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Painting The Kitchen Cabinets

diy - how to paint builder's grade kitchen cabinets

Painting your kitchen cabinets is a great way to bring that drab kitchen of yours to a new level! And let's not even talk about all the savings you are going to get by doing it yourself. 

However, before even thinking about a paint color or grabbing a paintbrush, I want you to examine those cabinets closely. 

Are they still sturdy? 
Is the style something you can live with? 

If your answer is no, or if the cabinets are broken, wobbly, or generally in bad shape, no matter what type of paint you apply, they are not going to look good.

If your cabinets are structurally in good condition, then this post is for you. Nothing like a good coat of paint on those cabinets to bring beauty to a kitchen for a fraction of the cost.

The cabinets in my kitchen were in good condition, the style was not the best, but they were good and sound. What bothered me the most was the color. Yeah. They were the infamous honey oak builder's grade cabinets. :/
This is how my kitchen looked at the beginning of the renovation:
Honey Oak kitchen before makeover
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I decided to paint my kitchen myself for the most obvious reason: Saving money.  If I'd hired someone to do the job, I wouldn't be able to get the type of material I wanted for the countertops.  

Even though I knew it was a long and tedious job, I decided to take my time and do it the best possible way I could.

Let's get to what needs to be done!
  • I began by emptying the cabinets and the room.
  • The doors, hardware, drawers, and shelves were also removed.
  • The surfaces were cleaned with TSP (Trisodium Phosphate), to remove accumulated grease and grime, for the paint to have better bonding.
TSP - Trisodium phosphate used to clean kitchen cabinets
  • The outside surfaces were sanded with 100-grit sandpaper to remove the glossy finish they had.
  • Floors, appliances, and areas that were not going to be painted were covered.
  • I first applied Zinsser B-I-N Primer to the inside of the cabinets because those were laminated surfaces that needed this type of primer (it adheres to any kind of surface).
Zinsser BIN primer before paint.

Kitchen makeover with painted cabinets and added molding
| Priming the inside of the cabinets with Zinsser B-I-N Primer |

  • For the front and/or outside of the cabinets which were wooden surfaces I applied Kilz Odorless White Primer. Same for the MDF pieces I also added.
Kilz primer for wood on cabinets
diy - how to paint builder's grade kitchen cabinets
| Priming the outside with Kilz |
  • The outside was sanded with 220-grit sandpaper to get rid of brush marks. After that, the surfaces were cleaned with a tack cloth to get rid of dust.
How to paint and upgrade a builder's grade kitchen on a budget.
| After the first coat of paint |

  • Two coats of paint were applied.  For kitchens and bathrooms, the experts recommend the use of oil-based paints because of durability, but I decided to use Latex paint, it dries faster and does not turn yellow over time.  I tried to choose a high-quality paint: Benjamin Moore Aura, with a Satin finish.  After the first coat, all the surfaces were sanded with 280-grit sandpaper, again dusting before applying the final coat.
kitchen makeover on a budget with painted cabinets
| Second coat of paint |

  • The doors, drawer fronts, and shelves were painted on a table to prevent drips, just the same as with the cabinets, but the waiting time for the surfaces to dry was a full day after each coat.
kitchen makeover on a budget with painted cabinets and island makeover

The Final touches were changing the light fixtures, and countertops, painting the walls, and installing decorative hardware and a window shade.
kitchen cabinets painted Benjamin Moore Aura - Satin - Navajo White and Tudor Brown
| Pendant Light | Roman Shade |

At this point, I was soo happy! All the hard work was done and I could see the difference. But hey, up next is how to install a marble backsplash.

The cabinets were painted: Navajo White - Benjamin Moore Aura - Satin
The island was painted: Tudor Brown - Benjamin Moore Aura - Satin

Check all the projects done to update this kitchen:

Closing the space above the kitchen cabinets
Adding moldings to your kitchen cabinets 
Build a range hood.
Build a fridge enclosure.
Update the kitchen island
Tips about installing recessed lights
Final kitchen reveal
Kitchen cost breakdown
1 ½ Year Later How the Kitchen is Holding up
Build-in Plate Rack
Pull Out Shelves in Pantry
LG Appliances Review and Complain

Enjoy what you read today?



