March 14, 2014

What I Learned from Painting My Kitchen Cabinets

Painting my kitchen cabinets is something I’ve wanted to do for years but was very daunted by, especially when I learned that I would need to use oil paint if I wanted the paint job to be durable and easy to wipe down. In case you didn’t know, oil paint is the opposite of awesome to work with. It is stinky and sticky and you have to use either paint thinner or vegetable oil (yes, this works!) to get it off your hands. Worst of all, it takes 24 hours between each coat to dry, and it doesn’t respond to sanding as well as latex, so you’re more likely to have to live with your mistakes.

Here's what the cabinets looked like before I started:

And here's what the kitchen looked like before I painted the walls about a year ago. Makes my eyes bleed now. Still amazed about how quickly my tastes can change over a five-year period:

Because I was painting my kitchen, which we obviously use often, I completed the project in fits and starts over a period of three weeks, usually working on the weekends. I always imagined I’d paint my cabinets white or cream, but then I found this gray that I fell in love with—Martha Stewart’s “Bedford Gray,” which I thought would look super pretty against my mint walls (Benjamin Moore’s “Cool Mint”) and perhaps not show dirt quite as easily. I found this color on another woman’s blog, where she wrote about painting her own cabinets this color. I believe Martha Stewart herself has this color in one of her kitchens.

In addition to painting the cabinets, I took down another one of the cabinets beside my kitchen sink and added open shelving with $10 corbels and lumber from Home Depot. We moved the cabinet we took down into our laundry room so we didn’t actually lose any storage. And now we have a great place to display some of our favorite dishes, including the beginning of my cake stand collection.

Part of the reason I want to share this project here, besides that I'm proud of the way it turned out, is that I learned so much during the process. I hope I can save others some time and frustration before they get going with oil paint on their own cabinets. So, in no particular order, here’s what I learned about painting kitchen cabinets with oil paint:

1. Don’t worry about painting the inside of your cabinets. No one will notice, and it will save you a ton of time if you don’t worry about this part. I do plan on one day going back and painting the insides with something easy—like chalk paint. But not any time soon.

2. To minimize the appearance of brush strokes, which are basically inevitable, in both your primer and paint use a paint additive called Flood Penetrol, which extends the already excruciatingly long drying time but really does make your paint less gloppy.

3. Spend a little extra on a paintbrush designed specifically for oil-based paints. I began with a cheapie paintbrush but switched halfway through the project to a natural bristle brush that cost $15. This made ALL THE DANG DIFFERENCE in how smoothly the paint went on. The expensive brush also shed far less so I wasn’t constantly picking stray bristles off the wet cabinets.

4. In spite of my paintbrush recommendation, try to use your paintbrush as little as possible. I got a far better finish when I rolled the paint on, and it also took me much less time. Also spend a little extra to buy a mini-roller that’s guaranteed to be lint free. I found mine at the Sherwin Williams store and loved it because it smoothed the finish out enough that I didn’t have to sand between coats of paint. Still, the final finish isn’t completely smooth; it’s just so slightly mottled because of the texture of the rolling brush. I suppose if you want a mirror-smooth finish, you need to pay someone a few thousand bucks to spray your cabinets. I spent about $75 on paint and supplies. (The corbels and boards for six shelves cost the most--another $150.)

5. Don’t paint in the dark. Oh, does this sound obvious? Well, since I have two small children, I like to do a lot of my projects after they go to sleep at night. This wasn’t a good one to do. I glopped on a coat of primer in low light one night and woke up the next morning to find a horrifying number of hardened drips. It took me at least an hour the next day to sand off all my mistakes. After that I did all my painting in the daylight.

6. Ventilate! It was cold when I took on this project so I didn’t open a window, and I didn’t think to wear a mask. This was dumb, dumb, dumb; lots of people have since told me this. I’ve had several blinding migraines in the weeks since and now wonder if this might have something to do with the paint fumes I huffed for hours on end.

7. I also learned: All the hard work was worth it. My kitchen makes me smile now, every single day. The cabinets were the one thing that was holding me back from full-on loving my sweet and humble and happy kitchen. Maybe one day we can knock down the wall between the dining room and kitchen and put in some white quartz countertops and a range hood (big dreaming here) to finish the picture—and I’m looking for the perfect pair of barstools, which I found at T.J. Maxx but then let get away from me—but in the meantime I am so happy with this space now. It seems like a lot of people are dying to paint over their dated cabinets. I say: Do it! It's hard work, but you'll never regret it. Just put on some good tunes and enjoy the process. And open a window for God's sake.

P.s. These pictures are not awesome. It looks better in person, and I am not super handy with my camera.