I’d been planning to refresh our kitchen walls and cabinets at some stage this year, mainly because after four years they had become rather grubby and – what can I say – I fancied a wee change! So, the paint charts were stuck onto the wall, sample pots dusted off and Pinterest thoroughly salivated over… then, as we are all too aware, 2020 took a very strange turn, with talk of complete lockdown impending by the middle of March.
Suddenly I realised I needed projects lined up to keep me same throughout my time at home! Home schooling certainly wouldn’t fill my days with happiness, but painting definitely could! Luckily, I had chosen the overall look I was trying to achieve in the kitchen. I wanted a darker colour on the units and a lighter colour on the walls to freshen and brighten the room up a little, particularly as the back of our house has a northerly aspect.
Have a read to find out how I got on :)
My colour choices & some top tips if you’re planning a similar project!
Firstly, here’s a quick look at how the kitchen looked before. I had Farrow & Ball Slipper Satin on the units and Drop Cloth on the walls. Although I didn’t dislike this colour scheme, I did feel it could be brighter overall, with perhaps a touch more contrast and colour interest. One of the elements which restricted my colour choices before was the fact that we weren’t going to replace the worktop, however we would now like to investigate updating this – watch this space! :)
For the units, I ended up choosing what is perhaps my favourite colour on the Farrow & Ball paint chart – Pigeon. It’s such a calming colour, with its muted green-grey tones, but it feels modern, too. It just seems to work so well in my home no matter where I use it. In the south facing rooms, it reads as a warm olive green, the light picking out the yellow tones, whereas in the cooler, north facing light, it takes on a wonderful blue-green hue, which works well with soft pinks, mustard yellow or rust colours, all of which I have dotted around my home.
For the surrounding walls, I wanted an off-white with warm undertones to add brightness, yet one which would tone nicely with the Pigeon units and other dark blue accents that I have in other elements of the room. My plan is to keep introducing warm shades of earthy/dusky pink to warm the scheme further and add pops of colour. The wall paint I chose was Slaked Lime by Little Greene, described as a warm and soft white. To be honest, the jury is still out on whether it is actually the right shade for the room… don’t get me wrong, I like it, but I if I’m truly honest with myself, I had envisaged a more creamy white against the Pigeon. Perhaps Wimborne White would have been a better choice, as its yellow undertones work really well in northerly light. As we’re coming into the summer, it’s not so much of an issue as we get sunlight from the east and west on and off throughout the day, which brings out the warmth of the Slaked Lime, but in the darker winter months, I might not be so convinced by it. That said, I am sitting here looking at it and loving it at this moment!
Anyway, I have chatted on enough about my paint choices! Now for the exciting part – how I set about the process of repainting the cabinets and some satisfying before and after shots (and who doesn’t love those?!)
But first… some points I want to make that I think are imperative to consider prior to embarking on such a massive decor project:
- Repainting your entire kitchen, particularly if it’s sizeable, is NO easy task. You need to be 100% committed to spending 4-7 days of your time on this. If you rush it and try to skip stages, you will find you have a badly finished, chipped kitchen down the line and you’ll end up having to spend money and energy on entirely repainting it or calling the professionals in. Ask yourself if you have the time and patience to see this through…
- Preparation is key!! You’ve heard it a hundred times before, but I can’t stress it enough. Your first ‘painting’ day will likely be mostly preparation – removing doors, organising everything, cleaning, taping, sanding, etc.
- Having a place to store the kitchen doors in while you paint them is vital – use garage space, the shed, a spare area of floor covered in dust sheets, or set up a covered area outdoors if it’s set to be dry for a few days. Do not attempt to paint the doors in situ – it will end up messy. You need to keep using the kitchen, so no doors is a better option than wet or sticky doors lying open while you cook dinner – it will just lead to disaster! If spare space is limited, work on half the doors at a time. This is what I ended up doing as my garage space was too tight to fit over 30 doors in at one time! It also meant I could paint away from the busy house, with no danger of pets or children brushing past my handiwork.
Step by step guide to painting kitchen cabinets
1. Remove all cabinet doors & number them
Prior to removing the cabinet doors, I sketched a rough plan of the kitchen (pic 2), numbering each door as I removed it, so I knew where it would be refitted at the end. I removed each door, storing any screws in a small jar for safe-keeping and wrote the door number (as noted on my plan) on the inside part of the door where the arm bracket fits onto (pic 1). Be careful not to paint over this number! Then remove all cabinet knobs and handles, placing them into a box if you’re planning to reuse them.
2. Clean each door
It’s important to carefully clean the doors to remove any grease or dirt from them. I used a soapy solution of washing up liquid and hot water, scrubbing each door down pretty thoroughly, then rinsing and drying them off. This seems like a mundane task, but it’s an important preparation step not to skip. Any remnants of oil or grease can prevent the paint from adhering properly.