  1. What an amazing difference! I would have guessed you bought all new cabinet by looking at your before and after! I recently painted mine as well and am loving the finished product. Definitely worth all of the work!

    Would love it if you shared your kitchen transformation at my Room Evolution party on 1/31!


  2. I am blown away at how you turned a boring builder kitchen into a gorgeous custom!! Outstanding! I hope you are incredibly proud of yourself! Talk about increasing the home value!! WOW!

  3. What was the color of the Benjamin Moore paint used on your cabinets please?

  4. You can check my paint colors tab at the top.

  5. Wow you made a clean job in painting those cabinets. Your work is even comparable to commercial painter Vancouver professionals.

  6. Cristina he visto que solo tienes un post en español los otros estan en ingles, no tienes instalado el traductor para poderlo elegir español y leerlo todo bien, pq asi no me entero de nada jejeejej. bueno espero lo pongas para facilitarme leer tus COMENTARIOS.

  7. What a beautiful job. We just remodeled our kitchen, doing many of the same things (although, I think I like yours a little I used SW Emerald (their "best" kind) in Satin, and I could not me more unhappy with it. It looks and cleans like a flat paint. Plus I had to paint it 3 times (it's dark, but I primed beforehand)before it had full coverage. I'm tempted to go to BM and buy a can of their paint to redo my (just painted) cabinets.
    Thanks for all the details and beautiful pictures.

  8. Thank you so much Michelle! I'm so sorry to hear about the bad experience painting your cabinets with SW paints, after all that work it must be pretty upsetting! I'm happy with the results of the brand I used, BM, even though one of the base cabinet doors (where the trash can is located), has some scratches due to its heavy use and also to the sharp nails of my daughter! :)
    Good luck if you decide on redoing it!

  9. You are some superwoman. I am blown away by the beautiful work you have done. You are an inspiration to the women out there, of what we are capable of doing. I will apply some of your projects to my own home. I have a question about painting cabinets - do the paint stay on and not chip off? As kitchen cabinets get a lot of use, it may appear nice in the picture to have them painted but they could be more maintenance to the home owners. What is your comment on this? Thanks and keep on with your very helpful blog and video.

  10. Thanks Amscon! You can find the answer to your questions in my latest "How is my kitchen holding up" review, right here:

  11. Thanks so much for sharing this. I've been staring at my builder cabinets for four years, and I've really wanted to paint them, but have been nervous about doing it. This helps a great deal.

  12. Painting kitchen cabinets is way better than replacing them with new ones, me and my wife do that two times in a year to give the cabinets a new look.

  13. May I ask the brand of your white kitchen dining chairs and where they were purchased? Beautiful job on your kitchen!

  14. May I ask the brand of your white kitchen dining chairs and where they were purchased? Beautiful job on your kitchen!

  15. Oops - never mind regarding the kitchen chairs. Found the information on your resources page. Love how thorough your site is! :-)

  16. I love the way your kitchen turned out! I'm getting ready to tackle my own kitchen makeover and your tips will be very useful. I'll be spending a lot of time on your blog... hope you don't mind!

  17. I have done 2 remodels both with Ikea cabinetry. Both turned out very well, the kitchen in particular was awesome. My partner put together all the units and did the levelling. unfinished kitchen cabinets

  18. In the end, if the eyes are attracted to the area where the surfaces and units meet then it is probably a annoying eye sore. The same applies for the walls; choosing free of charge styles goes a long way. construction companies san francisco

  19. Beautiful! Your kitchen looks amazing! I also used Benjamin Moore's Aura paint when I decided to do away with our honey oak three years ago. Other than a tiny chip on a heavily used cupboard door, it's held up so well. What a difference paint makes! Enjoy that kitchen - it should be in a magazine!

