Kitchen Makeover: How I Saved $5,000 (Pt. 2)

Kitchen Makeovers

A few weeks ago, I shared how my husband and I had saved thousands of dollars by painting our wood cabinets instead of hiring a professional for our kitchen makeover. Now that the project is complete, I’m ready to share step-by-step details of how we made it happen!

Step 1: Deconstructing Your Kitchen

This may seem like the easy part, but if you cut corners here you’ll pay the price when your kitchen is ready to be put back together again. My husband started by mapping out our kitchen, every last cabinet door and drawer-face. We planned on reusing the hinges, so he packed and labeled those as well. This way, he didn’t have to drill any new holes when rehanging the doors at the very end.

Step 2: Prepping Your Surfaces

You may think your kitchen is clean, but think again. Those wood surfaces are magnets for oil, grease, and grime, particularly the areas near your cooking surfaces. We used Murphy’s Oil Soap ($4.99 from my local grocery store) and microfiber cloths to clean the cabinets – doors, drawer faces, frames and all.

You now have a choice: you can either use a stripper to remove the stain from your cabinets, or you can sand them down. We chose the latter option, because not only did we want to remove the existing stain, we wanted to minimize the oak’s natural grain as much as possible, too. We used 240 grit aluminum oxide sandpaper to get the job done – though it wasn’t a simple task! This step required a lot of elbow grease. My husband had read that sanders can be too intense on wood surfaces, so he actually did all this by hand!

If your wood surfaces have any damage to them, you’ll want to use a wood filler after sanding, then sand over them to help them blend into the rest of the surface. Fortunately, our wood cabinets were in good shape, so we didn’t have to make any repairs.

Step 3: Time to Prime

Our local Ace Hardware suggested Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer (we got it on sale for $35/gallon), because this helps to minimize the grain without going overboard on sanding. Why a water-based product instead of oil-based? While we’d definitely read about the benefits of an oil-based product, we had 2 key concerns about using one:

1) The smell. We knew this would be a long project at the outset (we both have full-time jobs, so we’d be working on our kitchen here and there over the course of several weeks… ok, months), and we needed our kitchen to be functional in the meantime. Quite simply, we found the smell of the oil-based products recommended to us to be a dealbreaker!

2) Longevity. We were concerned about an oil-based product cracking or fading over time, especially because of the colors we ultimately chose. I didn’t want my cream-colored cabinets to end up looking yellow a few years down the road!

Unfortunately, the Zinsser didn’t cover all of the grain, so in certain spots, my husband applied an oil-based primer (Benjamin Moore Fresh Start, $20 for a quart), but was careful to ensure that we could use a latex paint on top of it (some oil and latex products don’t work well together!).

Step 4: Adding the Color

Finally, it was time to start really “painting.” I’d fallen in love with Benjamin Moore’s Historical Collection, and loved their Advanced series ($48/gallon). We selected a satin finish, as I wanted my cabinets to have more of a matte look. My husband’s plan was to use a paint sprayer, borrowed from my father, and paint everything en masse in our garage. However, my dad hadn’t properly cleaned the sprayer and it was clogged! We tried unclogging it, and ended up breaking a key component in the process.

So my husband decided to paint by hand.

Each cabinet got 2 coats of paint. The key here was time. This particular type of paint is a slow-drying material, with a suggested wait time of 4-6 hours between coats. Additionally, it’s a heavier paint, so Benjamin Moore recommends keeping it on a flat surface – eg, not hanging it up or standing it upright – for 1-2 days, while the paint sets. Talk about time consuming.

Step 5: Some Reassembly Required

Once the paint was dry, it was time to put my kitchen back together. Because my husband had been so meticulous about disassembling my kitchen, reassembly was like putting together a puzzle you’d played with dozens of times before. I was actually shocked at how quickly this step went.

Step 6: Optional Steps

There are still a few steps my husband and I are entertaining. One is whether or not we want to “antique” our cabinets; we’d do this by using a smaller brush to apply a dark colored glaze to specific parts of the doors and then wiping it off. I want to get used to my new kitchen first before deciding whether or not to tackle this.

The second thing we may still do is apply a finishing lacquer. We want to on the antiquing first, though, as this final coat would go on top of the glaze.

That’s it!

If I said this was a simple process, I’d be lying – at least partially. While there aren’t many steps – and no single step is really all that difficult – this is a project that requires a HUGE amount of time and energy. But knowing that we’ve come in $4000 below the cheapest estimate (and a whopping $9700 below the most expensive quote we received) feels pretty good – it was all worth it.


Libby Balke

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

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