Home Improvement

The Darkness

Even though a household-wide cold got our 2014 off to a rocky (well, sneezy) start this week. We still managed to get our lower cabinets stained darker as planned. PS: Anyone remember this song? I had the whole album and kinda loved it.

The change isn’t as dramatic as last week’s upper cabinet painting post, but as you can see below – we did achieve our goals of making them a slightly darker and less orange color while reducing (but not eliminating) the wood grain. The process took us about five days total, thanks to one day of prepping, one day of staining, one day of sanding and restaining, a full day of drying, and then a day of reassembly (hanging doors, adding new knobs, etc).

You’ll also notice that the knobs are missing on the outside of that peninsula. We decided to remove them since the backside of the peninsula isn’t super functional – it just gives us secondary access to some of the cabinets that also have doors on the other side, which is always where we’ve accessed them from. So we thought it’d look cleaner / less busy without them, without really losing any functionality (you can still pull them open by just pulling on the lip with your finger).

So before staining anything Sherry wood puttied the holes, let them dry, sanded, and repeated. We always like two coats of wood putty on big holes like this to account for any shrinking or dips (after the first one and the first round of sanding it’s rarely ready for the next step, so going into it expecting two coats is a nice check-yourself-before-you-wreck-yourself step).

If you’re staining it’s best to use wood putty that matches the tone of your wood, but we made this lighter stuff work just by dabbing a little more stain on the puttied parts with each coat of stain.

The stain that we used was Minwax PolyShades in a color we’ve never tried: Tudor (in a satin finish). We used PolyShades in the Espresso color upstairs on our bathroom vanity back in November and really liked how it worked out for us, so we decided to go with the same brand for the lower cabinets, except in a slightly warmer/less dark shade (we were inspired by kitchens with wooden lowers and light painted uppers like this and this). We bought two quarts ($13 each), but only ended up needing one for two coats, so we got to return the extra one.

The first step listed on the can is to sand everything lightly to rough up the surface and remove any gloss. Sherry actually wiped everything down with some warm soapy water first, since kitchen cabinets can collect lots of grease and dirt over the years. Then we removed all the doors and laid them out on cardboard in the garage so we could sand them, along with the frames and the drawers in the kitchen (our drawer fronts can’t be unscrewed, so they stayed in the kitchen propped up on the counters like the other ones we painted last week).

After sanding and wiping off all of the sanding dust, Sherry rubbed everything down with liquid deglosser (just to make sure it was clean and ready) and once that dried it was staining time. As the first coat went on it was… well, underwhelming. PolyShades is supposed to poly and shade, right? It looked like we were just giving it a glossier finish. Note: the drawer fronts that you see here are fake, so they couldn’t be removed and had to be stained in place.

But having already started we decided to see the first coat through and then adjust from there if needed. Maybe it would dry darker? The first coat on the doors (which we laid out in the garage) was a bit more encouraging…

The PolyShades stuff is pretty straightforward, but we do find it a little challenging to keep it from looking drippy or streaky, so we came up with a pretty simple method of dragging the brush along everything after it’s applied to smooth it out. I filmed this quick video of myself putting one coat on a door so you could see it in action:

In case you can’t watch the video, here’s the gist:

  1. The stain looks pretty thick which you first brush it on – which is enticing if you’re going for a darker color, but resist the urge to leave it thick because it’s so watery that thick coverage is an invitation for drips to come live at your house.
  2. Focus first on covering the area that you’re working on. Don’t worry too much about brush marks at first.
  3. Once you’ve got the whole area covered, go back over the whole surface with long, even strokes. This will thin everything out and make your brush lines more even. Although do as I show in the video (not in the pics below – oops) and brush in the direction of the wood grain. This will help any lingering brush lines blend with the wood grain better.

