Call It Vanity, Call It Shelf-ishness

It has been nearly a month since we talked about stenciling the floor in our sink nook (we’re all over the place lately – Clara’s room, outdoor tiling, installing our stair runner, landscaping adventures, starting in on the kitchen, etc) but that doesn’t mean we were done in there. We had a few more bullets to check off:

  • sealing those stenciled floors
  • loading in the closet after the floors dried (hopefully with more function/storage instead of the stuff we thoughtlessly shoved in there when we moved)
  • updating the vanity with more function as well as a fresh finish (up close it was in pretty rough shape, and we thought we could gain more function from that empty cubby on the right side if we added some inexpensive shelves)

So to knock that first bullet off the list, Sherry used a small foam roller to apply two thin and even coats of SafeCoat Acrylaq to the floor (that’s our favorite non-toxic eco poly). She rolled those on about 24 hours apart, and wore a respirator just because it wasn’t fully odorless. It went on pretty fast, and she started in the furthest corner of the closet and just rolled her way out of the room. Then we blocked it off while it dried so we didn’t end up with puppy paw prints in it.

It has been a nice protective final step that has made us less worried about any chips or drips (heck, I was even able to scrape off a dried staining splatter later without damaging the stencil).

Once the floor sealer was fully cured (we waited around 72 hours) we could load in the closet, and this time we tried to be more thoughtful about what went where, and what would be the most functional. Bringing in a dresser and a mirror as well as a laundry room basket to use as a hamper really helped to make it a lot more storage-friendly than a bunch of random bins and piles. Although this dresser will probably end up in the nursery and our new West Elm dresser will most likely make its way in here after we add that wall of built-ins around our bed down the line.

Here’s a shot of Sherry’s side:

And my side (note the difference in shoe quantities):

Just as a refresher, here’s what the closet looked like when we moved in and threw everything down. It’s amazing what some fresh paint on the walls, trim, floor, and ceiling along with some much needed organization and some old furniture (the dresser’s a hand-me-down and the mirror was a $5 yard sale find) can do.

So with those first two bullets checked off, it was shelf o’ clock. They were actually a pretty easy build. We just had to keep two things in mind as we planned them out on paper:

  1. how to build supports for two shelves (function!)
  2. where to create places to attach the front-facing boards to make it look pretty (form!)

So here’s what we came up with (we like to map things out on paper together, and then we usually divide and conquer, so in this case Sherry did the polying and most of the closet organization, and I was happy to do the shelf building and staining, especially since the stain isn’t without VOCs). Then Sherry swooped back in and tackled the hinges and reattached the doors while I switched out the drawer and door hardware.

As for the building step, I started from the floor and worked my way up.

Step 1: I nailed a small piece of scrap wood into the side of the vanity (and another just like it into the baseboard on the opposite side) with one side resting on the floor and the other set back 3/4″ from the front of the vanity’s toe kick.

Step 2: This created a spot for me to attach a strip of plywood that would effectively extended the toe kick all the way across.

Step 3: Right above this, I nailed in matching strips of 1 x 2″ board (that I ripped in half on my table saw) that the bottom shelf could rest on. You’ll see in Step #10 why I didn’t line it up with the bottom of the vanity.

Step 4: I placed my first shelf, which I cut out of a piece of plywood I had leftover from the sunroom ceiling. It was such a tight fit I didn’t bother nailing it into place.

Step 5: After carefully measuring for the middle of the space, I nail-gunned another set of small strips on all 3 sides. I hadn’t done a back strip on the last shelf because it (coincidentally) rested perfectly on the top of the baseboard. Note: in this photo you can see how the vanity is a little dinged up in a few places, hence our desire to refinish it, which would also help us match the new wood with the old wood.

Step 6: I added my second shelf, cut from the same piece of plywood scrap.

Step 7: We wanted to add a face board at the top of the opening too, since we were trying to mimic the spacing and the look of the existing vanity. So by putting a face board here, it’d continue the strip of wood between the drawer face and cabinet doors that’s already on the left side. So, just like I did for the toe kick, I nailed small pieces of scrap wood here, set slightly back from the front of the cabinet.

