Updating a Bathroom Vanity


Our house was built in the early ’90s. We bought from the original owners, who built it, and then didn’t do anything to it. Every wall was white, every piece of wood is oak (floors, railings, stairs, cupboards) or raw hemlock (trim, windows, doors). The only accent colors were that ’90s hunter green or navy blue. You can see in this picture the accent of blue in this bathroom. The tiles also have flecks of light blue in them and the shower tiles have blue flowers. It’s very true to it’s era.

The amount of oak is overwhelming to me. Between that and the white walls, I had a huge stupor about what to do to anything to make it mine.

Then, one day I was surfing YouTube for how-tos to change the look of the kitchen cupboards and ran across a video on Minwax PolyShades. I had a church pew that we use as seating for our table (that was also raw oak!) and decided to give this stuff a try. I loved using it on the bench so much, I thought I’d try it on the boys’ bathroom vanity. It seemed like a good place to start because, if I hated it, I didn’t have to look at it very often. I’m a nice mom like that.


I got my little helper, what was left of my can of PolyShades and a couple cheap paintbrushes and got to work.


The video I watched instructed a light sanding to rough up the old finish so the new finish would take better, and the foam sanding block here is my sander of choice (unless I can use a power sander. That wins every time.) The foam block gets into the grooves of the doors really nicely. I wanted something nice and dark, so I chose a mahogany, and I used cheap chipwood brushes so I could throw them away at the end of the day. (That’s not what’s in the picture.)


I was still a little nervous about the whole thing, so I started by staining the back of the false drawer front (which had been pulled off long ago. Parentheses, anyone?) This is a VERY thin first coat. I already loved it…


so I went to town! I taped off the walls and floor, took off all the drawer fronts and doors, gave them a rough sand, and gave everything a thin coat. The hardest part was the side of the vanity because it was such a big, flat piece. I really wanted to make sure the grain showed through and there weren’t obvious brush-strokes. I let that all dry overnight.


Here is an example of two coats versus one. The left drawers have two coats. The drawers on the right have one. I already loved the first coat and was nervous about a second coat, but I loved it even more! Everything got a second coat and again got left overnight dry.


I put it all back together and then started worrying about the if it would cure hard enough to stand up to four boys. Especially since I had sprayed some wall texture to patch up some holes and the overspray took the finish off. I touched those spots up and carried on, crossing my fingers. (The walls also got painted Sherwin-Williams Denim during this mess. More pics of that later.)


The boys used the bathroom as usual that night and everything held up great. After a few days curing, the finish is really hard and the vanity looks amazing. It has given me the confidence in the product to use it in my very oak kitchen!

In all, it took about three days, but that wasn’t three days of work. More like an hour of work and a day of drying. So totally doable in a couple of evenings or something if you’re looking to make a change. Also, I got my PolyShades at my local lumber store. It was about $30 for the quart, plus throw away brushes. I was probably in about $35, but I also got two projects out of the can, so it didn’t even cost me that much. Finally, I would highly recommend putting a dropcloth down over the whole floor. I was lazy and maybe it was the brushes I was using, but there was a lot of floor scrubbing needed when I was done.

Which is all ok, because I love it!

Now it just needs some pretty hardware.

**This is in no way an advertisement for Minwax. I just loved using this product. But, I would gladly accept any products they wanted to send my way!**

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  1. Bravo! I’m glad you had success with PolyShades. I used it on the boys’ bunkbed and had a really hard time with–uneven coating, drips, chipping where the ladder comes on and off. If I don’t look too closely at the bunkbed I like it, though. 🙂 Great job!

  2. Sarah I love all the ideas for projects! I can’t wait till I have a place of my own so I can make it my own!