The first time we walked through our house, I was mentally noting all of the things that must change immediately if we ended up closing on it. I was excited, naive, and confident we could fix them all in the few weeks before we moved in. Anyone with more house-buying experience is reading this and already knows... 90% of them didn't happen. Two years later, we finally got around to refinishing most of our interior doors, and the sense of relief is palpable!
We had five interior doors that were old, brown, beat-up hollow-core doors with the cheapest possible brass knobs. They were dingy, splattered with paint, and the one to our bedroom even had a hole knocked in it. When we moved in, I assumed we would just buy nicer solid-core replacement doors... until I actually went and priced out nicer solid-core replacement doors. Oof! They were expensive, and I couldn't find ones that didn't look like generic big-box store doors, with the exact same recessed panel style. Our home is a 1930's Cape Cod-style, and I wanted a little more character than those flat brown doors had! So, inspired by Jenna Sue's recent DIY door makeover and White Nest's very detailed tutorial, we took on the project of making over these five (five!!!) interior doors, even though we don't yet own a miter saw.
Let's look at some before photos, and where we are now!
Before starting in on this hefty DIY project, we did consider second-hand doors from our local architectural salvage place; the pros of this would be having something age-appropriate to the house, likely something solid-core, and avoiding buying new to be more environmentally friendly. The cons were potential lead paint concerns when we have children, and the added work of having to remove doors, clean off old paint and refinish them, and install them back in the door frames. Painting the old ones in place started to sound better and better.
- TSP cleaner (Be careful with this stuff, and follow the directions! It works miracles but is pretty tough stuff.)
- Sandpaper (I use this 220 grit Pro Grade stuff)
- KILZ 2 Primer (I had some leftover from earlier projects)
- Valspar Signature interior paint in Semi-Gloss (color-matched to Simply White by Benjamin Moore - I had half a gallon leftover from an earlier project, but did end up buying another gallon because I painted so many layers on the doors)
- A mini-roller for the big, flat areas (I use these ones from Lowes)
- A good short-handled paint brush (this one is my absolute favorite)
- Spackling (I almost always use this Dap kind that goes on pink)
- A putty knife (whatever size you are most comfortable with, similar to these)
- Patch kit if any holes are present (I used one like this, and cut it to size)
- Wood trim (like the one shown below)
- Wood adhesive (I had this kind by Dap leftover from an earlier project, and used almost an entire tube of it - it worked really well!)
- Good painters tape (I used 3M's green tape)
- Rags and drop clothes
- New doorknobs (We chose the Kwikset Hancock in Venetian Bronze to match our entry doors, and did four in Bed/Bath style and one in Hall/Closet style)
- Cat door (after trying multiple ones from local hardware stores, I went with this one on Amazon and it was perfect!)
BTW, this is not a sponsored post - it's just what I used, and what works for me!
Following the tutorials, I spent half an hour carefully examining trim options before choosing the one shown above. It won due to having a pretty reasonable price, coming in 7ft length, and being flat on one side (making it easy to glue to the door). It was a good size, and would capture the character I was trying to add to the door.
If you have a miter saw, that's awesome! I'm jealous! We do not, and so spent about two hours taking turns holding the trim in place and sawing it with a miter box and saw. One of us held it in place and sawed the angle on one end, then slid it over and the other person sawed the other end. When cutting, be sure you are cutting the angles so that the thickest part of the trim is on the outside, and the thinnest part is on the inside of the rectangle. I mistakenly cut the angle on the wrong side at least once! As we cut the pieces, we laid them out on the floor to be sure the fit was right and that we were cutting the correct pieces (seen below)(also, we need to replace this carpet STAT).
In the meantime, I got to work on the doors themselves! Over the course of two weekends, I did the following steps to all five doors assembly-line style, so while I had primer out I primed them all, etc. It was tedious, but efficient!
- Taped off any areas as needed
- Cleaned with TSP cleaner
- Lightly sanded
- Wiped down with damp rag
- Added two layers of primer
- Patched both small and large holes, spackled areas of missing or damaged veneer
- Sanded spackled areas
- Wiped down with damp rag
- Glued and taped up the cut trim pieces
- Caulked the corners of the trim (the tutorials I linked to talk about this more)
- Primed the trim
- Painted three layers of paint
- Replaced doorknobs
- Touched up areas as needed
Luckily, my awesome friend Laura (who lives across the country) entertained me via phone while I primed and primed and primed. Also, my shoulders still hurt.
