Part 1: White Cabinet Color & Sheen + Types of Paint & Primer
Due to the remodel budget going to our rental property I’ve learned to
appreciate live with our dated 1970s kitchen.
Anyone else has the lovely drop down ceiling & fluorescent bulbs and the super deep pantry cabinets that swallow everything?
Painting dated oak cabinets can give the entire room new life while also saving A LOT of money. Older cabinets are often made from solid wood, which means with a lot of elbow grease and the right tools it’s amazing how beautiful they can be!
While it’s not a hard project, it DOES takes a lot of time, patience, and some basic painting skills.
It will completely take over your life and home, don’t be fooled by the “paint your kitchen in a weekend” or my personal favorite “paint your cabinets without priming”.
I can promise you, once you get started you will realize that it’s a joke to think this is a 2 day project!
I stupidly decided to paint our kitchen cabinets one week before my family was coming to visit.
I finished installing the last door only a few moments before their arrival.
Can you agree to trust me on the time commitment of at least 7 days for this project?
Ok, good…let’s move on.
If you want your finish to last (and after all this work, YOU DO) then please, please, please-Do it right!
I have a horror story about the Mr. painting our rental property kitchen in a hurry…we had to have it sanded down and refinished. It’s an expensive and time consuming fix that you’ll want to avoid at all costs!
If you’re determined to do this project yourself instead of hiring a professional then this 3 part series should help.
I’ll share as much information as I can think of to help you get a durable and smooth finish that will last.
Our Kitchen Story:
Originally, the plan was for our kitchen was to do a dark base color with white uppers.
I love this look!
I soon realized this wouldn’t work out for our temporary fix. Back before I knew much about home remodel projects, I used the Rustoleum countertop kit in an attempt to hide the horrible 3×3″ tile countertop with stained grout.
All of the blues & grays I tested on our lower cabinets felt wrong next to a gray countertop and I didn’t want to go as far as black since our kitchen needed to be lightened up.
I tried a warm white (SW Summer White) hoping to create a cottage feel and compliment the gray countertops. However, since this room receives north & east facing light throughout the day, once the swatches were up it looked much too warm.
There is something about choosing paint colors for our house that is so much harder than when I do it for clients!
The winning color ended up being Sherwin Williams Alabaster, which looks very clean and cool in our kitchen (ALWAYS buy samples of the white shade and test it out first).
I LOVE the look of all white cabinet kitchen’s and don’t regret our choice for a second. However, should give a warning….If you’re planning to go with all white cabinets know that they WILL get dirty! Our cabinets get covered in drips, marks, dog slobber, scoffs, etc. We are not clean freaks so I just clean them all down once a week or so when I notice it’s happening.
Know your personality, if you can’t stand a dirty home or are extremely clean, white cabinets may exhaust you!
Now lets look at some of the photos that inspired me to get to work on this project!
Anytime white is paired with the natural wood finish I swoon, but this kitchens cement outer counters, classic subway tile backdrop, and metallic range hood push it over the top for me!
The crispness of this white combined with the warm tone of natural butcher block and marble mixture countertops get me every time I see it. THIS is the exact type of kitchen I would like to have once we remodel, stay toned since I’ll be sure to post about it on the blog!
I love the look of a darker island paired with light countertops!
The accent color in this kitchen is perfection, it blends seamlessly from the window shade, sconces, all the way to the dog bed. The decorative edge on the countertop keeps it from looking too modern & did you notice the joined marble farmhouse sink?! (Excuse me while I breathe into a bag)
This is the type of color combination I initially tired to make work. The smokey blue lower, white upper cabinets, and blue tile backsplash is so fresh and vibrant!
I didn’t realize until writing this post that most of my inspiration kitchens have butcher block and/or marble countertops, and glass front cabinet doors. Don’t you love it when your ideal style just jumps out at you?
