How To Paint Your Cabinets (Hallelujah, They’re Done!)

It’s finally here. The day that we get to wake up and pad into a kitchen that used to look like this…

And see this…

So here’s how we did it from soup to nuts. Wait, first let me gush a little more. Seriously, it doesn’t even feel like the same room. Scroll back up and picture yourself standing next to the fridge in the “before” shot. The cabinets felt about two feet away from you on all sides. I can’t explain it, but it was like the room didn’t respect my personal space and was always inching towards me. It was all up in my area. Now when I stand at the sink or pantry, I literally feel like I could perform a small musical number (with a minimum of six Glee backup dancers). It just feels so much roomier. Plus no weird cabinet knob-eyes are looking over my shoulder anymore. Bonus.

But let’s get back to the present. Ahh, much better.

Our big cabinet-painting victory hardly happened overnight. We’ve been slowly working up to this sucker for a while now. First we painted the paneling, the fireplace, and the beams. Then we rearranged our cabinets a bit, got new appliances and, oh yeah, got a big beautiful hole busted in the wall. Then some cabinets came in, others came down, and eventually new counters made their way to us. Finally, the painting project was upon us. So first came the primer

… and, at long last, the paint. Speaking of the paint, we used Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint in Cloud Cover in a satin finish (it’s a soft tonal taupey-gray color, so it’s not quite as bright as our glacier white counters for a subtle layered look). Benjamin Moore Advance paint actually came recommended by a few pro cabinet painters that we know. We went with the satin finish because it’s specially formulated for cabinets (they actually came out with satin first and only added semi-gloss later to help folks who wanted more shine). We used it on our office cabinets a few months back (which still look great after Clara has beat on them relentlessly with wooden fruit) so it’s safe to say that we’ve been extremely happy with it. The fact that it’s low-VOC, self-leveling, and amazingly durable is pretty much the best thing ever.

Since a bunch of you have asked, here’s a rough timeline of the cabinet painting process (we just worked on nights after Clara went to bed and weekends during her naps, so it’s a good indication of what anyone with a day job might be able to follow):

  • Day 1: We removed the cabinet doors (including drawerfronts) and hardware (including hinges), applied wood filler to cracks and hardware holes, let everything dry for a few hours, lightly sanded the putty spots by hand, and refilled them with a second layer of wood filler wherever necessary. We did the same to the cabinet frames. Our wood filler of choice was Elmer’s ProBond Professional Strength Wood Filler.
  • Day 2: With the wood filler completely dry, we used a palm sander to smooth any putty spots and rough up all cabinet doors in the sealed off sunroom (it’s a dusty job). We then emptied out all the kitchen cabinets and covered appliances with drop cloths so we could also use the sander on our cabinet frames (roughing everything up = better adhesion). After everything was sanded, we wiped it down with a liquid deglosser (we like Next from Home Depot because it’s low-VOC and biodegradable). Read a lot more on the puttying, sanding, and deglossing steps of this process here (there are lots of pics too!).

 

  • Day 3: Cabinet door backs and cabinet frames were primed (we love Zinsser Smart Prime which is high-quality, stain-blocking, and low-VOC – the primer trifecta). We applied it with a high quality 2″ angled brush to get into all the cracks and a small foam roller to smooth everything out and ensure that we were applying super thin and even coats (there’s a video of the application process a bit further down in this post)
  • Day 4: We flipped the cabinet doors over and primed the fronts, leaving them to dry another 24 hours, just like the backs. Read more about the priming steps of this process here (there are extra pics too!).

  • Day 5: With the primer all done and dry (be sure to read the can – ours said not to over-prime, so one coat did the trick), during Clara’s nap we flipped the cabinet doors over again and painted one coat of paint on the backs (we used Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint in Cloud Cover). We applied it with a high quality 2″ angled brush to get into all the cracks and a small foam roller to smooth everything out and ensure that we were applying super thin and even coats (there’s a video of the application process a bit further down in this post). Clara woke up before we could paint the frames, so after she went to bed that night we put a first coat on the cabinet frames.
  • Day 6: We applied a second coat of paint on the back of the cabinet doors and the frames after Clara went to bed. As for applying any sealer or topcoat, the general pro recommendation for cabinet painting is to use high quality stain blocking primer and 2-3 thin and even coats of super high quality paint with ample drying time between coats (Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint is meant for cabinets without any top coat, since sealers can drip, yellow, and even cause things to stick/crack since they thicken the application).
  • Day 7: We gave the doors a full day to dry before flipping them over and applying a first coat to the fronts (the reason we did the backs first was that just in case the backs got marked up while we painted the front, at least the front would remain pristine). The day of drying time did the trick though, so the backs look as good as the fronts.
  • Days 8 & 9: We applied the first and second coat of paint to the front of the doors over these two days. Read a lot more on the puttying, sanding, and deglossing steps of this process here (there are lots of pics too!).

