Last fall, my husband and I purchased a home built in 1960. As soon as our offer was accepted, we began making plans for all the updates we wanted to do and all the ways in which we’d make the home our own. We had about five weeks between closing on our house and moving into it. We were determined to accomplish as much as possible in that time. Getting our kitchen cabinets painted was one of my top priorities!
Honestly, it’s a testament to my hubby’s love for me that he was willing to put painting our cabinets so high up on the to-do list, alongside things like insulating the attic and getting the dingy old carpet out of the dining room. I’m so thrilled we did it, though- the cabinets are solid wood, way higher quality than anything we could have purchased new if we’d decided to replace them. Painting them gave the entire kitchen a gorgeous facelift. Though it’s a pretty big job, it pales in comparison to gutting the whole kitchen and waiting for new ones.
I started browsing Pinterest for inspiration right away.
I have to admit that I don’t think that I have a cohesive “aesthetic”. If you’ve clicked around my blog at all, you know I’m drawn to all things Finland, including Finnish and Scandinavian design, but I’m by no means married to that aesthetic in every area of my home. I tend to just do whatever I think looks good. After some browsing, I happened upon a beautiful kitchen. I learned that it was designed by Heidi Caillier Design, an interior designer based in Seattle, WA. I highly recommend checking her out if you need home inspiration, she is unbelievably talented.
Once I found my inspiration I started looking for the right paint color, attempting to get as close to the above inspo photo as possible. Of course, Heidi Caillier does not share her paint colors, but after a great deal of digging I found a blogger who estimated that Benjamin Moore’s Oil Cloth would be a fairly close match.
Above is a before photo of our kitchen-as you can see, just a bit dated. I learned from this project the absolute necessity of applying paint samples: the left paint sample above looked okay on the chip but positively horrendous when actually applied to the wood. After applying samples, we decided to proceed with Benjamin Moore’s Oil Cloth! I purchased one gallon. We did not use it all-maybe not even half, and our kitchen has a lot of cabinets (27, if memory serves).
Our Painted Cabinets Process
I began by washing the cabinets, inside and out, with soap and water. You can also use a degreasing solution like TSP.
The next step: removing doors and hardware. I greatly underestimated what a big job this would be. I ended up spending maybe 5 or 6 hours on this alone-but part of the problem was the age of the hardware. Some of the screws were gunky, and the drill had trouble grabbing them. Prior to removal I labeled each door. I placed a tiny piece of painters tape on the back of each door and the inside of each cabinet. Each door back and corresponding cabinet were labeled with a letter. Since I had no plans to re-use the hardware on my cabinets, I placed it all to the side together.
Since I was replacing hardware, I needed to fill some screw holes from the old hardware. I filled these with wood filler.
I then began sanding all the surfaces that would be painted. We bought a bunch of sanding blocks from Menards and used the medium grit side for this initial sanding (about 100 grit, according to my husband). After sanding, I wiped off the debris with a lightly dampened cloth.
Getting to this point felt like progress for sure. When priming, begin by applying a sample to a small area and letting it dry to test for adhesion. Those initial paint samples we applied when we were looking at colors scratched right off, since the doors hadn’t been prepped properly. Of course, in the case of the ghastly spring green paint sample, this was exactly what I wanted.
We had an old card table set up in our living room for freshly primed or painted doors to rest on. If you have sawhorses handy, these can also work well for drying cabinet doors.
After all surfaces are primed, they need to be allowed to dry for 24+ hours, then sanded once more-this time with very fine grit sandpaper (about 220 grit). Wipe off any debris with a lightly dampened cloth.
Get to painting cabinets at last.
Apply your first coat of paint to all surfaces. Let them dry for 24-48 hours before applying the second coat.
We followed the instructions on our can of paint in terms of when our painted cabinets would be considered “fully cured” and ready to have hardware installed and doors re-hung. It was about 5 days, doable in our situation because we were not living in our house.
We-or rather my husband and his dad-installed the new hinges and re-hung the doors before installing the new handles. Making sure all the doors would hang and close correctly was tedious work, but it’s possible that this would be easier with a different style of hinge-our kitchen has rather old-fashioned hinges.
I loved the look of gold hardware and green cabinets in my original inspiration picture, so I chose gold hardware on Amazon:
Admittedly, I’m not positive my kitchen lighting totally does this color justice. Also, I can’t quite call these “after” photos, because the counters badly want replacing. Progress is where it’s at, right?!
Overall, I badly underestimated how big of a project this is! It is certainly doable, so I don’t want to scare anyone off, but I think it pays to go in with accurate expectations. So worth it though-I love my painted cabinets!
- Dish soap or liquid degreaser
- Painter's tape
- Hinges and hardware
- Screwdriver or drill
- Paintbrushes and rollers
- Paint trays
- Sawhorses if wanted to prop up drying doors
- Remove all the cabinet doors and hardware.
- Cleanse all the cabinet doors and the bases. I used soap and water, but you can also use a liquid degreaser
- If you are changing hardware and have extra holes that need to be filled (like we did), use wood filler to fill them.
- Sand all surfaces. I used the medium grit side of a sanding block (about 100 grit).
- Test primer for adhesion by priming a small area and allowing it to dry completely.
- Prime all surfaces. Let dry completely (probably 24 hours).
- Sand all surfaces again, this time with a very fine grit. Wipe off debris from sanding with a cloth.
- Apply first coat of paint to all surfaces. Use a mini roller on all flat surfaces and an angled brush on edges, recessed areas etc. Let dry for 24+ hours.
- Apply second coat of paint
- We followed the information on our can of paint for directions on when the doors would be considered fully "cured" and able to be rehung and hardware installed.
- Re-install hardware, or install new hardware, and re-hang doors.
1. I labeled my doors so that I could keep track of what went where. I placed tiny squares of painter's tape on the back of each door with a letter, corresponding to the same letter placed inside the cabinet.
Are you considering making over your kitchen with painted cabinets? What questions do you have about tackling this project? Let me know in the comments!
For another DIY, check out our hutch refresh here.