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Kitchen Cabinet Painting Tips + My Favourite Designs

It’s no secret that because of our unique building materials, high import costs and labor fees, home renovations on the island can be expensive. Last year we turned a spare room into a laundry and while it is an AMAZING space and we couldn’t be happier, it certainly was a budget buster.   We made a lot of big changes which required some serious work (part of the roof had to be replaced!) and now we’re taking a break, saving our pennies and planning our kitchen remodel (2020 here we come!).

Kitchens can be some of the most expensive spaces to renovate – but they also make the biggest impact and  have the biggest return on your investment if you choose to sell your house.  You don’t have to spend a fortune to give your kitchen a facelift though.  Painting your old cabinets, for example, can give your kitchen a whole new look on a reasonable budget.

Painting kitchen cabinets is not hard but it is a lot of work and if you’re planning on tackling it yourself, its helpful to know what you’re getting into.  As with any painting project, proper preparation really is 95% of the job so don’t be tempted cut any corners.

First, take the doors off and remove the hardware.  As you take them off, mark where each of the doors needs to be put back and stack it to the side with its respective knobs/hinges.  If you place everything in one pile it will be that much harder to put the puzzle back together.

Once all the doors are off, give them a thorough scrub (it doesn’t hurt to do this twice) with a heavy duty degreaser (I like Krud Kutter) or ammonia and water (TIP:  NEVER mix ammonia and bleach.  The fumes are very toxic).  Pay special attention the areas around knobs and handles as well as the cabinets near the stove or trash bin.  Over time, cooking grease, kitchen grime, and the oils from our fingers build up on cabinets and can cause your paint to peel or blister.  You don’t want that after all the work you’re putting in.

After the cabinets are dry,  give them a light sand with 240-280 grit sandpaper.  If you don’t have a machine sander rent or borrow one to make this monumental task more manageable.  Go back with a damp cloth or a tac cloth (it’s sticky) to pick up the sanding dust.  If you need to fill any dents or dings, now would be a good time.  After the filler is dry, sand it smooth and clean up any more dust.

These days a lot of paints come in self-priming formulas but for a hard-wearing and durable finish I always suggest two coats primer no matter what paint you’re using.  The one you choose depends largely on the type of material you’re painting (bare wood, previously painted/stained wood, fiberglass, etc.) but for kitchen cabinets I usually recommend Insl-x Stix Bonding Primer.   It’s designed to stick to hard, non-porous surfaces like plastic, PVC, glass and formica so it’s perfect for making sure your paint sticks to the cabinets long term.  TIP:  Don’t forget most primers are tintable so if you’re planning on painting your cabinets navy, for example, get your primer tinted gray.  It will help the paint to cover in less coats.

Speaking of paint, there are so many options these days it’s easy to get confused.  My go-to (and what we used on our laundry room island) is California Paint Ultra Waterbourne Enamel.  It’s just as durable as traditional oil paints but dries quickly with no smell and cleans up with soap and water.  It can be sprayed (thin with 10%-15% water), brushed or rolled and tinted to any colour.  For extra durability, we top coated our island with General Finishes High Performance Clear so that even if we chipped the finish, it wouldn’t damage the paint. TIP: Don’t use the sealer over white paint.  It will turn slightly yellow.

NOTE: Waterbased paints dry FAST!  If you’re brushing or rolling make sure you don’t go over the same spot too many times.  Otherwise, you will see brush or roller marks as you paint over areas that are already starting to dry.

Remember that waterbased paint takes about 2-4 hours to dry – longer if the humidity is high.  I  know it’s hard to be patient but wait overnight before putting the doors and drawers back on to prevent smudging any paint that hasn’t fully dried.  Also, keep in mind that acrylic paints are very durable when they cure (reach their full chemical hardness) but that process usually takes around twenty eight days.  That doesn’t mean you can’t use your kitchen – just that you have to be gentle for a few weeks.

Need inspiration?  Below are some of my favourite spaces.  Don’t forget to Pin your favorites and click on the images for sources.

White may be a classic, but if you’re going to paint the cabinets, why not experiment with colour!  Try a bold island-inspired teal, a bold navy, moody gray or soft mushroom.

Two tone kitchen cabinets are very trendy these days!  It’s a great way to balance a stronger accent colour with a neutral shade like white (it goes with everything!). For a modern space pick a crisp bright white or one with a hint of grey (like Benjamin Moore Decorators White).  For a cottage farmhouse kitchen use a softer white like Benjamin Moore Cloud White or White Dove.

Have a little more room in your budget?  Consider replacing old knobs and handles!  It will make a huge difference!  If you want to open up your space and make the kitchen feel larger consider replacing some of your upper cabinets with floating shelves.

Need a little help picking the right paint color for your space? See how my virtual color consulting service can help. Click here to learn more.

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