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Kitchen Makeover: Painted Cabinets & New Drawer Pulls

Project Kitchen: Painting Cabinets Part 1

February 16, 2015 Sarah Coggins
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The makeover in the kitchen is slowly continuing. A few weeks ago I started tackling the cabinets. Overall, the cabinet boxes are in good shape. They just need a fresh coat of paint. The doors are okay as well, but are coming apart. Over time the laminate or thermofoil has begun to separate from the MDF. This started before we bought the house. I actually noticed during inspection that one of the doors below the kitchen sink had been “repaired” with white duct tape. Oh yeah. Classy. Guessing that was a quick fix by one of the renters.

Kitchen Makeover: Painting Cabinets

Originally we considered replacing the doors and drawer fronts. That’s 18 doors and 9 drawer fronts not counting the island which we plan to completely replace at some point. Only a couple sizes repeat. I kept seeing dollar signs every time I thought about. Enter Pinterest because, of course, almost everything can be found there now and I saw posts where people had dared to peel off the thermofoil and paint the MDF. We decided to give it a try. Worse case scenario we were back to replacing the doors.

Trent had a week off in January while our son was in school. The weather was warm (60s) and perfect. With his help for watching our daughter, I purchased the supplies to start the project and kept my focus small to be sure I could complete what I set out to do – just the base cabinets. Here’s what I learned that week …

  • Scrub down those old cabinets to remove all the dirt, oil, etc and prep the surface for painting.
  • Use a primer. I used 2 coats of Kilz on everything. This was especially important on the cabinet doors as it did a good job of covering and sealing the MDF.

Kitchen Makeover: Cabinet Doors Primed

  • Be patient. All those coats take time to dry.
  • Use oil based paint so the cabinets can be easily cleaned later.
  • Pick a good weather day so you can open the windows and doors. Oil-based primer and paint? They stink frankly. As in smell. The Kilz had a pretty strong odor until it dried. Then we hardly smelled it at all. The paint had an odor a good while longer. We have an open floor plan on the first floor so the area had plenty of ventilation. I mainly noticed the odor when we were in the kitchen area – not so much in our living room directly across.

Kitchen Makeover: Painting Cabinets

  • Put on that thinking cap! This one is props to my husband all the way. Remember that door with the duct tape? When I peeled it off, I found the tape was doing more than holding the thermofoil on – it was also covering up water damage. I originally started to sand and paint. Then Trent had a clever idea. He measured the doors on the island and (hurray!) discovered they were the exact same size. Instant fix as we plan to eventually replace the island. We pulled one of the good doors off it to use for under the sink.

Kitchen Makeover: Damaged Cabinet Door

  • Advice I saw repeatedly was to roll or spray the paint. I used a combination of brush and roller. I brushed on all the primer. Then brushed on the paint and quickly followed behind with the roller to smooth it a bit. In the end, yes, we do have some light streaks, but we like this as, in our opinion, it gives them a more “real” look versus looking like MDF.
  • This post from This Old House was the best reference with step-by-step instructions and photos detailing painting cabinets.

After almost a month of having the base cabinets painted I can say that so far I am thrilled with the results. They look so much better. Just walk into the room and you can see at a glance how yellow the old ones look by comparison. The painted cabinets look fresh & new even though they are over 16 years old.

Kitchen Makeover: Painted Cabinets & New Drawer Pulls

The doors are holding up great. I’ve already had a couple of spills on the ones below the sink and they have easily wiped clean. I’m sure someday we will replace them. I’d like a different style, but for now they function and look much better than they did when the thermofoil faces were peeling off.

I also took advantage of having the drawer faces removed to fill the holes from the old knobs and replace with new pulls.

I can’t wait until we have time, and good enough weather, to do the upper cabinets and desk. In the meantime I’m picking a paint color for the walls and pricing the backsplash.

See more of our kitchen makeover experience: Kitchen: BeforeNew Granite Counters | Appliances | Kitchen Organization


  • Julie S. February 17, 2015 at 1:43 pm
    That looks awesome! I want to paint our bathroom cabinets SO bad.
    • Sarah Coggins February 17, 2015 at 2:55 pm
      Thanks! If you do, plan for a LOT of time. I'm thinking of splitting up the rest of our cabinets into 3 or 4 other paint times to slowly get them all completed. Beats the cost of new cabinets though!

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    Hi! I'm a DIY and craft obsessed mom to 2. I have my hands covered in sawdust or paint any given day. My husband and kids join me in many of our projects. When we aren't creating at home, we're creating memories in our many adventures. Join along! Read More


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