Cabinet Couture

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Estimated Time: 
Depends on how many cabinets you are doing, but at least a couple of hours
How a Little Paint can Turn your Cabinets from Drab to Fab

cabinet1Since you moved in those dirty, worn down or formica-laminate covered cabinets have been staring you down but now they're starting to really annoy. Enough so that maybe you have been eating your meals in the living room or you might be considering learning how to cook in the garage!

It appears you've arrived at the point where you will do whatever it takes to make them look better or at least, bearable, right? Frankly, we don't blame you.

But why accept just "better"? Why not make them look great! In fact, like new. If you feel like your kitchen is stuck in 1965, 1975 or 1985 you needn't spend a ton of money having your cabinets refinished by a professional. All you need are a few tools, some know how and the patience to bring your kitchen into this century.

Such was the case with our Jane-in-training, Ahdee. The kitchen cabinets on her island were in fine working order, but their 1980s look permeated the entire kitchen, making it look drab and dated instead of sleek and modern. We put her to work and wouldn't you know it, a couple of coats of paint later and the kitchen didn't look like, as Ahdee put it, "something out of a Culture Club video!"

For this project, we used a rich, chocolaty paint with a hint of red to accent her cabinets. We finished it off with a glaze which we worked into the nooks and crannies of the doors and drawers. This helped give it a polished look that also made it easier to clean. While we didn't take the cabinets off of the hinges, it may be easier if you do.

Project Steps

Note: Before you begin, take a moment to think through your color choices. Remember, this is your kitchen. You are limited only by the limits of your imagination. What colors work for you? What about potential color combinations? What unusual colors might make your kitchen truly unique? If you have some immediate thoughts on color choices but aren't sure, you might try painting a small area and checking it against the rest of the room. Of course, any color you choose means change, and it is human nature to resist change at first. See how the color grows on you. You might create something you never thought possible.

Step 1

We recommend first taking down all of your cabinet doors. This step is necessary to expose the entire surface area to be worked on: the doors, the door frames and the cabinets themselves. As you remove the cabinet doors, make sure you mark or number them so you know which ones go where when you put them back up. We call this mapping your cabinets and it will make the process of putting them back together much easier.

Step 2

Remove all of the hardware, such as handles and hinges. Be sure to put the screws, hinges and handles you intend to reuse in a safe place.

Jane Tip: It's easy to misplace handles and screws, so we suggest using a strong plastic Ziploc bag to hold them. If by chance the handles for each door are vastly different from one another, consider marking the bags with the coordinating number you assigned to the cabinet doors and you'll know which knob belongs where.

Safety Tip: For the next few steps, make sure you use the proper mask and protective eyewear.

Step 3

cabinets3Lightly sand the surface with 120-grit sandpaper. This will help the paint stick to the surface (paint retention).  After all, you don't want your paint peeling six weeks after you complete the project! If you're working with a Formica laminate, consider using an electric palm sander with 120-grit sandpaper. This will not only drastically speed the process but make the job more fun, too! Remember though that you don't have to sand down to the wood grain. The idea is to create a surface just rough enough for the paint to stick to. If you don't need to remove a lot of existing material from the face of your cabinets, then use a sandpaper with a higher grit number. This will prevent you from creating heavy scratches in the wood that will be hard to cover with paint.

Jane Tip: If you absolutely hate sanding and your cabinets are covered with a smooth laminate, you may not have to sand at all if you can find a primer made for use over laminates. This type of product is a favorite of many do-it-yourselfers because of its ability to go right over smooth surfaces such as clean Formica laminate and even glass. However, as much as we like this type of product, the best way to ensure solid paint retention is always to lightly sand prior to painting.

Step 4

After sanding, clean the surface with a clean tack cloth (a cloth that removes dust, dirt, lint and sanding residue before and between coats when painting, staining or varnishing; it usually costs less than a dollar. Now the area is ready.

Step 5

Tape or mask off all of the areas you don't want to get paint on with blue painter's tape. Try not to use anything other than the blue tape, as the adhesive of most masking tapes is too strong and will pull up the paint or leave a residue that could ruin the job. Protect your floor with drop cloths, attaching them with blue painter's tape.

Step 6

cabinet6Using a roller or paintbrush, add a single coat of primer. If you have Formica laminate as mentioned above, make sure the primer you use is meant for high-gloss surfaces even if you sanded. Primer goes on just like paint, so whether you use a paintbrush or a roller is up to you. Keep in mind, however that a roller may not leave the brushstrokes most paintbrushes do. Additionally, using a roller on flat surfaces allows for a more even coat than a paintbrush does. You will still need the paintbrush for detail areas, corners and edges. Watch out for drips, as they can dry into the paint and be visible when you are finished.

