Music is such an important part of most people’s lives. It has been very important in mine. I started learning the piano when I was 7 years old. My first piano teacher was called Mrs Sharp, which still makes me giggle today (if you know music, then you will get that joke!). I went on to do examination standard piano until about level 7, I think. In the country town we moved to when I was 9, this meant lessons with the Catholic Nuns across the road from our house, despite us not being Catholic – there were not many options in the little town! My first teacher, Sister Bernadette, was so old, she used to fall asleep during lessons! She was fine, but the next teacher, Sister Maria, was very scary. In the end, I was so anxious about exams (and I reached my mid-teens and it was no longer ‘cool’), that I quit. Looking back, I am very pleased I got such an early grounding in reading and playing music. I also had some guitar lessons and over the years, some singing lessons. I performed in musicals and singing competitions. Today, music is a vital part of my mental health and wellbeing, as it is for many of us.
I was given this piano by my parents on my 27th birthday – 27 is a significant number in our family, for a few reasons. It was a very lovely surprise! At the time they gave it to me, I was living with the father of my first son, and things were not great, for a few reasons I will not go into in this post. When they surprised me, I was so delighted, but he was not keen on me bringing the piano back to our house. Suffice to say, it was the final straw for me and shortly afterwards, I left with our 9 month old son. So, this old piano is very important and very symbolic to me, and for the past 25 years it has continued to live with me, despite having seen far better days. About 10 years ago, the piano tuner told me it was no longer tunable. It had been well used and some of the hammers were ruined, as well as other issues. It would have needed a major overhaul to get it anywhere close to decent again, and it might not have been possible. But as I could not bear to part with it, it stayed with us, the boys having a casual tinker with it from time to time. Over more recent years however, it made its way onto our deck and sat there as a dumping pit for items. It gradually became more and more damaged.
A few months ago I started thinking about upcycling it. I had shared a guest post here about turning an old piano into a garden – but did not want to do that, knowing it would become damaged beyond repair eventually. I still wanted to retain it as a piece of furniture. Then I got to thinking about using it as a cabinet. I had seen a few pictures online for making an old piano into a drinks cabinet. I am not a drinker, so this seemed to be not the right match for my old girl. Instead, I decided to make it into a display cabinet for our foyer. Once I made that decision, it was a relatively easy process, much easier than I thought! Some people might think that it is sacrilege to do this to a piano, but you have to remember it was virtually unplayable, so we have stopped it going to landfill and given it a new life.
Here is what we did to turn my old piano into a cabinet
Stripping the piano
The first thing you need to do, is to strip out as much of the piano as possible. This will vary depending on your particular piano. I basically grabbed a few slotted screwdrivers of varying sizes, and a Phillips Head. I then took off the front panel, and the roll-top lid – both were very easy. I then pulled all of the keys out and was able to lift out the hammers. I needed to take the door on the bottom off, so that we could unscrew the timbers for the pedals, but I wanted to leave the pedals themselves intact.
Clean all of the insides
Once the keys and hammers were out, I had a clean base to work from – well a grotty base. There were decades of dirt in there! We thought we would take the harp out as well because it is so heavy and it would be easier to move, and give more room for shelves. But when I saw the harp, I really wanted to leave it in there. It looks amazing and the kids are loving being able to run their fingers across the strings and still make a sound. We also discovered it would be hard to lift it out in this particular piano. Despite unscrewing many sections, some were glued and it would have been tricky to get the harp out. You might have a piano in which you can take the back off and pull the harp out, but the screws and bolts are large and difficult. You will have to look at yours once you get to this stage, and make an assessment.
So, from here I simply cleaned the entire piano, inside and out, preparing it for sanding and painting. I decided I wanted to repurpose the front panel for the shelf. At this stage, we have not worried about adding a top shelf, but this could be fitted later if we decide we need it.
Sand the piano
It is important when painting any piece of furniture, to sand any flaking areas. For chalk paint, you do not have to sand all of the finish off. But flaking areas need smoothing out. Use a 180 – 220 grit sandpaper by hand or with a hand held sander.
Paint with chalk paint
I have a long history as a lover of chalk paint and have posted many projects with this product. The benefits include low VOC’s, low smell, easy to use, quick drying, lovely finishes and no need to totally sand or prime. In this case, I used a tin of white I already had from one brand, mixed with the leftovers of a blue I had from another and created an almost Duckegg blue.
Paint with a quality brush, not worrying too much about straight lines – chalk paint works best when not painted with up and down strokes. You will need at least 2 coats.
Wax and sand
Use a quality wax or oil to finish the paint once dried. You can use beeswax or any other furniture wax or oil, such as hemp oil. Go for something non toxic. After waxing, buff with a soft cloth. Then you can use a fine grit sandpaper to sand across any edges, to create a distressed look, if you would like to. I did this across some of the edges and lines of the piano.
It is up to you how you want to fit your cabinet. You can leave the keys in and place glass shelving over the top. You can do what we did and totally strip it and then use a piece of timber or upcycle parts of the piano to make a shelf. John cut the rolled edges off the front panel to make it fit and then cut some pieces of wood to make a stand for it to fit, and screwed it into those. It sits flush with the piano frame and creates an interesting shelf, with the lovely panels. You could add a top shelf or two – we decided against that. I did keep the piece of timber with the name of the piano (unpainted) and have placed it along the back of the shelf, as a nod to the maker and the piano’s original life. I have kept the keys and hammers to create some artwork – more on that soon! I also now have a storage area inside the bottom of the piano.
So there you have it! We love it – what do you think? Do you have an old piano that could do with some loving? Perhaps this project will give you some ideas on how to upcycle your old upright piano!