Hannah Drake

DIY Bar Cabinet

At HomeHannah DrakeComment

I am SO excited about this post today because this has been such a fun project for us and we're so happy with the end result!

About two and a half weeks before the wedding, Luke sent me this chest of drawers from Freecycle and asked if I wanted it. I told him yes, but not what he thought I wanted it for. I sent him a before and after idea of an old chest of drawers turned into a bar cabinet and he was immediately on board. (He says he envisioned doing something with it, but wasn't quite sure until he saw the idea I sent him and realised it was exactly that.) He arranged for a pick up from the man who posted the chest of drawers, but despite enlisting a friend with a slightly bigger car to help, he said the guy who was giving it away ended up having to drive it over to our house for them because it wouldn't fit in either car.

So there we were, less than two weeks before the wedding, finishing up final wedding details and taking on a brand new DIY project. That's totally sane, right?! We decided to get rid of the table that was in the kitchen since we literally only used it for folding laundry. We never eat there because the frame wasn't very well cared for so it was a bit out of alignment and two of the chairs were quite a bit out of alignment. Luke took the table top off the frame so we could keep that, which came in handy the following weekend when we had beautiful weather and basically ate every meal outside in the back garden.

Since I was off for the week before the wedding, I alternated between wedding projects and painting the drawers (which Luke had already stripped and sanded). We wanted it to look a little distressed, so even though I did a coat of primer, I only wanted to do one coat of the paint. We used Rust-oleum Chalky Finish Furniture Paint in Clotted Cream and finished it with a wax coat to seal it. Unfortunately, there were a lot of air bubbles in the paint so there were sections that I had to add a second coat to, making the dark wood a little less visible.

Luke did such a fantastic job on the design and the execution. We ran through a few options, like adding racks to the bottom of the shelf to be able to store glasses, but ultimately decided we would just store alcohol in the cabinet between the shelves and the wine rack and keep all the glasses on our little black shelves off to the side. Anyway, we knew no matter what, we wanted to keep the two smaller drawers on the top, which we use to store our more bar tools, smaller mixers, table linens, and other entertaining odds and ends that don’t otherwise have a place.

When we decided that the area where the second drawer had been was going to be the wine rack, Luke drew up a few different designs before ultimately settling on what we did. Major props to him, to be honest, because he doesn't have a ton of tools and the front of the cabinet is curved, so he really did a fantastic job! Luckily all the drawers sat on shelves already, so there was already a bottom, though he had to take out the shelf between the bottom two drawers to open up the space. He reused the bottom of one of the drawers we were getting rid of to add a back to the wine rack. He drilled holes in the back for the dowels to sit in to support the top row of wine bottles. He also added tracks for the bottom rack so the bottles wouldn't roll around and would go in straight with the leftover wood from the font.

For the bottom, I wanted to keep it simple and just add "stadium seating" for the liquor bottles so they would all be visible. He got some wood and used the same stain from the wine rack to stain those and I just love the contrast of the dark wood--also on the top--and the light creamy, almost yellow, colour of the rest of cabinet.

We finished it off by adding fairy lights in it, which I love. Honestly, if I could, I would have fairy lights everywhere. We also decided to keep the original hardware on the drawers we kept, which I really like. Luke tasked me with finding out how to clean brass. I made a paste with white wine vinegar and flour and let them soak for about 10 minutes in it before scrubbing it off. It made a world of difference! And let's talk about how perfectly it works with Luke's 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall display that's been up since the beginning of the year. It's like it was meant to be. (It's worth noting it took him about three years to collect 99 unique bottle caps that were in good enough condition to keep.) I moved one of the plants Luke's parents gave me for Christmas on the top so it finally has the perfect home. And we decided to display our best drinkware--the Moscow Mule mugs and champagne glasses my mom got us before our wedding--on top along with the bottle opener my sister gifted me before her wedding, and Tequila Mockingbird, a cocktail book we picked up at a charity shop to use in our wedding centrepieces. Later, Luke finished the top with a few coats of wood oil and it made a world of difference. You can probably spot the darker colour and smoother finish in some of the photos.


  1. Find a chest of drawers with good “bones”. Ours was great because it was sturdy, dark, and required few cosmetic upgrades outside of our project. The drawers also rested on shelves instead of on rollers or only side tracks. This was very helpful for building in the wine rack. To create one like ours, you need at least four drawers.

  2. With your new chest of drawers as a starting point, design a bar cabinet that will best serve your needs. Consider if you want it to store glasses, include a wine rack, have ample storage, etc.

  3. Remove hardware. You can find new hardware if you want, but if you want to keep the original brass hardware, make a paste out of flour and white vinegar. Soak the hardware for 10 minutes before scrubbing them clean. The brass should look brand new.

  4. Strip the chest and sand it down.

  5. Choose your paint (I recommend furniture paint) and a primer to go underneath. If you want a distressed look, you don’t need to worry about multiple coats or covering every inch. Finish with a sealant (like furniture wax) to protect the paint job from any liquid that might spill.

  6. If you’re keeping any of the original wood, sand it down to remove any blemishes. Cover with a wood stain and finish with a sealant to protect the wood from liquid.

  7. For the bottom shelf, stack two pieces of wood that are the length of the bar and one half the width of the other. This creates three levels for your bottles to sit, making it easier to see everything. The wood we used was 2 inches thick so the back row isn’t too high.

  8. For the wine rack, choose a design to store the bottles. Add a back to the shelf as it won’t be the depth of the cabinet. Create “shelves” for the bottles in the top row to sit on using dowels, sat in holes in the backing. Attach dowels to the bottom of the shelf to keep bottles on the bottom row from rolling around.

  9. To finish your bar, consider adding fairy lights (which bounce off the bottles beautiful) or even a mirror behind the spirits, like you would see in a real bar.

I'm so impressed we (Luke) were able to finish it before the week of the wedding so when my family was visiting and touring the house, we got to show it off. One of our friends came by to pick up the photo booth props we had borrowed for the wedding to use at their birthday party and I showed it to him. He said after they cleaned up their party, they decided to use their little cabinet as a gin bar. 

Now we need to have a party to christen our new bar! In the meantime, I wanted to share another cocktail recipe with you. You may not be interested in upcycling a piece of old furniture, but I think we can all agree there's nothing like a refreshing drink outside on a warm summer evening. If there's any drink that perfectly captures British summertime, it's Pimm's. It's a simple drink you definitely want to make in a pitcher. ("No one just makes one Pimm's." - Luke) It goes best with sunshine and friends, so enjoy!

  • 1 part Pimm's

  • 3 parts lemonade*

  • strawberries

  • cucumber

  • mint

Mix Pimm’s and lemonade in a large pitcher. Add chopped strawberries, cucumber, and fresh mint to garnish.

Because Pimm's is a pitcher drink, you can definitely eyeball the measurements. In England, lemonade is a clear sparkly drink, more like Sprite, so I would definitely recommend for all my American readers to opt for a lemon or lemon-lime soda like Sprite. If we notice our strawberries might go bad before we eat them, we'll dice them and stick them in the freezer until it's Pimm's o'clock again. 

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Pimm's photos by Peter Horrox Photography.

Updated March 2019.