3. Lightly sand each door
The doors I was repainting had previously been painted, but whether you’re painting over old paint or varnished wood, you must lightly sand the surface to provide a ‘key’ for the paint to adhere to. I chose a fairly fine, 180-grit sandpaper and employed my ever-patient husband to do the necessary dirty work! Be sure to rub the sanded surface down with some white spirit on a soft rag or cloth to remove any excess dust. The aim here is to simply remove the glossy appearance from the surface – you don’t want to sand right down to bare wood. There is evidence to suggest that this only allows more moisture to seep into the wood, potentially causing it to expand a little and therefore crack the paint layer.
4. Prime doors
I use a fabulous water-based product for priming almost any surface I wish to paint – Zinsser Bullseye 123. Johnstone’s stock their own, equally good version (here), however at the time of working on this project, I could only order from one hardware stockist online due to the lockdown situation. Either product is fine, although the Johnstone’s version is a good deal cheaper.
Prime the door fronts and backs thoroughly, working the primer into the surface. It dries to the touch fairly quickly, but be sure to leave it to completely dry for at least 4 hours before painting the first coat.
5. First coat
Starting with the door fronts, paint the first coat of satin on, using a combination of a brush and mini roller. You can prop the doors up against a wall or set them onto painter’s pyramids (see here). I used the wall and also some bent bars that my husband uses for jumping over during rugby training, just laying the doors against them on the floor.
Always buy a decent quality brush that you can wash and use again; it provides a better finish and is less wasteful. The same applies to the roller – mohair type ones are best. I used a water-based satin to paint my units with, as it dries more quickly (approx 4 hours), is much less smelly and easier to clean up brushes after than the oil-based eggshells. This comes down to personal preference; just be aware if you choose to use an oil-based paint, you’ll need around 16 hours drying time between coats. Some suggest the oil-based finish is more durable, but with the correct preparation and application, the satin finish can be just as resilient to scratches and chips.
Also paint the top and side edges of the door, leaving the bottom edge for the next coat, when you can rotate the doors around. This means you’re never painting the ‘bottom’ edge and therefore allowing wet paint to dry stuck to the floor.
Once the first coat on the fronts has properly dried, turn the doors over (and turn them the other way up – see note about painting bottom edge above) and paint the backs in the same manner. The reason you paint them in this order is so that the final coat of paint always goes onto the door fronts and any small marks that (hopefully don’t!) appear will be on the insides of the cupboards.
6. Second coat
Important point: before painting the second coat on, give the surface a very light sand, then wipe it down as before. This will ensure a better key for the final coat, as well as a smoother finish.
Paint the second coat onto the door backs and fronts as explained above, ensuring that you have worked the paint really well into the surface and there are no areas left too sparsely coated. Leave the doors to dry overnight and for a good part of the next day, if at all possible, before refitting them. This just ensures the paint is thoroughly cured and lessens the risk of chipping your good work.
7. Prep, prime & paint the kitchen carcass/frame
It goes without saying that it’s much easier to paint the kitchen carcass whilst the doors aren’t in place, so between door drying times, get to work on prepping the frame as you did for the doors; so, clean and lightly sand the existing painted/varnished surface, wipe it all down and prime it. You can then fit in painting the two coats of satin over the top. To be honest, I didn’t sand into all the nooks and crannies; I simply primed most of it. The doors conceal a lot of the corners anyway.
8. Replace the doors and handles
Replace all cupboard knobs/handles first, so that you can hold onto them when replacing the doors. This is where the plan comes in handy! Working your way around, rehang the doors according to their plan numbers. Be very careful refitting drawer fronts as they can easily rub and chip if hung too snugly (I learnt this to my peril!). Work from the bottom drawer up, adjusting as you go if necessary to allow the drawers to glide freely in and out. I actually found that I could adjust the hanging ‘angle’ of the doors by tightening/loosening a tiny screw on the inside centre of the arm bracket – I’m not sure if this is a universal function, but it certainly allowed me to ensure some doors didn’t rub each other when opening and closing.
If you do find there are a few scratches on the doors (and this can be inevitable as you try to hang heavy doors!), simply touch them up with the paint. Hopefully you’ll not need to, particularly if you have allowed them to properly cure beforehand.
The big reveal!
Here’s how the kitchen is looking with its fresh coat of paint on. I really love how the units contrast with the walls and how the whole look and feel of the room is much more contemporary. It’s such a calming colour!
Now I’ll have to start shopping for some little additions to the space… I’m loving this floor lamp, this rug (okay, a girl can dream!!) and these cute dish towels! Hmmm.. maybe just stick to the dish towels for now… :D
I hope this helps inspire you to try repainting your own kitchen, utility room or even built-in shelving or wardrobes you’ve had installed or that need a refresh. It’s amazing how a lick of paint can transform how you feel in a space!