  20. Fine work on those cabinets, you can´t really tell they were painted afterwards. The kitchen looks amazing after the whole decoration. Please look us up at PlusReformas

    greetings from Spain

  21. Hello Cristina I am getting ready to paint my kitchen cabinets (OH AND BEFORE I CONTINUE YOU DID A BEAUTIFUL JOB ON THIS KITCHEN!!!! ) and I would like to know how well the Latex paint is holding up, because I do not want to use an oil based paint either. Also, do you like the Satin finish or would you have decided to use a glossy finish? I greatly appreciate your time! Thank you : )

    1. Thanks! You can check my post on how the kitchen is holding up right here:, overall, I'm happy with the performance of the latex paint. If I have to do it again I would go again with latex and satin finish, it gives a nice sheen.

  22. Wonderful job in making the best blog ever, thanks for the good work.

  23. You really did a marvelous job on your cupboards! That said, the Zinsser's Bullseye Primer is my 'go to' Primer for everything namely because through my own experience I have found you really do 'not' have to sand any type of surface that is in good condition. -Brenda-

  24. Thanks for compiling such nicest information in your blogs. Articles are very informative and hope again I’ll find more like that.i live in tennessee and i did a payday advance and cant pay it back

  25. I am quite pleased with this site. There were some concepts by the author which were essential. I have stored your blog. Thanks for the useful period.

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  27. Enhorabuena por la reforma Cristina ha quedado preciosa, un saludo

  28. Igualmente enhorabuena por el trabajo. Nosotros hacemos cosas parecidas en Málaga, visita nuestra web Reformas Málaga

  29. It looks fabulous, you did an amazing job. I would like to paint some cabinets myself. Do you remember what kind of roller you used for painting the cabinets?

    Many thanks!

    1. I'm so sorry Dee, I really don't remember what kind of rollers I used. :(

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  31. gracias por la informacion

  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. Navegando por Internet y buscando información util para inspirarnos en la proxima obra de reformas de una vivienda, he encontrado este magnifico blog donde que me ha servido de enorme fuente de inspiración
    Por ello te doy las gracia sy te animo a seguir con este estupendo trabajo de información.
    Aprovecho para desearte lo mejor en este nuevo año.
    Con afecto, Leinad (visita nuestra web Empresas de Reformas)

  34. What paint color did you use on the walls?

  35. Is your post on how your cabinets are holding up no longer on the site?

  36. Is your post on how your cabinets are holding up no longer on the site?

  37. Casualmente he encontrado este magnifico blog y leendo me ha gustado mucho. Ha sido muy util. Felicidades.

  38. Cristina,

    I have read and reread your kitchen remodel blog all weekend as I am trying to update my kitchen and found the information so valuable! I want to redo my kitchen island and specifically have questions on painting the oak cabinets. I am going to do the same thing and I went to Lowes today and they told me there was no way to prevent the oak grain from coming through if you paint them. Did you find this to be true or do you have a secret for that? So appreciative of any knowledge you are able to share! I am also going to try to make the shelf on the side that you did and have been checking out your favorite tool. Did you consider the mini version?

    Your biggest fan, Leyla from SF

    1. Hi Leyla, I'm so sorry for the late response, somehow this comment ended up in the spam bin. :(
      They're right, it's very difficult to prevent the grain from showing through. It's more noticeable on the doors. As I said before, if you're standing a foot or two in front of the cabinets you're going to notice it, from far away it's not that big of a deal. Even with the grain showing up, I would paint those cabinets if I have to do it again and again!
      Oh, you're talking about the Kreg Jig. I haven't tried the mini version, but in general all their products are great. I highly recommend this tool, once you get the hang of it you're going to be building all kind of furniture! :)

  39. Enhorabuena Cristina, un gran trabajo con acabado espectacular.

  40. I notice your cabinet doors are a different style but cannot find where you address the subject. Did you have them refaced?

    1. Nope. They're the same doors, except for the ones on the cabinet above the fridge. They were bought at Ikea, cabinet and doors.

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