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Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

How to convert a vintage bathroom chest into a place to store and pass on information in the kitchen

woman putting an envelope in the pocket of a message center made from a vintage medicine cabinet
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Besides its obvious utility in a bathroom, a vintage medicine cabinet can double as a kitchen spice rack or a curio cabinet. I recently spotted a wood one with a plate-glass door displaying a handsome collection of vintage wind-up alarm clocks. But you can also use one to hold keys and letters, or, if you're still sore like me, the occasional missive to mom about that icky cod liver oil she used to make you gulp down.

Tired of littering my countertop with house keys, bills, and various daily reminders to my husband and babysitter, I set out in search of a medicine cabinet to transform into an organizer for a corner of the kitchen. A scan of Craigslist turned up a gorgeous wall-mounted oak model for just $65, a bargain because it was missing its mirror. Rather than filling the empty recess in the front of the cabinet door with new glass, I brushed on chalkboard paint and lined its back with cork. A row of cup hooks is perfect for hanging keys.


Steps // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center
1 ×

How to Turn an Old Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

 
Step One // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

How to Turn an Old Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

old medicine cabinet standing in front of hanging mirrors in what looks like a salvage shop
Photo by Kristine Larsen

When shopping for a vintage medicine cabinet for this project, look for a surface-mount unit. These tend to be older, some dating to the mid-1800s, and are typically made of wood. Recessed ones made of ­either wood or metal became popular around the turn of the 19th century, in part because of the Victorians' obsession with cleanliness. It was thought that protruding ledges, specifically those in kitchens and baths, harbored sickness-inducing microbes.

Prices typically range from $50 to $250 for a vintage cabinet, with the best deals at flea markets and online auctions. Compare that with $350 to $1,000 or more for repro models.

Shop Smart
You can get vintage cabinets on eBay, but hit salvage yards for rare finds, such as this 1880s one with a beveled diamond-shaped mirror at Demolition Depot in New York City.

 
2 ×

Fill Cracks or Gouges

 
Step Two // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

Fill Cracks or Gouges

hand sanding down dry wood putty on a cabinet door
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Smooth out damaged areas in the cabinet door's recessed front panel with wood putty. Let dry, then sand.

 
3 ×

Brush on Latex Primer

 
Step Three // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

Brush on Latex Primer

hand brushing latex primer on a cabinet door
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Prep the wood recess so that the blackboard paint will adhere properly. Tape around the recess to protect the surrounding stiles and rails from errant brushstrokes.

 
4 ×

Cut the Cork

 
Step Four // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

Cut the Cork

adhering cut cork board on inside of cabinet door
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Trim two 12-by-12-inch craft tiles (about $7 for four; Joann Fabric and Craft Strores) to fit within the recess on the back of the cabinet door. A few passes with an X-Acto knife will ensure crisp edges. Adhere cork in place with wood glue.

 
5 ×

Apply Chalkboard Paint

 
Step Five // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

Apply Chalkboard Paint

applying chalkboard paint to outside of cabinet door
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Use a small foam roller to evenly spread Rust-Oleum's low-odor latex (1 quart, about $12; Home Depot). Let dry; it cures to the touch in 20 minutes and is ready for a second coat in 4 hours.

 
6 ×

Add a Magnetic Catch

 
Step Six // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

Add a Magnetic Catch

attaching a magnetic catch to inside of cabinet door
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Screw the magnet component to the cabinet's inner side wall. Align and secure the metal strike plate on the door. (Skip this step if your cabinet has an operable latch.)

 
7 ×

Screw in Cup Hooks

 
Step Seven // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

Screw in Cup Hooks

hand screwing cup hooks to inside of cabinet
Photo by Kristine Larsen

For dense hardwood cabinets like my oak one, use a drill/driver to bore pilot holes into the cabinet's inner top ledge. Then twist in the hooks to serve as key hangers.

 
8 ×

Add a Door Pull

 
Step Eight // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

Add a Door Pull

adding the door pull to outside of cabinet
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Position it over the existing hole where the old door hardware used to be, and secure the pull from behind with a screw. (Skip this step if your cabinet still has its original.)

 
9 ×

Condition the Board

 
Step Nine // Turn a Medicine Cabinet Into a Message Center

Condition the Board

finished message center cabinet with the words get dog food written in chalk on outside
Photo by Kristine Larsen

Wait three days for the paint to fully cure, then prepare the board for use by rubbing the side of a piece of chalk over the entire surface and erasing. Once you've got a clean slate, use it to—ahem—bark out an order or two.

 
 
 

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