Choice of sheen is a personal but its best to be honest about what kind of abuse your cabinets are going to take, and choose the finish that will work best for your kitchen:
- Flat/Matte paint absorbs the most light and gives the truest color output due to the high amount of solids (the color pigment left over after the paint dries). However, it is not good for places that require high durability such as cabinets. Stains are difficult to remove often times requiring re-coat. It dries to a porous finish which traps dirt and grim which can become embedded in the finish when scrubbed.
- Eggshell can vary depending on paint manufacture but it’s usually slightly shinier than satin but not as dull as flat. It can be hard to tell a difference between satin and eggshell so when painting cabinets I would err on the side of safe and get satin finish.
- Satin is slightly more durable than flat, but scrubbing can buff away the shine causing a difference in sheen over time and leaving the finish vulnerable to damage. This sheen does a good job at hiding imperfections while still remaining durable.
- Semi-gloss is durable and tough enough to handle the abuse of daily cabinet use. It’s more forgiving than a gloss sheen but still requires some sensitivity to make sure that the finish is leveling to a smooth and uniform finish. This sheen will show major imperfections such a dings and chips.
- Gloss/High-Gloss can create a designer look on cabinets and reflects a lot of light, but will show every defect and paint stroke so I only recommend this if you have a lot of confidence in your painting skills. If selecting a gloss sheen be sure to get enough paint to reapply and fix areas that may not come out perfectly. I would also recommend angling a light to check the sheen often while applying to make sure the finish is leveling out and brush strokes will disapear once complete.
The higher the sheen the less forgiving the finish is, so when using a glossy paint any flaws in your surface or paint job will be more obvious to the eye. For this reason, I most commonly use a satin or semi-gloss for cabinets and use a paint sprayer for a majority of the project. Purchase the highest quality paint and tools you can afford to make the job the job easier on yourself! Houzz has a wonderful article on picking the right paint finish based on your home project and room.
Types of Paint & Primer:
I read a lot of conflicting opinions on paints and primers while researching this project. Since our kitchen will eventually be remodeled I went with what knowledge I had already but there may be better methods or tips out there so be sure to do your research and find what works for you.
I’m happy to report that it’s been over 3 years without a single issue, and we are NOT gentle on them so if you follow the steps you results should be equally as durable.
The are a lot of opinions on the best paint for kitchen cabinets,this is just my personal opinion based on my experience of paint finishes, solids ratio, and durability…but there are a lot of other advice across blogs and Pinterest that may give you an option that better fits your needs so be sure to research before deciding.
Each of these paints has a slight different learning curve. If you choose a paint that is unfamiliar I recommend working with it on a few scrap boards to get the feel for the leveling (how long it takes for brush marks to disappear), and how it flows (how easily it glides on or moves around). It can be very frustrating otherwise, and can feel like the paint isn’t working like promised. There are a few tips below that I found useful when learning in hopes that will help someone else avoid some frustrations I went through.
1.Chalk Paint: I love chalk paint and use it almost daily! However, despite the increasing amount of people who are using it on kitchen cabinets I cannot bring myself to recommend it for a couple of reasons:
~Durability: Kitchen cabinets take a lot of daily abuse and frequent scrubbing. Wax coated can take up to 30 days to cure and still doesn’t harden to as much as a cross-linking-polymer finish will (this is what happens when high quality paint hardens and water evaporates). I’m interested to see how well the current kitchen’s finished with this method have held up after an extended period of use. I would also be concerned about potential resale value issues if the possibility of selling is anytime in the future.
~Time: To think about the painstaking process it would take to finish an entire kitchen makes my entire body ache. After completing regular prep (which is important in this type of project, even with chalk paint), painting, and then waxing all the cabinets. This doubles the amount of time it takes to complete the project, which is already a very large job. So regardless of the fact that chalk paint dries much faster than regular paint I don’t see an advantage.
~Cleaning: Abrasive cleaners should not be used on a wax topcoat which can ruin the finish. Re-coating with wax may be necessary after heavy use or deep cleaning as well.
