Classroom File Cabinet Makeover

I wasn't sure I would have the time or drive to do something about my filing cabinet this year.  On the one hand, a white cabinet is not going to help my students any more than a grey one would.  But on the other hand, this depressing looking thing is the first thing you see when you walk into my classroom.  After all the time, money and effort I've put into the decor, I really wanted to make a better first impression!  So I bought the paint I needed before my trip.  Sure enough, once I got back I had that sense of, "Well, I have what I need, I might as well." 

And I'm so glad I did.  It's nearly 2020 and still looking beautiful.  So here's how I did it!

Primed and ready!
Step 1:  Decide where it's being painted.  I asked our head custodian if he could move it outside but he suggested I do it indoors, using my rug turned upside down as a drop cloth.  I figured if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me!  (Note:  Do NOT spray paint indoors; I learned the hard way the cleanup was a NIGHTMARE.  Also my normally very laid back principal told me do NOT do that again...obviously.  Do this project OUTSIDE or read on for an alternative).

Step 2:  Remove as much of the hardware as possible.  I asked our custodian for a screwdriver and he removed the handles for me.

Step 3:  Remove bits of tape and grunge.  Give the whole thing a cleaning, just be sure to let it dry a few minutes before the next step.

Step 4:  Sand.  I did it by hand with fine sandpaper and a woodblock.  This was a lot of work!  If you're planning to do this project at school, the rest of your time should be spent on something light and not very physical, like filing paperwork.  I'd also recommend goggles and a mask so you don't inhale the dust.  And of course if you're not sure if the cabinet has lead paint, don't sand it!!!  Finally, be sure to open a window for ventilation (although this is a mute point because you've already decided to take my advice and do this outside, right?).

Step 5:  Dust.  It's going to be messy.

Step 6:  Wash.  Again, messy.  Give it a few minutes to dry.  In fact, I called it quits for the day at this point.  It was a lot of work!

Step 7:  Mask the rest of the hardware (carefully wrap masking tape around those bits you want to stay the old color, like the lock).  See the little "frames" on each drawer?  I decided to let the inside remain grey for ease of masking purposes.  I figure I can put an insert into those easily enough. 

Step 8:  Prime.  I used Rustoleum primer and just sprayed it all over.  I gave it 2 or 3 coats as suggested.  Unfortunately I also discovered that the "drop cloth" was not big enough.  :(  I'd say the range of settling paint was about 12 to 15 feed from the area I was standing.  I tried to mop up as much as I could but I did not time this right.  My plan was to do other work in the room and then spray primer at the end so that I wasn't inhaling the fumes the rest of the afternoon.  However, I needed more than an hour to spray and clean up.  So two lessons learned here:  Really prepare a wide area to spray paint on and save an hour to clean up!  It's easier to clean wet paint than dried on paint another day.  I swear, if I could do it all over again I'd use liquid paint and a roller like this one.

Step 9:  I hope I haven't scared you from trying this yourself at this point, haha.  I suggest again, call it quits for the day and pick up step 10 tomorrow.  It lets you rest and gives the primer time to dry completely.  The next step is, of course, to paint. 

Word of advice:  If you do use spray paint instead of the liquid I recommend, buy TWO to THREE cans for your file cabinet!  I bought one and didn't even finish the first coat.  :/  I was so annoyed.  More mess to clean another day.  Then I couldn't remember if I needed gloss white or semi gloss white.  At least I had the forethought to get both and return the rest after so I wasn't stuck for a third time. 

Oh, and just a little aside here.  I'd struggled with what color to paint my cabinet.  My classroom colors are the same as my blog (lime, aqua, teal, brown and white).  I was going to go with brown because I love it for my furniture at home, but just before I primed my husband pointed out I have very little brown in the room (just the floor).  I'd have loved aqua or teal but it's only available online at Walmart.  Rather than delay the project a week (too close for my comfort in getting the project done before school starts) I figured white would let it blend right in with the walls.  Six years later and I'm still happy with this decision.  I was scared it would get dirty but the kids don't touch it so it doesn't!  

So what do I find when I went back for a couple extra cans of white paint?  You guessed it.  Teal.  AND AQUA.  I could have had EITHER COLOR!!!  *Sad face*  I just need to keep telling myself that having it blend in with the walls and not standing out is for the best.  Why bring the kids' attention to something that doesn't have information they need written on it?  I'll just keep telling myself that...

So anyway, I got back to school after the weekend and luckily something told me to do a little test patch on the "drop cloth."  Sure enough, it wasn't white; someone at the store had switched the caps; I had a can of blue.  So instead of continuing with the gloss paint, I did the final few coats with semi-gloss white.  At least it's done!

Step 11:  Call it quits for the day and let it dry for 24 hours (the can said you can touch it after 9 hours, but might as well give it extra time).  Remove masking tape.

Step 12:  Reattach hardware.

Step 13:  I finished it off with just a little Washi Tape to dress it up.  I was planning on outlining all the drawers completely, (but waited since time is ticking before the kids' first day and I need to start prioritizing) but now I sort of think less is more!  The dark teal is fabric and there is bulletin board trim on that side as well.  I LOVE how it turned out! 

Has anyone else "upcycled" an old filing cabinet? 

Pinterest Facebook TPT Instagram


  1. I must say, I have not upcycled a filing cabinet, and after reading all the steps required, I will not be doing so anytime soon! :) Good for you, though, for tackling the project!
    Crafting Connections

    1. Now that I know all the steps required I will not be doing this (again) anytime soon either!

      (Although I LOVE how it looks and I'm glad I did it. Plus it's something I can point to and remind the kids, "Take your time, hard work pays off, go step by step, etc!)

  2. The file cabinet looks great! What a difference.

    Quinnessential Lessons

    1. Thanks! I'm loving it (loving that it's done, too, haha). My room feels really new and exciting to me this year; I hope this feeling lasts. :D

  3. I also did a filing cabinet about two years ago. It was a two drawer so it didn't take as long but it was time consuming. I also did my project at home and then took it back to school. I live about 50 miles away so it is just easier for me to do it there. I painted mine pink to go with my classroom theme and I also modge podged scrapbook paper onto the front of the files. It turned out cute and I thought I had some pictures of it that I posted on my blog but I can't seem to find way it is. Anyway, I will be doing that again because I am changing themes for my new 4th grade class. I need something a little bit older for them.

    Mrs. Flickinger's Butterfly Oasis

    1. Good luck with your move! I'll be doing some painting this year, but no spraying. Not this year. Not next year either. ;)

  4. Anonymous9:56 PM EDT

    Looks great! I am going to put border and paper on the one side that shows, as you did, but that's as far as I will take this project. Where did you get that lime green border with white polka dots? It is adorable!

  5. I got all my borders from They have free shipping if you have a teacher discount. Also, I have a pinterest board for my borders here: I got a few of the busier ones for the hallway. :D


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...