To Paint or Not to Paint

As the heart of the household and the room that is used the most, your kitchen takes a lot of abuse. Look around the favorite room in your home; can you see wear and tear?

Are your floors well-worn from lots of traffic (of the two- and four-footed variety)? How about your countertops? Are they stained or chipped from spending endless hours preparing meals? Now take a look at your cabinets. Do you notice grease stains, watermarks, and scratches? Are they starting to show their age and look a little outdated?

If you’re ready for a kitchen makeover, deciding what to do with your cabinetry needs serious consideration. Unless you have a substantial budget for your renovation, all-new cabinets may not be feasible.

The next best options:

Refacing—A Brand New Look at Half the Cost

In an economy where replacement kitchen cabinets can cost anywhere from $75 to $400 per linear foot for in-stock units up to $250 to $1,500 per linear foot for custom-designed styles, refacing your kitchen cabinets makes a lot of sense.

There are three options for refacing cabinets that can offer a significant savings over a full-cabinet replacement:

  1. Keep the original cabinet framework and finish intact, but replace the doors and drawer fronts.
  2. Install real wood veneer or plastic laminate over the cabinet frames; doors and drawer fronts will be replaced to match the new finish.
  3. Repaint over the entire exterior cabinet finish.

All three methods will more cost-effective than a complete cabinet replacement, require less time and work (no time-consuming tear-out is needed), and you can still use your kitchen while the work is being done.

Option #1
Replace Doors and Drawer Fronts

If your doors and drawer fronts are severely damaged or if you’d like to update your style, you can replace them without tearing out the cabinet frames. This option can be done as a reasonably priced DIY project or by a professional remodeling contractor.

If you’re doing the work yourself, make sure that your cabinet boxes are quality-built, sturdy and secured tightly to the wall before ordering new doors and drawer fronts. It won’t make good financial sense to put new doors on deteriorating frames, so inspect them thoroughly before choosing this option.

Once you’ve determined the supporting structure is stable, standard- and custom-sized materials can be ordered through a local home improvement store or purchased online.

The doors and drawer fronts will need to be unscrewed and removed. Accurate measurements will need to be taken of each component including new hinges and handles. Keep the old pieces to use as a template to reinstall hinges at the proper heights to the cabinet frames.

You’ll be amazed at the variety of products available, including unfinished wood ready for staining or painting, as well as prefinished wood (in a wide range of species and colours) and laminates.

Option #2
Reface or Resurface Cabinets

The second method of refacing covers cabinet exposed frames and end panels with veneers. Refacing will provide the look of entirely new cabinets at about half the cost. While a professional refacing job starts around $1,000 for low-end laminates, $2,500 for wood veneer, and $7,000 for high-end wood species veneer, it is still very affordable compared to a typical $10,000+ price tag for new components.

Once again, it’s important that your cabinets are in sound condition with no warping, water damage or broken frames. Beware of cheap cabinets that have vinyl paper backs and bottoms. These will not securely hold refacing materials and will eventually peel or break. Cabinets built before 1980 are often better suited to a refacing job as they were constructed of thicker plywood than more current styles.

With endless colours, textures, wood species, and patterns available, you can have fun mixing and matching for a low-cost kitchen reno.

  • The most expensive selection is real wood veneer. This is available in maple, pine, oak and cherry and is typically pre-stained in a variety of colours. All wood veneer is treated with a moisture-resistant sealant.
  • The second option is low-cost, plastic laminate. This product comes is extremely durable, moisture-resistant and come in hundreds of colours and textures.

This reno project also requires new doors and drawer fronts. Laminates can be mixed and matched with coordinating or contrasting colours. Doors made with a resilient plastic coating over fibreboard called rigid thermofoil (RTF) is also available as a low-cost alternative to wood or laminate.

A professional installation will take two to four days after material delivery. Old cabinet doors and drawer fronts are removed; then, cabinet boxes are prepared with a degreaser and light sanding. Surface flaws and cracks are filled so the veneer fits tightly. New doors, drawer fronts, hinges, pulls and knobs will be installed to complete the project.

To save even more and want to tackle the work yourself, Do-it-yourself resurfacing kits are available at home improvement stores. You may need to purchase special tools and adhesives to apply the veneer properly.

Saving the best for last.

