Saturday, June 23, 2012

Before blogging: Ordinal file cabinet

Once upon a time, I completed projects and created things and didn’t have too many people to tell about them.  What a lonely time that was!  (haha)  I thought it’s about time I shared some of my favorite “before blogging” favorite projects with you since I haven’t been doing any new projects lately to tell you about!

By now, most of you who read a lot of blogs have seen other knockoffs of Anthropologie’s Ordinal Dresser, but my copycat is on an unusual piece of furniture!  Here’s the Anthro original:

Anthropologie Ordinal Dresser

I heavily considered buying it as a nightstand for my side of the bed a couple years ago, but it was too tall to fit under the window next to my bed, and since it’s not exactly cheap, it would have had to be perfect for me to part with that much money for a nightstand.

Even though I decided against buying it, I couldn’t get it out of my head.  You know you really like something when logic and reason tells you it’s not a good idea, but you just can’t stop thinking about it and wishing circumstances were different!  A few months went by, and I was looking for a tall lateral file cabinet to go in a nook across from the door to our garage, to replace the desk that had been there but that wasn’t meeting our needs.  File cabinets are so ugly, so I was considering giving it a face lift with some paint.  Anthro’s Ordinal Dresser popped back into my mind, and I knew it would be a perfect re-design for my ugly file cabinet!

Since I wasn’t blogging at the time, I had no reason to take photos of projects step-by-step, so I’ll just jump to photos of the finished product and then try to give you a run-down of my method in words, rather than pictures.  Here’s my Anthro knockoff Ordinal File Cabinet!

Lateral file cabinet update 006

It wasn’t the easiest thing to take a photo of, even with my wide-angle lens.  It’s across from the door to our garage, so I had to plaster myself against the door to try to get the entire tall cabinet in the frame!

It’s really convenient having the drawers numbered.  That way when The Teen asks me where the masking tape is, for example, I can tell him to look in the 2nd drawer.  We have office supplies in the first two drawers, camera equipment in the third, files in the fourth, and gift wrapping supplies in the 5th.

Ordinal file cabinet 006

Did you know that file cabinets – even ugly metal ones – are awfully expensive?  I was happy to find a used one on Craigslist, that had been cleared out from a business being closed or updating their office furniture.  Even used, it was pricier than I would have expected.  And sheesh was it heavy!  I actually tried to add casters to the bottom, but because it sits on my wood floor, the casters concentrated the weight of the cabinet (plus contents) onto four wheels rather than the weight being evenly distributed around the entire base of the cabinet.  It was certain to make large divots in my floor, which I obviously wasn’t down with, so the casters came off.  Wah-wah.

Ordinal file cabinet 005

For those of you interested in recreating the look, here are my basic steps.  First I primed the entire cabinet with latex paint.  Because I didn’t know at the time that primer came in gray, I used white.  The cabinet was originally a dark gray, and I was going to be painting it black, but I used white primer.  Kids, don’t try that at home.  Use gray primer, for pete’s sake.  Because I was painting the cabinet in January in the Midwest US, I had to paint it inside and therefore could not use spray paint.  Spray paint would have been much easier because a steel cabinet has such a smooth surface, and it would have been easier to get into the grooves.  But I was certainly not going to haul this heavy thing down to my basement and back up again, so I painted it with a brush right in the hallway area between my kitchen and living room.  Painting seems to go a lot faster when you can watch TV while you do it!

Ordinal file cabinet 007

The primer I used was just a basic white latex primer, I think Zinsser.  I believe it took 2-3 coats to cover the dark gray steel, especially because it was easily scratched off.  Then I used a foam roller to put on several coats of plain black latex paint.  Everything I knew about painting furniture was learned from Centsational Girl’s blog, so I took her advice and mixed Floetrol with my paint to help it go on smoothly.  Between the Floetrol and the foam roller, I expected perfect results, but I was disappointed to find roller marks time and time again.  I ended up putting on several more coats than expected, partly to cover up the white primer (duh) and partly to try to get rid of those roller marks.

I couldn’t use a roller on all parts, because there are lots of places in between the drawers, or between the drawers and the cabinet frame, which needed to be painted because they can be seen.  And then there are the grooves where you grab to open the drawers.  I used a combination of small foam brushes and artist brushes to paint those spots.  It was very tricky because The Mr. and I could not figure out how to get the drawers out, so I would open one drawer part-way to get some spots and then all the way to reach other spots.  I’d have to leave that drawer open for the paint to dry and then come back later to do another drawer. Why?  Because lateral file cabinets are designed to allow only one drawer open at a time so it doesn’t get front-heavy and tip over.  Safer?  Yes.  Pain when trying to pull drawers out to paint around them?  Yes again.

Ordinal file cabinet 004

For the labeling of the drawers, I created my own stencils with Microsoft Word, my printer, and a pair of scissors.  I picked a serif font that I liked in word, increased the size as much as possible for one number to fill up a whole page.  The letters I made about half the size of the numbers.  I changed the font style to “outline” so I wouldn’t waste a bunch of ink printing out the letters so big.  After printing them out, I cut out the letters and numbers with scissors.  The font I chose was not a “stencil” font, so it didn’t have the D’s in two pieces like I wanted, for instance, so I just created the slit myself on the paper before I cut out the shape.  I meant to do it on the N, but forgot until it was already painted.  Oh well. You wouldn’t have noticed anything if I hadn’t pointed it out, right?  Like with most stenciling projects, I used painter’s tape to hold the stencils in place, and used my hand to hold down the edges as I went along.  I used a flat-topped foam stencil brush and created a mottled effect.  It’s been about a year and a half since I did this, and I honestly can’t remember whether I put any Polycrilic on when I was finished.  I don’t think I did.

So there you go … the first project in my “before blogging” series.  Stay tuned for more!


  1. Wow, that's brilliant! I sometimes see DIY projects online that - well, look like DIY projects, ya know? This most definitely doesn't, it looks just as good as your inspiration piece (actually I like it better because of the glossy black finish)!

    The lessons we learn along the way, though, eh? (The amount of pieces I tried to do in the past WITHOUT primer.. oh dear.)

    Looking forward to seeing what else your creative past holds ;) xxx

  2. Looks great, the things we can do to give a new lease of life to old furniture!

  3. So cute! I love that you were able to take a totally industrial looking file cabinet and make it look very homey.

  4. Love this! Now it looks like a piece of art!

  5. This looks fantastic - I have the same filing cabinet, hmmmm
    the wheels are turning, lol
    Your newest follower - would love to have you visit and follow

  6. Great tutorial on how you did this. Your cabinet looks great and I don't see any brush marks at all. I really like how you have it numbered for certain items instead of just numbering to number~kwim?

  7. I really like how this turned out. I've been eying off that anthro piece too and wondering what I can DIY :)


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