~Cost: The paint is more expensive by the quart than some of highest quality/expensive paints like Donald Kaufman or Farrow & Ball. This means to paint a decent sized kitchen is going to cost quite a lot!
It is possible to use chalk paint if a high quality top coat is applied instead of wax, but the color won’t deepen like it does with wax application. This is also still an additional step that using regular paint won’t require. I’ve finished a kitchen island using this method, which should hold up just as long as the cabinets because the topcoat dries to the cross-linking durable finish. This makes the surface scrubbable, UV fade resistant, and prevents staining or chipping.
2.SW & BM Acrylic-Alkyd:
I have always had a great experience using the SW brand of acrylic-alkyd paint, I’ve also heard great things about the BM variety but cannot attest to its qualities. Acrylic-Alkyd paint has a learning curve to get a completely smooth finish, so I recommend playing around with this on some scrap boards before painting the cabinets to get the feel. Its a wonderful substitution for the older oil based alkyds which will yellow over time, and have extremely strong fumes. The paint world has been putting out some truly amazing products the last 10 years!
*Note: There is also a ProClassic Latex Enamel that I don’t find as durable as the alkyd. They often grab the wrong version by mistake so be sure to double check before leaving the store. This happened to me with our kitchen paint & again today when I picked up a gallon.
TIP FOR PROCLASSIC: Brush/Roll your first coat on in an upward motion, and instead of brushing/rolling back over the area, let it level out on its own and dry. It levels out BEAUTIFULLY but can easily be messed up if you try to brush back over an area you just laid down. Keep a wet edge and roll your next area slightly overlapping and continue on across. The sheen difference in the overlap area can be fixed in the next coat by centering the roller on top of the overlap.
3. PPG Breakthrough
This was discovered last year at my local paint supply when I asked about the paint used on the floors. This stuff is EXTREMELY durable so it will hold up well to high usage, scoffs, scratching, and scrubbing. I’ve used it with wonderful results int he past year and wish I had know about this line of PPG paint prior to doing our kitchen. I highly recommend it!
TIP FOR PPG BREAKTHROUGH: This paint has great flow to it and rolls on like most enamel paints. I recommend using this as soon as possible after purchase, otherwise be sure to mix it EXTREMELY well. I find the solids settle at the bottom faster than other paints. It will dry to an extremely hard coat and may not require 2 coats depending on how dark your initial cabinet color is and how well the primer covers it. Testing this out on a scrap board should easily give you a feel for how it performs and if brush strokes are leveling out while drying.
A note on having a different brand mixed up at your local paint store:
Research how the original brand tints their paints. Example: Farrow & Ball use a pigment based tint (not a liquid colorants) and therefore cannot be matched at a store that uses colorants. Most major retail brands use colorants so its not difficult to come close to the color you desire, just know it won’t ever really be exact. I’ve found that Sherwin Williams has an amazing color match system and highly recommend it, especially if you can wait until the frequent 40% off sales which brings the price down cheaper than big box store brands!
The choice of primer makes a HUGE difference in how your paint finish will last!
1.Shellac based: *Highly recommend
Shellac does a perfect job of blocking any wood staining or bleed through which is a very common problem when all the painting is done. It dries extremely fast which means the painting can start immediately after priming the cabinets. Warning; it has a very strong smell so be sure the windows are open, you’ve got good ventilation, and prime cabinet doors & drawers outside to prevent high exposure to fumes.
2.Oil Based Primer
If the shellac primer smell is too much or you have health issues, the next best thing is KILZ Cover Stain Oil Based (Brown Label). It does still contain fumes but it’s not nearly as strong as the shellac based and will provide an excellent base and stain proof any potential bleed through. This primer is also perfect as a prep coat for paint adhesion.
“But I’ve heard that oil and water based aren’t supposed to be mixed?”: You can use a water based paint over an oil based primer but not the other way around. Just be sure it’s completely dry prior to painting to prevent peeling and cabinet stick, which is important in each step since you want all layers to be dry and cured prior to re-coating.