Old, Rusty, Smelly Metal Cabinet Turned Industrial Locker

I've been looking for a locker for awhile now.  Not a storage locker, but an old school locker.  I've found a few that I liked, but either the prices weren't right or the size was wrong or I couldn't get them home. What I really wanted was a row of three old lockers from a school, but it seems there are a lot of other people out there who want the same thing.  Considering I'm in the middle of moving (and shouldn't be adding anymore furniture) I figured it was best to just wait and find a set of lockers after we move.  However, a couple of weeks ago I came upon a great estate sale across the street from my gym.  I went in thinking I wouldn't find a thing, but I was wrong.  There was a kitchen in the basement of this old home and the first time I walked in there an old, rusty metal pantry cabinet caught my eye.  Honestly, when I first looked at it and cringed because it was so rusty and smelly.  I didn't know if it was beyond fixing so that day I walked away and didn't buy it.  Well, the next day I went to the sale with a friend and when I saw that same metal cabinet still sitting there I decided to make an offer on it.  I showed it to my friends who were there and I think they both thought I was a bit insane, but this ugly old cabinet was screaming for me to take it home.....so I did!  I ended up getting it for $8 and my friend's husband graciously picked it up for me.  

A few days ago I decided it was time to start working on this metal cabinet.  I knew what I wanted to do so I figured it's now or never.   On the hottest, most humid day of the year I decided to start stripping the old paint off the metal cabinet.  It was so so so so hot and I have been fighting allergies or a cold for months, but I was determined to get this thing done.  

I didn't get a before picture, but here is one after I applied the stripper to the door.  

The cabinet had a lot of rust spots and the paint was peeling off in some of the spots where it wasn't rusty.  There were 5 coats of paint on this thing in several different colors.  It had lived a very colorful life!  

The stripper I used for this project turns white when it's done.  It's like furniture stripping for dummies....trust me I need all the help I can get.  One thing I did read later was not to do this in the sun.  It worked just fine and luckily it didn't explode :-)

Here you can see some of the rust spots.  I sanded them down after stripping and a lot of them disappeared. 

When I saw the great metal underneath I was ecstatic!  It was exactly what I was hoping to find underneath all those layers of paint.  However,  doing this in the 90 degree weather and very high humidity proved challenging.  When I was wiping the sweat from my face, I somehow got the stripper on both my arms.  This caused me to run like a screaming lunatic into the house because my arms felt like they were on fire.  I got the chemicals off, but have some nice burns to remind me to be more careful.  I always wear gloves, but I never bought gloves that came up to my elbows.  This weekend I remedied that problem!  Best $3 I've ever spent.

I'd read a post recently about someone using a heat gun to remove old paint from a dresser top.  I thought I would give it a try on this metal cabinet.  Well.....the metal gets REALLY hot when heated up!  DUH yet another blond moment!  Anyway, while I was using the heat gun, it fell out of my hand and landed on the inside of my wrist.  I now have a really pretty third degree burn in the shape of a half circle.  Basically I'm a comedy of errors and a danger to myself....my husband is afraid to leave me alone when I do projects now.  Just kidding, I'm definitely accident prone, always have been and always will be.  I'm constantly hurting myself.  Even in public places like the gym, mall or grocery store I'm always dropping things on my toes, squishing my fingers or banging my head.  I guess I'm that stereotypical dizzy blond people tell the jokes about, but I'm OK with that :-)

Here's the after picture of the door once I got all the stripper off.  It took me about 4 hours to do the door, so decided to sand down the rest of the cabinet and not strip the whole thing.  I wanted a two-toned look anyway, so why waste time?

Here you can see some of the green paint that was underneath.  It's a pretty avocado!  I remember our avocado fridge and stove when I was a kid!  My Mom was so happy when we moved and she got new appliances that weren't avocado green!

This is the inside of the cabinet after I cleaned it up a bit and took out the disgusting and smelly contact paper that was on all the shelves.  It was so nasty and the whole cabinet just smelled like something I can't even begin to describe.

I knew there was no way to make all the paint smooth without hours and hours of work, so I scraped off and sanded as much of the pant as I could so I didn't have a flaky mess.  I wanted the end result to be aged and industrial, not perfect  at all perfect so I went with the flaws.  

