Painting Kitchen Cabinets? Attempt #1

I didn’t think I could outdo myself after the (in hindsight, not so bad) setbacks with the magnetic knife strip, but oh boy! Do I ever have a doozy today. Ever tried to paint your kitchen cabinets?

I have. And I regret everything.

Our cabinets are standard builder-grade cabinets in a faux cherry finish. They’re not terrible, but they’re not what I would have chosen if starting from scratch, style or color. Style is expensive to fix, but color is not. And the DIY blogosphere seems pretty unanimous about the feasibility of painting your cabinets.

That said, there are tons of ways to do it – leave the doors on or take them all off? Chalk paint or alkyd paint? What brand? Sand-degloss-prime? Degloss-sand-prime? Just sand? Just clean & prime?

I found posts that swore by every possible permutation of the above. I was intrigued by chalk paint, and the fact that there’s no deglossing or priming necessary. And plenty of articles gave the nod to the method. There are a million choices when it comes to chalk paint – DIY or off-the-shelf? Brand?

Ultimately I picked this Renaissance Chalk Furniture & Cabinet Paint in Snow based on its deliriously positive reviews. Similarly, I opted for Varathane Clear Satin Water-Based Indoor Polyurethane finish over the standard wax finish for chalk paint, based on great reviews of no smell, and more importantly, no yellowing over white paint.

Here’s what I planned to do:

  • Clean the kitchen cabinets with all-purpose cleaner
  • Take off the cabinet doors, leaving the hinges on the doors
  • Paint a light coat on the door backs and cabinet frames with a high density foam roller and high quality paintbrush, as recommended by the paint manufacturer
  • Let it dry completely, then do a second, thicker coat
  • Flip the doors over and do the fronts the same way
  • Apply two coats of the clear poly to the frames and doors

But the wheels fell off pretty quickly. Coat one looked like a very light, uneven primer coat, but I tried not to worry too much about it. After all, the instructions were clear about applying a light first coat and then having the second coat even it all out. The problem was that things were really slow-going with the brush in all the cracks. It was hard to apply evenly in crevice-ridden surfaces like cabinet doors.

Doing just the backs of the pantry doors and the pantry frame took over an hour, considerably longer than I’d expected. I felt like I was battling the paint the whole way because it dried SO quickly.

The second coat did even things out a bit, but really only by comparison to the terrible-looking first coat. Looking at them side by side, the 2-coat door looks awesome. Looking at the 2-coat door by itself, it’s obvious the coverage is insufficient.

This was disheartening. It was already well into the afternoon, and I’d only gotten through 2 coats on the frame and door backs of the pantry. This represented about 1/20 of the total work required for all of the kitchen cabinets, and I started getting discouraged.


I touched up where I could, finished up the door fronts, and applied a coat of the polyurethane, pretty unhappy with how it all was looking. When I came back 2 hours later to apply the second coat, I noticed something troubling.

Yep. YELLOWING!!! I couldn’t believe it. Had all the reviewers lied about it not yellowing? Had I been duped? Things only got worse from there. By the next day, it looked like this – and this was after I sanded it down trying to get rid of it:

Cue the table flip. For unknown reasons (cough::stubbornness::cough) I pressed on the next day with the chalk paint and managed to get a pathetic amount 90% covered in the time it took for me to listen to a few podcasts and get hungry, but looking at the rest of the bare kitchen, I decided I needed to scrap this approach and find something new. 2 days and ~$100 wasted.

Any ideas? I read that chalk paint is kinda like primer, so if I sand off where I applied the yellow “clear” poly (and really, just sand everything for smoothness) then it kinda counts as a primer layer to apply an alkyd paint on top of. Based on this blog post, I’m probably going with Benjamin Moore Advance paint. I shudder to think about sanding AND deglossing AND priming all the rest of the cabinets and would love to skip a step. (Please someone tell me sanding is unnecessary?)

But… now that I’ve seen what part of the kitchen looks like with white cabinets, I’m having second thoughts. It’s awfully bright in here. That may just be because I’m used to the cherry red cabinets dominating the room, and it may have something to do with our gross tile floors…

I looked on Houzz for awhile yesterday and most kitchens with black countertops had white kitchen cabinets and darker hardwood floors. We’d love to replace the floor but that seems like a daunting project and not one I’m eager to dive into. It would involve disconnecting/removing the island and a radiator, plus losing the major entrance/exit to the house.

Anyway! I’m down but not out. I’m putting this aside for a little bit and will come back to these abused kitchen cabinets with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm.


  1. I feel your pain, Tink! Not a very rewarding experience – but certainly a learning one. I have faith that all will be well … eventually. And please remember that there are professional painters out there who would be thrilled to do this for you, little momma!

  2. Maybe you need modern, door-less cabinets to complement your amazing shelves…it would cut down on the surface area at least ????

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.