If you’re anything like me then you probably love creating, building and painting when given half a chance. And if not, then fear not! It’s actually a lot easier than it looks. There’s something hugely satisfying about restoring something for your home or child. It forces you to think both creatively and practically, whilst allowing you to produce something that’s one of a kind. Wood is very versatile; with the right prep it’s easy to sand, paint, wax or varnish to create an entirely different look.

Here, I wanted to share one of my favourite and most used parent hacks: the toy box. Indie was 6 months old when I decided to give this a go. Her first Christmas was coming up and we were currently shoving any toys she had in her wardrobe. Cue the wardrobe avalanche. There were some beautiful solid wood toy boxes online but the price tag was less than beautiful; £200 upwards, in fact. I started to search the likes of Facebook Marketplace and eBay when I came across the below for £35. I collected it that evening, wrestled it into the car and brought it home, ready for cleaning. If you’re thinking of having a go, but don’t know where to start, you can follow my steps below.

1. Before digging out the paint brush and sander, you’ll need to start by giving the wood a really thorough clean to remove any dust or grease. It’ll give a much neater finish, whilst also allowing the paint to stick well. I used a sugar soap which you can pick up cheap from Wilkos, but a simple fairy liquid and water mix should do the job too. You’ll be amazed at just how much dirt the sugar soap can strip though.

2. Next you’ll want to decide what you want the end result to look like. Do you want to paint the entire thing or leave some areas with a natural wood finish? Personally, I love a wood finish. I love the natural grains and character, so I was keen to leave the lid and bottom skirt unpainted. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, have a look on Pinterest and create a board of your favourite designs.

3. As you can see from the first picture, the toy box was covered in water marks and little dents. The next step was to sand the areas that I wanted to leave with a wood finish. This would help to remove any marks and old varnish, so that the wood is back to its natural state. The rest, I would leave as I’d go on to paint that section with a good primer-containing paint. (I’ll come onto this later.) Bare wood provides the perfect canvas for a wax, which needs to be absorbed by the wood. A small detail sander is perfect for small projects, like furniture. They’re also really easy to use and relatively cheap to pick up. My detail sander is from B&Q and only cost me £20. Just to warn you, the amount of dust these things give off when sanding is mental! Some come with an adaptor that you can plug into the hoover, but they’re not perfect, so this job is better done outside. Sand along the grain and edges, and don’t rush this stage. Preparation is key.

4. Fortunately, that’s the messy bit out of the way. You can now begin to paint. There are now plenty of furniture paints on the market that contain a primer. A primer is so important, because it helps to seal the surface and prevent the paint from chipping. My favourite primer-containing furniture paint is from B&Q’s GoodHome range, because it’s brilliant value for money. I chose the Meriden grey in a satin finish and did two coats. I don’t personally like the matte, chalky finishes because I think the whole shabby chic trend is dead and buried, but that’s just my preference. To get started, you will also need: a good medium-sized paint brush, an old sheet to cover the floor, something to stir the paint thoroughly (I use an old spoon), a large glass of wine and a good easy watching TV series. This is how I like to spend my evenings.

5. Next, you’ll need to cover the bare wood in a wax or varnish. Wax is really forgiving and provides a nice even finish, whereas varnish can leave more of an uneven finish if you’re sanding and prep isn’t perfect. I used a standard light oak wax, but these come in lots of finishes, from clear to a rich, dark oak. Use an old cloth to buffer in the wax, covering as evenly as possible. I only did one coat, but I can also add an extra one in the future if it needs a spruce-up.

6. Finally, I decided to personalise the toy box with some wooden letters. I found these MDF letters at Hobbycraft and painted them with the B&Q GoodHome furniture paint in North Pole white. Once fully dry, I used a ruler and spirit level to position them carefully on the box, using Gorilla Glue. This stuff has saved my bacon so many times when toys have accidentally been broken.

And there you have it; one home-restored solid wooden toy box. I purposely chose a colour that I know Indie wouldn’t grow out of any time soon. It also compliments our existing decor and style well. Bye bye avalanche wardrobe of shame!

About the Author


Mum to 4-year-old, Indie, Jen loves nothing more than hiking, playing netball or tennis, preparing activities for Indie and making cocktails.

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