What I Learned: Painting Kitchen Cabinets

4 Jan

As I promised yesterday, I want to share with you dear readers what I learned from this kitchen cabinet painting process in the hopes that your kitchen cabinet painting adventures will be less, if only slightly, painful.

As a reminder, we went from this:


To this…just painting the cabinets:

Someone asked me if I liked the Rustoleum product the other day and my answer is…yeah, maybe. It was a good intro for me into the realm of cabinet painting and I liked that it was simpler than other cabinet painting advice. (After just following John and Sherry, I am kind of glad I didn’t do it quite as painstakingly.) At the end of the day, I think you have to ask yourself, why am I doing this? Am I doing it as a permanent cabinet solution for the very long unforeseen future? Or am I doing this as a temporary stop-gap until I have $10k to buy the kitchen cabinets of my dreams?

If the former is your answer, do it John and Sherry’s way. If it’s the latter, do it mine and Rustoleum’s way. Let’s be honest. These cabinets are so not mid-century modern. Not even if you drink wine and squint. They are more country kitchen cabinets in really rough shape. The other thing we have to be honest about is that I don’t have $10k. So this was the right solution for now. And by now, I mean for the next few years. I don’t anticipate we will be able to do a total kitchen overhaul in the next five years and since I spend the majority of my time in the kitchen (barefoot and chained to the stove), I wanted it to look as nice as possible as inexpensively as possible. And I think we did that.

Did I need to use the Rustoleum product? Probably not. Here’s what I would do if I were to do it again. Brandy’s Five-Year Cabinet Transformation Plan:

  • You don’t have to buy the kit.  I love things that come in a kit, but the elements are things you could probably get yourself individually.  For me, kits seem so very…efficient.
  • Use 409 to clean the cabinets.  (Trust me on this one, environmentally friendly cleanser will not be your friend here.)
  • Buy a lot of scouring sponges (the green ones that kind of look like matted hair) and liquid sander. In the kit, they call this ‘deglosser’ but it’s really just plain liquid sander.
  • Use an eggshell paint if you .  The ‘bond’ coat they provide is so dry and matte that it almost seems dusty. I would prefer a little more sheen.
  • I would NOT put the doors on the floor, but would create a work table for them even if it means only doing a few at a time. You will hate them less and love your back more.
  • Raise the doors up on 2x4s so that the paint doesn’t seep between the door and the drop cloth creating something like a dried sludge on the inside of the door. (Imperfect is good, right?)
  • Use Minwax polyacrylic, like we used on the bathroom counter, instead of the Rustoleum ‘protective top coat’. It accomplishes the same thing and is frankly just as difficult to work with.
  • Consider a lighter color for the paint. I love our espresso color. I wouldn’t change it. However, using any kind of sealing top coat over a dark color is tricky. The stuff spreads on in this milky white, which dries clear if it’s painted on thinly enough. However, if you have cabinets that have a lot of bevels and corners like ours, the top coat pools a bit and ends up looking like some kind of gunk. If you paint it too thin, you have an uneven finish that looks glossy in some places and dry in others. The top coat was the hardest part honestly. It would have been much easier with a lighter color.
  • Buy new hardware or add hardware if you don’t have it. The details make a huge difference. (If you don’t have hardware but want to add it as we did, there is a guide you can buy at Home Depot for $3.99 that makes it SO much easier.)
  • Don’t have a dog. What can I say, but there is dog hair painted in there somewhere. It was unavoidable. No matter how hard I tried. If you have a garage or workspace, use it.
  • Have a Brett and an Ida. Taking down cabinet doors, making schematics of the placement, putting them back up. I couldn’t have done this without them.

The finances broke down like this:

  • Two Rustoleum Cabinet Transformation Kits:  $158
  • 42 cabinet pulls at $1.79 each:  $75
  • Brushes: $12
  • Guide to drill holes for the hardware: $3.99
  • Total:  $248

Ummm…okay. I will stop complaining now. $248 versus $10k. Even when you add in the days of my life that I lost working on this project, it’s a good deal. I’ll take it.

So what’s next for the kitchen? Backsplash and flooring. I am thinking either mini-white subway tiles or circular penny tiles.  I had cork in mind for the floor but now I am thinking that might be too dark.  Painting the walls, of course, is the next easiest thing to accomplish and the color has been a great debate around here.  Anyone want to guess?

And finally, all this kitchen work will end up giving me the perfect place to display a perfect Christmas gift from Maeve: a wine cork corkboard. It’s so lovely, I don’t think I can use it as a corkboard.  I just want to hang it as a lovely decorative art piece in the kitchen, memorializing how much wine we drink how much we appreciate fine wines. (And it would mimic the circles in the penny tile wall.)


7 Responses to “What I Learned: Painting Kitchen Cabinets”

  1. Barbara April 13, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    I’m a bit confused about your math. Seems like it adds up to more than $162…

    • Brandy April 13, 2012 at 10:56 am #

      You are so right! I wonder if I had a glass of wine while I was writing that post! The total is actually $248. Thank you for catching that!


  2. kathy z January 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    The cabinets look great and nice review of the process. I like the backsplash tiles also. Check out this post for grey paint color ideas ( we have some of them if you want to borrow for testers).

    • Brandy January 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      Thanks! And thanks for the link. But who said anything about gray? Clearly, you know how my mind works. I would love to borrow some of the testers. I have three colors up on the wall right now and none of them speak to me. I will give you a ring!


  3. susie January 4, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Thanks for all the tips! I’m going to refinish some cabinets and furniture and this probably saved me from a few mistakes. Now I just need to find the time to do this.

    • Brandy January 4, 2012 at 9:05 am #

      We are also refinishing some furniture and will have some more posts on that soon. Glad this was helpful!



  1. Stuck in the Middle With You « mid-century MODERN LOVE - January 23, 2012

    […] that’s were we are with the kitchen. In the middle. The never-ending cabinet painting process is over. Today, literally in the middle of a single project, painting the kitchen I wanted to […]

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