Camper-van Cabinet From Vintage Fridge




About: We are 3 friends who join up forces to make stuff during evenings and weekends. Our biggest passion is recycling and repurposing old things.

Vintage refrigerators are beautiful. But what use can you have from one? Using a 50s fridge to store food is probably not a good idea – plastic shell inside will have cracks, but more importantly – it won’t be safe and hygienic.

We repurposed our vintage compact fridge into a cabinet for storing bedsheets and towels. Read below on how we did it.

For this project you will need:

  • Vintage refrigerator
  • Some thick plywood
  • Two wheels from hardware store (wheelbarrow wheels)
  • ¾ steel pipe
  • Couple of steel sheets, and a 1in wide steel strip

Step 1: Disassemble Everything

Typical vintage fridge consists of outer shell, insulation, inner shell and compressor equipment.

Use screwdrivers to remove moldings and take out the inner shell and inner linings. Back in the old days they did not have safe insulation materials and producers used glass wool. So it is highly recommended to wear the respirator when disassembling the inner linings. Of course all the mechanical stuff like compressor, tubes and freezer cell need to be removed too. In our version of the fridge the compressor and tubing was kept in the bottom part covered by a faceplate that looks like a drawer. After our conversion, it will become a real sliding drawer.

The compressor can also be repurposed to create portable and quiet airbrush.

At the end you should be left with an empty metal-sheet shell. Taking the door off the hinges will also make your life easier.

Step 2: Cleaning and Sanding

Use the sponge with soap water to remove the remains of glass wool and any grease or dirt that has been accumulating there for the last 60 years. If your fridge also has resin in the corners – you will need to use the white spirit followed by another round of soapy sponge.

Once clean, inspect the metal shell for corrosion. Mostly this happens on the flooring and in the lower part of the door. All of the rust needs to be sanded and then cleaned with alcohol to prepare for painting.

On the pictures you see 3 stages: after soap cleaning, after white spirit cleaning and after sanding.

Step 3: Repair the Base Paint

Almost all white color vintage appliances end up looking more like cream/cappuccino color after 60 years. I have found the best paint for patch-repair to be Hammerite Magnolia color (also called Smooth Cream). This paint can be applied directly over rusty metal without priming.

The style of the cabinet does not require the base paint job to be perfect or the color to have ideal match. So a quick repair with a paintbrush was all that was required.

Step 4: Idea and Design

There are many different ways to style a vintage fridge – such as restoring to perfect original look or completely repainting in modern colors. We decided to recreate a 60s VW Camper Van look.

On the picture you can see how the wheels would be positioned for this build.

To be able to install the wheels, we had to create a chassis that would slide up into the bottom section. So at this point we measured every inner side in the lower section and made a sketch of the chassis and its’ individual parts with real sizes.

Step 5: Cutting the Wheel Arches

Arches were drawn with the marker pen and a simple compass. Angle grinder was used to cut it. Notice from the photos how the ridges were made to bend them over the arch and produce a safe metal edge.

Step 6: Making the Chassis

We had some thick plywood (approx. 1in thick) cut offs from the flooring project we did earlier. These pieces were just fine for the job. Any scrap plywood or chipboard can be used as the chassis will not be visible. Of course plywood is more desirable as it is much stronger.

Notice the rear elongated plate of the chassis. It will act as a third leg with the two front legs being the wheels.

Two lower planks will hold the wheels axle. Two upper planks will hold the sliding rails for the sliding drawer.

Step 7: Axle and Wheels

3/4 steel pipe was used for the axle (we recycled an old rusty water pipe). The holes in the wheels were enlarged using 3/4 forstner drill bit.

To prevent the wheels from sliding off we drilled small holes towards both ends of the pipe, inserted nails and bent them so that they don't fall off.

Step 8: Shelves

Sheet metal was slightly sanded and cut to size using grinder. The edge was bent using vice.

Metal strips were cut to size, edges slightly cut using the angle grinder and then bent and secured with couple of weld spots. These strips will be used to attach the shelves to the sides of the fridge shell and to add strength to the sheet metal of the shelves.

Rivets were used to attach the sheet metal to the 1in strips.

Assembled shelves were covered with lacquer for steel to preserve "rust" look and at the same time allow the cabinet to be used for safe storage of bedsheets, blankets and towels.

Step 9: Painting - the Camper Van Style!

We sketched the outlines using the blue non-permanent marker. Alkyd paints were used as the adhesion is much better than water-based paints. Light sanding using the fine sandpaper helped to create more adhesion.

Step 10: Making the Sliding Drawer

While the paints were drying, we used the circular saw to make the dovetail joints for the sliding drawer. Laminated plywood scraps were recycled for this. For the drawer floor we found a scrap piece of MDF that we covered with acrylic varnish.

Step 11: Sliding Rails

Sliding rails were used to attach the drawer to the chassis. The rails are able to let the drawer out at 100%.

Step 12: Finishing Touches: Wheel Araches, Drawer Faceplate, Nice Label

After installing the chassis and drawer it was time to bend the ridges on the arches to make this place safe against cuts. This was followed by a little more paint to cover the scratches caused while bending the ridges.

Faceplate was also mounted and we did add our workshop label on one of the shelves.

Step 13: Final Result

IMPORTANT: even IKEA instructions for their cabinets state it is a must to tie up the cabinet to the wall. Do yourself a favor - tie it up and your family will be safe!

The cabinet was finally done. Have a look at the end result and tell us what you think in the comments.

We hope you liked how we re-purposed the old refrigerator and would be thankful for your vote on it in the Creative Misuse Contest.

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    9 Discussions


    I really love the idea of some mobile storage in and around the house but those SMEG fridges are not cheap! Even when they're spoilt and due for the junkyard, I can imagine it must be quite hard to source for a unit if you wanted to do some upcycling like this!

    1 reply

    9 months ago

    It's really fun.


    10 months ago

    All I can say is WOW. Lots of thought and work, but it is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    1 reply