Builder Basic to Beautiful: Medicine Cabinet Makeover (on a tiny budget)

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Intro by Robin & Steps by Ed

how to update a medicine cabinet without replacing it

resentfully affectionately termed our old bathroom, "Miss Piggy's Dressing Room".  Kermit the Frog green with a row of supernova bright dressing room lights across the top.  I'd often leave this loo whistling the Muppet Show theme song. A medicine cabinet makeover was the perfect place to start.

We looked around for something new to replace this oak-like mirrored cabinet.  But, we couldn't find anything new that gave us the storage we needed.  We didn't want to scrap the whole cabinet for a smaller one.   This medicine cabinet provides a lot of much-needed storage.  (Spoiler alert: keep reading and you can snoop in our medicine cabinet.  You'll see just how much stuff we cram into our tiny bathroom.)

Plus, the wall of mirror does open up the tiny room visually.

Also, it may come as no surprise: we're cheap.

I devised a straightforward plan to turn what was an eyesore into something a bit cooler.  Ed was kind enough to do this medicine cabinet makeover - on a budget - and below he's sharing the steps.

medicine cabinet makeover

Medicine Cabinet Makeover

NEW! ⇒ If a Video Tutorial is more your style - scroll to the bottom - we've got a video there for you!

Step 1) Remove the old light 

(Safety Disclaimer: throw the breaker, unhook the wires, leave breaker off while working till new light connected).

Step 2) Build up the box

Next, we bulked up the sides and bottom of the Cabinet with MDF and extended it on top, boxing it in.  This made the cabinet look like it was intended to be wall mounted.

step 1 medicine cabinet makeover

The box also allowed us to centre the light fixture, even though the electrical box was far to the left.  The picture below shows it - it's centred on the sink, not the wall.

Early in our design process, Robin searched for a fixture that could bridge that gap and came up empty-handed.  Some things could work but were too ugly to consider.

medicine cabinet makeover wiring

Step 3) Add the crown moulding to the top 

This is not for the faint-of-heart and I have had a tutorial from a cabinet maker friend on doing outside mitres.  If you do not have such a friend or family member, eHow has a few decent video tutorials.   But, in all honesty, the hardest part is not the measuring and cutting, it is holding everything in place long enough to get some nails and screws into it.

Hence...notice the gappy mitres?

new look medicine cabinet makeover

Meet my two best friends in Mitering: Glue and Poly-Filla. 

Glue keeps the corners together.

Poly-Filla makes the mitre look good when you screw it up a bit.  I bashed one corner of the crown mould before install.  Since we bought only exactly what we needed, I had to make do.  Some careful application of Poly-Filla, sanding and, ultimately, paint will mean that many of your mistakes will look just fine when you are done.

Step 4) Add the new lighting

I had to drill out a hole for wiring and then was able to mount the new fixture directly on the MDF without needing an electrical box.

adding lighting to medicine cabinet makeover

Robin picked up a new fixture from Lowes.   They have an all-you-can-build light fixture buffet where you choose the style of base from a selection of about a dozen.  Then you choose from about twenty different glass shades.

(With all this choice we are surprised Robin got back from her shopping trip within her lunch hour.  But she did!  No, she didn't, she was 10 minutes late...shhh...)

medicine cabinet makeover lighting
As a fixture, it lacks the 10-thousand watt brightness of the former.  Guests will have to get by without being to x-ray their skulls - but it is OK, I guess. 

Step 5) Prime and paint

With our best friend, Poly Filla, we filled the holes.  So long, gappy mitre.  Then Robin taped, primed and painted the whole shebang.

medicine cabinet makeover primer 

Kate from Censational Girl is the furniture painting rock star, so we followed her advice and chose a water-based enamel.  We used Behr Premium Plus Interior Semi-Gloss Enamel in December Eve.

Robin gave it all two coats.  We then left it mirrorless for 3 weeks to cure while we went on vacation.  Letting the paint cure is always a good idea, so it sets up really well.  It's especially important when it could be getting lots of bumps and scrapes.  There's a very good chance of that in this house.  Clumsy people reside here.

medicine cabinet makeover with paint

Go ahead, snoop in our medicine cabinet, you know you want to.  
(We've hidden all the good stuff...)

And the drum roll please...here's the finished medicine cabinet makeover!

medicine cabinet makeover

Here's the old before shot again:

medicine cabinet makeover before

And the After!

how to update a medicine cabinet without replacing it

We love it!  We think it's fresh and interesting and definitely more "us".

And cost breakdown:

  1. MDF panel = $11
  2. Crown moulding = $11
  3. Paint = $ 21 (with enough leftover to paint a dozen other projects)
  4. Light Fixture = $68
  5. Glue, Poly filla, Primer = $0 (had on hand from other projects)
Total Cost: $111!

NEW! Here's a Video Tutorial of the project:

To see more of our Frugal Bathroom Reno, check out these previous posts:

  1. How to Install Paintable Beadboard Wallpaper
  2. Saving Money: Mixing Vintage and Discount Hardware
  3. How to Install Peel and Stick Vinyl Tiles (that you can grout!)


  1. Love the redo of the medicine cabinet!! We have the same problem of a huge outdated looking medicine cabinet, but holds so much and would be outrageously priced for our budget to replace. I have the paint to repaint it, but I love your added box and crown molding and centering of the lights. We too have lights off centered and the same style as your old ones! Hmmm....did we have the same builder or poor handymen that owned our homes before us?? Haha!! Great job and thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Stacey! Glad you got some ideas for your home from our post - that's what it's all about for us! I think our similar bathrooms are a bit of a salute to the most practical and inexpensive materials that 1998 had to offer. Is yours that vintage, too?

  2. I'm stealing this exactly. Our bathrooms are the same! Thanks for such a great how-to!

  3. Woah, this looks AMAZING!! We just bought a home with the same blah cabinet and it's my first "gotta go" or refurb project. Thanks for giving me confidence and the idea this will work for us too!

  4. Love the new look. I am always thrilled when I see what people can do with only a few items. Great work!

  5. LOL>.........I had the same green here; a pal named it "Monkey Puke Green"----I painted that over before I even moved the furniture in the house LOL!!

    (LOOKS amaaaaaaazing BTW)

  6. Easy to see why you did not want to lose your huge cabinet storage space. Lovely makeover. No one would ever dream you did it on such a tight budget. Kudos to both of you. Will check out your link to the beadboard project.


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