Upgrade cabinets for the price of groceries



A work in progress and the finished result. Photos by Carrie Manner.

A work in progress and the finished result. Photos by Carrie Manner.

There’s no denying that kitchen cabinets lead a rather difficult life. Greasy fingers open and close them. Food and drink splatter them. We bump them with pans, chairs, elbows, and the occasional flying noodle (hey, how else can you know for sure that the pasta is done?). Not to mention the temperature fluctuations from cooking.

Even the sturdiest of wood cabinets break down cosmetically, and unfortunately, that breakdown often depreciates the overall aesthetics of your kitchen.

I inherited such a problem with the purchase of our latest home. The 1970s custom cabinetry that once boasted a rich, dark stain was water damaged, faded, and peeling. Worst of all, they were saturated in cigarette smoke. I decided on day one that they had to go.

If you’re a seasoned homeowner, you probably felt a wave of heebie-jeebies reading that. I know I did. Anyone who has replaced cabinets understands that the only aspect scarier than the price tag is the pain-staking labor required to install them. I get grumpy, my husband gets grumpy, and we both swear that this is the last time—until we buy a new house and the process starts over.

Fast forward to this summer. I finally had the specs in hand and was ready to order the brand-new white cabinets that would bring my farmhouse kitchen dreams to life; all I needed to do was write the check. That’s when I got to thinking about those cabinet paint kits that I always passed by in home improvement stores. They seemed gimmicky, and I’d assumed they couldn’t possibly work…but what if they did? Compared to the thousands of dollars I was about to spend, wasn’t it worth a shot?

That day, I purchased a Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformation Complete Coating Kit, plus three new brushes. The box claimed it would cover 100-square feet with no stripping, sanding, or priming. Mm-hm. I was skeptical at best. Applying pure white paint over dark stain was doomed to fail, so I tossed a quart of oil-based Zinsser Cover Stain Primer in the cart to be safe.

Upon returning home, I watched the instructional DVD included in the kit and soon busted out the cordless drill. Oh, the carnage. I texted a photo of the doors and hardware sprawled lifelessly across the floor to my husband. He showed the photo to his buddy, who immediately asked if I was punishing him for something. A few hours into the project, I began to wonder if I was subconsciously punishing myself. What had I gotten myself into?

Three weeks later I was battle-worn, but the project was complete. It was tedious, it resulted in an elbow injury, and the workspace basically took over my entire kitchen and dining room, but everyone has been shocked at the results—in a good way. The cabinets are absolutely beautiful. More importantly, they’re durable. I’ve knocked and bumped them a fair amount already, and they’ve remained impervious to my clumsiness and careless disregard.

In total, the kit, primer, brushes, and new handles rang in under $200. I don’t know that it was any less work, but it saved us thousands of dollars.

I was so encouraged with the look of the exterior that I then tackled the insides of the cabinets. For that, I purchased a gallon of water-based Kilz primer, a gallon of white furniture paint, black Rust-Oleum spray paint to cover the old shelving brackets, and a whole lot of decorative liner. It added a few more weeks to the project, but the end results are more than worth it. My cabinets look brand new.

If you’re considering a similar upgrade, here are points to consider:

• You may need to power-sand any doors/
drawers that are chipped or have water
damage.
• If you’re switching out handle styles, applying and sanding plastic wood filler will
add an extra step.
• I minimized the chaos by completing all
the upper wall units before moving onto
the base units.
• Don’t skip the oil-based primer if you are
switching from a dark stain to light paint.
Zinsser Cover Stain Primer is the best I’ve
used. And as with any oil-based paint, a
mask and good ventilation are key.
• Lightly sand between primer and paint
coats for a more professional look.
• My kit included an optional decorative glaze for an antiqued look. I suggest
painting scrap boards and practicing on
them before you commit, as glazes will
completely alter the final look and color of
your finished cabinets.
• The protective clear coat may show
brush strokes, even if you’re careful. Be
sure to always brush in the same direction
as the wood grain so they blend in.

Large undertakings like this don’t require expertise, but they do require patience. A lot of patience. If you’re willing to put in the time and forgive the minor imperfections here and there, you can completely transform your kitchen and extending the life of your cabinets. Believe me, your checkbook will thank you.

Carrie Manner lives in Mountain Iron. This is the first edition of a home and garden column she will write every other week.

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