Making a headboard out of an old door is something that I’ve always wanted to do, since way way back in the pre-Pinterest days when we still used to tear sheets out of magazines and file them away in clear sleeves and binders and when all of my overdue library fees were from checking out DIY project books for daydreaming.
Now, as a new homeowner, spending $500 to thousands of dollars for a solid wood headboard seems like an extravagant expense, no matter how in love I am with one (like with these stunning handcrafted versions from CustomMade and Mockingbird Domestics). So when the team at Austin Habitat for Humanity ReStore reached out about teaming up on a few DIY projects, I knew exactly where we were going to start.
In addition to being my new favorite discount DIY materials resource, for more than 20 years ReStore has served as a community recycling center that diverts millions of pounds of reusable materials from Austin landfills annually by providing new and slightly used construction materials and home supplies to the community at an affordable price (for upcycling projects, home renovations, etc.). All the revenue from ReStore is recycled back into Austin Habitat for Humanity‘s building programs that create community and hope for low-income Austin families — something especially important right now as the City of Austin skyrockets in popularity and (as expats like us move here from both coasts, driving up real estate values) is becoming too expensive for many resident Austinites.
After a quick tour of the original ReStore warehouse here in Austin, I walked away with a circa 1970s hollow core interior door with a solid wood veneer for just $9. Once I got it home, the DIY challenge was sanding it down and refinishing it with gel stain and teak oil (to make it match my beautiful, recently acquired, repurposed mid-century walnut credenza from Uptown Modern), and adding a frame made out of a few two-by-fours and some vintage hardware. We now have a beautiful custom headboard that no one would ever know started off life as a boring old builder-basic room divider.
Now, I’m not gonna say that this project was fast, especially if you’re attempting during a Texas summer, where my gel stain was drying even before I could finish applying the coat, and I was sanding for hours in 104 degree weather, so there was literal sweat equity involved. And I’m not gonna say it was necessarily easy, since it took me and my husband about 10 hours start to finish (and about as many trips to ReStore, Woodcraft, and Home Depot for supplies). But as far as refinishing/carpentry projects go, it was definitely simple enough for any beginners who have a handle on basic math, the patience to draw out a plan and stick to the “measure thrice, cut once” protocol, and who have an outdoor or covered/protected spot to set up the door on sawhorses for at least two days in a row undisturbed. Preferably when the temperature is below 90 degrees – the crucial point at which stain & paint dry faster than a human can work. And we’re all human here.
Heat aside, the sanding/staining part I found to be particularly Zen, almost like doing Tai Chi. (Many wax on/wax off Karate Kid references were also made.) And thanks to some absolutely expert tips and overwhelmingly generous advice from Uptown Modern owner Jean Heath, who is known for rescuing beautiful midcentury pieces and bringing them back to life, refinishing them in-house for resale in her store (as she & her team did with my credenza-turned-dresser), I was able to grab a mix of Woodcraft stains and oils and layer them in a way that came pretty darn close to a perfect match on the first try!
Here’s some of Jean’s expert advice for staining and refinishing furniture:
“[At Uptown Modern], we mix stains and teak oil in a variety of colors to achieve our finishes, adding colors to achieve a pleasing modern look,” she said. “In general, we use teak oil in clear, medium walnut, and dark walnut as well as Woodcrafters stains in a mid-range of colors between super blonde and super dark. We start off light, let each coat dry, and add color as needed. Each piece of wood takes stain differently, so even if we use the exact same shades, pieces can take the color differently and end up being a different shade. Its easy to go darker, impossible to make color lighter without sanding back down to bare wood.”
After all of that, how much did this project really cost? Between the door, the structural hardware and lumber, the gel stains and teak oil and brushes, splurging on decorative vintage brass accessory hardware, AND buying a new orbital sander, the entire project still cost us less than $200 for a custom king-size headboard that we’ll cherish for years to come. That’s a huge win in my book and for our budget! And the whippets really seem to love it, which, if you know us, is what matters.
What did we learn? First off, if we were going to do this project again, I probably would’ve selected a smooth, solid door that wasn’t hollow, so that we would’ve had a faster time sanding and an easier time anchoring the frame and the hardware to the door securely, but when I saw the heart-shaped grain in the veneer on this door I just had to have it for our master bedroom. It also served as the inspiration for the decorative accessory hardware I chose to cover the door handle hole: a vintage brass fire extinguisher panel that I found on Etsy. To really coordinate our new headboard with our mid-century credenza-turned-dresser, I grabbed some brass campaign hardware corners (also on Etsy), which helped hide a few places where the door had nicks and little peels from the wear & tear of its original use, too. I also took a can of antique brass spray paint and gave our IKEA bedside lamps a once-over, which was an extra $8 and about 20 minutes or so, but made a big impact.
Next up: swapping out the fussy hardware on those side tables! We’re slowly but surely trying to “unmake” our bedroom, getting rid of busy patterns and anything else that detracts from creating our bedroom as an oasis from the chaos of daily life. We really want to fill it with natural materials and soothing textures that fill us with a sense of calm and act as a respite from our hectic tech-driven days. This headboard is such a wonderful step in that direction, and it also helped us to make the decision to upgrade our bed linens sooner rather than later to this cozy, certified organic linen duvet set from Parachute Home we’ve been drooling over forever, and some new organic cotton sheets from Target, but more on those another day!
REPURPOSED DOOR HEADBOARD MATERIALS LIST
Everything you’ll need to make your own
Door ($9, ReStore)
Orbital sander ($50 new. Rent/borrow if you don’t do a lot of refinishing, or look on Craigslist.)
60- and 80-grit 5″ Velcro sanding pads (about $10)
General Finishes gel stains ($20, I used a 1/2 pint each of Candlelite & Brown Mahogany)
Oil stain paint brushes ($7.99 for a set of 7, ReStore)
Two 92″ Yellow Pine 2x4s ($4.50, measured by using this frame tutorial, cut for free at Home Depot)
2 1/2″ Wood Screws, Hex Nuts & Bolts ($8.50, Home Depot)
Campaign hardware corners with mounting screws ($20, Etsy)
Vintage brass fire extinguisher panel ($70, Etsy)
3/4″ brass escutcheon pins or finishing brads ($1.25, Home Depot)
Ginger and I are really looking forward to doing our part to give back to our new hometown by volunteering on an Austin Habitat for Humanity home building team sometime in the near future — stay tuned! For now, we’ll be reaping the rewards of our hard work by taking advantage of every single minute of downtime to lounge around with the hounds in our dreamy new bed.
Photos by Chelsea Laine Francis.
Collages by Shoestring/Melissa Massello.