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So you think you want to refinish cabinets?

Back again with more tips from the new house adventure. The first thing I wanted to do in the house was refinish the cabinets. I found them to be a huge eyesore and totally out of place in such a light, airy bungalow. Here's what they looked like before:

My house is an open concept (living room flowing into the dining room and then into the kitchen), so these cabinets were a big focal point in my great room. I knew it was worth the time investment to do it. I just never knew how much time it would take.

The whole purpose of this blog is to share the things I wish I had known before I started, and of course, anything I may discover along the way. Let me cut to the chase now: DON'T DO THIS! :) Kidding. The after is absolutely worth the work, but I have to say, this project was a lot more intensive than I imagined. You can find plenty of tutorials online in various forums, but I don't think any of them accurately describe how much work this is. Be ready if you're going to tackle this on your own.

First things first, you have to take the doors and drawers out. In my case, I was moving into an empty house and thought, "let's knock out this project before I move anything in here." This means I had my whole empty living room and dining room to work with, and could lay out my doors in order. This was my first mistake. NUMBER YOUR DOORS! Many tutorials will tell you to do this, but I thought, "All mine are laid out perfectly, I'll know where they go..." That didn't happen. As this project drew out longer, they kept getting moved and soon someone had stacked my doors and there was no telling which one went where. It's as simple as a roll of painters tape. Tear off two small pieces, write the same number on both, stick one to your door/drawer and one inside the cabinet you took it from. I'm still kicking myself for not listening to this tip.

Second mistake, I did not put my hardware in designated bags/containers. As you take your doors off, put all hinges and screws in bags and keep them safe. Once again, because I thought this project would be completed in an empty house, I just left them on counters and in the cabinets they matched to... some of them ended up missing. (Later found, but all of the stress could've been avoided.)

Unsanded cabinet with primer

Sanding comes next. These cabinets were brand new. They had no dirt/dust/grime on them, so I went straight into roughing up that shiny veneer. If your cabinets are older, you may want to give them a good cleaning first. I read a few tutorials that explain how to paint cabinets without sanding, and I had a hard time buying that. Apparently, chalkboard paint works for this, but I didn't try that route, so I can't vouch for it. I went the old tried and true sanding/priming route. I've included an example to the right of what happens if you try to paint without sanding first. It has nothing to grip to, and all your hard work will be for nothing! Sand first. It's a pain, but you're going to want your paint to stick.

With both the priming and painting, I started with the backs and then the fronts. For my primer I used classic Kilz primer and a 2" brush. I switched to a 1" brush for the front detail to ensure there was no pooling. Once all my doors were primed, both front and back, I started to paint. Here come's my next mistake. I initially bought a gallon of Valspar Cabinet Enamel paint from Lowe's. It was rather expensive, but I thought that "smooth, no brush marks with little-to-no prep work" would be the surefire way to go. It wasn't. I started painting and hated it instantly. It did not cover well and after two coats, I could still see brush marks. To be fair, I did not tint this paint, and that could be a contributing factor to it not working the way I wanted. I soon ended up at Home Depot purchasing Glidden semi-gloss interior paint. I tinted this paint to "Toasted Marshmallow" which is a white with just a slightest hint of ivory to warm it up a bit. I also switched to a small foam roller for application this time. Not only was the coverage of this paint significantly better (and less expensive), the process was so much faster.

I painted the cabinets first, then all backs and edges of the cabinet doors laying face down on the floor. I also painted the drawers at this time. I left them for about 24 hours to cure before attaching the hinges and hanging them. Once I (my dad) had them all hung, (side note: I was putting together the kitchen island at this time because I was so frustrated I couldn't figure out what door went where.. again: NUMBER YOUR DOORS) I then painted the fronts of all the cabinet doors. I chose do it this way because honestly I just wanted them all of out of the way. This was one choice I was happy I made. It ended up being much easier to paint with them hung in place and to let them cure without any more fingers touching them. As they dried, we slid the island into place and hardware was added a few days later.

Instead of painting the hard-to-reach toe kicks below and risking getting paint on my tile, I opted for painting new, unfinished toe kicks and installing them. A much simpler solution in my mind to just cover the old ones for approximately $20.

One more note before I show you the after photos: you'll notice above that I had a rather large 18" cabinet above my range. It did not allow for an over-the-range microwave to fit, so the simple solution: move it! I found an unfinished 12" bridge cabinet at Home Depot to put in its place and painted it right along with the others. The microwave then fit beautifully below it, complementing my range perfectly (and leaving counters clear!)

Without any further ado, the after photos:

The white lightened up the whole space so much. The addition of the island also made a huge impact. This is the Stenstorp island from IKEA. The configuration of my kitchen made no sense without it. I'm so happy with the way it turned out, despite how much work and time it took to complete.

Let me know if you have any questions about what I did... coming soon: a quick laundry room remodel with an appearance from that 18" cabinet removed from here. :)

Before and Afters side by side:


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