Step 8: Time to start adding face boards. I started with a vertical one against the wall, which was a 1 x 3″ board (which really measured 1 x 2.5″) that I ripped on the table saw to be 1 x 2″ to match the width of the existing face boards. I glued and nailed it into place against the supports and shelves.

Step 9: Since that vertical face board got nailed into the small piece of scrap that I had placed at the top, I no longer had a place for the horizontal face board to attach. So I screwed another piece of scrap into the back of the vertical board to create one again.

Step 10: Now to put in all of the horizontal face boards, which were from the same 1 x 3″ board that I ripped to be 2″ wide. I was able to glue and nail these into the supports and the front edge of the shelves too. I wanted the bottom edge to match up with the existing vanity, which is why in Step 3 I had to account for the 2″ face board when placing my shelf support strips.

Here’s a pulled back shot of the whole thing once it was constructed. Putting it together was pretty fast (maybe an hour?). It was triple-checking all of my measurements and cutting my pieces that took the longest. I was certain I was going to mess something up along the way – like forgetting to account for the thickness of the plywood shelf when placing my support strips – so I tried to do the whole measure twice (and think twice) before cutting once thing.

Obviously the next challenge was getting the new shelves and the old vanity to be the same color. We wanted to maintain some semblance of wood grain texture, but also had some darker toned wood items in our bedroom (like a big leaning wall mirror near the doorway to this sink nook) that inspired us to go a little richer/darker with our new stain choice. We also learned from painting the vanity in our half bathroom that a deeper, less-orange shade can tone down the yellow in the sink top. So after having such a good experience with PolyShades on our stair railing (and having half a can leftover) we decided to go that route with the vanity.

The other can pictured above is some stain that we had leftover from Clara’s dresser makeover, which we first brushed onto the new shelves (to get them closer to the existing color on the left side of the vanity before PolyShading the whole thing to be uniform). I stupidly forgot to take a picture of that step, so unfortunately we’ll just have to skip ahead, but the color wasn’t a perfect match at all – just sort of within a tone or two instead of one side being bleach blonde. Apparently it was enough of a similarity that one coat of Espresso PolyShades (applied with a brush) did the trick in fully bridging the gap. Oh and before I brushed on the PolyShades, Sherry lightly sanded the existing vanity side so it was stain-ready just like the fresh wood was.

Before Sherry reattached the doors and put the drawer back in (all of which I had removed to make staining easier) we updated the knobs with some cheap ones (under $2 each!) that we found at Target. We thought that the octagon shape was a nice step-up from completely basic but the color would blend in nicely with our dark stain, so the knobs won’t compete with the patterned floor. In addition to using four of them to replace the existing knobs, I also drilled holes to add two more in the dummy drawer face that sits under the sink for a more balanced look.

And with that folks, we have a completed vanity. Wait, but let’s reminisce about what we started with:

And where we ended up:

I realize the dark stain color makes it a bit hard to see some of the detail in photos (in person it’s more wood-grain-ish without looking quite as goth-dark), but I’m happy to report that the new shelves look like they’ve always been there. We only did one coat of the PolyShades because we didn’t want it getting any darker, so there’s a little variation in the wood tone throughout the vanity. A second coat might’ve evened that out, but we both decided we like how the variation maintains the wood grain (although if you’re going for consistent overall coverage, we’d probably recommend two coats).

The best part is that the project was super cheap for us. Thanks to having the plywood and both types of stain on hand, our only costs were a 1 x 2″ board and a 1 x 3″ board ($12 total), along with the knobs ($12) and two pairs of new ORB hinges for the cabinet doors ($6). So this entire vanity update came to a grand total of $30. Note: if you don’t have plywood and stain on hand, you might want to add $30 to the budget.