The first coat did seem to dry substantially darker than it looked when it was wet. It still wasn’t as dark as we wanted, but it showed enough promise that we ditched our plans to buy a darker color for the second coat. We wanted to give Tudor a chance with that second coat and then if it still wasn’t what we were looking for we’d go with something else as a third coat, but we had a feeling it would be a “slow build” to the right color after the second coat was applied (and allowed to dry, since it does darken during that process as well). Oh and between coats you’re supposed to rub the existing coat with some very fine steel wood (000 grade), which doesn’t visibly damage the finish, it just roughs it up enough for the second coat to hold nice and firmly. Sherry did the frames and sides and drawers inside and I tackled the doors in the garage.

Oh and just for anyone who wonders how these coats “build” – here’s a shot that demonstrates how the various coats looked going on and as they dried. You can see how we were definitely making progress, and how the “wet look” wasn’t a good predictor of how it’d dry.

And here’s a side-by-side of two doors once all was said and done, er, dried. It was exactly what we were hoping for: still warm and woodsy in tone, but less brassy/orange than the color we started with. We really liked that there was still some visible wood grain (our Espresso vanity upstairs doesn’t really have much of that, but we wanted to see some in the kitchen).

And here’s the full room once everything was reattached, including the new hardware (the same $2 octagon knobs from Target that we used on those uppers) and the same ORB-ed original hinges (you can read more on how we did that here).

As a reminder, this is where we were last week with those redder and more knotty lowers.

Now the main things holding this kitchen back are the counters and the floors (though camera angles like the one below do a good job of minimizing the floor issue, ha!). We’ve been debating if/how to tackle those for the past few months, and are now leaning towards a few inexpensive fixes to round out Phase 1. We’re never going to turn this into our dream kitchen with little band-aids, but we’re already amazed by how far the room has come, and if it’s anything like our first kitchen’s interim makeover, it’ll end up being a lot more pleasant to hang out in for the year(s) that we save up for Phase 2.

We’re pretty convinced about making over the existing counter tops with the concrete finish that people like Jenny and Kara have blogged about (especially since so many of you commented last week with tips about which sealers to use and specific methods that you’ve been really happy with). As for the floors, we’re still torn. Sherry leans towards peel-and-stick, like we did for our first kitchen’s Phase 1 update (which was pre-blog, but nice and easy/inexpensive). I lean more towards painting, since it means less to demo when it comes time for the real floor, but we both worry about the durability of paint since it’s somewhat scratch-prone (more on that here).

Hey, but for now let’s just celebrate that our lower cabinets have been a bit more modernized. And we no longer have white eyeball knobs looking at us anymore. Although the stare-down wasn’t as bad as our last kitchen. Plus, we’re finally the owners of tuxedo cabinets (white uppers, dark lowers), which we’ve admired for years. I’m pretty sure these counters and that stove weren’t in our dreams, but we’re also debating appliance spray paint for the stove and perhaps some chalkboard paint for the fridge (we want to do a bit more research first though, since we plan to craigslist them in Phase 2, and we don’t want to do anything to devalue them).

Also, we all seem to be mostly over our colds. 2014 is finally looking up!

How did your first weekend of the new year treat you? Did you dive into any projects you had been holding off on until the post-holiday season? Are you still eating leftovers and humming Christmas songs?

Psst- Clara’s having conversations on Young House Life again. And number 5 might be our favorite of all time.


A White Christmas

Nope, we didn’t wake up to snow on the lawn, but there was a dusting of white elsewhere on the premises…

We used last week to sand, prime, and paint all of our upper kitchen cabinets and – shocker – we ended up going with white. So yeah, it’s a little bit different from our original plan to paint them a light gray-tan on top… and a little more like what we did in our last kitchen – but just for those uppers. We have a completely different plan in store for the lowers – and it actually involves wood stain and no paint at all – so maybe as we move into 2014 we’re getting progressively less predictable? Or more woodsy? We also have some ideas for those countertops which we’ve never done before (either a refinishing/paint technique or a concrete coating one – both of which are budget friendly, so they should be great for Phase 1).

