DIY Kitchen Cabinet Makeover




Introduction: DIY Kitchen Cabinet Makeover

I have two beautiful children that I love to photograph (even if I stink at it), but every time I took a photo in the kitchen I would feel it was too busy or just not complimentary. Not to mention that my kitchen would look cluttered and less than its best, even after I just scrubbed it from top to bottom! Who can handle something so unrewarding and still stay motivated?!

So, I decided to buckle down and do something about it. I devised a plan to give our kitchen a mini renovation with minor inputs from my loving, supporting husband. I decided on white cabinets, grey subway tile backsplash, dark wood floors, grey walls, and slate colored countertops. My husband wanted the wooden floors and concrete countertops. He is much more daring than I am. I am writing this Instructable on the first order of business: My kitchen cabinets!

Step 1: Remove Everything!

You cannot begin working if you are unable to get to the area you need to be working on fixing. This means you must clutter up and completely block off another area of your house,- Heaven forbid! - but you definitely do not want paint to spill on your priceless antique dishware, or even that random can of green beans. So, pack up all your dishware, food and any other items that have collected on your countertops, cabinet shelves, and drawers. Then place them in a convenient area of your house or garage where they are not going to come in contact with your paint or primer. Now, we can begin our work!

Step 2: Clean, Clean, Clean!!!

The first real step is to make sure you have good materials with which to work. Paint will not stick to dirty greasy cabinets, and I wouldn't want it to anyway. Knowing that yuck is forever stuck on my kitchen cabinets might haunt me during meal times. So here is your chance to show your fastidious, meticulous nature! If you don't have that type of character, you will just have to buckle down and fake it. Make sure to get a good degreaser cleaner. I bought the Rustoleum Kitchen transformation package that comes with a deglosser that does all that and more. Just get a sponge, scrub brush, and rag and get to cleaning every nook and cranny!

Step 3: Remove the Cabinet Doors and Drawers

Remember how I said to remove everything? Well that includes the cabinet hardware! This included the knobs, pulls, and hinges. I even removed the drawers from the gliders. If possible, immediately move the cabinet doors and drawers to a table where you plan to paint after removal. This way you can put them in order of their location in your kitchen. Not all of your cabinets doors and drawers are the same size, and this can save you from doing a Tetris version of trial and error. You cannot simply write on the door to tell you its proper location since you will cover the whole thing with paint. If you are reusing your hardware, make sure you cleaned it in the step above as well as the cabinets themselves. It is a great idea to place each door's/drawer's hardware in its own labeled container for reuse. To give our kitchen an updated feel, I am replacing all the old hardware with new brushed nickel hardware.

Step 4: Sanding

Some of my cabinet doors and drawer faces had a bit of water damage and require sanding to remove the buckling. I got out my electric Sander to make the process faster and easier. The rest did not require sanding according to the paints' instructions.

Okay, I am old school, and just a little anal retentive, so I cannot bring myself to believe the claims that the Rustoleum paint did not in fact need to be applied to a sanded surface. Sooo... I proceeded to sand all of my cabinet doors, drawers and shelves using an orbital sander. I would prefer to do a little extra work in the beginning than to have to redo everything later. In fact, I might just have to move to stop from reliving the horror of redoing days worth of work that should otherwise have been perfect. Other paints do require sanding so always make sure to read your specific products' requirements.

I tried to make sure that I kept the sander as level as possible and not to sand in any one location for too long. I wanted a beautiful flat surface to paint later. Keeping the sanding uniform helps the paint to stick and not pool in different areas. I used 120 grit sand paper. Also, be sure to periodically remove any build up that accumulates on the sand paper from the finish on your cabinets. I simply pulled the build up off by hand and discarded it in the trash. This extends the life of the sand paper by leaps and bounds, and just think, you are even being green by not creating extra waste!

Be sure to clean off any residual dirt and saw dust from the cabinet surfaces with a damp rag. You do NOT want nasty dust to mix in with your paint while you are painting. Again, wasted work will sicken you, or maybe that is just me??

Oh, if you want to fill in any dings, dents, or holes, this is the step in which to do them. Or if you want knobs instead of pulls, you would fill in the second hole. Using wood putty fill in the target area according to directions on the package. Sand it down flush with the cabinet door/drawer.