Between this, our half bathroom, and our stair makeover, we’re starting to notice that we’re really gravitating towards high-contrast, almost monochromatic color schemes in the smaller nooks and crannies of this house. I don’t think it’s an indication that we’re ditching color (our adjoining bedroom has blue walls, a green rug, bright yellow pillows, and a patterned headboard – and we can’t forget Clara’s recent wall & door makeover) but I do think we’re appreciating the impact of some dark accents in the mix.

And just for fun, here’s a before shot from that angle from before we moved in:

So I’d say we’re getting pretty darn close to calling Phase 1 of the sink nook complete. Which is probably a good thing since we’re halfway through stripping wallpaper in the dining room and ready to start rolling on some kitchen updates before the chaos of the holidays (along with the showhouse kicking into high gear). What did you guys do this weekend? Any building? Sealing? Staining? New hardware? Closet organization? As boring as the closet organization part sounds, it’s pretty nice to finally have a real spot for all of our stuff after feeling like we were living out of bins and sorting through random piles since June.


  1. says

    It is truly amazing what stain and creativity will do!! The entire bathroom looks incredible and for such a low cost!

    Again, great job. Y’all really can make anything look high end!

    Happy Monday!

    • says

      Ha! That’s my experiment. I ignore these plants like crazy, yet they grow beastly-long (I have to cut them back) so we’ll have to see how it goes with him…


    • Sara Richins says

      Looks like a pathos plant which is a shade plant. If you cut them, you can actually grow the cuttings. I’d stick it in a glass of water near (but not directly in) light until it grows a few roots. Then you have a new house plant. I plant my clipping back in the same pot to get a bushier look, and sharing the space seems to slow down the growth rate so I’m not cutting it very often.

    • Elise says

      I was just researching indoor plants and read that pothosbarw and pets if chewed on. I was bummed cuz I’ve heard so many recommendations for them.being easy to maintain.

    • says

      Thankfully Burger’s not a plant eater and Clara’s past that putting things in her mouth stage (thankfully when she was in that stage our plants were out of reach, since that was also her playing-with-the-dirt stage) but it’s a great thing to be wary of if you have an animal or child who chews on plants! Maybe put one up on top of an armoire or high cabinet out of reach?


    • says

      I did a little sanding on the dings and scrapes, just to sort of flatten them out before the PolyShades went on. We debated using wood filler as well, but nothing was too deep, so between the sanding and the dark finish it seemed to hide a lot of sins!


  2. Ashley says

    Wow it looks awesome!!

    One quick, random question- where did you get the cookies for Clara’s 3rd bday party? I can’t find the post & I also live in Richmond and am planning my sons bday party!


  3. says

    The updated vanity looks awesome!! I mean, I knew y’all would knock it out of the park, but it looks even better than I anticipated. Thanks for the step by step on adding the shelf – it’s been on my list for a while to do the same thing in our hall bath, and you’ve made it seem a lot less overwhelming now!

    • says

      Thanks Lisa! It does feel like we’re speeding along (kinda scares me, haha) but I think “before the baby comes” keeps echoing in my head, so we might kick things into high gear now knowing that it’ll be a whole different ballgame when we have a newborn around!


  4. says

    We went house hunting this weekend for my brother-in-law (he’s in a different state) and met up with the Realtor who sold us our house.

    We shared our progress 2 months in and he was thrilled. He gave us his takes on what we might do down the line. It was incredibly helpful, though we had to remind ourselves, “it’s from his perspective which is (likely) to make money and sell houses.”

    We’re still not 100% on the direction that we’re going with our place, but hearing the Realtor’s take was very beneficial.

    Of course we cut down more trees and clammed, too. After all, it wouldn’t be a weekend without that (except when it’s not a permissible clamming time)!

  5. Maggie S says

    That looks incredible!!! what a big difference for just a little $$$. You have made me a believer of doing Phase 1 projects!

    What color is on the walls in the vanity?

    • says

      That’s Revere Pewter by BM. It reads really differently depending on your light (sometimes it’s really tan, sometimes it’s really platinum). Such a great color!


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