Above, you can see that one coat of primer left things still VERY patchy - yikes. The second coat of primer made SUCH a huge difference! To be honest, these doors were so old and banged up, a third coat of primer would have probably been worth it.
Before putting the wood trim up on the door, I used my level and t-square and a pencil to lightly mark where it should be placed. This reduced the amount of times I had to move the trim around after it had glue on it - cleaning the glue up is not easy! I added glue to the back of each piece of trim, stuck it to the door along the pencil line I had made, checked it with a level, then pressed it more firmly down before using painter's tape to hold it in place while the glue dried. I left it like this overnight, just to be sure things didn't shift around! I only caulked the corners where the trim met, and it really looks like it was always there now.
One of our doors (the one to our bedroom) had a bigger hole in it; I'm assuming it happened when the previous owners were moving a piece of furniture through the door or something. At first it helped make a case for just replacing the doors, but I've used patch kits in the past and they've made an area almost undetectable - for a few bucks why not try? It turned out so much better than I could have expected! As you can see above, it's invisible to the eye now. I actually had to look back at process pictures to figure out where it was on the door, when I was taking that after-photo. I did spackled/sanded/spackled/sanded several times to get it ultra-smooth.
I opted to leave the old doorknobs on during the priming/painting process since it gave me a handy wet-paint-free place to grab when I needed to open/close the door while working on it. The new doorknob bases were the same size as the old ones, so it worked out. The very last step of the whole process was switching those flimsy brass knobs for these oil-rubbed bronze ones; we used the same ones as when we painted our main entry-way doors.
The door leading to the basement stairs is in our kitchen, and had a very beat-up old cat door when we moved in. Touring the house for the first time, the cat door is actually what sold me on it, though! We had been dealing with cat-ownership in a small apartment for a year while we house-hunted, and the whole litter box situation was so frustrating. Finding a house with a cat door to a basement was a game-changer for me! It's the little things, what can I say. The flap broke off shortly after we moved in, and eventually I removed the old cat door frame leaving just a hole in the door.
Finding a cat door that fit that hole was not so easy; I tried a few from local stores and none fit. I finally ordered one from Amazon that was so close. I ended up using a small handsaw to cut another couple of inches off the top of the hole, which was easy to do on a hollow-core door. The cat door we found is telescoping, so the front and back of it fit right together through the hole, and we don't need to worry about dirt getting trapped in the bottom, or using trim to cover up where you can see the hollow inside of the door. It's awesome!
Lucy appreciated the hole in the door, as it made coming and going from the basement very easy. I, however, did not enjoy the situation both from an aesthetics and a heating bill point of view. As you can see, she struggled for a few days to get used to the new cat door, which has a magnet at the bottom that helps keep the flap closed. I can assure you that she now has the hang of it, and barges through the cat door with ease! Also, you can see that the spackling was still pink when I took this photo; the old cat door had used screws through the actual door, and the new one doesn't.
No lie, this project was a LOT of work. If you're just refinishing one door it seems like a quick weekend project - FIVE doors definitely changed the scope of things. It was so worth it though! The doors are now clean, bright, and no longer something I feel like apologizing for whenever we have guests over. I think they give the space a lot of character, too - it fits the tone of the house. It saved us quite a bit of money, too - all in all, I estimate we spent about $289 total to update all five doors. We already had the primer, tools, and even about half of the paint which helped cut down the cost a lot!
- Wood trim: $145
- Gallon of paint: $32
- Patch kit: $3 or so
- Doorknobs: $90
- Cat door: $19
If you didn't have to buy new doorknobs or a cat door, the price would go down significantly! If you had to buy all of the tools, sandpaper, spackling, etc. it would go up quite a bit. Just something to think about.
The wood trim was by far the most costly part, which surprised me, but I think it is what makes the doors look so much more original to the house, and adds a lot of character. All that trim = worth it. We needed about 7 lengths of trim for each door. If you were only doing one door, the trim cost would only be like $28 which sounds so much more reasonable than our $145!
Of the five doors we refinished, the one above, right next to the stairs, is my favorite. This little spot just looks so much better after our staircase update and now this door being 100000% better. I'm still loving how that green (Dark Linen by Benjamin Moore) on the stair risers gives it some personality.
You may have noticed a few things in the picture above, if you are as critical as I am; namely, the old yellow light-switch that needs swapped out, the missing trim around the doors, the lack of baseboards, and the painted-over hinges. We still have a lot to do, but none of it would have made much of a difference without these doors being transformed.
Would you take on refinishing five doors, or just replace them with new? Have you spent multiple weekends on a project to save $$$?
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission. Thank you for supporting this blog!