Option #3

If you want to save considerable money while keeping up with latest trends in kitchen cabinet designs, then painting is your best option. According to the experts at HGTV, painted white cabinets are still the top choice for most homeowners with grey running a close second.

Painting your own cabinets, while cost-effective, can be challenging. You’re going to need several weeks to complete this project properly. Make sure you set aside enough time so you’re not rushing the process.

Did you know that not all materials can be painted? If you’ve got wood, wood veneers or metal cabinets, you’re good to go. Laminate and melamine, however, aren’t good candidates for painting.

Now comes the critical part.

Painting kitchen cabinet and window

Surface Preparation

This is almost as important as the actual painting itself.

  • Remove all the doors, drawers and hardware. Be sure to mark them so they can be put back in the same place later. Move to an open, protected area.
  • While some contractors recommend stripping the old finish off before painting, most suggest that a thorough cleaning and light sanding is preferred and all that’s necessary.
  • Remove grease and grime with a degreaser. Avoid using any cleaner containing ammonia as it will cause yellowing of the paint. Rinse with clear water.
  • Fill dents and blemishes with non-shrinking putty and allow to dry.
  • Sand all surfaces with 80 to 120 grit paper, then wipe down with a tack cloth to the remove dust. You’ll be lightly sanding between prime and finish paints with 180-grit paper to smooth out the finish before the final coat.
  • Mask off backsplashes, countertops, walls, and appliances with painter’s tape to protect against accidental overspray or bleeding.
  • Your cabinets should now be ready for painting.

Choosing the Proper Paint

Oil or latex?

Both paint types will provide a beautiful cabinet finish. The formulation you decide to use will be based on personal preference. No matter which type you select, be sure to purchase a high-quality cabinet paint for best results. Here are features of each:

  • Latex paints are easy to apply and clean up with water.
  • Water-based paints take up to two or three weeks to dry completely.
  • 100 percent acrylic latex paints should be used to achieve maximum adhesion and durability.
  • Oil-based paints form a harder, more durable finish.
  • Alkyd-based paints produce a smoother finish.
  • Clean-up is more difficult as you must use mineral spirits to break down the paint from painting equipment.

Both types come in a variety of colours, so you keep one colour palette or blend with a coordinating or contrasting shade. Keep in mind that darker colours may require a tinted primer or a second coat to keep lighter underneath colours from bleeding through.

Type of Application

Brush, roller or sprayer?

Unless you’re experienced in using spray equipment, you could have a huge mess. Spraying will provide the smoothest surface, so you may want to consider spraying the doors and drawers and then painting the cabinet frames and stiles. Equipment can be rented for a reasonable cost at your local home improvement store.

If you choose to use a roller, select “smooth cabinet finish,” a high-density “foam roller” to apply an oil-based primer, and a 1/4″ low-nap “mirror finish” roller for the finished product. The low nap will leave less stippling for a smoother finish.

You can also achieve excellent results by using a high-quality paint brush. Use a synthetic-bristle brush for latex paint and a natural-bristle brush for oil-based paint. Brushes are the easiest to use but can leave brush strokes.


This should be done in five steps:

  1. Use a special cabinet primer to help cover stains and minor imperfections. This will create a much smoother finished surface.
  2. Once the primer has dried, sand the surface lightly with 150- to 180-grit paper. Wipe all dust away with a damp cloth.
  3. Apply the main coat of paint. You may need several coats if you’re covering a dark cabinet with a light-coloured paint. Make sure you apply light coats of paint to avoid dripping or uneven coating.
  4. Lightly sand surfaces again to create a soft, smooth surface.
  5. Add a polyurethane topcoat to provide an extra layer of protection. Use a high-density foam roller for the best results.

One last thing

Before you put the doors and drawers back on, consider painting the inside of your cabinets for a complete, kitchen reno project.

Match up each door and drawer with the corresponding cabinet you marked earlier. This is a good time to replace all the door pulls and handles. Pay close attention to double-hole handles as they come in a variety of sizes. You’ll want to measure the center distance on your current handles to make sure you get the right configuration.

Whether you replace, reface or paint your kitchen cabinets, you can be sure that you’re adding value to your home. And while this reno project can be a little time-consuming and costly, it will still be a very small price to pay for a brand new look.