Our First House

How To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

Update: We have a much newer cabinet-painting post with more photos, details, and even a video for you here

If you can paint a wall (and even if you can’t) you can paint your kitchen cabinets. There are just a few tried and true rules when attempting this project, so if you follow the simple steps outlined below it’ll be pretty hard to screw things up. And although you’ve all seen our newly renovated kitchen, we actually painted our previous 50-year-old knotty pine cabinets right after we moved in (to tide us over until we had the funds to replace them altogether). Check out the dark and dingy kitchen that we inherited with the house:

And the refreshing “after” thanks to only a few hours of prepping and painting:

So how did we do it? Easy peasy.

Step 1: Figure out what you want. Bring home paint swatches and select the perfect palette, and if you’re planning to replace your hardware, purchase some before you move on to the next step. Because most old hardware is a different size than newer hardware (the holes are further apart or closer together), it’s important to know if your new door and drawer bling is spaced differently than your current hardware before you begin. Then it’s nice to wash everything down with a little soap and water to cut the grease and the spills that have built up on the doors and drawers over the years. Nothin’ like a little sponge bath to get you in the mood to makeover your kitchen…

Step 2: Take it off, baby. Now it’s time to remove all of your hardware and your hinges (regardless of whether you’ll be reusing it or replacing it- and it helps to store everything in a big ziplock bag so you’re never short a screw). Of course by removing the hinges you’ll be removing all the doors, so finding a place that you can lay out a big fabric or plastic drop cloth (which are about $2 from Home Depot or Lowe’s) is a good idea. Once you have your drop cloth in place, lay out all your cabinet doors and drawers so you can paint them all together in one convenient spot (and have full access to the frames of the cabinets in the kitchen).

Step 3: Fill ‘er up. Then if you’re replacing your hardware with something that won’t fit the existing holes in your doors and drawers, you’ll want to pick up some wood filler (it’s around $6 a tube, which is all ya need) and fill those existing hardware holes in all of the doors and drawers. There are many different colors of wood fill, but since you’re painting your cabinets, matching the tone isn’t really a big deal (although it can’t hurt to grab the one that most closely resembles the color of your current cabinets).

Step 4: Get sandy. The sanding process isn’t always necessary (for example, our cabinets weren’t glossy so we skipped it and went straight to priming) but for some people with super shiny cabinets (aka: lots of polyurethane) it can’t hurt to run an electric sander over everything- or take a bit more time to hand sand things- with fine grit paper to rough everything up for maximum paint stickage. Not sure if yours need to be sanded? If they feel matte like a cutting board (a little absorbent) then they shouldn’t need it, but if they feel shiny like a laminated piece of paper or a glossy credit card then sanding is your best bet. Note: lead paint is a serious health risk when sanding, so if you have an older home with already-painted cabinets that look decades old it’s worth testing for lead with a $6 lead test kit from Home Depot. Safety first!

Step 5: It’s prime time. Due to all the grease and even just the wood stain that often coats kitchen cabinets, it’s über important to get down and dirty with oil-based primer (even if the water-based equivalent claims that it works just as well on cabinet surfaces, we’ve seen stains seep right through that stuff, so oil-based is the better-safe-than-sorry alternative). One coat of primer applied with a decent quality roller should do the trick (then just use a brush to get into those tigher spaces and the grooves in the doors). We prefer wool or polyester rollers (Purdy’s a great brand) over foam ones as we’ve found that they rile up the paint and cause bubbles. Oh and it doesn’t matter if you can still see the wood tone underneath after one coat, the primer’s main job is to make your cabinets sticky and the paint will do the rest. You’ll probably want to snag an extra brush just for priming since they’re usually pretty messed up afterwords (it’s best to toss it or save it for other priming projects and use a pristine new one for painting). And ditto with the roller. We usually don’t even try washing the oil-based paint out of it- and prefer to replace it with a fresh new one before painting for a seamless result (reused rollers and brushes can often compromise the smooth finish that you’re going for when it comes to your cabinets).

Step 6: Get your paint on. You’re in the home stretch, so just two coats of latex paint (in a semi gloss finish for easy wipe-ability) are next on the agenda. You’ll definitely want to wait a few hours after applying primer, but I actually primed and painted my cabinets (two coats!) all in the same day. When it comes to applying the paint, a high quality wool or polyester roller makes for the sleekest application. A mini foam roller can also help since it’s smaller and easy to control. You’ll also probably need to use a brush sparingly, just to get into those little cracks and crevices that your roller can’t reach. Do yourself a favor by buying an angle-tipped brush as opposed to a flat-tipped one- they make staying in the lines a lot easier.

