Thursday, February 9, 2012

Radio Romance, Part 2

You've probably forgotten all about that old radio cabinet I last mentioned ages and ages ago, but believe it or not, we've still been working on it! I'd hoped to do a grand unveiling with it completely finished, but 90% is close enough, right?

So, just to jog your memory, this is what we started with:

(Ever try to take a picture without a cat in it when you have cats? IT'S VERY HARD.)

And here's a shot of it (mostly) finished in our dining room at Christmas:

We scored the empty radio cabinet for $45 at an antique mall. You can see how we painstakingly repaired the front lattice work here.

Last year we were fortunate enough to have my parents in town for a few days, and we immediately put my dad the former electrical engineer to work, wiring up some speakers to make the old cabinet functional again:

My dining room table during The Project.

We used a set of small powered speakers that we already had for our iPod. Because they were battery powered, Dad had to re-wire them to plug into the wall, among other fun things. (More on that in a minute.) We purposely chose low quality speakers because A) they were cheap, and B) we wanted the sound to be kind of low quality, the better the match the vintage look of the cabinet.

John mounted the speakers to a new piece of plywood, and then attached that to the back of the front cabinet panel:

Kindly refrain from commenting on my husband's balls of steel, if you please.

Here's the front of the panel:

Next John painted the exposed wood a plain brown, so it wouldn't show through the mesh:

We replaced the old speaker fabric with brass mesh. It was an expensive upgrade (nearly $20 for a single square foot), but I like the look:

While we were buying the supplies needed to rewire the speakers we also picked up some vintage radio knobs and a pull-on power switch. (The knobs are purely decorative, but the switch actually does turn everything on.) All of those goodies and more come by the bucket load over at Skycraft, a local parts warehouse that's any tinkerer's nirvana. We also picked up some LEDs for a little surprise feature I'll show you at the end of this post.

To hook our iPod up to the speakers, we simply threaded the wire through a pre-existing hole in the right side of the cabinet. (I think it was originally for a microphone or a crank or something.)

But I couldn't just leave our iPod sitting out on top of the cabinet, now, could I?


So I spent six months scouring Ebay for an affordable vintage cigarette case to convert into a small iPod holder.

I never found one. (Grrr...)

Ironically, I eventually stumbled across the perfect solution back at the same antique mart in Virginia where we bought the original cabinet. It looked like this:

This is an antique copper watch case. It's solid metal, and hinges open like so:

Plus it was only $10. SOLD!

I harvested the solid brass name plates to decorate the outside, along with a little extra bling from my jewelry stash:

I carefully sanded off the rough edges and bent each piece to match the curve of the case, and then used tiny dabs of epoxy to secure them:

The velvet interior pops out easily, which allowed John to screw the back of the case to the side of the radio cabinet, directly over the small hole that we fed the iPod wire through:

Ready for the best part?


I used the existing velvet, and just added a band of elastic to hold the iPod in place. Easy peasy! (And I can't believe it took me six months to find.)

I made a special play list just for this radio, and we only play old fashioned big-band music from the 30's and 40's on it. Not usually our kind of music, but it just sounds so RIGHT coming out of those speakers.

Now for that fun feature I mentioned:

Yep, I made John and Dad wire a color-changing LED into my antique radio cabinet. WHAT.

The light shines through the old celluloid that used to show the radio dial. Pulling the power switch turns on both the speakers and the light. It's pretty funky, and I like it.

Here's a crappy cell phone video of the whole shebang in action, taken before we installed the iPod case:

Believe it or not, though, we're still not done.

Because the new speakers only took up a few inches of space inside the cabinet, that left us with a ton of extra room to do something crazy, like, oh, I dunno - build a book shelf inside it?

John built the shelf unit separately, so it just slides into the back of the cabinet. He still has to stain it, so it's just bare wood for now. To be honest, we lost our sense of urgency for finishing the back side when we realized we had no place to put the cabinet where both sides would be accessible. WHOOPS.

So, our radio is sitting against a wall in the dining room, where it will probably stay. Still, once the shelves are stained we'll install them for extra storage, if nothing else, and hope to find a better place sometime later where we can show off both sides!