Before I started painting the cabinet I sealed everything in a coat of shellac.  I didn't shellac the door.  I tried  a test spot on the door and it left a cloudy film so I decided against it.   Shellac seals the piece and gets rid of any of the stinky, musty odors.  It's probably one of my favorite things to use on old furniture.  It woks amazingly well on old steamer trunks and furniture pieces where the stain might bleed through.  The shellac helped the paint adhere even better to this flaky and rusty piece.  Although even if I hadn't used shellac on the metal, the Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan would still have done a great job.  It works quite well on metal and pretty much any other surface you want to paint!

Since the door was an oxidized, dark metal I wanted a color that coordinated nicely with that look.  Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan® has so many amazing colors, but nothing I had in my garage was working for me.  I thought about Aubusson, but I didn't have enough left.  Graphite was too dark and Louis Blue too light and cutsie for the look I wanted.  I decided it was best to mix my own custom color with the paint I had on hand.  I used a bit of Aubusson, Greek Blue, Napoleonic Blue, Country Grey and Louis Blue to come up with this amazing blue-grey color.  

I painted the entire cabinet with 2 coats of my custom color  inside and out.

Instead of using clear wax on the entire cabinet, I decided to go with a glaze instead.  I'd purchased a glaze through my favorite Annie Sloan paint supplier Classic Wall Finishes.  I've written about Patty before.  She's wonderful and is who I took my Annie Sloan paint workshop through.  She's always there when I have questions and gives the best customer service!  (and no I don't get a cent from talking about her website or Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan...I just think she's the best!)  The glaze I purchased is by Beautiful® and it's a tinted antiqued glaze, which is about the same color as the Annie Sloan dark wax.  I painted the glaze over the entire cabinet in small sections then wiped off the excess.   It's really easy to use and control because it has a long drying window.  It really got into the cracks and crevices and gave the piece that aged, industrial look I was going for.   I used the glaze on the entire cabinet inside and out, except for the door.  Then after it had dried I added some Annie Sloan Dark wax to give it even more depth and even more protection.  I even waxed the metal door and the Annie Sloan wax did an incredible job on the door.

The final touch for that authentic school locker look was some numbers.  I thought about how I wanted to go about doing the numbers when a light bulb lit up above my head....like in those old cartoons!   I had some old brass interlocking stencils from an estate sale I went to last year that I knew would work perfectly.  All I had to do was figure out number to use.  I wanted to use a 1, but sadly there wasn't a 1 in the box!  I like odd numbers for some reason (I have no clue why I'm drawn to them!) so I went with 305.  I knew exactly how I wanted the numbers to look and it took several coats of paint, sanding, metallic glaze, more sanding, mixing paint and patience to get just the right look.

Here's the sad, old and rusty locker rocking it's new vintage industrial style!!!  

I am beyond happy with how this locker turned out.  I absolutely love it and already have a place picked out for it in my new house!  I'm going to use it as mudroom storage with wire baskets on the shelves for all our gloves, hats, etc.  

It's funny to me how much time it took to get the numbers just so!  Applying layers of paint, removing paint, sanding, adding another color.....all so it would look old, aged and worn off.  

Two great things in this picture....love how the flaws in the metal show up with the glaze and the dark wax!  You can see how the paint started to crack in places and white is showing through.  I have no idea how that happened, but I'm assuming it had something to do with the high humidity and temperature.  Whatever did it I really like it!   Also, one of the first things I fell in love with on this piece was the closure.  I adore it's rusty, kind of wonky/off-kilter look.

At some point someone had replaced the hinges with new not-so-cool hinges, so when I stripped off all the paint these were glaringly new.  In order to get them to look old and crusty I had to add lots of layers of paint, metallic glaze, dark glaze and dark wax until I had the look I wanted.

I'm so in love with the rusty parts on the door.  Because I sanded them down and sealed them they're not scratchy, but really smooth.  Nothing is peeling, flaky or dusty at all.  I read online that its possible the rust will spread due to moisture in the air.  That's fine with me!!  I love the patina!

Here's my favorite little closure.  It looks a bit off, but it keeps the door shut very well and adds to the charm.

Were you wondering if I was ever going to show pics of the inside???   You can always tell when I really love a piece because my posts are extra long and have way too many pictures!  Well, here's the inside of the locker all dressed up for some pictures. 

There's tons of storage space for wire baskets.  I like wire baskets because I can see what's inside.  If I can't see something it doesn't exist and my Son is the same way.

I like how the shelf at the bottom is a bit bent.  Again, it adds to the industrial look and makes it look older. 

