the shelf with a new $70 mirror instead of replacement glass for what had long ago shattered. Because my door was unrestored, I paid $350—a savings of about $300 over pristine models. I covered the holes where two deadbolts once pierced the wood with antiqued bronze hooks I got on sale at Pottery Barn for just $5 apiece. Two more hooks on the opposite side add symmetry and provide more places to hang stuff.


Steps // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door
1 ×

Remove the Stop Moldings

 
Step One // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Remove the Stop Moldings

Remove the Stop Moldings
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Remove the top moldings on the back side of the window opening using a small pry bar, and set them aside. Behind the stops are grooves that used to hold the old window glass in place. This is where the new mirror will fit.

 
2 ×

Remove Apron and Stool Moldings

 
Step Two // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Remove Apron and Stool Moldings

Flip the Door
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Flip the door faceup and gently pry off the apron and stool moldings (you'll use these to make the shelf). To prevent the wood from splitting, loosen a corner, then work the pry bar down the line. Now stand the door against a wall.

 
3 ×

Trace the Outline

 
Step Three // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Trace the Outline

Trace the Outline
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Trace the outline of the stool's inner edge on a board that's been cut to the same length. This is the board you'll use for the shelf, so choose one that closely matches the stool's thickness and the wood's patina. Mine is a cypress rail scavenged from another door.

 
4 ×

Mark Shelf Placement

 
Step Four // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Mark Shelf Placement

Steady the Board
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Steady the board, with its opposite, unmarked edge flush against the door where the stool used to sit. Mark where to notch the corners so that the board will fit snugly in the frame.

 
5 ×

Cut Along the Lines

 
Step Five // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Cut Along the Lines

Cut Along the Lines
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Cut along the lines with a jigsaw. The cut board and stool should fit together like puzzle pieces and slide easily into the door's window frame. To match the eased contours of the stool, plane and sand the projecting sides of the cut board.

 
6 ×

Join the Stool and Board

 
Step Six // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Join the Stool and Board

Join the Stool
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Join the stool and board with glue and 3-inch trim-head screws driven through the front of the stool. Be sure to first predrill the holes and countersink the screws.

 
7 ×

Secure the Shelf

 
Step Seven // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Secure the Shelf

Adhere the Shelf
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Adhere the shelf to the frame with wood glue. Then predrill holes in its center and ends. Drive in 4-inch screws, anchoring them in the wood on which the shelf sits. Replace the apron molding, securing it with finish nails.

Tip:
To hide joinery seams and screw holes, use a filler made from wood glue and sawdust. Blend until the mixture is the consistency of peanut butter.

 
8 ×

Squeeze Adhesive into Grooves

 
Step Eight // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Squeeze Adhesive into Grooves

Return the Door
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Return the door to the work table, back side up. Squeeze silicone adhesive into the mirror grooves.

 
9 ×

Secure Mirror and Add Hooks

 
Step Nine // How to Make a Dressing Vanity from a Vintage Door

Secure Mirror and Add Hooks

Ease the Mirror
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Ease the mirror into the grooves, reflective side down. Glue plywood on the back of the mirror, and reattach the stop moldings with finish nails. Add the hooks and commence grooming.

Pro Advice: "If you plan to use the door inside, preserve its stripped wood finish by sealing it with paste wax, such as Briwax, in a light-brown color. Just be sure to first smooth the door's surface with fine-grit sandpaper."
—Kelly Wilkerson, The Bank
Architectural Antiques, New Orleans

 
 
 

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