This (almost) concludes our longest-running project to-date. (Phew!) When we finish the interior shelving I'll try to remember to throw a few actual "finished" shots up for you. And to those of you who've been e-mailing asking me to hurry up and post this; thanks for being patient, and I hope it was worth the wait!


  1. The blinking LED reminds me of my brother's stereo in the 70s that pulsed colors to the beat of the songs. As a wee tot i sat and stared at it for hours.
    Great redo. Thanks

  2. LOVE LOVE LOVE it! You could always install some steampunky casters to the bottom to make it easy to get to your hidden shelf in the back. And then you could just leave it where you have it - it looks great in your dining room! The LED is awesome.

    The best projects are the ones you spend a really looong time working out all the details - which reminds me, I have my own projects I need to go work on...

  3. So, so cool! Can I come live with you? Just for a little while?

  4. All you have to do to get a cat free photo is try and take a picture of the cats! Love this, and, oh, I don't know, ALL your other projects. (The ones I've seen at any rate, I must be more careful with those blanket statements.) Can't wait to see the next post!

  5. There are no words to how fabulous this is. Seriously.

    Interesting you would put a bookshelf in the back, rather than some secret compartment for your spy novels or something.

    Except now I just posted this. So everyone would know about it.

  6. Great work!! I love this, and I just had to watch that video a second time. Such a charming piece.

  7. My mouth actually dropped open in public when I saw the iPod inside of that watch case. I love it!!

  8. Why not put a hinge on the front and make the front of the cabinet a door which reveals the hidden bookcase? As long as you put the hinge on the side with the ipod you shouldn't have to worry about wires.

  9. AMAZING! Remodeling old things is SOOOO much fun. You are so lucky you have access to a wood worker and an electrician!

  10. @ Brooke - casters are a great idea! I'll have to look into those...

    @ Grannyk & Nookleerman - Believe me, my first thought was to have the front panel swing open! The way the speaker panel is installed, though, the inner panel would have swing IN - not very practical - and cutting the sides where the wooden columns are was daunting, to say the least. We just couldn't figure a way to make it work without butchering and re-building the entire front.

    If I ever score another cheap radio cabinet, though, you can bet I'll be building a door into the front!

  11. That is so stinking awesome!! I swear if I ever win the lottery I am so gonna hire you and Jon to decorate and re-do my house!! :)

  12. I thought of old wheels/castors too, either the wooden kind(though they tend to be 'flat' sometimes) or porcelain. great project!

  13. I absolutely love it! Can I come live at your house? Please? Mine is so not cool.

  14. I have been waiting for this post forever, TOTALLY worth the wait. It looks amazing!
    I had an idea about the bookshelf, you could hinge the front pannel with the speakers so that it opens into the bookcase. All you would need to do is organize the wires so they run along the bottom, or are hidden behind some fabric (think car door electronics) and voila! secret awsome bookshelf.

  15. Very, very cool! It's always so much fun to see what you and John come up with!

  16. That is AMAZING! I can just picture it in my head- how proud I would be to show something like that off. Like you, I myself like to go over the top with projects like this [especially when I don't see them going anywere in particular] so good luck figuring out how to get the really cool bookshelf idea to work- I can't wait to read more on your progress!

  17. Words fail me. Okay, no they don't. That was so totally awesome! And you're right, the band music sounds sooo appropriate coming out of the speakers. Great work. Keep it up.

  18. I love the iPod holder! For the shelves you could look for a radio cabinet with doors.

  19. It looks amazing! My step dad would love this. He has a bunch of old radios he works on all the time.

  20. Oh man, that is just so freaking awesome.

    Hey hey you should put a TOP SECRET SAFE in it instead of the bookcase. And then tell the internet all about it.

  21. Usually I really like your projects but this one has not struck my fancy. I liked the initial work but then something doesn't seem right about it. I think it is the light that is throwing me off. It doesn't fit the vintage of the cabinet. But, it's yours and in your house so all that matters is that YOU like it. :>)

    I saw a very interesting similar thing on Craigslist the other day that would make a great companion piece to this one. A guy is taking vintage console televisions and making pet beds out of them. Sounds odd but looks very cool. I went back for a picture but the ad had been pulled. All the TV components had been removed and in the place of the 'screen' was the entry for the pet to lounge in luxury on his own personal cabana. Great idea if you have the space.