  • Days 10 – 13: We let the doors dry and cure for the recommended time on the can (always read the can!).
  • Day 14: We drilled for and installed the hardware on all of the doors (more on that in a sec). We also hung the doors but ran out of time before getting to the drawer fronts.
  • Day 15: We installed hardware on the drawer fronts, put the drawers back in, and restocked the kitchen. A droopy but spirited happy dance also ensued.

All that info above (and those three bolded links to the previous posts on puttying/sanding/deglossing, priming, & painting) should be enough to get you going on any cabinet-painting project – but just because I always think a video is worth a thousand pics, here’s a quick one that runs through the process for you. Although at some points I’m so delirious that I make up words (putty brush?) and refer to primer as paint about a dozen times. But it definitely can be helpful to see exactly how to putty a hardware hole or how to prime and paint a cabinet door. Enjoy!

As for the hardware installation details that we promised in our timeline above, we bought these handy Liberty Hardware guides at Home Depot for $7 to help us place everything evenly (centered side to side, and consistently at the same height so all the doors match up). Let’s call it the best seven beans we’ve ever spent (it’s incredibly nerve-wracking to drill through your freshly painted cabinet doors, to say the least – so any tool to make it more of a science is a friend of mine). My only tip is to double check everything ten times before drilling. And see those white blobs on the template on the left? Those are small pieces of masking tape that we used to surround “the good holes” (the ones we were using) so we didn’t accidentally drill into the one to the left or the right.

We also realized that using a small piece of scrap wood would shift all of the handles a smidge closer to the edge of the door, which we realized we liked best (after holding the handle in various places on the template). So we used this scrap wood piece…

… for marking each door with a pencil…

Then John drilled a small pilot hole first (to make sure he was going straight into our marked dot and ensure the wood wouldn’t crack or splinter). Then we went back through with a larger drill bit that would allow the screw that was provided with our hardware to slide right on through.

By some miracle, everything ended up looking nice and even. Whew. You know how sometimes when you reuse something (ex: our oak cabinets from the early 80’s) you think it’ll somehow be wonky or look cheap after something like a paint job? I’m happy to report that they look so solid and amazing. We had completely new cabinets in our first house’s kitchen (to the tune of 7K – ouch!) and we’re just as happy with these. I guess sometimes solid oak from 30 years ago is just as good as solid oak from today. Haha.

Oh and our new hardware is from here for $3.24 per handle. We love the way the satin nickel looks with our stainless appliances (and we think the soft gray backsplash will only add to the fun. We got all the same hardware for every door and drawer, but just placed them horizontally on drawers and vertically on doors. Speaking of money, here’s our entire budget breakdown:

  • Wood filler (Elmer’s ProBond Professional Strength Wood Filler from Home Depot): $7
  • Primer (we used Zinsser’s Smart Prime from a local Benjamin Moore store: $22
  • Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint (in Cloud Cover in a satin finish): $40 (thanks to a coupon)
  • All new hardware (see that link above): $84
  • All new hinges (from a local hardware store here called Pleasant’s): $89
  • Hardware templates (by Liberty Hardware from Home Depot): $7
  • Total cabinet makeover total: $249

Not bad when you compare that to the 7K total of the new white cabs that we selected for our first house’s much smaller kitchen. Le yikes. And we love that we added an entire peninsula with secondhand cabinets for under $95 (one of them was even free) – which is definitely one of those DIY coups that makes ya proud. All that storage and extra workspace is already coming in handy.

Anyway, to get back the whole putting-the-room-back-together thing, after we added the hardware, we just needed to reattach the hinges…

… and enjoy the view (don’t mind the clashy dishwasher- we’ll install our stainless one after we lay the cork floors so they’ll run underneath it).

I’ve totally been doing that thing where you spend way more time in a room than necessary, just staring at things. I keep gravitating towards the kitchen (ex: Clara, let’s go read this book on the floor next to the refrigerator!).

