Chinese apothecary cabinet: How to make one affordably

chinese apothecary cabinet diy

Pre-loved KALLAX rejuvenated as Chinese apothecary cabinet.

I moved into an old house with no storage. My laundry setup was disorganized and ugly. After repainting and replacing the floor tiles, I wanted a laundry storage unit that could store medicine, towels and lots of other things in an organized but attractive unit.

I tried using the BILLY bookcase but it was too shallow and the KALLAX unit with cube storage didn’t really work either.

I had some Chinese brass pull handles that I bought at an antiques market in Shanghai 20 years ago on a business trip. I’ve never found a good use for them but they became the inspiration for this.

I was looking for KALLAX units on Facebook marketplace and I found the red ones which IKEA don’t make anymore. A rare find. They were super cheap and the color really pops in the laundry.

The MOPPE with two larger drawers are also no longer being made. They fit perfectly inside the KALLAX (also bought second hand). The six drawer MOPPE units I bought new. The LEKMAN cubes also no longer come in red but I had some other transparent red storage boxes so I managed to buy 4 red LEKMAN boxes on Gumtree.

With the fixtures (eBay) and paint, the whole thing cost about $180.

Chinese apothecary cabinet in red. Made with IKEA KALLAX and EXPEDIT
IKEA items used:

MOPPE chest of drawers
LEKMAN boxes

Other materials and tools:

Ring drawer pulls (eBay)
Cabinet doors
Offset hinges
Black tint
Black vinyl drawer liner

DIY Chinese apothecary cabinet hack instructions:

Plan the unit.

The plan was to have a 2×4 unit at the bottom and a 2×2 unit on top. Doors will close up the bottom 4 cubes. Above that would be open shelves to insert the smaller drawers. The open top of the cabinet would be used for storage of larger items in LEKMAN boxes.

Next, assemble all the units.

(For me, this involved watching Facebook marketplace and Gumtree for what I wanted and driving all over Sydney to collect.)

I bought the 4 shelf KALLAX but then couldn’t find a 8 shelf red KALLAX to put at the bottom. I did find an EXPEDIT (discontinued) which was slightly bigger, and used that for bottom unit. They are both in the same color red.

Take a shelf from KALLAX unit to Bunnings to color match paint, I found a high gloss cherry red in small can (in craft section) which was the best match.

Stain the back, sides and bottom of MOPPE drawers. I used stain tint as it was darker and needed less coats.

Using Ecotint on MOPPE drawers

Paint the front of drawers with grey sealant and undercoat. Then sand, repeat with two coats of high gloss red paint (or whatever color required). Be careful paint doesn’t run down the sides

priming the MOPPE drawers with primer, sealant

Measure center of drawers, mark and drill holes and secure drawer pulls.

Line the drawers with black contact paper.

Doors with brass hardware

Measure the size of door fronts to overlap bottom four cubes by 1/2 cm. Get a sheet of 5mm MDF to fit two doors.

Measure and drill holes for hinges and door handles.

Apply stain to back of doors. Then apply undercoat and paint the door fronts and edges.

Secure hinges to the door fronts.

Lastly, secure door handles and the secure the doors to the KALLAX unit.

What do you like most about the hack?

It looks really cool, like a Chinese cabinet but it stores everything so well. My medical supplies are really organized in the MOPPE which looks like a traditional chinese apothecary cabinet.

Chinese apothecary cabinet in red. Made with IKEA KALLAX and EXPEDIT

What was the hardest part about this hack?

The painting. I knew I couldn’t paint the sides of the MOPPE drawers or they wouldn’t work right so I used black tint to stain the exterior and inside. Getting the paint right on the face of the drawers was hard to make it look neat.

What to pay special attention to?

The ring pulls for drawers. Make sure you get the ones which work like a paper clip. The MOPPE small drawers are too thin to use screws. Also on the doors, you need to use offset hinges.

Looking back, would you have done it differently?

No, I think it came together pretty much as I planned.

People love it, it’s a real talking point, an excellent showpiece that everyone notices.

~ by Jenny Williams

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