  22. @ Margot - I've seen beds like those! And they're *awesome.* Also saw a small TV converted into a fish tank once, which was brilliant.

    I hear ya on the radio, and in fact I wanted the light just *because* it didn't fit the vintage vibe; I wanted to 'punk it up a little. I've been considering adding something like a color-changing bubble tube to the other side of the cabinet to further add to the theme.

    I often struggle with making antiques look more sci-fi or steampunk, because I don't want a house like my grandparents' - I want something with more whimsy and fantasy and other-worldliness to it. We'll see how well I manage all that, though!

  23. Wow, I am very impressed and inspired! That is *fantastic*! I especially love the light, actually. It reminds me of classic cartoons, where the sound of a radio would be visualized somehow. For me, it *does* have a vintage element to it! This gets stored in my mental to-do-list for sure.

  24. Gorgeous! We have an old radio cabinet (about twice the size of yours) and we use it as our tv cabinet. But the work you've done is downright impressive. The cigarette holder is utter brilliance.

  25. I know now that I have to look for an old antique radio when I go to Renningers in Mount Dora on the 19th. Thanks for the idea. I am totally going to steal it for my house! =-)

  26. The back of that cabinet would be great for storing documents or whatever you don't want out in the open but don't want to lock in a safe.

  27. *sigh* seriously you guys almost make me want to quit theatre so I have time to do stuff like this.

    Well done. Awesome as always!

  28. I LOVE this!! Beautiful!

  29. Another great thing to listen to on this would be Old Time Radio shows like Burns and Allen, The Shadow, etc.

    WV: gramo - kinda speaks for itself, don't it?

  30. Wow. Just wow. Such great work you and your family did! It looks really terrific. I love the fact you waited and searched for just the right iPod holder and didn't 'settle'! Why don't you store confidential documents on the shelves? Or just anything that needs to be in a 'safe' place but you don't want out in the open? You don't have to store books on the shelves, of course.

  31. Fabulous work, Jen & John (the hubby of Jen)! What a wonderful team y'all make!

    I love your creativity - keep it coming!

  32. I love this - great sculpting, by the way :) I'm impressed!! But pretty please, where is this wonderful antique mall in the Old Dominion? I must know!

    Thank you :)

  33. I love it! I think the light is slightly off, because it is so different, but I think if it wasn't flashing quite as fast it would be perfect - in the video, where it was flashing slower it looked better.

  34. Love it! The music in your video makes me feel like I'm in some alternate universe, a la Doctor Who, and something bad is about to happen. Because something bad always happens when the vintage music plays.

  35. OMG! That radio cabinet is so cool! I love it!

  36. Echoing everyone - this is awesome! It cracked me up that you call this your longest-running project. Um, didn't you guys re-do a house? :D

  37. @ Lindz - We did, and the Crack House was finished in far less than time than this radio! Ha! Crazy, right?

  38. Lovely!

    You could turn the inside into a bar. A great way to get some glassware (and bottles) out of the kitchen.

  39. Any chance you could get the electrical instructions from your Dad, and post them, along with a schematic?

  40. Hi there,
    I'm an Artist in Canada who has been doing something very similar - including cabinet refinishing..
    Great job on your radio - and have a peek at my steampunkish work:
    (MP3 telephone, and near the bottom are several MP3 radios and MP3 player speaker horns)


    I think this insect jewelry is kind of gross but the gearing looks like the steampunk stuff you talk about.

  42. @ Mark - I originally planned to include some rough drawings of the wiring, since (I'm told) it's fairly simple. I don't understand it as well as John does, though, so I nixed it for the sake of getting the post published. I'll ask John to draw the schematic out for me, tho, and tack it onto this post when he does.

  43. Nice re-use of a vintage low-boy console. Here's my 1929 Pooley cabinet (used by Sparton) that still houses a 1932 Philco 70 chassis. I moved things aside and wired up a circuit of LED's, an amp, and a Bluetooth Receiver to a dual voice coil speaker (a single speaker that takes both left and right leads, typically used in ceilings). It has new life added to its already amazing 85+ years of service.


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