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.



Full Nelson

Another Monday, another leap forward for our kitchen. Here’s where we were last week, after priming and painting the trim, doors, crown molding, and paneling white.

And here we are today, with the walls freshly coated with a little Nelson Blue (the light blue color that we’ve planned on from the start).

Shall we all let out a communal sigh of relief that the walls aren’t covered in wallpaper anymore and there are no more spackle holes and raw drywall from under those cabinets that we removed? Together now. Ahhhhh.

Update: There have been a few questions about the intercom and why we didn’t remove it yet, but we’re not sure if we’re going to retofit that with another system (maybe that plays an ipod in each room or something) so for now we’re planning to cover that whole wall with a nice framed out pinboard or something – so it’ll be hidden but the wiring will still be there for a future conversion.

Getting to this was a bit more involved than just getting our paint on, though. For instance, you may have noticed that our big over-the-range microwave is now missing from the scene.

It’s the only appliance we’ve planned to replace as part of our Phase 1 kitchen makeover, since it was so front & center in the room, it crowded our stove, and we always seem to prefer range hoods over microwaves with vents when it comes to performance. So we’ve replaced it with a stainless countertop version that we’ll eventually get “installed” into our pantry (which just calls for an outlet to be added in there so we can plug it in). It was just $78 at Home Depot (marked down from $139!) and that pantry solution isn’t just for phase 1, so we’re planning on using it for the long haul, even after Phase 2, which is nice.

Removing the old one wasn’t 100% straightforward, but we managed. We had to unscrew it from above through the upper cabinet, but the screw was recessed a few inches below the cabinet, so our drill barely reached. Since it was so dark down there, we ended up breaking out the oh-so-thin battery-powered fairy lights from Clara’s Halloween costume to provide some much-needed illumination. #MacGyvering

I supported the cabinet from below the whole time so when it eventually came lose from the screws that Sherry was removing from above, I could guide it down safely. That puppy was not light. Probably all the dried food splatters inside wiring and stuff.

Once we unscrewed the mounting bracket from behind the microwave, we also had this old vinyl backsplash to scrape off the wall. We knew we’d prefer a seamless painted wall back there for this phase of the kitchen’s transformation since we actually had a painted wall behind our first house’s fully renovated kitchen, and it held up well thanks to the paint being nice and wipeable – even with spaghetti splatters a plenty.

The pliable sheet of vinyl came off really easily (Sherry just used a spackle knife to pry it off) but it left the wall pretty pock-marked behind it. Thankfully it wasn’t anything a little spackle couldn’t handle.

We already had the spackle out because there were plenty of holes around the room to be filled (and sanded once dry). This is a terrible iPhone pic, but you can kind of see the extent to which some of the walls were nail-holed. We’re talking 20 in a three foot radius.

We finished all of our patching right before heading off on a whirlwind road trip to New Jersey for Thanksgiving, so it wasn’t until we got back on Friday afternoon that we could bust out the primer for our first coat (which is what many of you saw in our Instagram feed that evening).

Even though we were painting a light color over an already light wall, we chose to do a primer coat first for two reasons:

  1. The areas behind the cabinets that we took down had never been primed or painted, and it’s always good to prime drywall before painting it.
  2. Walls that haven’t been painted for several years may soak up more paint (as we experienced when painting Clara’s room) and we’d rather it soak up extra primer instead, since it’s cheaper than paint (one coat of primer + two coats of paint is almost always cheaper than three coats of paint because you usually need to buy more than one gallon of paint for more than two coats).

We knocked out our primer coat during Clara’s nap that afternoon using our usual Sherry-cuts-in / John-rolls system, which took the room from this…

…to this. Don’t mind the piles of stuff that we shifted to the center of the room, away from the walls. But much better, right?

That photo was taken Saturday morning, right before we broke out the Nelson Blue paint.

One thing we did to make our job (well, Sherry’s job) a bit easier was that we strategically taped off a few tight spots. Since it’s hard to squeeze into the gap between two doors, for example, we put tape along the edge of the door frame to protect the face of the molding from getting paint on it. It meant that Sherry could focus on making sure she got full coverage on the wall without worrying about messing up the crisp white molding next to it. And in less tight spaces, she’s great at just freehanding things (seven years of being the cutter-inner in the relationship can do that to ya).

We also decided to paint a couple of the eyesores in the room – like the yellowed doorbell box and an old phone jack next to the intercom box, which you can see two pictures down.

We originally worried the Nelson Blue was a bit too faint, but it definitely showed up a bit more distinctly once it began to dry.

We love the color. In fact, it almost feels like a nod back to our first kitchen’s wall color – although this one is a bit lighter and has more green to it, and the horizontal paneling around the bottom half of the room adds a little something extra. I’ll admit it’s a bit hard to fully appreciate the new color while the room is held back by things like the countertops, the cabinets, and the floor (we’re definitely in that “middle” stage, so it should start making more sense as we tackle other things on our list).

And we can definitely celebrate the fact that we’re a nice looooong way from where we started.

When you look at it from certain angles, you can almost trick yourself into thinking the room is a lot closer to done. For instance, the view from the front door is much improved.

And the little breakfast area is shaping up to be a nice combination of white trim + horizontal planking + blue walls + rustic wood. Just ignore the big intercom on the wall and the fake brick floor, mmkay?

So here’s what our kitchen to-do list is looking like now. We’ve officially crossed 9 things off and have 9 more to go… some of which are a lot easier than the nine we’ve already done (switching out lights and hanging shelves are a welcome relief after all this priming and painting – although that 15th bullet is going to be a multi-step multi-day extravaganza).

*To read why we’ve chosen these steps for Phase 1 (for example, why we’re painting the cabinets, why we’re not going to attempt to paint the linoleum, and what’s on the agenda for Phase 2) there’s lots of background info in this post for ya.

How was everyone else’s Thanksgiving weekend? From the Instagram comments we got, it sounds like lots of you were using the extra days to accomplish some stuff around the house. Meanwhile I’m still trying to shake off the last vestiges of my food coma. Too. Many. Rolls.

PS – As an extension of Small Business Saturday, a great local bookstore here in Richmond called Chop Suey Books is offering 10% off signed copies of our book until December 8th. Just call them at 804-422-8066 or email them at to get your copy (they’re happy to ship internationally).