Kitchen makeover: Painting oak cabinets (step-by-step!) and new hardware

This day is finally here!! I've been dreaming of transforming our oak cabinets since we first found our new house and have been picturing this fabulous makeover proving that it CAN be done and you CAN update a dated kitchen on a budget.

The kitchen's not done yet, but the cabinets are painted and the oak is GONE. And I am so happy with them. Here's how we did it!!

I was terrified of painting cabinets, particularly oak, before we got started. I'd seen lots of tutorials online where people have successfully done it, but I could also hear a voice in my head saying that I'll never really cover the grain.

But, after painting all our oak doors and trim, the cabinets were a much smaller project and I was less afraid to dive in. I worked with Orchard Supply Hardware on this post as well, and their advice and Benjamin Moore Advance paint were so helpful in making this project turn out!

How about a refresher on what we started with? This top photo is the listing photo--the most attractive this kitchen ever looked. Pretty gross. See the grease stain above the stove? Part of the reason we ditched those cabinets. We still have some work to do on the kitchen but BOY, does painting the cabinets make a big difference!


Painting oak cabinets


You will need:


  • 180 grit sandpaper 
  • Tack cloth or damp cloth 
  • Wood filler 
  • 1.5" angled brush 
  • 3/8" nap roller (don't buy the cheap ones--they shed fuzz which is sooo not what you want for a smooth cabinet front!)
  • Zinsser 1-2-3 primer (tinted if using a dark paint color--OSH will do this for you custom to match your paint color or you can buy it in a grey)
  • Benjamin Moore Advance paint (I used White (OC 151) for the top cabinets and Black Beauty for the bottom, both in Stain) 
  • Hinges, recessed/Euro style or traditional (we weren't able to recess ours due to the previous hardware)
  • New handles/pulls

Instructions:


1. Remove cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Lightly sand all cabinet surfaces and dust off with tack cloth or damp cloth.

Fill any dents or existing hardware holes with wood filler; let dry and sand again.

It's usually pretty easy to sand drawer fronts and doors outside, but it is dusty inside for the cabinets which stay in place!

2. Prime back sides of doors and drawer fronts, and cabinets. I used a wall roller for the larger surfaces so it went really quickly.

You don't need to prime and paint the parts of the drawer fronts that will be screwed back into the doors.

Once the backs of the doors and drawer fronts are dry, flip over and prime the fronts.

3. Apply one coat of Benjamin Moore Advance paint, again starting on the back sides.

Once dry, lightly sand (by hand) to remove high parts. This helps get out any bubbles from the roller or brush, but also sloughs off higher parts that show from the grain. You can see a bit of the primer showing through after I sanded this first coat.


4. Paint a second coat on backs, then fronts, and cabinets.

5. Once paint is fully dry (I waited an extra couple of days), re-install drawer fronts, centering drawers on them and/or using existing holes.

6. Install hinges to doors and cabinets. Our 90's cabinets had previously had semi-hidden hinges that were actually inserted into the doors, and there were T-shaped holes on the cabinet pieces. We didn't want to risk drilling large holes for Euro-style recessed hinges, so we went with standard ones--though we bought them in black and white to almost match the doors. If you squint you don't notice them! I wanted the look of invisible ones but this is good enough given what we were working with.

Hanging the doors was a little tricky; we measured the horizontal center of each pair of doors and used levels and the existing hinge holes as guides. Brother-in-law helped.

Tip: always drill pilot holes!

Our cabinets had never had handle or pull hardware, just scooped-out edges at the center for grabbing. Those are ugly and get dirty! We knew adding modern hardware would really help with the look, but I also wanted to hide/disguise the old recessed areas, so we flipped all the doors and drawer fronts upside down and swapped them with their matching neighbors. The recessed areas are now hidden at the floor or very top edge! (The only one we couldn't do this on was the tiny one-off cabinet left of the dishwasher; there's only one of those.)

We lived with our cabinets like this for several weeks while I debated hardware styles. It was a bit of a pain. So grateful for handles now!

7. Once you've spent hours perusing Pinterest, saving screen shots to your phone, looking at the selection at OSH on a few trips there, asking your friends... and you finally have the cabinet hardware, install it!

I chose handles with 5" spread for the drawers, so my hardware template was too small. I tried making my own, but that didn't really work, so I went back to the ruler/level method.

This row was a little tricky to get all in the same line!

We did a 3" spread of the same handle style for the upright ones on the cabinets. I used a simple plastic hardware template to mark those holes.

I considered doing a knob to match but really like the modern look of the bars on the cabinet doors as well as drawers.

The white upper cabinets on the opposite wall look great with the brushed brass, too.

Hardware installed?? Finished!!!! Enjoy your painted and more functional cabinets!

So, did we hide the oak grain? Not 100%, but in the 90%s, for sure. I don't see it on the doors. I can kind of see it on the joints of the drawer fronts, and on  the cabinets themselves, but it doesn't bother me. The Benjamin Moore Advance paint is such good quality stuff and gives a really smooth look since it dries relatively slowly. We also have not had issues with chipping in bumping it and putting painter's tape on it while painting the walls.

With the rounded edges these cabinets have, and the more traditional spacing (gaps between the drawers, doors, etc.), we will never have a super modern look like a new IKEA kitchen. (If you have oak cabinets with frames, you could go for an even more traditional look with hardware with a serif or rounded knobs!)

As with our door and trim painting project. we had great experiences getting the help we needed from Orchard Supply Hardware when buying our supplies, paint, and hardware. They really have a good selection of hardware, too, a lot more than I found on the bigger websites online. Plus, they carry Benjamin Moore paint! I can't imagine using another brand for trim, cabinet, or door painting now.

Here are some close-ups. If you reeeeally try, you can see some grain, but I mostly see a smooth, velvety flat surface with a fab handle.

I also love the look of the white and dark "tuxedo" cabinet style in our small kitchen, and they look great with our butcher block countertops!

You may have been wondering about the gashes on the walls and blank walls, and lack of upper cabinets or shelving... we still have some improvements to do.

In this photo alone:
  • Install light above sink
  • Replace fluorescent with can lights or other lighting
  • Tile back and side walls (other side of the kitchen under the white cabinets as well)
  • Install and cut hole for venting of stainless steel vent hood
  • Install floating shelves above dishwasher
  • Install baseboards!!!!! That patchy, dirty drywall above the flooring, how embarrassing...

But hey, we have already come SO far and I am SO happy with how our cabinet painting turned out!! You can totally do it, too. As I've said a few times throughout this process... it was MUCH faster and easier than painting a million doors and trim!! In fact, I'm confident enough with this process that I might consider painting one of our oak bathroom vanities rather than replacing it...

Want to try it at home?? Pin to save this post for later!

Thanks to Orchard Supply Hardware for providing the supplies we needed for this project!

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