Painting kitchen cabinets: Should d-i-yers tackle this project?

Photographer Bryan Haeffele transformed the kitchen of his 1799 home by painting the kitchen cabinets himself; he hired contractors to install a new quartz slate kitchen floor, new appliances, wrought-iron chandelier. — Bryan Haeffele photos

Bryan Haeffele is a photographer with a great eye. He lives in a house built in 1799 and didn’t like the way his kitchen cabinets looked. They were oak and purchased from a big box store sometime in the 1990s. They didn’t really go with the character or integrity of the house. That’s when Bryan decided to do something about them. He was going to paint them an antique color that was appropriate for the age and period of his home.

Before the transformation.

Do It Yourself (DIY): If you’re a patient person like Bryan, you can do this yourself.

Don’t Do It Yourself (DDIY): If you need instant results.

DIY: If you’re a perfectionist.

It took six weeks to complete the cabinet project. That’s a lot of time for a kitchen to be out of commission. If you do the cooking, it is definitely a challenge. Bryan is also a perfectionist, which contributed to the time factor, but he did the project right from start to finish. First, he got swatches and samples of different color paints. He painted a little space on the cabinet doors with each color and studied how the colors looked in the daylight and how they looked with the kitchen lights shining on them. Then he picked the color that worked best. In this case it was Nantucket Gray by Benjamin Moore. It’s important to do the pre-painting test because not only the light, but the surface material, will have an influence on the finished look. You can’t assume that the way the paint looks on a swatch or in the can will be the way the final outcome looks.

DIY: If you do the pre-paint sample test.

DDIY: If you think the color is going to be the same as a color chip or lid on a can.

Bryan is not a weekend warrior; he took on the project because it was a necessity. It had to be done and he needed some new appliances as well; so he knew he could save on the cost if he did it himself. “The professionals make it all look so easy,” says Bryan, with a laugh.

There are four important steps to painting wooden cabinets.

Step 1. Take off all the cabinet doors and the accessories including pulls and handles.

Step 2: De-gloss and sand the cabinets. If you’re getting new pulls, as Bryan did, then you’ll need to fill in the holes with spackle. Bryan used a chemical for the de-glossing that did not harm the wood and used spackle to fill in the holes of the former pulls, which were longer than the new ones and had two holes instead of one, like the new pulls. Bryan also used a 1/4-inch drill to make the new holes.

Step 3: Prime. Bryan put the cabinet doors on risers in his garage. After priming one side of the doors, he waited 24 hours before priming the other side of the doors. “You have to do this if you want the paint to really take properly,” explains Bryan, who did this step twice. He said that if he were to do such a job again, he probably wouldn’t do this step twice.

Step 4: Do the painting.

DIY: If you’re installing new appliances and are an electrician, then you can do the electrical installations yourself. If you have gas appliances, like Bryan, you may want to call in a professional.

DDIY: If you are not accustomed to working with electricity or gas, call the professionals. Bryan called in an electrician and had a new outlet installed. He also called in a professional to hook up the gas appliances.

DIY: If you are handy when it comes to plumbing.

DDIY: If you don’t know anything about plumbing and want your sink and faucets and dishwasher to work properly; call in a plumber

DIY: If  you want to save money. Bryan was thrilled that he saved enough money by doing the job himself that he was able to purchase some of the appliances.

DIY: If you want self satisfaction. “They look great,” observes Bryan, adding that he has received a lot of compliments from family and friends. “Overall, the project went pretty smoothly.”

It’s important to keep in mind that Bryan’s project went smoothly because he took his time and did not skip steps. The most important thing to remember about painting cabinets yourself is that you must be patient and do the job properly. A quick splash of paint just won’t work.


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