Saving an Old Apothecary Cabinet

One of this things that always seems like it would be a “Must Have” in a Victorian Library, is a bar. If you know me, you know I don’t drink at all. I have no moral issues with it – I just have an actual gag reflex to the taste of alcohol. For years, it was a fun game among friends – they would make a drink that “Seriously – this tastes like Kool-Aid – there is NO alcohol taste in this.” And my face scrunches up and I wonder why anyone would ever like it. To me, it’s no different than if shampoo gets in my mouth, or some other chemical cleaner gets on my hands and I accidentally taste it.

There are two minor exceptions – alcohol in cooked food, and I can enjoy a very – VERY small amount in hot chocolate. That’s it.

I was sad for about 10 minutes in college when I realized I wasn’t going to enjoy parties in the typical way, but once I realized I was having tons of fun AND I was able to a driver if ever I was needed, I was totally cool with my place. Doug loves bourbon, and we entertain A LOT, so a bar absolutely made sense. And everything that goes with a bar? Glassware and pretty bottles? I’m totally into that.

So, I kept measurements of the corner of the Library that would work well for something in my phone. It needed to be relatively skinny, so that was the challenge. I was thinking a cabinet, or curio cabinet. Or a small hutch. I thought, maybe a small desk, with a glass cabinet hanging on the wall. I was enthralled with the idea of glass doors, to see all the glassware behind it. After a lot of searching, I figured that two pieces would be the end result. But then, we were at a flea market, and I saw a BEAUTIFUL roll-top secretary. With glass doors on top. It was stunning and perfect, and was the right measurement TO THE INCH. We scooped it up.



I didn’t account for the door swing. So, “To the inch” perfect, meant it fit in the space, but there wasn’t enough room for one of the doors to open. I was so sad, especially because this was one of the prettiest pieces of furniture I’ve ever bought. I realized it could go in the corner of the Parlor – right next door to the Library – and it would fit there beautifully. So then, I was torn – do I just put the bar in the Parlor? Or keep looking? I figured if something was meant to be, we’d find it, and if not, this was a good back up.

I was looking on eBay, right before everything shut down last spring. And I found this apothecary cabinet, in Louisville Kentucky (only an hour and a half from us). The measurements were perfect. Glass doors. A small counter made of glass. A mirror. The color was right. The price was right. And I couldn’t escape how perfect it was – alcohol was often used as medicine in Victorian times, so making it a bar seemed like the perfect way to go.

Here it is! This is the photo from the eBay listing, which actually makes it look a little shallower than it actually is.

We drove to Louisville. The weekend before the world shut down. Picked this up on Saturday, and then the next Friday, school and the universe closed down.

Here’s the piece in the house (hanging out in in the Library).

This picture is a little better to gauge the depth. The bottom cabinet is very square. 

The main issue / concern is that the back of the piece has massive water damage. As you know, water damage follows us around like the restoration grim reaper, so this is just another sign that this piece was meant for us. 

But look at this perfectly lovely original hardware!

It almost makes up for the fact that the back is destroyed.

She thinks this moving blanket is for her. 

We moved it into the Library to work on it, since you know, it’s empty and has a lot of space to work. 

Here’s another look at the back. This is in the upper cabinet. 

And here’s the lower cabinet. Girlfriend needs a facelift. 

Here’s the actual back. 

It’s like a wood decay fringe!

The full back. And manager sleeping on the job.


The back is in a groove. Our thought was, remove the back, and the add a new tongue and groove back on. 

At least if it was so water damaged, at least it was connected to electricity. 

We tried using force to slide it out, but it was too deformed, so we had to cut into it. 

Here’s using the Dremel to cut into the wood. We had removed all of the doors, and were VERY careful around the mirror. 

Once we got through it, it was pretty easy to take out. We aren’t experts, and it’s super damaged, but we think it’s a veneer that the water split into the different layers?

How warped was it? This warped. 

We slowly worked our way down the piece!

Here’s some of the back. IN. SANE.

Bottom half done!

Once we got on a roll, the top half went faster. 

Now, to put a new back on!

We mapped out the tongue and groove boards to see how they’d fit. We used oak, off the shelf from Menards.

The first pieces slid in nicely.

So then we made a test piece, to see if we’d be able to slide the last piece all the way up the original groove. SUCCESS!

So then we had to trim down the last piece. 

Covered in sawdust!

Our tongue to fit in the old, antique groove. JUST like the test piece.

But guess what? It didn’t fit. UGH. So, back to the front porch woodshop to cut it some more. 

After a couple of tries, it worked!

New back from the back!

New back from the front!

Here’s the top. What I was most excited about with the way that Doug demoed this piece, is that by only taking out the insert, we didn’t touch the original side shelf supports. 

And here’s the bottom! It’s so much nicer and more secure. SO EXCITING!



  1. I am the same ways most alcohol beer yuck, wine it’s rotten grapes! But Pina colada’s…I could do

  2. So beautiful! As the wizardess (wizard?) – no! no!-SORCERESS! of Stain & Dye- (😅😂) I have no doubt that you will be able to match it all up so we wont be able to tell where the old and new meet! There is a line of etched drink-ware at Williams-Sonoma that would look stunning in this piece (though unlike me, you probably have access to legit old timey originals in your network of fabulousness!) I cant wait to see this piece’s “after” photos!!

  3. This piece is going to be perfect! Does it have a light in the top? that would look really pretty shining down through the glassware.

  4. I admire your respectful approach to everything you renovate. You did the least invasive surgery on that piece, and the end result is lovely. Can’t wait to see how you restore the finish. It will be beautiful when it’s done.

  5. Wow!!! The cabinet looks amazing and goes with the room so well, can’t wait to see the finished product. You seem to have the perfect piece for everything!

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