We moved into our Nashville home five years ago (man, time flies!) and the very first thing that we did was sand down and paint the dark wood kitchen cabinets white to bring some more light into the small kitchen. Let’s just say that five years (and one toddler) later, the paint job has gotten a little dingy and worn in places, and I’ve kept wondering when I’d ever have the time to refresh the cabinets since the original act of painting them was such a big process (they had some crazy glaze painted on so it took days of just sanding alone). When I really sat down to think about it recently, I realized that it may not actually be as big of a job as it seems. And, once I made a plan I realized that I could actually do a full cabinet refresh in just one afternoon! That sounded way more doable than devoting a weekend to the job and once it was done it made a huge difference in how fresh the space feels—I’ll show you what I did!
You can see above in the before pictures that we were definitely in need of a refresh—five years of daily use really does leave a mark!
Clean and de-grime the cabinets: This step may sound like just a preparation for the real change later, but I was amazed at how much better the cabinets looked just by doing a thorough cleaning with a magic eraser. I could still see the spots where the paint was worn through but it felt so much cleaner overall and showed me where the paint was still in good shape— so I knew if I ran out of time I could skip repainting those areas. It’s also a good idea in a kitchen to use some dish soap and water to wipe down areas before repainting. Any grease from cooking that’s still on the paint may keep your touch-up paint from adhering properly, so you want to use some soapy water or degreaser product to get it off first. They also make these magic erasers that have soap in them so you can do both jobs in one! You can see above that the left side has been cleaned and the right hasn’t…even though there is still some chipped paint, they look so much newer already!
Give the wood a light sanding where you want to paint: Once your wood is clean, use some fine sandpaper to gently rough up the paint in the areas where you want to do a paint touch-up. You don’t want to sand through down to the wood so don’t feel like you need to sand very hard, just a light scuffing of the surface will help the new paint stick a little better. I liked using a sanding sponge with a foam back as I could sand an area and then wipe off the dust with soft foam part.
Add some touch-up paint to the bare spots: I like to use a brush for hard-to-reach areas of the cabinets but painting wherever I can reach with a foam roller really gives you the best look overall, so use that where you can on any flat areas (make sure to take off your cabinet knobs and pulls first). I was just going to paint the most worn areas of my doors, but once I got going, I realized that it’s actually pretty quick to do the full door or drawer when you’re just doing a touch up coat of the same color, so I just painted all the fronts and it really didn’t take much longer. And if you can take out your drawers first, that can make them a lot easier to paint as well.
As you can probably guess by now, I’m assuming you know what paint was used on the cabinets last time they were painted so you can get more for a touch-up, so if you don’t already have a way to keep track of what paint colors you use in your home, I highly recommend writing it down somewhere so you can reference the list as needed! If you don’t know the exact color, you can bring home a million paint swatches until you find one that looks super close, but you’ll probably need to paint the full cabinet door rather than just one corner in case the color isn’t a 1000% match.
Also, if you have a “kick plate” area like I do at the bottom of your cabinets (it’s where your baseboard/quarter round is near the floor), touching that up while you’re painting is a great idea as it gets kicked and scuffed a lot with your feet (hence the name)! It’s a relatively small area and it only took 4-5 minutes to repaint mine but it definitely helped the whole thing feel new again.
Replace old/worn knobs and pulls (or give the metal a cleaning): It was pretty obvious to me that tarnished hardware was another reason that our kitchen was looking a little grimy, so if that’s the case for you as well, giving your hardware a cleaning or a polish can also really help make them look as good as new-and you can work on it while your paint is drying so it won’t take any longer either! It may also be a good time to do a hardware upgrade if you chose a more budget-friendly option the first time around that hasn’t stood the test of time well (I personally love Schoolhouse hardware and find it wears really well over time).
How much better does that look in just a few hours!!
If you have extra time, another thing that can make cabinets look new again is changing out the hinges that attach the cabinet doors to the wall. That is definitely more of time consuming task if you have to do a lot of them, but if yours are in bad shape, just make it a goal to switch out one or two doors a day with your power drill and that will make it feel more doable. It’s way more work to switch them out with different hinges that have different hole locations (you’d have to repair, fill, sand, and paint all the old hole locations) but if you’re using hardware with the same hole locations, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
There you go!! It really is amazing to me how much newer the cabinets look after just one afternoon of work—totally worth it! It feels like I spend most of my day in the kitchen so it’s definitely worth the effort to make it look it’s best. Hope this project idea helps to brighten up your kitchen too! xo. Laura