Note: We didn’t prime or paint the inside of the doors, but our approach would be to prime/paint them first and then wait five days and turn them over and prime/paint the outside (that way if anything got a bit imperfect after being flipped face down, it would be on the inside- an therefore less noticeable).

Step 7: Wait for it. After two coats of latex paint you now have to practice patience. Most experts advise waiting at least three days to rehang or begin using your doors and drawers (especially since the rehanging process involves lots of holding and pressing and drilling which can muck up anything that’s not 100% dry). We actually advise waiting five days if ya can (it beats doing the whole thing all over again and guarantees a totally seamless finish even in high humidity).

Step 8: Hang in there. Then all you have to do is rehang your doors (either using your existing hinges or new ones), slip in your drawers, and add your hardware. If the hardware is new, take time to measure twice before you drill to avoid any annoying mistakes that will make you want to putty and repaint, which never looks as good as the flawless finish that you get the first time around. John actually took his sweet time drilling all of our holes for the new hardware (to the tune of about two hours) but it was well worth the assurance that everything was perfectly centered and right where it should be. In this case slow and steady wins the race.

*Oh and it bears noting that if your cabinets are anything but solid wood (laminate, veneered, etc) you should definitely take off a door or a drawer and bring it with you to your local hardware store and ask the paint pro there what they recommend. There are some great oil-based primers and enamel paints out there so it might be possible to get a semi-durable finish (although none as long-lasting as solid wood paint jobs). The key is really roughing up the surface so it’s less glossy and then priming and painting with the best stuff they have (usually oil or enamel based). Oh and don’t forget to let everything dry for a while so things can cure up and get super durable for the long haul.

So that about does it for our cabinet painting and refinishing tutorial. Of course Step 9 is to invite all of your friends over for celebratory margaritas or to do the happy dance every time you walk into your amazing new space. We hope this will help you completely transform your kitch on a dime and in a flash. And just in case you need a few more before & after pictures to convince you, here are two clients of ours that we helped transform their rooms with painted cabinets:

Here’s Kim’s crazy blue kitchen that she inherited with her home:


And here’s her two-tone masterpiece after a quick paint makeover (we suggested slightly different colors for her upper and lower cabinets):



And here’s Carla’s kitchen before she came to us for help:



And here it is after we encouraged her to paint her cabinets a crisp glossy white tone (along with her dining room chairs) while the dining table went black to mimic the backsplash:



Amazing what a little paint can do, eh? And if they can do it you can to! So if you have a spare weekend or even a few week nights you’ll be well on your way to a totally new room. Happy painting…

In need of a furniture painting tutorial? Fret not, we’ve gotcha covered.

Update: We have a much newer cabinet-painting post with more photos, details, and even a video for you here.



7 Sweet Table Setting Ideas For Your Next Dinner Party

Ever since DIY styled their way through our home we’ve been super excited to rearrange our own pieces (many of which used to spend most of their time tucked away in our cabinets) to refresh every shelf, side table, and bookcase in our house. But why stop at those surfaces when we can play around with place settings? And thanks to the abundance of flowers and produce leftover from the shoot, I was able to whip up a few fun and festive table setting scenarios with everyday objects that I already had around the house. All in under five minutes per place setting. I couldn’t believe how easy and fun it was- as evidenced by the fact that this post was originally going to be about three place setting ideas and I just couldn’t stop myself…

First I pulled out my basic white plates and bowls (John and I aren’t fancy china people, we just have one simple white set of dishware that we use for everything from Domino’s pizza to fancy anniversary dinners). Then for some added color I brought out some green fabric napkins.

I also added our stemless wine glasses to keep the whole table feeling swanky and low profile, and kept the centerpiece simple to work with the casual green & white theme. I also grabbed two little green bowls and added an apple inside each one for interest. Then I pulled out four artichokes (also leftover from the DIY shoot) and popped them each into a bowl with a handwritten card stock name tag slipped under one of the artichoke’s spiky-thingies (I believe that’s the scientific term). Voila, a sweet and simple table setting with a bit of unexpected charm (thanks to the place-card wielding artichokes). And a little grocery store bouquet, two apples, and four artichokes is all it takes to recreate this entire setting in your home.

