It had become a regular thing for me to sit at my kitchen table, and stare at my kitchen thinking….“Uugggghhh…I hate these old kitchen cabinets.” I don’t even know from what era they are. Arched tops, insets that catch a ton of dirt and are impossiblet to clean, dirt just builds up in the bottom corners of the frames, and no backs! They are cheap plywood with visible hinges and the kitchen walls are the backs! I mean really, how cheap can you get??  In addition, they were also hung crooked. Or, the ceiling is crooked. Knowing my house, that is a distinct possibility.

My options:

  1. Gut and remodel entire kitchen; Estimate: $40k-$50k
  2. Buy all new cabinets, and drawers; Estimate: Minimum $15k
  3. Cabinet and drawer refacing; Estimate: Minimum $5k
  4. Paint my cabinets myself; Priceless

So, as I usually do, sitting at the table with coffee cup in hand on a Saturday morning, I decided to get up, grab the drill and began unscrewing cabinet doors. I figured I’d give painting a try first. Worst case, I still hate them afterward and tear them down and go for one of the above scenarios.

I did it and love them! Painting them made a huge difference. They are still the funky old plywood cabinets that were installed crookedly, but I decided to embrace the quirky no backed, old school, crooked cabinets, paint a dark color in that frame that would hide the gathered dirt, and it cost me less than $150!

Cabinets. Before & After

Cabinets. Before & After

I highly recommend painting if you’re in the same boat. It’s a cheap and simple update. Simple, I said, not to be confused with easy. It takes a good week, but definitely worth it if you have the patience and motivation to do it.

What is my idea of cheap?
– Paint: 2 gallons (1 of each color) $50.00 (I already had both paint colors because I used my left over Pillar Beige and Blue-Grey Slate from my Bathroom renovation)
– A quart of Polycrylic – $20.00 (if you don’t have some already. I use it all the time so I didn’t need to purchase this.)
– Carton of Plaster of Paris to mix with paint. – $8.00 (Again….I use it all the time so I didn’t need to purchase this.)

– 13 Drawer Pulls: $2-$3 each – My total, just under $30
– 23 Cabinet Handles: 12 pair @ $6.99/pair – My total, $90 (incl tax)
I could have stopped there, at a total of $170.00
But, I wanted to line all the drawers and cabinets so I also bought 4 or 5 rolls of Ikea’s “Variera Drawer Mat” aka, roll of plastic drawer/shelf liner.
At $3.99/roll, the total for all of the above would come to about $225.ish
My Total: $125.00  (I already had the paint, Plaster of Paris and Polycrylic)

That’s less than I spend on dog food in a month!

I have 13 drawers and 23 cabinet doors, your milage may vary.

Tip:  Make any paint you use, for anything other than walls, into chalk paint. When I paint anything, I add Plaster of Paris and water to the paint. It will save you a TON of time. With chalk paint you only have to sand a little, if at all, and you get great coverage.

It can feel overwhelming and more trouble than it’s worth, but I bet you’ll feel so good about it when you’re done. Just take it one step at a time.

  • Decide on your cabinet color or colors. I went with a light color on the top to keep the room light but went with the dark color on the bottom. The two colors add a little interest, make the room a little different and, if you have kids or dogs – it’s the perfect solution. Having 4 dogs that take a drink and then drool across the floor before shaking their head, splashing everywhere…yeah….a dark color on the bottom cabinets is a necessity for me.

    Glidden Pillar Beige

    Glidden Blue-Grey Slate

    Glidden Blue-Grey Slate







  • Decide on your handles – handle style as well as what is involved in attaching them. Will you need to drill new holes? Will you need longer screws? I had to fill previous holes and drill new ones for the cabinet doors. My existing handles were in the middle of the doors. (See photo below) Current style doors have handles at the bottoms. The drawers needed longer screws. With old cabinet styles, very modern handles might look out of place. I wanted an updated look but wanted the mismatch to look intentional, not accidental. I went with the modern Scandinavian style handles for the cabinets from Ikea, but went with the old school cup-style for the drawers. Search all over the Internet for these. They are both very common and you can find them very inexpensively. I linked my sources above. If you order your handles online, you can start painting and by the time you’re done, your handles will be ready and waiting.

Lansa handels from Ikea

Drawer-Handle Cup

Brushed nickle cup handles







  • Just start. It’s kind of like having kids. There is no perfect time to do this. Unless your entire family and animals are going on a week vacation without you, or you live alone and don’t have to deal with anyone else, just accept the mess and warn everyone that the kitchen will be a disaster zone for a while. One week will not kill anyone. If you only have weekends, then it may take a few weeks because you do have to wait for paint to dry.

Items to check


10 Steps to Updating Your Kitchen Cabinets Yourself!

1. Unscrew and remove all the cabinet doors.
2.Wipe down your cabinet frames with TSP. Remove everything in the cabinet if you are going to paint the floor of your cabinets. If the insides are fine, just clean them and line them with shelf paper or I used the Variera from Ikea. I love the clean look of the white and it wipes down so easily.

Cabinet doors removed

3. Sand any rough edges or any sheen you still see with 220 grit sandpaper after the TSP. Any dirt/grease should have come off with the TSP but sand lightly if it didn’t. TSP250
4. Mix your chalk paint (Click here for instructions). You have to guesstimate how much you’ll need depending on how many cabinets you have. Tip: Make your chalk paint in a resealable container, mark and store it in your fridge for touch ups later. Using chalk paint also makes your paint go a lo further. You’ll probably use half the paint you would have, had you not mixed the PofP into it. ChalkPaintRecipe
5. Paint your cabinet frames first. You’ll probably need 2 coats, so paint, (if they’re like mine were.) Let it dry over night and then paint again, rinse, repeat. You can paint the first coat on your doors while the frames are drying. After your paint has dried, paint your frames with a layer of Polycrylic. I use Satin Finish. It eliminates the chalky look and makes them easy to just wipe down with a damp sponge for cleaning.


My doors had been on my cabinets for about 30 years…disgusting!

6. Now you can put everything back into your cabinets making your life more organized and easier for others trying to get to things. At this point, you wonder, “Hmmm….do I want to keep the doors off? This is kind of nice. And I don’t have to do anything further….
Answer: No. Everything will get dusty and you’ll have to rinse or wipe down all your dishes when you go to use them. Nice try. Just finish.
7. Cabinet doors: Wipe down all with TSP, number your doors with a pencil so you know where they go and which pairs go together. Unscrew  and remove all handles. Fill existing holes with wood filler if you will be moving the handle placement. Let dry, sand off any surface shine and paint. You can drill new holes either before or after painting. If you have visible hinges, you can clean them with some steel wool or paint them. I didn’t want to see them so I painted them the same beige door color.

8. Finish by painting doors with a layer of Polycrylic, screw in your handles and hang your doors.

9. Repeat all the steps with your drawers: Wipe down with TSP, lightly sand off shine and paint.



10. Paint drawers with a layer of Polycrylic, screw in new handles and voila!





































Next steps: Install a stainless steel sink and trim out the tops of my cabinets with crown moulding. I’ll add that to this post once I get to it.
I have yet to master the art of the miter.

It’s not a new kitchen but it’s a huge improvement.

Now to paint the ugly, only-white-appliance-in-the-kitchen, fridge….next post.




Southern California

~~ Decorating, Design & Dogs ~~ ~~What else is there? ~~