Home updates · Kate · Moving

Kitchen Cabinets pt. 1

Let’s get really, real for a minute, okay?

I just spent way too much time googling and searching for “How to paint your kitchen cabinets”. I was bombarded with a slew of step-by-steps & how-to’s. List upon list of the proper prep work & then the process.  Very few of the ‘company’ posts featured the products they used. Things like Lowe’s, Home Depot or HGTV tutorials were great for the process, but not very helpful in the product department.  And personal blog posts seemed to detail everything out, which was great…except for the fact that for every one positive product review or firm stance on ‘This is absolutely the best product ever’, I also seemed to find an equal negative or ‘never, ever use this product’ post. I promise I read every one.

My head was spinning. I couldn’t figure it out. I knew I wasn’t the first person to ever tackle repainting my kitchen cabinets, so why were the answers all over the place???

To leave on the doors or take off the doors?  Sand or not? Invest in an electric sander or grab some sandpaper and have at it? Which grit on sandpaper? What’s grit? (just kidding-I do know that.) Which primer? Chalk Paint (WHICH IS NOT CHALKBOARD PAINT), oil, latex or the hybrid, new-fangled alkyd paint or buy a kitchen cabinet makeover kit?  Which brand? Which sheen? Oh my gosh. The questions are endless…the google searches unending.

Naturally, I turned to my uncle, whom I like to think knows everything about everything. I repeat, if your home ends up on the cover of a magazine, then you just earned yourself the position of my home-owner / house up-date question answerer.  At first the whole Chalk Paint craze pulled me in with their heavenly tag line of ‘no sanding, leave the doors on’ promise…which sounds so absolutely divine until you realize you have to wax it all post painting.  As one blog post I read said it perfectly “I value my arms too much to deal with waxing that shit”. At least, I think she was talking about her kitchen cabinets.

Anyway, then I got giddy when I started reading all about how Benjamin Moore’s Advanced Line goes on like oil, yet cleans up with water. And blogger after blogger bragged about how it rolls out all buttery smooth like. It sounded too good to be true, so I asked my uncle who promptly informed me that it rubbed off when they tried to clean it on a set of kitchen cabinets they had used it on and they would never use it again. Figures. Besides, my rolls are already covered in something branded to be as smooth as butter. His final response/insistence….use oil based paint.

So back and forth I went until I finally just made myself begin the process. Sometimes I feel like home improvements are a little like having children. You know the end result is going to be so, so worth it, but if you really stopped to consider the cost & the whole time commitment, you just may talk yourself out of it. Or, in other words, bite the bullet, battle through the challenges and reap the sweetness of your hard labor (pun intended), but for the love of all things holy, don’t dwell on it too much or you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Here’s the most crucial piece that seemed to be missing from 90% of the google-able info I came across…What kind of kitchen cabinets are you starting with? Are they wood? Are they glossy? Are they laminate? How old are they? After countless hours of research, it finally dawned on me that all kitchen cabinets were not created equal. Personally, my cabinets are almost exactly 50 years old. They are true wood (though don’t ask me what kind of wood). They aren’t laminate, they don’t have a ‘factory grade’ finish to begin with. In fact, when I took the hinges off, I could tell that they had been stained once they were already hung, which explains the countless stain drips all over them. It also means they are covered in 50 years of grit, grime & grease, which translated into sanding being a must.

Don’t let the picture fool you. The cabinet fronts are nasty.

The next thing that seems to be missing from most of the posts I read was, umm, reality. All of them contained these perfectly staged before and after photos, which I love. I’m a sucker for the before and afters. But they also contained perfectly staged photos of the process. I mean, did you hire a professional photographer to snap a perfectly lighted photo of the middle of your sanding process? Or did you convince your significant other to document every step? Personally, I was too engrossed with unsticking my fingers from each other while using the tack cloth and making sure my husband and dogs stayed out of my way to give two shits about taking a photo of that step in the process.  Where’s real life? Where are the ‘this is how you should do it, but this is really how you’re going to do it” posts???