My next tablescape was a bit more flower focused. I created three different bouquets (all in different shades of pink) and actually used three different vases for a mixed & matched feel (well one was a candle holder, one was a mercury glass cup, and the third was an actual vase). Then I filled two of my old collected wine bottles with water (but wine would really do the trick- even lemon or cucumber flavored water to be fancy). Out came the green ceramic bowls again (for serving fruit or salad) and our cute lemon & lime paper napkins (still leftover from our 7/7/07 wedding) added some more interest and color. Again I chose my stemless wine glasses which almost disappear, and also grabbed two pink and two yellow vases (picked up at Ikea a few weeks back) and placed them on each plate with a single bloom in the center. I imagined that these would make nice favors that you could send home with guests at the end of the night. Cute, right? And all you’ll need to recreate this look is a few old wine bottles (cleaned and de-labeled), a few small bouquets of flowers, and some tiny cheap-o vases (that don’t even have to match).

My next setting was more on the natural side. Three of my favorite succulents (they’re called Burro Tails) lined the table and out came the recycled wine bottles again. Then I added some cute little drinking glasses with natural woven sleeves and dug four corks out of a glass jar in the kitchen (we’ve slowly amassed a little collection). I then stood each cork on its end and cut a horizontal slit in the top of each one just deep enough to slip a tiny piece of card stock that served as a place card. White fabric napkins finished the natural and clean look. And all you need to recreate this look is the aforementioned recycled wine bottles, a few corks, and some house plants to repurpose as centerpieces for the day. Oh and the woven cups are extra credit.

After such a low key and natural setting I wanted to kick things up a notch and do something extra sparkly, so I basically just pulled out all the candles I could find and used a hurricane that usually lives on the den’s mantel as the centerpiece. Some coral and a ceramic flower tea light holder added a bit of interest and I actually pulled out our regular drinking glasses and repurposed our stemless wine glasses as candle holders on each plate. Again these could be cute little favors (any type of candle holder with a tea light in it would make a great little gift) and this entire look can be yours for next to nothing (assuming you have a bunch of mismatched candles in your home already- and maybe even a few other white ceramic objects for added dimension).

After my white on white scheme I was itching to inject a little more color again. So I stuck a simple bouquet into a glass cup, threw out a few lemons and limes for casual charm, and whipped out some Pellegrino along with my recycled wine bottles and a few other smaller glass bottles that I happened to have lying around. All that green glass paired with the lemons and limes made me want to add even more green. So I used those same green ceramic bowls, but this time for a totally different purpose. They easily became festive place card holders thanks to two lemons that I cut in half and then placed cut-side-down in each bowl. One tiny horizontal slit in the top of each lemon allowed me to slip in some card stock place cards and our lemon & lime wedding napkins polished things off. For this setting all ya need is a few bottles of Pellegrino, some recycled wine bottles, a small bouquet and some fresh and fruity lemons and limes. Easy peasy.

Anyone who knows us knows that we adore pale blue. Not only is it our favorite paint color (both our bedroom and our kitchen are painted a subtle gray-blue) but we love collecting pale blue accessories, like these glass vases. After snatching up all the blue glass that I had in the house (from candle holders to vases and bottles) I set everything down on the runner to create a gleaming tablescape accented with simple white plates and napkins and our regular old drinking glasses. And for a bit of added interest and color at each place setting, I added tiny blue dishes that I had laying around (they’re meant for soy sauce when you serve sushi) and popped a place card in each one to give them a bona fide purpose. And all you need to create this look is a few colored glass bottles, cups, and vases (in any color, all pink or all orange would be awesome too!) and a few contrasting blooms for height and interest. Piece of cake.

And this last place setting is a lot less formal than the rest. I imagined this might come in handy if a few of the girls are coming over for some snacking or a light fruit and salad brunch or something. I’ve always loved a buffet, so setting out a few small fruit bowls (those trusty green dishes), salad bowls (those fun scalloped white bowls) and some small plates (for any little snacky things) would pretty much do the trick. Then laying out some fabric napkins and some cute little glass bottles of pink lemonade or even Orangina would really add charm (along with a bouquet of flowers if you just happen to have one laying around). Presto, another simple place setting with that oh-I-just-threw-this-together appeal.

So there you have it. Seven simple ways to create a fresh and festive table that says “sit down and stay a while” without breaking the bank. I think one of my favorite things was creating unexpected place card holders (with everything from artichokes to wine corks) and seeing how quickly our simple white everyday servingware could look transform when paired with a few carefully chosen accessories. Now it’s your turn! Tell us about your favorite centerpiece and place card ideas and of course feel free to send us some pics as well. We’re always up for learning new things, and we can’t wait to see what table setting tips and tricks you guys have up your sleeves.