How We Painted Our Kitchen Cabinets

Two weeks. Two gallons of paint. Three hundred dollars. Two exhausted homeowners. Put together, this is how we painted our kitchen cabinets this year.

Behold, honey oak goodness (not a cereal commercial).

Mmmm, all that outdated, unsexy wood finish.

This is an O.G. – I took this the first week we moved in after we got our kitchen set-up. Old, yellowed linoleum wood, dated honey oak cabinets, hardware, 15-year-old appliances. What you can’t see if the wear and tear on the cabinets. After years of use and lack of care, these were worn, greasy in spots, and discolored in various locations, and they slammed when we shut them. Time for an upgrade.

Fast-forward to this spring, and we replaced the floors on our first level, opting for white quarter-round to match our newly painted white trim (another project, another day). It then looked like this.

Mmm, the colors of a chocolate peanut butter cup. Oh, hey, Meeks.

The time came, on a hot, sunny weekend, when I said screw this, I’m going to have white cabinets. So I enlisted my trusty handyman, Chris, and we got this project underway. I think I stayed sane through this project by following a carefully-crafted plan courtesy of my favorite bloggers of all time, the duo behind Young House Love, who shared their cabinet painting project ages ago. Through their help, I created a two-week plan to paint ours so that I wouldn’t go insane trying to accomplish this too quickly. Here’s the rough timeline:

  • Day 1: Tape off anything I don’t want white paint on (walls, floors/toe-kick, appliances, counters). Take off drawer fronts and cabinet doors with a careful labeling system – we had a South wall, West wall, and North wall, and Tops/Bottoms. Going left to right on each wall, we labeled the doors of upper cabinets on the West wall as: WT1, WT2. Those on the bottom, left to right, were WB1, WB2. And drawer fronts were WD1, WD2. Post-its FTW. I also created sketch diagrams for each wall for quick reference.
Our rudimentary labeling system to keep all the doors and drawers straight.
  • Day 2: I set up a workspace in our garage that consisted of upright moving boxes for an assembly-line-style surface area where I could place many cabinets at once. Then, I cleaned and sanded as many surfaces as possible – cabinet frames, drawer fronts.
  • Day 3: Cleaning and sanding more surfaces – cabinet doors, any spots I missed. Cleaning entailed wiping down with white rags (cheap at Ace Hardware) with warm water, and occasionally using a toothpick to get into grooves where dust or grease had settled. Then, I used a spritz of Rejuvenate to clean further. I also sanded lightly to scuff the shiny finish and wiped out sawdust with a damp rag.


  • Day 4: Starting with the cabinet frames indoors, I rolled one light coat of primer with a 4″ foam roller. Then, I did one coat on drawer fronts in the garage on a table (painting grooves with a brush, rolling flat fronts), and got one coat onto as many door backs as possible. My strategy was to paint one coat on the same side of all the doors, flip, and paint the other side.
Cabinet door backs with a coat of primer.
  • Day 5: More priming, finishing the backs of the cabinets.
  • Day 6: Caulk the inner part of the cabinet molding (is there a name for that?) so that when we paint, it’s a seamless look. Get the first coat of paint onto the cabinet frames inside.
Recommendation: When it comes to painting the inside of cabinets, just say no.
  • Day 7: First coat of paint on the drawer fronts and about half the cabinet door backs.
  • Day 8: Finished the rest of the cabinet door backs.
  • Day 9: Second coat of paint on the drawer fronts. Call these babies done-zo. Second coat of paint on the front of the cabinet doors.
  • Day 10: Finished the first coat on the cabinet door fronts.
Two coats was a requirement –here, after one coat of paint, some dark tones peek through and the wood grain is still pretty intense.
  • Day 12: Second coat on the cabinet frames. Call those babies done-zo! Start getting a second coat on the cabinet fronts. (I skipped a second coat on the cabinet door backs – you only see those when you open the doors, so it wasn’t critical and would have used up a lot of excess expensive paint for no good reason.)
  • Day 13: Finish painting the cabinet fronts I couldn’t get to the day before. Stick a fork in this painting job.
  • Day 14: Reattach doors and drawers inside. I also added foam circles to the insides of the doors and drawers for a softer close.
This is looking like a kitchen again. 🙂
  • Day 15: Install drawer pulls and door handles, step back, do the Carlton, and enjoy the final result!
Hey, good lookin’.

I’ll just say this: all that sweat was well worth it. This got us much closer to a kitchen we can be proud of and lays a great foundation for new appliances when ours finally give out, and a new backsplash when I can work up the courage to demo the existing tile and install my own. Shhh… don’t look at the almond milk color of that oven. 😉

And, if you missed the first few sentences, this was just THREE HUNDRED-ISH DOLLARS to pull off. A kitchen refresh for just a few hundred bones. Here’s what we needed:

  • Two gallons of paint: Benjamin Moore Aura Semigloss in Ice Mist – $120
  • Hardware from The Home Depot – $100
  • A couple foam roller coversframes, and trays – $10
  • Dap paintable caulk – $2
  • A Purdy 2″ angled brush – $15 (there’s a reason for the 5-star reviews)
  • Frog Tape – $9
  • 200-grit sandpaper – $4
  • Cleaning rags and Rejuvenate – $10
  • Drill and drill bits to remove cabinet doors and drawers, as well as drill pilot holes for hardware.
  • A fan plugged into the garage to keep us cool and more quickly dry our paint job.
  • A speaker plugged into the garage so I could listen to the Stuff You Should Know podcast for hours and learn about the micro biome (like 4 pounds of our body weight is bacteria – you can’t recover from knowing that and it’s now the fact of this blog post).

The cabinets aren’t quite done yet, though, because we have plans to try and DIY some fancy molding on the tops a la this inspiration photo.

Cabinet Crown Inspo.jpg

But, for now, these cabinets are feeling pretty fresh.

2 thoughts on “How We Painted Our Kitchen Cabinets

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