Step 5: Paint Prep

After you have worked your sander to the bone, you need to gather all your tools and supplies to paint. There is nothing like running out of something vital, like maybe that last tablespoon or so of paint you need to finish those final brush strokes. In addition to gathering all of those vital supplies, you also need to cover every nearby, or maybe not so nearby, surface that you do not want to come in contact with your beautiful new paint. You can place plastic or cloth drop cloths on the floor and use painters tape to tape them to the floor at the base of the cabinets. You also have a choice of taping plastic sheeting over your countertops and backsplash, or using brown paper. I chose to use painters tape to tape brown paper sheeting on the walls and backsplashes and the cloth drop cloth for the floor. I did not bother covering my countertops since I will later be replacing both them and the backsplash. I did put painters tape on all the edges, where they meet the cabinets, since I do not want the paint to adhere to the backsplash and countertops. That could cause the paint to strip upon removal.

Here was my supply list:


Base Coat Paint - White

Protective Coat


Foam Mini Paint Roller designed for use in cabinets with Extra Covers (Primer)

Foam Brushes (Primer)

4 - 2 inch Angled Synthetic Bristled Paint Brushes (Base Coat Paint and Protective Coat)

Paint Can Opener

Wood Stirring Stick

Paint Tray (for use with roller)

Paint Pail/Cup (for use with brushes)

Clean rags to wipe up spills and drips

Plastic Razor Blades or Scraper

Step 6: Primer

Again, I am old school and my anal retentiveness requires me to put on not one, but TWO coats of primer. Depending on your base coat of paint and the original color of your cabinets, you may need only one or two coats of primer.

Well to begin, my husband decided that is would be a brilliant idea to try spraying a coat of primer on the inside of the cabinets with his Wagner paint sprayer. He thought this would be a good starting point on the insides, and it was quick and easily filled all those nooks and crannies that are hard to get to with a brush. I thought "Wow! Less work, I am all for it!" Little did I know... Unfortunately, by spraying in such a confined space, it caused a ton of overspray and the paint tended to run in places. It also dusted nearby items in our kitchen with white paint. Note our trash can, now with a star pattern lid! It took a lot of scraping and scrubbing to get it off all of my floors and countertops. It definitely did not save me time or effort. The lid of the trashcan was a lost cause and is now just a novelty and a great story piece.

To apply the primer (other than what my husband did with his sprayer), I used a sponge roller to paint the flat parts inside of the cabinets and shelves. It is much faster than a brush and runs on smoothly. Whee!!! For the corners and other harder to reach areas, I used varying sizes of foam brushes. I painted every visible surface from the front to the very far back corner of the shadowy depths since - if I stood on the far side of my kitchen with full lights and no doors - I could possibly see that one unpainted section and that just simply would not do. For those less picky, make sure you DO paint both the tops and bottoms of the cabinet shelves really well since people of varying heights might see more of one or the other than you do. Even I refused to paint the parts of the cabinet wall that will be forever behind the drawers. There is no use wasting the cost of the paint for areas that no one ever sees. See we are being "green" again! Okay, so maybe that does not truly count as being green, but it is better to have less waste and cost.

To paint the cabinet doors, I placed them on a table with some triangles underneath to prop them up. This can get fairly expensive, so you can also place two screws into a two by four and place two of them underneath each door. Or if you really have time to kill, you can just paint one side and let it dry completely. Then flip it and paint the other-side of the door, and let it dry completely. Flip, paint, dry, flip, paint, dry.... Until finished. To paint the inside of the drawer, we conveniently had a paint sprayer, so we hung the drawers from a tree limb and sprayed them with the primer. I then let them dry while hanging. Be sure to watch for dripping or running of the paint if you do this as well.

Make sure to let the primer sufficiently dry between each application. You do not want the paint to peel and buckle. You also need to wash and dry your brushes and equipment between each use. If you do not, the paint will dry in them and render them useless.

My husband also used his fancy Wagner sprayer to paint the drawers outside. He hung them from the oak tree in our back yard and sprayed away. This time it worked beautifully! He said he only had a few bugs/leaves get in the freshly sprayed paint. He removed them with a paper towel and re sprayed the area until it was all uniform. This saved time and energy, and he could not mess anything up outside. Haha!

Step 7: Paint the Base Coat

For the outside of the cabinets, doors, and drawers, I used a two inch angled synthetic bristled paint brush to give it a more professional look. I liked the two inch one since it covered a nice area (meaning less brush strokes needed), while still fitting those smaller boards between the cabinet doors (less dripping paint from the unused bristles). Be sure to allow the paint sufficient time to dry between coats.

