1970s Interior Door Makeover

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Update your ugly, flat dark interior doors inexpensively with just some wood moulding & paint!

My house was built in 1978 and still possesses must of it’s original “charm”.  One of those “charming” features I wanted to see gone were the cheap, plastic-y looking, fake wood grain wearing, flat hollow core interior doors.

No where does this feature bother me more than in the first floor hallway.  It’s a small space, maybe 7 ft x 5 ft and there are FOUR dark doors off this space; my room, my son’s room, the utility closet and the bathroom.  When the doors are closed it looks like a dark, 1970s nightmare. The first floor is pretty open and the hallway is visible from most rooms so there is no escaping it.  I wanted to replace them with some nice, paneled, solid doors, but at $250+ per door that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.  I’ve painted virtually every other surface in the house so it was only a matter of time before the doors got their turn.

1970s Interior Door Makeover 1970s Interior Door Makeover 1970s Interior Door Makeover

To start, I ran a power sander over all the surfaces to try and knock down the shine a bit.  I didn’t go crazy with the sander.  Remember, these doors are made of just a very thin layer of wood.  If you sand too much, you will go right through the door!  Just a light sanding to help the paint adhere better.  Wipe the door with a damp cloth to take off any dust from sanding.

The doors would be improved with just a coat of paint, but I wanted to go the extra step and add some character.  I purchased some thin, unfinished wood moulding to make fake “paneling” for each door.  For the bedrooms & utility closet, I only did moulding on the hallway side of the door, the other side is painted, but still flat.  For the bathroom door, I did both sides because people spend a bit of time in there with the door closed.  I sketched the panel design on each door with a chalk pen, keeping the measurements the same for each door so they would look uniform.  Using a simple miter box, I hand cut the mitered corners.  Next I glued the trim to the doors with construction adhesive & a caulking gun.

After the adhesive dried, I primed the doors with a high quality, high adhesion primer and then painted the doors a nice clean white.  I found that I got much better results using a little sponge roller.  I had been trying to cover the doors using just a paint brush and was disappointed with all the brush marks, but the sponger roller gave great, smooth coverage.

1970s Interior Door Makeover 1970s Interior Door Makeover

The doors looked so pretty, I decided the whole hallway needed a makeover to match!  I installed new door knobs (a super easy DIY), and painted the walls the same grey as the living room.  Finally, I got some pretty turquoise spray paint and painted the old, tired mirror frame for a bright pop of color!

What do you think?  I LOVE it, I can’t believe the difference and how much brighter and more modern that whole end of the house feels.  I actually love them so much I don’t even want to replace them with solid doors anymore!  I think the moulding cost me about $10 per door and another $10 for each doorknob.  Add in the primer, paint, adhesive and spray paint and it was still less than half the cost of ONE new, solid wood door and I got FOUR new looking doors & a mini hallway makeover!

Give your cheap 1970s flat interior doors a facelift!

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  1. Great makeover!

  2. WOW! What a difference! Thank you for sharing at Tuesdays with a Twist! -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

  3. What a great idea! Those “new” doors are really cute!

  4. patrick allen kuss says:

    Hello, My house was also built in 1978. I am trying to replace a piece of interior trim but I cannot find out who made the fake walnut looking stuff. Can you help please?


    1. Hi PK – I don’t know who made it, I had tried to find out at one point because I had an interior baseboard I wanted to replace. I ended up buying a white pre-primed MDF baseboard with the intention of just painting it. Instead I thought I’d try a dark walnut stain (I think it was Minwax) on a test piece and it ended up matching nearly perfectly. Good luck!

  5. Excellent makeover. Your blog is very nice. Your new door looks very pretty. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. I am glad to find it. There are so many developers working on this part but this is one of the best innovative post ever. Thanks for such post.

  7. Mike M says:

    I want to do the same thing with my 1978 doors but was worried the paint would make the door thicker and scrap off when closing against the frame.

    Also, what type of paint did you use? Oil base?


    1. Hi Mike, the paint does definitely wear off eventually in spots where the frame and door are tight. It doesn’t add significant thickness, the spots where I notice rubbing are spots where the door was already catching and rubbing. I would retouch the paint maybe once a year in those spots. Totally worth it though. I used regular latex paint in a satin (or you could use semi gloss) finish so that they will be scrubbable.

  8. Mike M says:

    I appreciate your reply.

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