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Repainted Cabinets: A Smart Kitchen Update

by Kathy Maynard

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Q: Our house was built in the 70s, and I'd really like to change the look of my kitchen. The cabinets, although in good, solid condition, look dark and dated. What are my options?

A: Your problem is a common one. Many people today are opting for a lighter look in their kitchens. The most expensive choice would be to replace the cabinets completely. Another option would be to reface the cabinets. This involves applying a new wood veneer to the cabinet bases and installing new doors and drawers. You can also keep the wood look by having the cabinets stripped, bleached and refinished (a messy and expensive process with sometimes disappointing results). Your other option would be to paint the cabinets, which can be the most cost-effective of all, offering the best return on your investment.

Q: Can I do it myself?

A: While many painting jobs can be done by homeowners, it's recommended that cabinet work be done professionally for the best results. The cabinets should be sprayed whenever possible, resulting in the best finish possible.

Q: What is involved?

A: While each kitchen needs to be evaluated individually, the process generally would be done in these steps:

  1. All cabinets are washed with TSP (Tri-Sodium Phosphate) if needed, to remove any grease or dirt build-up.
  2. All doors, hardware and hinges are removed (in most cases).
  3. Countertops and appliances are completely masked off. The floor is covered and the room is sealed with plastic to prevent dust or paint from spreading to the rest of the house.
  4. Cabinets are thoroughly sanded and dusted. Dents and scratches are repaired.
  5. A primer coat is sprayed on the cabinets and they are sanded and dusted.
  6. A split-coat of a mix of primer and finish enamel is next, followed by more sanding and dusting.
  7. A final coat of enamel is applied to the cabinet bases. An additional fourth coat may be applied to doors and drawers, as these areas have more wear and tear.

Easy Kitchen Updates

Q: Do I have to empty everything out of the cabinets?

A: If you want to have the inside painted, yes, they would have to be emptied. Otherwise, you can leave everything inside and the interior of the cabinets can be sealed off with plastic, or the cabinet bases can be painted by hand, with the doors painted separately.

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Q: What kind of paint should be used?

A: Oil and acrylic primers and enamels, high quality products, are best for this type of work. They have a hard finish that resists chips and dents. In some cases, solid-colored lacquers may be used, especially if the cabinets are brand new.

Q: How long will it take to complete the work?

A: A small to medium kitchen will take about three days. Larger jobs will take from three to five days. If you have other dark wood work in your home – bathroom vanities, doors, casings, base, etc. These can be painted at the same time as your cabinets, giving the whole house a new look.

Q: How long will the paint job last?

A: If the above process is followed, the paint job should last for many years, probably longer than the finish you currently have. Of course, this will depend on the amount of traffic that goes through the kitchen. Just as the painted wood work and doors in your home need periodic painting, so the kitchen cabinets will also need maintenance. An advantage to painted cabinets is that any nicks or worn areas can easily be touched-up, thereby extending the life of the paint job.

Q: Do I have to paint them white?

A: Not at all! Cabinets in colors can be very exciting in the kitchen –: in Postal Blue, Parfait (a light peachy-pink), Whisper Gray and Sunny Yellow. Decorating magazines often show cabinets in Spruce Green, Navy Blue and weathered or faux finishes. One of the latest trends is to combine painting and staining in different areas of the same kitchen cabinets, or stain in two different colors. If you are not sure what color to select, your paint professional may offer color consultations, or you may want to get advice from an interior designer.

Kitchen Remodeling Project Guide
If you enjoyed this article, check out our free Kitchen Remodeling Guide, which features expert advice, design & material comparisons, and custom price estimates for your remodeling project.