The tides shifted from Revere Pewter to Simply White for those upper cabinets around the time that we installed the range hood and put up the floating shelves. While we liked the idea of the white shelves & hood contrasting with putty colored upper cabinets, we started to worry that also having the darker lower cabinets might just be too much going on (white and putty on top with a third darker color for cabinetry on the bottom).

But the main thing we couldn’t wrap our heads around was a way to make crown situations like this one make sense with colored upper cabinetry. Usually crown matches the color of the cabinet, but wouldn’t it be weird to paint just a section of this crown to match the cabinets since there’s no indent where the cabinets end (it’s just one long piece along that entire area)? We already didn’t like the look of the mismatched cabinet and crown that we had going on, so continuing that theme with a new color on those uppers just didn’t seem like the right way for us to go.

So we went with white. As much as we wanted to do something new, we never like to do something different just for the sake of being different. And at least this way we can still stick with our plan to do the lower cabinets in a deep tone for that “tuxedo” look that we’ve always loved but never had the guts to try.

Now that we got through the why of what we did, let’s get a little into the how. Clocking in at nearly 2,000 words, this post is hardly short, but is gonna be quick and dirty compared to the picture-and-video-tastic tutorial that we did last time around since we used the same technique. So we’ll just share some broad details here, and you can reference that post for the nitty gritty. First up we removed the cabinet doors and gave every surface a light sanding, just to get rid of any glossiness and rough things up for better paint adhesion. Sherry used a hand sander on the doors in the garage with 150 grit paper, and I used an 150 grit sanding block on the frames inside.

Next we wiped everything down with a liquid deglosser. This is a low-VOC brand called Next that we had leftover from last time (originally found at Home Depot, although we hear it’s not there anymore). It’s an optional step, but we figure it never hurts to prepare the surface – especially when it just takes a bit of wiping. Plus after you sand it’s a nice way to get the sawdust off.

We then taped off the walls and other obstacles around the cabinets (like our newly installed hood) with painters tape to protect them and to make each of our sure-to-be-many coats go on as fast as possible.

With everything taped, we primed the frames with a brush and a small foam roller. We used a Kilz Premium primer because it’s stain-blocking but still no-VOC. This picture is after two coats of primer. Sherry’s the cutter-inner of the family, so she did the brushwork with a short handled 2″ angled brush, and I did the foam rollering, following right behind her around the room so I could roll over the edges that she brushed for the smoothest finish.

We considered using our paint sprayer for those interior frames, but ultimately decided to do the indoor stuff by hand. The amount of taping and drop-clothing that would’ve been required to protect the kitchen (and the three adjoining rooms) from paint over-spray just didn’t seem worth it – especially when weighing the need for a functional kitchen (and not subjecting a pregnant lady and three year old to the fine paint mist that seems to linger afterwards).

But we did use the paint sprayer outside to prime and paint our cabinet doors. And by outside, I mean the garage (since we had quite a bit of rain last week that ruined any chances we had of spraying outdoors). I set up a little station where I could coat one door at a time and then lay them out to dry.

For anyone out there thinking about using a sprayer on doors during cabinet painting, it’s a great way to get a nice smooth coat with less effort than doing the whole thing by hand. But you’ll probably want to get your bearings by practicing on a few other things first (you might not want your first spray job to be cabinets since it can take a little while to master the whole not-too-thick-and-drippy thing).

Back to the spraying process. After 24 hours of drying time, I flipped them over and did the other side. The actual spraying was pretty fast, but the waiting for the thick coverage to dry (and cleaning the sprayer in between daily coats) didn’t make it the breeziest process in the world. Although it certainly required less time than all the coats the frames inside took.

This is the desk area, where we also opted to paint the lowers. Both Sherry and I felt like this was all one unit (like a hutch in the eat-in area) unlike the peninsula-ed part of the kitchen, which we thought would look awesome with those dark lower cabinets. So over here we also painted the six drawer fronts by hand – since they didn’t detach from the drawers themselves. A lot of this cabinetry was surprisingly non-removable, for example the shelves inside don’t pop out (you’d literally need to demo out the frames to remove them). The picture below is after one coat of primer.