Jane Tip: If you're going to paint your cabinets in a dark color, save a step by having your primer tinted. When purchasing your primer, simply ask someone in the paint department to add enough of the paint color you've chosen, sometimes referred to as the dark-value base coat (paint is described in values of colors) to the primer to turn the normally white primer into what's known as medium-dark value.

Safety Tip: When painting, always be sure to have proper ventilation.

Step 7

Let the surface areas you just primed dry the amount specified on the which primer can usually take two to four hours, depending on the humidity of the room you are working in. A small fan can sometimes speed up the process. Consider lightly sanding with a 220-grit sandpaper to provide a nice surface for your final coat.

With respect to the paint sheen, we suggest staying away from flat paints, as most are a pain to keep clean and aesthetically they're just not as appealing. Try to stick with a satin or semi-gloss. In the short term, they're easy to apply and in the long term, easy to keep clean.

Some people prefer the look of high-gloss paint. Keep in mind, though, that such paints show every mistake you make with the brush or roller as well as every dent or ding in the door. If you go this route, consider applying the paint with a power paint sprayer to help guarantee the best finish possible. If you do use a power paint sprayer (you can rent one at most home improvement centers), be sure to practice with it first to get a feel for it. Also, make absolutely certain you use it with excellent ventilation and while wearing appropriate safety gear (a respirator, goggles and gloves).

To provide a truly smooth surface for your final coat of paint, consider lightly sanding the paint surface (once dry) between coats with a minimum 200-grit sandpaper.

Step 8

cabinets8Once the primer is dry, apply two coats of the paint color of your choice to the cabinets as well as the inside and outside of each door. Allow enough time for drying between coats-usually an hour or two, depending on the type of paint; ask your paint professional or check the can for the recommended drying time.

Step 9

cabinets9cabinets92After the paint has dried, it's time for the glaze. Follow the instructions on the can for mixing proportions, but ours was 4 parts paint to 1 part glaze. Work in the glaze with a rag, following the grain of the wood. While you want to be thorough, be fast! Glaze dries quickly.

Step 10

Try to wait at least 24 hours before reattaching the hinges and handles. The paint on the doors should feel hard, not rubbery. If you do this task too early, you may dent or otherwise damage your new paint.

Step 11

Using your map, replace each cabinet door and drawer in its respective frame. You may also want to consider purchasing interior door magnets to help keep your cabinets closed. Door magnets sets are typically $1.50 per door, and they add a professional feel to the result.

If your cabinets make you feel like you are living on the set of The Brady Bunch, take the plunge and consider repainting them! This project, while time-consuming, costs a lot less than having your cabinets refinished or replaced professionally. Moreover, if you take your time and follow the steps, your job can look better than that of a pro!

Watch more videos from Ahdee's kitchen project

Note: this project is taken from our new book, "Be Jane's Guide to Home Empowerment"

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I have mixed two sheens together, a satin and eggshell, because I THOUGHT I would get a nice finish for my cabinets that was not shiny or too lifeless. Finding it not spraying well will an HVLP cap sprayer...have added a touch of water and a bit of is leaving orange peal.... is it the satin trying to separate from the eggshell? I have mixed different sheens sucesfully before, but have brushed it on trim or moulding...Does anyone know the science of running it through a pump/pressure sprayer, could it be separating the velosities?

Actually that's more than likely, exactly what is happening. The paint goes through enough trauma on its own just going through the sprayer and unfortunately, you've now compounded the problem. Paint sheens are best if NOT mixed together as it can alter the chemical make up of both -- that's not to say it can't be done. I've done it myself with some success as well, but a sprayer heats up the paint ever so slightly through friction and now with the two sheens, it sounds like they're duking it out. Sorry I don't have better news! One potential solution is to contact the paint manufacturer to see if they have any reco's. After all, who knows their paint better than the guys that made it! Good luck!

I am finally ready to start this project, and was trying to find out the actual tools and materials you had used in this project. Unfortunately, I was unable to access the link provided. Can you repost the material list? I just love the color combination you used on the cabinets.

Would really love to know the material list also. I would love to do to my cabinets, but have no idea what color and glaze was used :(

What I did was paint my cabinet boxes inside and out and replaced my old cabinet doors with new paint grade doors and drawer fronts that I purchased from The fresh paint and new doors and drawer fronts really gave my kitchen a new look. My kitchen isn't exactly big but it's not small either about 15 doors total the cost was under $1000 which really fit my budget. This included new hidden hinges for the doors and new boxes and slides for my drawers. They even sent me instructions on how to prepare the doors for painting. I recommend you check this site out before trying to repaint your old doors.
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