Honestly, I felt like most of the blog posts I read came from professional D-I-Yers….or people who’s blog’s sole purpose is to showcase all the fancy D-I-Y projects they tackle. Don’t get me wrong, those blogs and their posts are amazingly well thought out with gorgeous photos and nifty things written on the photos and that doesn’t happen over here in my little corner of the blogosphere. I’m all like “you get an iphone pic and you’re lucky I even remembered to take that”.

Nothing says vulnerability more than exposing your bare faced kitchen cabinets. Uggh. See how it looks like the hinges are still on from the stain?

Here’s my third and final piece of advice for repainting your kitchen cabinets. Be honest. Have an honest conversation about your realistic expectations. Most of the posts I read said things like “Spray them for a smooth-no drip, factory style finish”, or “be sure to get every nook and cranny to remove all the dust”, or “go with grain & roll to alleviate brush strokes”, or “be sure to sand out all the dings & caulk all the gaps”. And I truly agonized over each one of those steps. No matter how hard I try, I always hear my dad say “Be the job, great or small, do it right or not at all”. It’s like my own little OCD version of hell, because I want to seek out all the best practices and proper ways of doing things, until finally I fall into an exhausted, confused heap onto the couch not knowing which end is up.

No matter how hard I scrubbed, those streaks & spots never disappeared.  I also left the crumbs on the counter for extra real life photography.


Hinges & door handles are off. And the gunk stuck to the door behind the handles gave me all the sanding motivation I needed.

But then, my realistic, rational self kicks into over drive and I have an honest conversation with myself. I’m not trying to fool anyone into thinking I’ve suddenly got new kitchen cabinets. My before and after pictures aren’t going in a magazine unless there’s a new one titled “This is real life, bitches” where art work from the niece has taken on a new life on the fridge-splattered with water spots from wet hands reaching for paper towels or where rinsed out coffee mugs can be found drying on the counter next to the slowly browning bananas. I’m not paying thousands of dollars to have some professional paint my cabinets, so why should I stress about trying to make it look like I did? I mean, what’s my end purpose for taking on this headache?  If you can be honest with yourself, the process will become more fun than stressful. Personally, I just want the dark brown wood gone. I want lightness and brightness. I know that no matter how much tack cloth stuff I use to remove the dust, I’m inevitably still going to paint a damn dog hair smack dab in the middle of a cabinet door. The dings aren’t going away. Quite frankly, I like the story they tell, even if I don’t know it personally. There will be brush strokes and drips that magically appear after I’ve checked countless times to make sure they’re not there, because you know what causes brush strokes??? Using a brush!! I mean, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig right?

Primer’s done!

You also need to have a good understanding of your own abilities and comfort level. If you’re not a patient person, you may need to hire a professional. You need to have the ability to allow your house to sit in chaos for over a week if you take this on and be okay with a ridiculously long paint drying time. If you’ve never painted before, I wouldn’t recommend starting with your cabinets. Luckily, for me, I grew up around paint and am super comfortable with everything about the process. I understand the differences in paint, the lingo for products, and I’m relatively decent with a paint brush. But, if someone tells you to go buy a Purdy brush, you should probably know they aren’t saying pretty with a southern accent. Even though the paint department is in my comfort zone, I still had a steep learning curve with this project.

Now, there’s folks out there who are totally comfortable with the thought of installing back splash; whereas that’s an area of anxiety for me since I’ve never done it before. So, if this is your area of expertise, you’re more than welcome at my house!!!


Wet primer at night.
Dry primer in the morning waiting to be sanded and primed again.

Last night I got the first coat of paint on the upper boxes.  Tonight’s goal is to get the first coat of paint on the upper doors and begin the prep work on the lower cabinets.

I promise I’ll write a “This is what you should do, but this is what you’re going to end up doing” post about all of this because I’m convinced one doesn’t exist.

Stay tuned for those amazing before and after photos, too. 😉

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