As with the primer, I propped up the doors to allow air flow as I painted them. I used long straight brush strokes from the top of the door all the way to the bottom, or from the bottom to the top. I tried to make smooth brush strokes and to keep the grooves that the bristles form in the paint to flow and transition beautifully from one stroke to the next.

My painters tape and brown paper were kindly removed during this step by my beautiful toddlers, but you should wait until after your paint is drying/dried to remove it.

Step 8: Paint Protective Coat

I painted the protective top coat using the same technique as the base coat, but I was even more careful to do quick, smooth, straight lines of paint. This coat gets tacky quicker and will smudge if you try to paint over a previously painted area too late. This could be a matter of minutes, so make sure to paint each area subsequently and finish each area completely before moving to the next. If you get any dust on during this step, and you will, then you can use one of your brand new synthetic brushes to try to remove the particle. If it is on the spot you just painted, you may want to use a clean, lint free cloth to just remove that tiny section of paint and reapply. This particular paint seemed to grab any random dust mote and hair within the entire neighborhood and apply it to my cabinet doors. So try to complete this step when there is less likely to be dust and dirt being stirred up, such as when others are not home or do not have windows open that might carry in the lovely dust filled breeze. Remember how I said it gets tacky quickly? Well, the instructions on this particular protective coat says to allow it to dry for a full 24 hours! So make sure to allow it sufficient time to dry.

Step 9: Dry

Have you ever heard the saying "Watching paint dry?" Well, now you know the origin. This step can be excruciating as well as boring. You should wait a good 36 hours or more after the final application of the protective coat so that you do not mar all your beautiful handy work. Yes, all that clutter in your floors is calling to you like a siren out at sea to be put back in their "homes," but you must not listen. It is easier to wait those extra couple of hours than to try to fix any blemishes that rashness may have caused.

Step 10: Clean Up

Clean, clean, clean! Again?!?! This step should easier than the first time you had to clean. You need to clean up any spilled paint, trash, etc. Remove all the paint, brushes, and other equipment and dispose of them or put them away in their respective areas. This leaves you with removing the painters tape and sheets. It is tempting to just rip it all off in one satisfying fell swoop. This is a bad idea as the paint that dried over it is attached to the paint on your cabinets. You might end up ripping off parts of your gorgeous cabinet paint. Instead slowly remove the tape and cut any connecting paint with a sharp razor blade, leaving a beautiful straight line transition between your walls and the cabinets. Dispose of the tape and cloths appropriately.

Step 11: Replace Dishware and Food Goods

REJOICE!!! You now get to reclaim your living area. You remember all that work you did meticulously pack and moving your precious dishware and food? Well, now that is going to be put to use. If you organized and packed it away well, you were able to easily get into your items to use the last couple of days, and now you can easily put it back in the correct areas of the cabinet. You can also, like me, decide to change the placement of every item in your cabinets. Your choice. Then again, I felt like Snow White cleaning and singing with all those lovely animals. Everyone ever so happy. "This is perfect over here. This would look gorgeous over here. This is handy...Tralalalala"

Step 12: Replace the Cabinet Drawers and Doors

This is where you really get to see the full effect of your labor of love, or by now, hate. Replace the hardware on the doors and drawers and reattach them to the cabinets. Again if you were able to label and organize your doors, drawers, and hardware, it will really pay off in this step. You can quickly grab the correct door and corresponding hardware and quickly screw them into the cabinets. If like me, you had to move the cabinet doors for some unsuspecting reason and they get jumbled up, you will get to find the correct doors by trial and error and the aid of good old intuition. The cabinet hardware that I used was new so when I picked it out at the store, I had made sure to measure the distance between the previously drilled holes eliminating the need to fill the previous holes with wood putty and drill new. I also did not chose knobs for the same reason. I did not want to add more work, and I did not have my heart set on knobs. If you do, you will need to fill the holes with the wood putty during the sanding step and then sand them down flush to the rest of the door.

Step 13: Enjoy!

Now that you have a beautiful, amazing looking kitchen and its clean to boot, you should just sit back and enjoy the experience... at least until you have to cook dinner. Or you could just do take out for the next month or so until you no longer feel the urge to destroy anything that might threaten your beautiful handiwork.

