Painted kitchen cabinet before & after (plus how they’ve held up over 14 years)

When I toured my would-be house back in 2007, I almost passed on it because of the kitchen: no dishwasher, dark wood cabinets, handles made out of a questionable metal, and one of the ugliest vinyl floors I’ve ever seen. I’m good at seeing the bright side, especially when it comes to real estate, but I couldn’t imagine myself being happy in the space.

Me in the original kitchen circa 2007/2008, with plants I have no memory of. Photo taken by my mom, probably.

My ex and I immediately painted the kitchen a warm terracotta color. I used Mop & Glo to give shine to the terrible vinyl floor (which my future puppies would ruin in so many places, I would eventually have an excuse to replace it). I lived with the dark cabinets for a while until HGTV put an idea in my head: paint the cabinets.

My kitchen faces south, but even with all-day sunlight through the windows, the room was dark. I picked an ivory paint to complement the walls and brighten the appearance of the floors. At that time (we’re talking roughly 2008), the paint formulas weren’t what they are today. If I were to undertake this project now, I could do it in half the time. Today’s paint/primer combinations adhere well and have durable finishes, but at the time I repainted my kitchen cabinets, I used multi-purpose no-sand primer under three coats of ivory paint. From start to finish, even with my mom helping, the project took me about a month of nights and weekends. But it was worth the time! The paint completely changed the look and feel of the kitchen for under $200.

Originally, the plan was to sand everything…which meant emptying the cabinets. I gave up on that plan after the first few and bought no-sand primer for the cabinet faces. This let me leave pantry items in place. I removed the cabinet doors and took them outside to sand. To ensure an even finish without brush strokes, I painted the cabinet doors with a smooth foam roller.

The in-progress paint project back in 2008

I ended up saving money when the hardware I’d planned to replace turned out to be copper. With a bit of scrubbing, the beautiful color came through. They worked well with the old terracotta walls but pop against the current color!

(I didn’t know this trick back then, but I’ve since fallen in love with this easy method for cleaning hardware with dish soap and a slow cooker.)

My kitchen floor stayed ugly until 2014. As puppies, the schnauzers had dug through to the subfloor in multiple places. The damage was extensive–and nearly impossible to keep clean. I found a floor repair product at Lowes and bought $100 worth of Armstrong’s Crescendo peel-and-stick tiles. Across a week and X-Files season one, I re-tiled the laundry room and kitchen floors. Later, I grouted between many of the tiles to keep them from slipping. If you have install peel-and-stick tiles and you’re starting to see gaps, pick up a tub of ready-to-use grout from the hardware store. I installed the tiles with a cutting board and a craft knife. It beat the hell out of my hands but was otherwise pretty easy.

The most recent updates to the kitchen are replacement windows and a brand new wall color: Not So Delicate from Backdrop, a perfect light gray-purple. I initially bought it to repaint the tea room but had half a gallon left and decided to eliminate the terra cotta. Unlike Valspar, Backdrop paint does not contain primer, so you’ll want to use it if you’re covering anything that will contrast the new color. Their paint is expensive, but they ship to your door. Ideal during the pandemic.

Wall paint before and after: The original terra cotta from Valspar and Not So Delicate by Backdrop. Back then, I still worked out of the house, so I had a sofa in the kitchen for the dogs to lounge on while I was at the office. Now it’s in the tea room.

Here’s the kitchen before and after 2007-2022 edition:

Before and after: The unpainted cabinets in 2007 and the kitchen in 2022 (starring Leia)

The conclusion: Do painted kitchen cabinets hold up to everyday wear? Yes, mine have. I was nervous that painted cabinets wouldn’t hold up with time, but I have done virtually no touch up since the original paint job. The paint hasn’t chipped, the color has remained true, and the finish is satiny. If I had kids, there might be more wear. My ex-partner did leave a lot of fingerprints, and the paint has dulled where I’ve scrubbed a lot, but it’s nothing I notice.

Materials used

For the cabinets:

  • Valspar Ivory Dust paint (several gallons…memory tells me 3) in a semi-gloss finish
  • Zap no-sand primer when I gave up on sanding
  • Hand sander for the doors
  • Copper cleaner
  • Paint brushes
  • 6″ roller handle with smooth, firm foam roller heads
  • Tarp to protect the floor from paint
  • Blue painters tape
  • Tack cloth

For the floor:

  • Pre-mixed floor patch
  • Armstrong Crescendo groutable vinyl tiles
  • Craft knife
  • Cutting board
  • Pencil to mark cut lines
  • Windex or any no-oil cleaner to clean the old floor and ensure good adhesion
  • Screwdriver for removing cabinet doors and hardware
  • Pre-mixed grout

Everything else:

  • Not So Delicate paint by Backdrop
  • Simple Living kitchen table and chairs (aka The World’s Most Uncomfortable Chairs, which I’ve actually replaced). I bought this set in 2015 when it was $330. I wouldn’t pay $500 for it.

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