I told my husband last night as I was carrying the locker back into the garage, that I love every piece I work on....some more than others.  I do fall in love with every piece I paint.  Some makeovers are more amazing to me than others, but this one blew me away.  I knew this could be a spectacular piece if given the chance.  I have to say that even after many, many hours of working on this cabinet in the heat and humidity , it was worth every minute.  This will be a piece I never part with, it's staying with me forever.  

Over the last few months life has been very stressful, buying a house, being sick off and on for months, trying to find balance in my life and not feeling like I was doing enough for anyone all got to me.  This cabinet gave me back a bit of my spark and my sparkle when I didn't know if I had any left.  Some people might read this and think, "It's just a piece of furniture!"  For me this is my art.  This is my expression of me, my style, my passion, my love for design and my creative energy.  I really needed a piece like this to work on right now.  I also think this old, rusty metal cabinet needed me as much as I needed it.  Yes, it's only an old metal cabinet but for me it was a reminder that I love what I do and that I can't give up on my dreams or my passions.  

Thank you so much for reading.  I enjoy your comments and questions so keep them coming.  

Take care,


Linking To:

DIY Show Off

Mod Vintage Life


  1. I love it! My grandmother had one of these in here kitchen as her food pantry, sure wish I still had it! I love how yours turned out, great job.


  2. It looks amazing. Alot of hard work for you, but totally worth it! Great job

  3. Love! Fab job! :)

  4. Oh I love it Melody. :) Wow, what heart and soul you put into it! (and the burns to prove it! owie)
    So many fab details...the color is perfect, love the numbers and LOVE the closure. And I totally get you! I feel the exact same way about mine. Exactly. :) Love the quote..thanks so much for sharing that..so true.

    And thanks for sharing on Project Inspired too! :) I'll be pinning for sure :)

  5. Oh. My. Goodness.
    I would have bought that cabinet in a SECOND! You did an incredible job of rescuing it - really nice work! This is REALLY my style (which I call Vintage Farmhouse Industrial). I'm so glad I found this post on Pinterest! It was on someone's board called "Industrail" who had also pinned a piece of mine. I hope you dont mind if I share on my FB page (with credit).
    Breida - breida with a b.

  6. I love how your metal cabinet turned out! and I can relate to how you feel about your furniture makeovers being an expression of your art and passion.

    I've been working on some metal lockers the past few days. I love your idea of striping down the doors to the bare metal! That is what I have been doing. It has not been easy as the doors are slightly ribbed. My question for you is about protecting them once they are back to bare metal. How is the door of your cabinet holding up? Any rust? Did you use a protective clear coat to protect the door from rust? If so, what did you use?

    I'd appreciate any advice! I have faith that the final product will be great. I'm a little hung up on these stingy strips of paint that are taking many treatments of my Kleen Strip Paint stripper! I'm about ready to just leave them as a tribute to the rustic-ness (probably not a word) of the piece!

    1. Hi Dani,

      I usually respond via email, but your comment didn't have an email attached so hopefully you get this message. My cabinet is holding up great The door isn't rusty at all. I didn't use any sealer other than Annie Sloan soft clear wax. The reason I didn't is when I did research on how to seal metal it sounded very complicated and toxic. I also figured since I was keeping the piece inside that it would be OK not to seal it. If you don't use Annie Sloan wax, I'm assuming any furniture paste wax would be OK.

      I know it's no fun stripping all the layers of paint off the metal! I had originally thought I would strip the whole piece then after just doing the door I changed my mind. Too many hours were spent just on the door.

      I'd love to see pictures once you're finished!

      Good luck and let me know if you have any questions. It's easier for me to respond via email. You can email me at mypassionfordecor@gmail.com

  7. The finished cabinet looks great! Although I would have foregone the door and used it as a display cabinet for my room. It would fit perfectly in a corner as a connecting piece for my other two cabinets, as it is not too wide to take up that much space.


  8. Hi- Looks GREAT! Did you paint this with a brush or a roller? Trying to decide how to paint mine.

    1. Hi Lori, thanks for the comment. I always use a brush when I paint furniture. :-)

  9. This is SOOOOO fantastic. Do you recall where you got the metal baskets that fit so perfectly in this cabinet?? Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you Rachel! It's one of my favorite pieces and one I will probably never part with! I got the metal baskets with the numbers on them at Home Goods last spring. HG is usually my go-to for anything basket! :-)

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