This was only phase one of our four part adventure on redoing our outdated kitchen. Our next adventures in the kitchen will include a new ceiling with metal tiles and recessed lighting; bamboo floors in the kitchen, living room, and dinning room; and last, but not least counter tops with a subway tile backslash. Attached are some images that show what a white kitchen with concrete counter tops, subway tiles and wood floors would look like. We have simply been using them for inspiration and have no affiliation with them. My husband who is an Instructable fanatic has even been experimenting and testing with the idea of concrete counter-tops. He has already made a concrete game table, seen here, My husband's concrete table experiment!

Hope you have enjoyed my first Instructable. I can't wait to share more!



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    17 Discussions

    Tip for numbering cabinet doors: On the top doors, number them across the very top. Even if you don't paint over the number, no one will ever see the top of the door. On the bottom doors, number goes across the very bottom edge. Again, if you don't paint over it, no one will ever see it even if they are laying on the floor (lol)

    very well detailed written instruction. i got so many tips.

    <a href=””>Modular kitchen Chennai</a>


    2 years ago

    Nice Instructable! For future reference, wrap your rollers and brushes well in plastic wrap or bags, and toss them in the freezer until tomorrow morning, while the paint dries. Take them out, let them thaw in the bags, and carry on. No extra cleaning, just at the end. Latex, water based paints only though. Oil paints and plastic are not a good mix.


    2 years ago

    I am doing the exact opposite. The wood cabinets in the kitchen of the house I bought were painted over with the worst white possible. I am now in the process of removing this paint to bring back the wood.

    Thanks for sharing this adventure. I am thinking of doing the same thing and really like the sequence of the steps you provided..... and described so thoroughly. Great job! This is on my bucket list for spring.

    Your work ethic and commentary are great. You were meticulous and committed through and through, and it paid off. Thanks for the details and abundance of commentary, as well as your "old-school" opinions on doing it right the first time.

    Count me in as a follower; I want see this kitchen change over the years.

    You did a great job documenting everything. I usually do that whenever I work on something. My camera died a few months ago and took all my progress pics of my kitchen with it, :( sadface. lol. Very thorough instructable. Kudos.

    1 reply

    Oh, no!! I am SO sorry for you. There is nothing worse than losing valuable pictures. I adore pictures and envy the talent of those that have mastered perspective, etc. I just plod away at it and hope that one in 700 looks great. ;) I am glad that you liked my Instructable! Good luck on hopefully recovering them.

    Excellent! If only I could convince you to come to my house. Wow. Congrats!

    Good luck in the contest, you have my vote!

    1 reply

    Thank you! I thought I might go crazy while painting mine with my two toddlers constantly "helping" me along. Haha! Glad that I painted it though since it has made a world of difference in how my kitchen looks and how light it seems.

    Thank you everyone! You make me feel much better about my work. I was a little nervous writing my first Instructable, but you are all so very encouraging!

    Frank b, I told my husband that I was afraid that it would not stick no matter the paints' claims. I knew that I would worry until the end of time if I did not sand, so my husband caved to my "need to create more work." Haha. So glad I did in light of your experience!

    Alcurb, Thank you! I do try to be thorough and produce work that I can be proud of including my instructable. So far the cabinets seem to be holding up well (~1.5 months). I love how much lighter and cleaner my kitchen looks with the white cabinets. Now I just cannot wait until we redo the backsplash and countertops.


    3 years ago

    You did a fantastic job, not just on the project itself but on your documentation. I've combed the internet for clear instructions on how to give my cabinets a makeover (BTW my cabinets look like yours, the old 60s yuk look) and I found that your instructions are the most complete and descriptive. The photos are well done too (no pun). I definitely favorited your 'ible.

    You did it right by sanding it before painting, my wife did our kitchen cabinets and didn't sand them because the paint was made to go over gloss varnish. Well it's pealing and chipping now. Great job!

    Great idea to paint the inside of the cabinets, too. Should have done it when we redid ours. Great job on the makeover and great job on the instructable!

    Yes this is my wife's first instructable. She was tired of hearing me go on and on about how you must always document your projects. She has way more patience to paint than I do. I am proud of her and I will always be there to support all of her projects!

    WOW! this is your first instructable? Congratulations! I am so impressed! Great job on the descriptions and all the photos! welcome to the Instructables community :)