Oh and here’s a shot of how things look with the natural oak color inside the cabinets while the doors and fronts are painted. We don’t mind the two tone look at all, and this way we can toss things in there and pull them out without worrying about scratching or peeling paint (we did the same thing in our first kitchen and in our office built-in cabinets, and they really hold up nicely). Our tip would be to just keep a nice clean line around the frames when you prime/paint them (using a small foam roller sort of does that for you). That way it looks intentionally two-toned and not crazy-sloppy when you open the door. And yes, that is a slide out cutting board. Our cabinets may be old, but they still have their tricks. Haha.

For those who can’t watch the video above to see my shot of the painted cabinets up close, the picture below might shed a little light on the whole oak-grain thing. Using high quality primer and good self-leveling paint helps hide a lot although it doesn’t guarantee 100% invisible grain (we don’t see any evidence of grain on the oak cabinets in the office but do see a hint of it on the kitchen cabinets, so it probably just depends how much grain your cabinets have to begin with). We don’t mind painted wood that looks like painted wood though, so a little grain is ok with us, as long as the paint is nice and even and glossy.

Words can’t express how much additional function/workspace our little peninsula added to the kitchen. It’s amazing to think that none of these cabinets were here before our makeover! And the fact that we gained a 3 x 5′ counter on that peninsula already makes eating/baking/spreading out and doing crafts there a regular occurrence.

We mentioned in this post that two of the retrofitted cabinets were 100% seamless, and it’s these babies in the corner. We don’t think Sherlock Holmes himself could tell, even with his nose an inch away from them. Hurrah!

As I mentioned here, the three other retrofitted doors are tad less than perfect. By this I mean if you look at them from an inch away for five minutes (bobbing your head back and forth to catch the light bouncing off of them) two out of ten people might notice a tiny seam. The cabinet hanging above the cereal jars in the photo below is one of them. See how it’s almost impossible to pick up from far away…

But when you get super close and the light hits it just the right way you might be able to catch a super subtle horizontal line? In person it’s so unnoticeable that we can’t decide if it’s worth doing anything about, but we’ll keep you posted if we decide to sand them one more time and use some sort of buildable primer and a few more coats of paint to hopefully make them as perfect as the two corner cabinet doors are.

I don’t know why I love this shot but I do. John’s totally my hero for figuring out how to build in the fridge like that. Mah man.

 

Oh my gosh, can you even believe that room looked like this last December when we moved in? In case you can’t tell, it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around that.

The doorway to the dining room definitely helps bring the light in – and the glossier cabinets and bright white counters definitely brighten things up too.

Here’s the other side of Dark City:

And the same view now that I’m the Mayor of BrightVille!

Of course there’s still tons to do, like…

  • hang our backsplash tile
  • add floating shelves & a range hood
  • redo all the lighting (two pendant lights over the peninsula + inset lights in the cooking area)
  • install our mocha cork floors (can’t wait to balance out the brightness with some rich contrast!)
  • install the new dishwasher
  • add quarter-round and crown molding
  • possibly tweak our stools (we’re waiting for the room to take shape a bit more)

…but it’s definitely progress. Hooray, progress. So who’s about to embark on a cabinet painting adventure of their very own? I hope this post full of details (and especially that little video we whipped up) come in handy! Have fun and don’t forget to make up words (might I recommend putty brush?).

PS: We’re over on BabyCenter sharing a tearful little announcement. More on that here.

UPDATE: Our painted cabinets are still holding up great. Check out a little update post here.

Comments

  1. says

    I laughed so hard at the prolonged pause after step 6: wait. The longer the pause went on, the more I laughed. The kitchen looks great. I am totally inspired.

    • Penny says

      That part got me too. Also Sherry’s little song. “Dee dee-dee dee-dee dee-dee. Doot doot-doot doot-doot.”

  2. Alison says

    I love it!!!!!! It looks amazing!! I’m excited about what you are going to do with the barstools. As much as I like the biology lab look, I know you will be able to add much more character to them.

  3. says

    It looks fantastic…such a huge difference. You guys are amazing!

    FYI, I have a fridge with that “stainless look but fingerprint resistant” look too, and it scratches. Now that there’s a scratch across mine, I see that it’s like a thin plastic silver looking film. Just be careful…

  4. says

    If anyone ever doubted that you guys had AMAZING design vision , this should change their minds. It looks incredible. I really cannot believe the difference and I think I’ll be printing out before and afters of your house when we (someday) go house shopping. It will serve as a reminder how different a place can look with a little bit of paint and a lot of elbow grease!

