Thursday, April 28, 2016

How We Painted Our Cabinets {and Totally Transformed Our Kitchen}

About 9 months ago I took the plunge and painted our kitchen cabinets. I feel like this is the DIY project that most people are afraid to tackle because, hello! It is the kitchen. So much time is spent in the kitchen and it really is the focal point of the home – if it’s done sloppy, wrong or doesn’t turn out as expected it would be a huge headache and a lot of money to fix.

However, this is probably the best DIY project our family has done. Not only did it make a HUGE impact on our home and main living space but it was extremely cost effective at only $150.
Once upon a time, our kitchen looked like this:

Now it looks like this:

It was pretty yellow before. Maple was everywhere. Maple cabinets, maple floors. I walked in this room and it felt like it was constantly glowing (even after I painted the walls a beautiful shade of “perfect greige”).

Anyhoo, I knew I wanted a white kitchen. I feel like white cabinets appear decade after decade. They are timeless and classic and clean. I’ve got a thing for white cabinetry. I researched about 89 different ways to repaint our cabinets and talked to quite of few people that have done it themselves. After a year of preparing (read: convincing my husband it would work), I got to work. It took me 3 days total because I worked mostly by myself and also allowed for extra time between coats to dry.
First, let me tell you about our cabinets. The doors and faces of the cabinets are real wood and the sides and shelves are particle board.
Adding Bead Board to the Sides
I wasn’t sure how the fake veneer on top of the particle board would take the paint, so we opted to purchase sheets of white bead board from Home Depot. These sheets can be purchased for about $12 a piece. We needed three.
Darren cut the pieces to fit around the island (all the three sides) and the sides of the upper and lower cabinets. He used liquid nails and finishing nails with a nail gun to attach these pieces. Then use white, paintable caulk along the seams and edges. Also, use sand-able spackle to fill in the nail holes. Once that is dry, sand it smooth and it is ready for paint.

That step is done. I am so glad we added the bead board. It definitely gives the cabinets a more custom look and I’m pretty sure that’s why friends ask if I replaced our cabinets.

Cleaning the Cabinets

In order make sure the paint sticks the surface of the cabinets, use a heavy duty all purpose cleaner to clean the surface of all the cabinets. I used TSP (Trisodium Phosphate), followed the instructions on the back and scrubbed all the grime and grease off the cabinets. I ended up cleaning them twice to be sure they were really clean and I used a steak knife to scrape the nooks and crannies on the cabinet doors. Our cabinets were surprisingly filthy.

Prime the Cabinets

Remove all cabinets, drawers, and hardware. There are a couple ways to prime cabinets. The first is to tape off your entire kitchen and use a paint sprayer for the whole kitchen. I opted not to do this to avoid the mess and fumes in my house and instead used a 4” foam roller. The foam roller gives the primer (and paint) a smooth look and finish.

I rolled the primer on the faces of the cabinets, the cabinet doors, and the cabinet drawers. I used Kilz Latex primer and did two coats.
**Note: before I primed the cabinet doors, I used a hand sander to scuff them up a bit. This is the only sanding I did for the whole project. It wasn’t completely necessary because the TSP Cleaner took off quite a bit of the finish.
I used Behr Pure White paint in semi-gloss (semi-gloss is what you want because it far more scrubbable than lower quality finishes). Using the same foam roller, I painted the cabinets, bead board sides, and faces of the cabinets with two coats of paint.
For the cabinet doors, I borrowed a paint sprayer from my neighbor – much like this one. These things are AMAZING by the way. Once I got it loaded, it took me probably 15 minutes to spray all the fronts of the cabinets. I then waited an hour and did a second coat.
I allowed them to dry overnight, then sprayed the reverse side twice the next day.
Finish Work
Once the doors are dry, we used the same hardware to attach them to the frames of the cabinetry. I also reused the silver knobs we had. I did choose to replace the drawer handles, so I had filled (with wood filler) and sanded the holes BEFORE priming. Once the painting was done, Darren drilled new holes and we added the new hardware.
And voila! Brand “New” Kitchen. The total cost (not including the butcher block island top we installed prior to painting) was less than $150.

Here are a few questions/comments I get about my kitchen:
Isn’t that hard to keep clean?/Have fun cleaning the white kitchen!
This one is funny to me. Having a white kitchen doesn’t make it appear more dirty. The cabinets aren’t made of fabric, people. In fact, I feel like my kitchen looks much more clean. It’s also easier to clean because when spaghetti sauce or coffee goes flying, I can see where it is right away and wipe it up before it gets dry and crusty. Though I don’t always see it and have scrubbed off some dry apple sauce after it’s been there a while (probably weeks). Since we used a semi-gloss paint, scrubbing is not an issue.
Doesn’t it chip or peel?
Not really. Granted, they’ve only been painted for 9 months but I do have two young children who love to run into the cabinets with chairs, stools, and toys. And, you know, they spill things a lot. The only chips I’ve gotten are very minor and it’s been from accidentally stabbing the drawers with knives or forks when I’m putting things away (not from my kids). There was also a spot where the paint wore off a bit next to the knob on two of our frequently used cabinets. This was an easy touch up with foam roller. I’ve had zero issues with peeling.
Does it look professional?
There are some imperfections...if you look closely. The paint sprayers can cause a lot of dripping if you don’t watch your cabinets. After I sprayed them, I used the foam roller to roll the edges and avoid drips. The paint sprayer and catching the drips have definitely helped give our cabinets a quality look. We were also very fortunate that the surface of our cabinets is very smooth and not super grainy. You can hardly tell they were old cabinets because the finish looks very smooth.
Shouldn’t you use polyurethane or a top coat?
Some people do. And if you choose to do so, that’s fine. The reason I chose not to use a polyurethane or lacquer on top of the paint is because 1) it can yellow over time, the exact color I was trying to rid my kitchen of before, and 2) chips and wear and tear are going to happen over time no matter what. You can’t paint touch-ups on top of polyurethane so keeping your cabinets looking freshly painted would be a challenge.
And that's about it. We love our kitchen. Questions? Comment below.


  1. I like your blog a lot. Its informative and full of information. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, painting with airless spray gun will be faster and more interesting!

  3. Your cabinets look just like what we have in the house. My wife wants to paint, to be honest I am a big chicken. The wood isn't damaged and I too was afraid of chipping paint or a bad paint job. Your after pictures look great. For whatever reason painting the cabinets white makes it look warmer, go figure.

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  4. Your kitchen cabinets looks wonderful! I know you are so proud of it!

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  6. Just found your site and I love it! and I really like the information provided in this article and I really like the way you have explained each and everything so well. Very well done with the article, hope that you will continue to do posting.

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  7. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, painting with airless spray gun will be faster and more interesting!

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  8. Hello, your DIY works are awesome! Thank you for sharing the tips! It is very helpful and informative. Would love to see more updates from you.

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