January 5, 2012

Opening the Painted Shut Medicine Cabinet

View from upstairs hallway, looking in

When falling in love with our new home, we just couldn't get over the charm of an older house. There are so many quirks and little details popping out everywhere.

One of the details we loved was the original medicine cabinet mirror in our upstairs guest bathroom. The bathroom as a whole has been updated, has a much larger mirror and cabinet sink on the other side of the room, but still retains some of it's original charm. In our opinion, there's also a good amount of updating we'd like to do on our own as we go to get it in shape. Here are a couple views of this upstairs guest bath, the medicine cabinet is on the left wall, closest to you in this photo above.

View of guest shower

View of guest vanity

View of light peeking in through window and closed bathroom door

View of guest bathroom from guest bedroom

Side note: Really wishing we had a wide angle lens for home photographs (putting it on the list now) — Mary and I are so used to taking either close up food, jewelry, or portrait shots that my vintage canon macro lens has served us well through this point. Backing up a bit and trying to get a wider angle proved to be tougher than we thought — we welcome any and all tips on the subject and hopefully you can get an idea of what this bathroom looks like.

During our inspections and final walk-throughs of the house, Mary and I both kept saying "wouldn't it have been so nice if this mirror hadn't been painted shut? I wonder what's behind that door..."

To Mary, this probably meant, it's a shame it was painted shut but it will function as a nice additional mirror.

To me, this meant, it's a shame it's painted shut — just wait till I get in here with my tool belt.  I bet there is something really cool in this cabinet!

The mystery behind the mirror was just too great for me to let it stay painted shut and I'm the type of guy that likes to take on projects if you hadn't put that together by this point. My dad is also naturally handy and happened to be over helping us move in, so I asked him to take a look and see what he thought — we were both on the same page in no time.

To start, we cleaned the trim and hardware around the mirror as best we could, then began cutting through the layers of paint where the open seams would have been with a heavy box cutter. We tried to be careful not to chip the paint and keep the lines as clean as possible, though we did have a few areas where additional chipping was inevitable. While frustrating, we do plan to repaint the bathroom walls with a fresh new color and at that time will update the paint on the trimmings here too.

As we began cutting down the paint, we couldn't help but wonder what might be inside the cabinet. If it had been painted shut for who knows how long, there just may have been some vintage goodness in there just waiting for me. With each cut, I felt closer to the prize.

After cutting around the entire cabinet, of course the hinges were painted shut....so we needed to break the hardware free of their paint barriers too. With a little strength, pliers and a hammer, we were able to free and push the original pins from each of the hinges.

I then cut as best I could around the hinges and around the outer doors once more for good measure. Then it was time to open this puppy...

That's my concentration face, in case anyone is wondering. While holding the fastener hardware open, I used a flat headed screwdriver to wedge my way between the door and the trim enough to begin prying open the cabinet door. With a little guidance and minimal paint cracking, it came right off.

Are you ready for this big reveal — what we found sealed behind the painted shut medicine cabinet?

Some bright pink pills — probably Benadryl. Dang, that is it?  Dad and I were pretty bummed. Mary was jumping up and down in excitement that we'd gotten the door open.

After getting the door off, Dad stripped the paint down further to make for easier opening and closing, then we put it back in place and re-attached the original hardware.

So maybe this cabinet wasn't painted shut for decades. At one point, our house was converted into a duplex and then re-converted back to a single family before we happened upon it, so our guess is the painting probably took place during the re-conversion. While there wasn't a huge surprise behind the doors, we did make some functional storage, take care of our nagging thoughts surrounding the cabinet and now have a great story from the experience.

Now we just need to clean it up a bit more, take care of the cracked paint and we'll be set for the next projects to tackle (like painting, haha).


  1. oh darn, I bet that was a little bit of a disappointment. Still, you have one awesome little cabinet now! I love the brightness in the bathroom.

    Well done Tim and Dad!

  2. HaHa, I was on the edge of my seat! Love the glass door knob on the old door, and the floor tile. Is the tile original?

  3. Love the construction face it is funny the faces we make subconsciously and don't realize it until we are captured so awkwardly on film.

    Too bad about there not being interesting old medicine bottles or other treasure stashed in the cabinet. Makes you wonder why someone would even leave pills there, and strange someone would choose to paint over a medicine cabinet, that is valuable hidden storage space!

  4. I'm right there with you on the camera lens issue, when we looked at houses the first time I left my 50mm on it and got a few dramatic corners, but that was about it.

    Did your camera body come with a lens? Most of the Canon SLRs come with an 18-55mm zoom lens. They're inexpensive plastic lenses, so the photos won't be as nice as your 50mm/2.5 takes, but if you back it out to 18 you should get a decently wide shot. I've found that the lens is pretty slow (needs lots of light), so you'll definitely want a tripod.

    Taking photos of our place made me want an even shorter lens, but the 10-22mm lens is a bit too expensive to justify for a couple shots of the house.

    When my dad has a special event he rents fancy lenses from lensrental.com. I think when we finally get the house all put together I may rent a nice wide angle lens to photograph it with.

  5. Monica - those were my thoughts EXACTLY! Still a pretty funny story.

    Lisa - Thanks so much! We think it's original, at least we hope! We don't have plans to change original details like these since we find them so charming.

    Polestar - you are so right about that - I just love Tim's concentration face and know I do just the same! I totally agree with you on why would they even leave the pills. They went to all the trouble to clean everything else out.

    KELLY!!! I feel really stupid right now and wish I had you around more often to help me figure these things out sooner. Haha, I am going to admit this right now. I have the kit lens. I read your comment. Then I put the kit lens on the body, set it to 18 and it solved all my problems. THANK YOU! Yeah, feeling pretty silly and excited at the same time.

    - Mary

  6. Pink pills!!! YESSSSS! :) I bet someone left them there and painted it shut just to see if someone would eventually do what you did! :'D


  7. Yeah, I guess you have a next job and it should be painting the whole area not only the cabinet. Make it more colorful.. :)

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