  5. says

    This is awesome!! Thank you for all the detailed steps. My husband and I are planning to paint our existing cabinets soon, and we have no idea what we’re doing, haha. Yours turned out fab so yeah, we’ll be following the Petersik method!

  6. says

    I would like to give you a high five because this looks so good and bright and airy and like a breath of fresh air, except I can’t because my arms are frozen to my side right now since I just came in from lunch and the high today is 21 degrees. It was approximately (exactly) 5.5 degrees without windchill when I woke up.

    When I thaw out in the spring you promptly have a high-five coming you way.

  7. Ruthie says

    Amazing. I can see the heavenly glow of the clean crisp white cabinets! Even the cabinets you found and added in the peninsula look great!

    I love the fresh green plants on the counters… Job choice idea #2… Professional Stagers??

  8. says

    It looks AWESOME!! What a transformation! I am just going to be honest. When you rigged up the cabinet doors, as in cutting them and then putting them back together to get the right size, I thought you were crazy. Completely and totally crazy! But they look wonderful. I just stared at my computer screen for a good 5 minutes and could not see a line in the picture….everything is a little blury now as I type this…staring at the computer screen may not have been my best idea…kidding :)

    My husband and I actually just repainted our cabinets last month so I feel your pain. I still just walk into our kitchen to admire it :) Next is backsplash! High five for some white subway tile! Woo Woo

    • says

      Haha, that’s funny! We usually can tell as we write a post like the door-cutting one that a good percentage of the folks reading will think we’re totally nuts! Haha. So glad it worked out for us this time! Although I have to admit, we’re just doing the whole trial and error thing, so things can totally bomb too! We just try to figure out as much as we can as we go!

      xo,
      s

  9. Kelly says

    I have 3 comments (ha! I actually wrote “cabinets” first and meant to write comments! teehee!)

    1. I have to laugh at the number of times you write “Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint in Cloud Cover”. :o) In the past two days with all of the posts and comments, I’m guessing you can probably type it on a keyboard as fast as your name.

    2. Like another poster said, I have to admit that I was skeptical from the time you painted the kitchen “grellow”. I seriously thought, okay, Sherry and I just DO NOT have the same taste. :o) And then with every step along the way, I started seeing it come together and now I’m AMAZED! It looks FANNNNNNNNNNNNN-TAST-IC!!!!

    3. But, cabinets aside, WHAT THE HECK IS WITH THE CUTTING BOARD??? How does it work?? I love cabinets with secret pockets and features!! I think I may need to get me one of those pull-out-dillios!

    Great job guys!! I am so addicted to your blog!

    • says

      Haha, you’re cracking me up. The cutting board pulls out and can be used on the counter and then washed and tucked back in. Instead of leaning or stacking on things it just has a little hidden cubby on the top of the cabinet- which is actually pretty fun! It took us about three months to even discover it was there. It’s the James Bond of cutting boards.

      xo,
      s

  10. says

    Glad to see you ARE human. My daughter/blog partner and I were wondering this morning how you two do all that you do. So, I completely understand your need to stop writing the Baby Center blog entry. We have loved your kitchen’s progress. Jordan’s husband is almost over the fence on a thumbs up to our painting their kitchen cabinets. (I will be visiting them for a week this month). Your post today just might bring him over to Team White. Let’s hope!!!

  11. says

    AMAZING transformation. And you guys are so awesome for providing the step by step to perfectly painted cabinets. Our most likely original to the house (ie: made in the ’70’s) oak cabinets were painted white when we moved in, but the paint is totally wearing off around the handles and on the edges. I was fearing the re-painting process but now am much less apprehensive. Do you recommend totally stripping the paint first before priming or just a nice even sanding job?

    I can only hope our kitchen looks as classy as yours when all the hard work is done :)

  12. Kathleen says

    The kitchen looks great!! I have a question for the experts :) I’m trying to find ways to re-do my kitchen. Currently the cabinets are white and the counter-top is white. I was considering painting the cabinets brown. I’m trying to go with a coffee/red theme.

    Do you think that would work? Or does white paint seem to be the way to go?

  13. Sophie says

    Love the new look of the cabinets! This a potentially really dumb question but I was wondering if you labelled the doors so you knew which door went where. Or was it easy to tell?

    • says

      We actually laid them out in a specific order in the sunroom so when we did the hardware for each one and brought them back in, the order helped us place them! Hope that helps!

      xo,
      s