A Step-by-Step Guide to Restoring and Modernizing Your Bar Cart

A coat of paint, chinoiserie wallpaper, and a few well-chosen accessories—and you'll become your own mixologist at home.

white painted bar cart
Photo: Ashley Poskin

Hosting for the holidays? Or even if you're not, due to COVID-19, consider this home project: Refreshing your cart by giving it a style makeover.

The best thing about a bar cart is that they really can have so many different uses. If coffee is more your beverage of choice, make it a breakfast nook complete with fresh fruit and waffles, a toaster, and refreshing mimosas. Missing your monthly manicure? Set up the world's cutest nail bar at home by organizing your nail colors ROYGBIV-style, adding a bottle of Champagne and some flutes to sip from while your nails dry. However you make over your cart, just make it yours.

Prepare the cart's surface for paint.​

Use fine grit sandpaper or 0000 steel wool to lift any loose pieces and prepare for painting. You aren't looking to remove any existing paint, you just want to lightly rough up the surface so it better receives the next application of primer and paint.

Purchase your supplies.​

Before you head to the store, determine the material your cart is made out of so you know which paint and primer to buy. Spray paint is a great option for this project—it goes on quickly and won't leave brush strokes behind. For this particular cart, we used Rust-Oleum's 249058 Painter's Touch 2X Ultra-Cover Primer ($4.49, amazon.com) for metal surfaces. We purchased two cans for this project and ended up with a little leftover. If you're painting over a dark color like red, you might want to consider a stain-blocking primer​ such as Rust-Oleum Corporation 3609 Oil-Base Spray Primer ($7.45, amazon.com). For the top coat, choose something that will easily wipe clean, such as a gloss or ​high-gloss​ like ($4.97, amazon.com). Lastly, it's a good idea to seal your project with a ​lacquer​ to protect from nicks and dings.

old bar cart
Ashley Poskin

Prime and paint.​

Wipe down the surface and get it as clean as possible before applying your primer. We found it was best to start painting the cart with it turned upside down, so we could get the underside really well. Once dry, we flipped it over and painted the cart right side up. Wait the recommended amount of time, then apply the topcoat, and then lacquer.

Upgrade your barware​.

Sometimes, changing the paint color is all you need for a makeover but there are a few other things you can add to your cart to give it a new look. Most carts come with removable casters, consider upgrading them with something like these ​all-brass casters​ ($50 for four, amazon.com). Before ordering, measure the screw type and mounting of your existing casters to ensure the right fit.

Another easy upgrade? Add a tray liner. ​Leather​, ​cane webbing​, or even something as simple as contact paper​ are subtle touches, but change the overall look. If your cart's trays are removable, simply lay it over the material you've chosen, trace and cut it out, and install using a spray adhesive, or just press it under glass like we did with Graham & Brown Chinoiserie Canary Wallpaper ($6 for a large sample, grahambrown.com)​.

Consider using items you already have at home that aren't necessarily meant for a bar cart: We upcycled a ​vintage Delft flower frog​ ($88 for a pair, etsy.com) to hold a set of barware (an estate sale find), a ​bamboo serving tray​ ($32, etsy.com) placed under bottled spirits to install shelving, and a ​ginger jar​ ($75, etsy.com) that doubles as a planter to add height and movement, plus a small set of old-fashioned glasses kept out at the ready.

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