After moving to our new house, our first-floor bathroom needed a little makeover. It was a tiny powder room with lots of beige – a beige toilet, beige floors, and beige walls. The vanity mirror was simply a small, dated mirror, and the vanity was oak.
Ash was busy building the shed, so I decided to tackle this task entirely on my own.
All I did was apply gel stain to the vanity, buy a coordinating mirror, and change the decor. It just goes to show that a few little changes, like gel staining bathroom cabinets, can make a BIG difference!
Below are the before and after pictures – you can tell how dated the old oak cabinets look with the hanging mirror. Everything looks so beige and blended.
Researching My Options
I scoured the internet looking for ways to inexpensively redo cabinets. I worked with regular stain before and furniture paint previously, but neither of these was a good fit. So, I needed another option.
In reading through her steps, I found the gel stain seemed like a simple option. This was mostly because the cabinets did not need to be stripped or heavily sanded.
Testing the Gel Stain
A little worried about ruining our first-floor vanity but determined to give our bathroom a makeover, I decided to start on the inside cabinet door.
If I like the way it turned out, I would continue on. If I didn’t, not too much was lost.
Below is a picture of my test piece and workstation. I worked just outside the garage to get natural light – and perfect ventilation.
Loving it, I continued on to do the whole vanity, and months later, the entire kitchen (but that’s another blog post)!
In holding the gel-stained cabinet door to the old oak vanity, I was in love!
I made up my mind that the task was simple enough and that the change would be such an improvement.
Gel Staining Bathroom Cabinets
The thing that made it so simple is that you don’t need to strip the wood, you just clean it and then lightly sand (giving the gel stain something to stick to).
Make sure you use General Finishes Gel Stain and General Finishes Poly, which are not sold in most stores. I got mine on Amazon (love Amazon prime!). Also, I did a couple of things differently from the tutorial (that I linked to above):
- I used foam brushes, instead of a sock. It was easier for me to get all the ridges.
- I used the color “Antique Walnut” a Hershey’s chocolate shade of the General Finishes Gel Stain. Espresso is really common but it would have been too dark for all of that beige.
- I did four coats of the stain. Three was too streaky for me.
- Make sure that there is a lot of light where you work, so you can see any potential mistakes or missed spots. You want to be able to fix any drips or missed spots in the moment, rather than later.
- Gel stain can get messy – make sure you tape off edges that you don’t want painted very well. As for the floor, I like to use brown packaging paper (from Dollar Tree). It’s thick, easy to tape down, and you don’t have any bumps or missed places (like you do when you use an old sheet).
- Work in a well-ventilated space. Or, wear a ventilation mask if you can. The gel stain has a really strong smell, but the poly didn’t smell at all.
Gel stain definitely takes time, but most of that time is dry time. The actual painting of the vanity was a quick 15 minutes here and there.
I loved how the cabinet turned out. The beige toilet doesn’t stand out anymore with the contrasting cabinetry.
After gel staining the powder room vanity, we definitely needed a new mirror. Finding the perfect mirror was a little challenging.
I knew the style that I wanted, but the bathroom vanity must have been an odd size. I wanted the mirror to be the same width as the vanity. If the mirror was longer on the left side (the right side met the wall), it looked really off.
Needless to say, it took a lot of searching (and a little more money than I wanted to spend) to find the mirror. Yet, I happily found a perfect-sized one on Overstock.
I then added some fresh decor – seasonal flowers and candles. We finally had a beautiful, updated power room.
The total cost for cabinetry materials was less than $80, which seems like a lot. However, I barely touched both the gel stain and polyurethane, and later used these when I gel stained the entire kitchen.
Gel staining bathroom cabinets took me about a week, mostly due to dry time (another week if you do a trial as I did), but I only spent about 3 total hours on it.
And, it was so simple to gel stain the vanity that I didn’t need to enlist Ash’s help at all… well, except to hold the cabinet door while I took a picture 🙂