Part 1: Paint Color & Sheen + Types of Paint & Primer
This is a big topic with a lot of information, so instead of rambling on about the best paint for cabinets and all the steps to prep and paint your kitchen, I’ve broken it up into 3 parts.
In part 1 we will cover the basics which paint is best for kitchen cabinets and the type of sheen that will result in the most durable finish.
Then we’ll move on to part 2 which is all about how to prep your cabinets
And finally we’ll talk about the steps to painting your cabinets in part 3!
Painting cabinets is a project that anyone with some time and basic painting skills can do!
However, 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 favorite–“paint your kitchen without priming”.
Once you’ve started it will become obvious that unless you only have a few cabinets, this project will take some time.
When I started painting our kitchen cabinets I thought to myself “I know what I’m doing,there is no way this will take me longer than 4 days!”
I totally fell victim to all the false promises on Pinterest and should have know better.
It happens to the best of us!
So, can we just 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 without chipping or peeling off (and after all the work, YOU DO) then please, please, please–take your time and complete all the steps.
If you do then I promise you’ll have an amazing kitchen that will stand up to the daily abuse most of us put them through.
The Mr. learned this lesson the hard way when he painted our rental property kitchen in a hurry while I was out of town. Needless to say, we had to hire out the fix because it had to be sanded down and refinished and this girl doesn’t get paid for work at home ;P
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 bulb’s, and the super deep pantry cabinets that swallow everything?
The only option for a quick update to freshen it up (for super cheap) was to paint the dated oak cabinets. Unfortunately, I decided to do this one week before my family was coming to visit.
I finished installing the cabinet doors only a few hours before their arrival (not fully cured) and didn’t get a chance to fully install all the hardware.
Of course, this meant my house was a disaster because there isn’t time for anything except painting the cabinets! Its been over 3 years since I completed the kitchen and I’m happy to report that we haven’t had a single issue with the finish (whew)!
Originally, the plan was to do a darker base color with white uppers after seeing some fabulous examples on Pinterest. I was ready to jump on the bandwagon but soon realized this wasn’t going to work for us.
Quite a few years back, in an attempt to hide the hideous 3×3″ tile countertop, I used Rustoleum countertop kit in gray sandstone. It worked out great and has held up surprisingly well but in hindsight the color choice wasn’t a good idea.
All of the blues & grays I tested on our lower cabinets felt wrong with a gray countertop.
I tried out SW Summer White hoping to create a warm cottage look and compliment the gray countertops.
This room receives north & east facing light throughout the day which is blue based and once the swatches were up it looked yellow. I’m not talking antique yellow, it was pee yellow and no one wants that!
The winning color was Sherwin Williams Alabaster, which looks very clean and cool in our kitchen and helped to lighten the dark kitchen as much as possible.
I LOVE the look of all white cabinet kitchen’s and don’t regret our choice for a second. However, while most of you probably already know this I felt I should give a warning….
If your 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 it doesn’t bother us and I just clean them all down when I notice it. Know your personality, if you can’t stand dirt or any area of your home being dirty without panicking white cabinets may exhaust you!
My love for white kitchens hasn’t wavered one bit even with all the work they require to keep clean.
I mean just look at how fresh and clean these kitchens look with white cabinets…
Anytime white is paired along with a 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!
This is the exact type of kitchen I would like to have once we remodel, stay tuned since I’ll be sure to post about it on the blog!
This is the type of color combination I initially tried 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 style just jumps out at you?
Tip about using different companies color swatches for paint mixing: Research how the original brand tints their paints. Example: Farrow & Ball use a pigment based tint (not liquid colorants) and therefore cannot be matched at a store that uses colorants.
Most major retail brands use colorants so it’s not difficult to come close to your chosen color, just know it won’t ever be exact. Sherwin Williams has an amazing color match system that I highly recommend!
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 take a lot of abuse, like our kitchens. Stains are difficult to remove often times requiring re-coat. It dries to a porous finish which traps dirt and grime which can become embedded in the finish when scrubbed.
- Eggshell can vary depending on paint manufacturer 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 safety and get a 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 of 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 disappear 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 off knowledge I’ve gained over the years to choose our products. However, this is by no means a rule book so be sure to do your research and find what works for you.
Each of these paints has a slightly 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). Otherwise it can feel like the paint isn’t working as promised.
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 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 although chalk paint dries faster than regular paint, I don’t see an advantage.
- Cleaning: Abrasive cleaners shouldn’t be used on a wax topcoat! Re-coating with wax will be necessary after heavy use or deep cleaning as well.
- Cost: The paint is more expensive by the quart than some of the highest quality (aka most expensive) paints like Donald Kaufman or Farrow & Ball. This means to paint a decent sized kitchen will cost a lot!
It is possible to use chalk paint when using a high quality top coat instead of wax, but the color won’t deepen like it does with wax. This is also still an extra step that using regular paint doesn’t need. I’ve finished a kitchen island using this method which I belive will hold up just as long as the cabinets because the topcoat dries to a durable finish protecting the paint underneath. This makes the surface scrubbable, UV fade resistant, and prevents staining or chipping.
I recently read a review by Sarah on Little Vintage Nest about her experience with chalk paint on bathroom vanities. It’s got some great feedback and warnings if this is a route you’re considering. You can check that out here.
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.
- It’s a wonderful substitution for the older oil based alkyl which will yellow over time, and have extremely strong fumes.
- The paint world has put out some truly amazing products the last 10 years and this is definitely one of the best in my opinion!
*Note: There is also a ProClassic Latex Enamel that I don’t find as durable as the alkyd. The employees 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. Any sheen difference in the overlap will be fixed in the next coat by centering the roller on top of the overlap.
3. PPG Breakthrough: I discovered this last year at my local paint supply when I inquired about what type of finish products they used on their cement 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 known about this line of PPG paint before doing our kitchen. I highly recommend it!
- TIP FOR PPG BREAKTHROUGH: This paint has a great flow to it and rolls on like most enamel paints. I find the solids settle at the bottom faster than other paints so its best to buy when your ready to start painting to avoid having to worry about mixing it back up correctly at home. It will dry as an extremely hard and protective finish, and may possibly cover in a single coat depending on how dark your cabinet color is and how well the primer coat covers. Testing on some scrap wood should easily give you a feel for how it performs and if brush strokes are leveling out while drying.
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, a very common problem when painting older wood cabinets. 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 give 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 before painting to prevent peeling and cabinet stick, which is important in each step since you want all layers to be dry and cured before moving on to the next step!