How To Paint Your Cabinets (aka: Hallelujah!)

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):


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:

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…

…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.






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