Note: much like our last kitchen, we opted to paint both sides of the doors, but to leave the inside of the cabinets unpainted (we think the contrast of wood inside + painted doors can actually be a nice combo when it’s done cleanly).

We opted to do two coats of primer based on what we learned when we painted the trim in this room. But you can see here that even that was still pretty spotty. You can also see where we used small pieces of painters tape to block paint from getting on the shelves for a nice clean look.

In the end, it took 2 coats of primer and 3 coats of paint in the areas that we did by hand (we used Benjamin Moore Advance in Simply White, which we love for the durability, the fact that it’s made for cabinets, the low-VOC non-oil formula, and the fact that it’s self leveling). Just for comparison, the doors that I sprayed in the garage only took one coat of primer on each side, and one coat of paint on each one (the coverage is a lot thicker, and you go through more paint, but it leaves you with a nice factory-like finish if you’re careful to avoid drips).

In short: spraying (even with that “cleaning the sprayer between coats” factor) is definitely faster – but I’m still not convinced it would’ve been a good choice for the frames since the entire room would have needed to be taped off for the entire process and a fine mist of paint and primer would have lingered in the air for a while.

All told this was a week-long update for us, which can roughly  be summarized like this – day 1: sanding, deglossing, primer coat #1, day 2: primer coat #2, day 3: paint coat #1, day 4: paint coat #2, day 5: paint coat #3, day 6: another full day of drying, day 7: re-hanging doors and adding the new hardware).

We also updated the hinges and the hardware. The hinges were a worn brass color, so we went oil-brubbed bronze with them since we liked the idea of doing contrasting hardware this time around (we’ve done brushed nickel in our past two kitchens). To help the paint job hold up on the hinges, we sprayed them with some “clean metal primer” first too, since we’ve heard such good things about this particular product (we’ve seen others use it specifically on moving parts like hinges, with luck – so we’ll keep you posted about how it wears).

The ORB went on nice and smoothly when that coat of primer dried, and so far the hinges look great and have worked well (there’s no gumminess or grinding/peeling) so for about $11 it was well worth the update so far. Ultimately we’d like to have hidden hinges, but it’s not easy or cheap with these cabinets (these doors are half-sunk, and they don’t sell off-the-shelf hidden hinges for those type of doors) so we’ll save that dream for Phase 2.

We weren’t crazy about the shape and detail on the original brass and white knobs, so instead of spraying those we picked up a few boxes of the same Target octagon knobs that we used in our master bathroom, since they come in at under $2 each.

We like how high contrast they are against the white, which seems to be something we’re gravitating towards lately (think stair runner, our stenciled bathroom floor & dark vanity, etc).

Ahhhhh, this feels a lot more like home. Just ignore the faux brick floor, those old counters, and those off-white appliances – we’ll get there eventually.

I think the before and afters from this POV really show the difference. This is what the sink area looked like on inspection day…

And here’s the same angle now.

We’re gonna tackle those lower cabinets this week – which is a place we’re again veering off course from the original plan. You’ll remember we said we liked the idea of a deep stone colored paint on them here, but then near the top of this post we mentioned stain. Now that the uppers are painted, we actually like how the wood tone is playing off of them, so we’re feeling less paint-y and more stain-y. Ah yes – THE PLOT THICKENS!

And just for fun, here’s one more throwback shot of our kitchen before we moved in. It’s pretty amazing what a series of affordable updates – like stripping wallpaper, removing  a few cabinets, hanging shelves, and priming and painting the cabinets – can do.

Did anybody else tackle some big-ish projects over Christmas week? Or are you just gonna make us jealous and say you spent the week stuffing your face with cookies and watching Elf on repeat?

Psst- Sherry’s over on Young House Life chatting about New Kids On The Block and teacher gifts.