Renovating an Antique Chifferobe in 5 Easy Steps

What’s a chifferobe?

A chifferobe is a small armoire that was typically popular in the U.S. during the 1920s-30s.

Chifferobe before after

The size of a chifferobe was just perfect for the little primitive french country guest bedroom I wanted to use it in.  I picked up this chifferobe from a family that was moving. It needed a lot of help. The doors were crooked, the bottom was falling out, and the detailed trim around the top was barely hanging on.  When I saw it, I had instant regret; what have I gotten myself into???  I loved the shape of it, though, and the simple design.  I knew I had acquired many skills from my work on the farm to attempt to restore it to its original glory, so I began to think about how to do just that. 

“The moral of the story: you can’t ruin something that you don’t like, especially if it doesn’t have much value to begin with.”

― Myquillyn Smith, The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful

Step 1:  Cleaning and Dismantling

Cobwebs.  I think this piece was in the basement of this family’s home.  There were cobwebs and spider egg sacs everywhere. Before you can tell what work needs to be done to your piece, you have to be able to see what you’re starting with.  I was starting with spiders.


I began by removing the two doors and all of the hardware. The knobs and hinges benefited from a deep cleaning of vinegar and baking soda.  One of the glass knobs was broken, so I super glued it and made sure that it would be the knob on the bottom drawer and wouldn’t see a whole lot of action.  In the future, I may replace all of the knobs, but it works for now, and no one can tell it’s broken.

Step 2:  Repair

Someday, I hope to be a grandmother.  

It’s a big, fat dream, but my goal for this piece is to have it around long after my grandkids arrive.  To that end, I decided to replace the thin piece of pressboard that was on the bottom with a ¾-inch, furniture-grade solid plank of wood.  

Now, my somewhere-in-the-distant-future grandkids can play hide-and-seek inside without me worrying about them falling through the bottom . . . and disappearing forever into the adventurous world of C.S. Lewis.

The structural integrity is greatly improved by replacing the bottom with 3/4-inch plywood.

At some point in its previous life the trim pieces around the top became loose.  Of course, this wasn’t just a matter of tightening a screw or hammering in a nail or two. All of the trim had to be removed.  Larger side trim pieces were added for better stability and the front decorative piece needed new, longer screws drilled through the top in order to keep it from wobbling back and forth.  These adjustments made a huge difference in the stability of the trim.

Step 3:  Sand & Prime

Whether you plan on painting an old wood piece or re-staining it, you will usually start with sanding.  I knew going into this project that I was going to paint it. That helps me know how to proceed with the sanding and priming.

Before you start sanding, you’ll want to fill any nicks or holes with wood fill or epoxy, unless you are looking for that shabby, worn look.  Once that dries, give the whole piece a good light sanding to roughen up the wood grain so that the paint will adhere to it. I use 100-150 grit paper; anything smaller than 100 will potentially leave deep ruts in the grain of your wood.

Prime your piece.  In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what brand of primer you use, but I like to use one that has low or no fumes.  I don’t want to have to wear a Hazmat suit each time I choose to finish a piece that I love. They make low-fume primers — use them!  You can also get primers in a similar color to your final color to reduce the chances of having to paint a second coat.  If you are painting a piece with dark, visible knotholes be sure to use a good primer that will cover these.  There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing those knotholes appear weeks or even years after you’re already enjoying your finished piece. . . .(Continued below.)

More furniture inspiration by Short Girl Farm:

New Chifferobe Project — Sneak Peak!

If you choose not to prime your piece, prepare to apply extra layers of your chosen paint color.  Primer goes a long way, so in the end you’ll save money by using a layer of primer rather than additional coats of color.  If you have applied any repair product, such as wood fill or epoxy, you need to at least prime that portion of your project.  If you don’t, it will be visible that a patch was made to your piece.

After the primer has dried, inspect your piece for bubbles, brush hairs, dried primer “crumbs,” and brush marks.  If you have any of these, use a fine-grade sanding block to remove them. It’s a relatively quick process that will make a huge difference in the final product.  Be sure to wipe down with a damp cloth or tack cloth to remove sanding dust.

Note: I use a good brush throughout the priming and painting process. Cheap brushes can leave bigger brush marks and brush hairs in your primer and paint. So annoying.

Wooster 1-inch Angled paintbrush

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Step 4:  Paint

Now the fun begins!  All your hard work is about to pay off!

Grab that high quality brush; I use Wooster brushes.  I love them.  A good brush is worth every penny if it’s taken care of.  (My brother taught me that; thanks, Travis.) I should stop here and tell you that no one else uses my brushes.  Not my kids. Not my husband. I wash them out with soapy water immediately, and I dry them upside down and store them where no one else can find them.  Obsessive? Maybe, but I always know where they are and they’re always in pristine condition, ready for the next job.

Grab that high-quality brush or mini foam-roller and begin.  I like to start with the brush even if I plan to use a roller as well.  My brush of choice is an angled 1 in. brush by Wooster, but other high-quality brushes are great options. I also will opt for an angled 2 in. brush if the piece is larger or if I’m painting walls around trim.  If you’re using a roller, plan on two coats: one coat to cover, one coat to finish. Apply that second coat by rolling all strokes in the same direction. You may or may not need a second coat on parts that have been brushed, depending on the color you’ve chosen, because brushes can hold a lot more paint than rollers.

Step 5:  Reassemble

Put the doors and hardware back on.  That’s it! Stand back and admire your piece.  Where will you put it?  If you’re anything like me, you’ll move it all around the house before finding its forever home.

Now go out and hunt down your next adventure!

Like this? Check out this bench I made from an antique Jenny Lind bed frame.

I’d love to hear from you! Do you have an antique that’s just screaming to be worked on and loved again? Let me know!

20 responses to “Renovating an Antique Chifferobe in 5 Easy Steps”

  1. Hi, refinishing an old chifferobe and need two hinges. One side of the hinge Is 5/8” and the other side is 1” and is 1 1/2” long.
    Would you know of a place where I could purchase that type of hinge?

    1. Hi! I would try eBay first. I was able to find some replacement hinges for an antique chest of drawers that fit my needs perfectly. Another option is an online antique hinge store. If you can’t find one that matches what’s already there you might want to try replacing all the hinges. Good luck!

  2. BRENDA Salassi Avatar
    BRENDA Salassi

    I have a piece identical to this. I’m having trouble removing the original hinges. Any idea would be appreciated. I wish I could describe them better.

    1. Brenda, is it because the screws on the hinges are stripped or the hinge seems to be adhered to the paint? Either way, if the screwdriver isn’t working due to stripped screws, I gently use pliers to pull off any stubborn metal hinges. Hope that helps!

  3. I have one very similar that I would like to redo. However the mirror on the right is missing. Is it possible to replace and fix? I love the way you did yours!

    1. Hi Monica! Thank you for your comment! Yes, it’s completely possible to fix! If it were me, I would contact a glass shop and give them the dimensions of the area for which you need the mirror. If they can’t do it, a retailer like Lowe’s or Home Depot should be able to special order a mirror in the size you need. I wish you the best and would love to see your finished product!

      1. I have a similar piece and the long mirror is loose and it doesn’t look like it was ever taken off, it’s nailed to the door. How can I fix this without taking out the nails and potentially breaking the mirror.

      2. Sabrina, that’s a tricky one! There are a couple of options you could consider. First, if everything looks good aesthetically squeeze some E6000 glue between the mirror and the wood and secure gently with a towel and vice grip. The second option is to look for “mirror fasteners” online and find some that are decorative to use on the outside to tighten up the mirror and cover the nails. You could also use trim to go around the mirror to hide the nails. Good luck with your piece!

  4. […] more step-by-step details of the furniture rehab process, check out the antique chifferobe that I brought back to glorious […]

  5. I had one as a kid but our house burned down right after christmas that year and we lost everything we owned!! This is the first I’ve seen since that fire. It was in 1988-89.

    1. I’m so sorry that happened to you, Tracy. I see a couple of them pop up every now and then, but most I’ve seen are in need of refinishing. Chifferobes are beautiful pieces and so versatile.

  6. […] damaged and would need some fixing anyway. We settled on a gray, the same gray that I used in the Chifferobe and the Twin Beds […]

  7. […] a previous post about the Chifferobe, I explained how and when to prime a piece before painting. However, these beds already had a coat […]

  8. Kathleen McAllister Avatar
    Kathleen McAllister

    I have a Chifforobe identical to yours! I am moving it out of a bedroom and to be honest, the only place I could use it is in my carport to hold gardening tools, etc. I would like to paint it. Is it possible to use a sealant to protect it from the weather? Thank you! Happy New Year!

    1. Don’t you just love this tiny little armoire? As for being able to use it outside, you have to consider how much water it will actually get. If it’s well-protected, it might be OK with several coats of semi-gloss paint or exterior paint with a clear topcoat, but I’m not 100% sure. Wood sealants work by penetrating the grain of the wood, but if the chifferobe is painted, it wouldn’t be able to penetrate it. If your chifferobe is unfinished or the finish has been removed, you may want to consider using a paint stain. A solid paint stain sealer on unfinished wood will completely absorb into the grain of the wood and protect it from water and sun damage. It comes in many different colors. I’ve used them before in previous outdoor applications, and found them super easy to use.  If it were me, though, I would probably go the route of using 3 coats of paint and take my chances. Just keep an eye on it in case you start to see damage or touch ups that need to be made. 😉
      Good luck, Kathleen, and Happy New Year to you!

  9. How did you add the trim to the top of the chifferobe?

    1. Hi Mara! The trim at the top came with the unit, but it was not secure. There are two holes on the top of that trim piece, one on each side, where screws were used. I replaced the existing screws with longer screws that easily secured the trim to the top of the unit. This is also how I would do it if I were adding new trim.

  10. I have one of these my granny gave me but it is literally falling apart on the mirror side. The bottom has dropped out and most of the laminate is peeling or warped. I want to fix it but can’t afford to put a lot of money into it.

    1. Hi Nikki! There’s a special place in my heart for chifferobes, and it sounds like you feel the same way about yours. Try fixing it a little bit at a time, as you can afford it. Start small and find enjoyment in the restoration process. It’ll be so worth it one day. ❤️

  11. […] Renovating an Antique Chifferobe in 5 Easy Steps […]

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