A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

The Kitchen Cabinet Project

Now that 2011 is almost over I noticed that I never set any house project goals for the year. Based on the 2010 goals and accomplishments (or lack thereof), the unofficial goal for 2011 would have been to finish whatever was left for 2010 (and 2009 for that matter). Alas, the most daunting project — install doors, baseboard and window trim on the second floor — is nowhere near being finished, so unfortunately that is sure to land on the 2012 “Wish” List.

I’m happy to report, however, that Painting the Kitchen Cabinets is complete and ready for its close-up!

The kitchen was remodeled sometime in the 1990s by the PO with stock oak cabinets. The sides of the pantry are that “printed wood” melamine so not great quality but still totally usable. Not being able to afford to completely remodel the kitchen, we made as many changes as we could by reusing the cabinets but changing the layout to suit my tastes. It sat that way for a good six months before we finally tackled the opposite wall, which had originally been partially repaired with sheetrock and sheetrock-over-plaster. Completing that project allowed me to once again paint the kitchen, hopefully for the last time in a long time.

I never liked the look of these cabinets, and I successfully painted the cabinets in our previous house so I’ve been planning to paint these cabinets for a long time. Since we added an unfinished sink cabinet to accommodate our new farmhouse sink and also had a handyman/electrician friend build a shelf for the microwave (which I failed to document) those had to be finished in some way anyway. Matching them to the original cabinet finish was not even considered.

My how-to guide was this article in This Old House. It was there that I learned about the Fine Paints of Europe.

I had a couple of missteps, the first of which was priming the cabinets and expecting it to hide the grain. I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time painting the cabinets with the end result being “hey, look at our painted cheap oak cabinets”. Unfortunately this was going to add lots more time to my little project because I learned that in order to hide the grain I first had to apply Brushing Putty, an oil-based primer that went on fairly thick and had to be sanded smooth. Pete helped me with the door sanding part of the project which took us one loooooonnnnnng Sunday to complete.

Here’s a close-up of the brushing putty on the cabinet frame after sanding.

Then, even though Brushing Putty is an oil-based primer, I had to cover it with their “regular” oil-based primer. At least I decided to buy the oil-based primer in the first place (for a more durable finish) rather than their acrylic primer.

Speaking of cost, this brand is not cheap as you may suspect, even more costly than Benjamin Moore and other higher-quality brands. One “eurogallon”, which is really 2.5 liters or 2/3 the volume of a U.S. gallon costs around $120. Yikes. On the plus side, the paint goes a long way and 1 eurogallon easily covered all our cabinets in 2 coats with paint to spare.

The photo below shows the microwave shelf our friend built. We originally had the short cabinet on the right hanging just below the countertop with the microwave sitting on top of the counter. This not only gives us more usable space on the counter but finishes this wall of cabinets nicely — and luckily our microwave was the perfect size. He also added a receptacle in the space to hide the power cord.

I painted all the cabinet doors in the basement on sawhorses and after drying to the touch hung them by teacup hooks we screwed into the top of the upper cabinet doors/bottom of the lower cabinet doors per the This Old House How-To instructions.

As for color, you may think that I painted the cabinets white, but the photos above all show the Brushing Putty stage, and that primer can’t be tinted like others. Initially I thought I would paint them white, but after playing around with color schemes in Photoshop there was no contest with my final choice:

Oh yes, a black satin finish was much more striking and I am soooo happy with the outcome. No, it does not make the room look dark. If we had an entire wall of cabinets it might be a different story, but the kitchen faces south and we also get some morning light so it’s plenty bright.

But back to the missteps: the other one I thought I made was brushing the paint on vs. using a paint sprayer. I’m very experienced with painting, however as careful as I was and no matter how lightly I feathered my stroke there was still some evidence of brushstrokes. I ended up calling Fine Paints of Europe’s customer service to discuss my dilemma and the extremely helpful and soft-spoken man there explained that their paint is used to finish the cabinets on really high-end kitchens. He said that they do not want the factory look that a sprayed-on finish would give but rather the handcrafted look that a brushed-on finish provides, so some evidence of brushstrokes is actually preferred.

Well…I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen a $300,000 kitchen up-close and personal so I can’t compare my craftsmanship to theirs, but that’s what I’m going with. All-in-all I’m very pleased with the end result and I can already tell that these paints will provide a very durable finish for our cabinets.


  1. Michelle on August 10, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    I am in love with your paint job on the cabinets. I think the black looks fabulous! I love black cabinets and furniture. Good thing to know about the brush strokes. I was going to spray mine, but after hearing that, it makes sense and think I will hand paint too. Great job!

    • denise on August 11, 2012 at 10:32 am

      Thanks Michelle! I think sprayed cabinets have their place too, but since our house is older I think it makes more sense to have a more hand-crafted paint job. But I think if we were more mid-century modern or minimalist I would want to do a sprayed finish for sure. Good luck with your paint job–it’s a pain but totally worth it in the end!

  2. Scott on February 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Your kitchen looks great. I’m about to do the exact same thing with my 1990’s oak cabinets and I’m using Fine Paints of Europe products throughout. Question – how did you clean and prep the cabinets before using the brushing putty? I know you said you tried to primer first before realizing it didn’t fill the grain enough, but I’m wondering how you cleaned/stripped/sanded the cabinets beforehand. Lots of forum posts say a good TSP cleaning followed by a light sanding is enough, but I’m wondering if some sort of stripper or deglosser should be used in between to completely remove the glossy coating from the oak before sanding then using brushing putty. Any tips or recommendations on products would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and I’m inspired by your bungalow!

    • denise on February 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      Hi Scott, and thanks! Yes, I did wash them down with TSP to get the grime off, and I did some sanding, but really not much. I think you’ll be okay with just that. The brushing putty goes on thick and will completely cover the wood grain; if you know anything about fine art painting the consistency is like a gesso that fills in a canvas, or like joint compound for taping drywall. Sanding the brushing putty will be a messy job but it sands pretty easily, and you can really get it to a glass-like (yes, glass not gloss) finish. For the oil primer and paint, use a really good quality brush and try to feather your stroke as much as possible. Just remember that it won’t be like a sprayed finish, so you will have some evidence of brush strokes. But like the guy at Fine Paints said, it gives it more of a hand-crafted look. I can’t say I did a perfect job, but overall I’m really happy with it and they’ve held up great. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!

  3. Scott on February 15, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Denise, thanks for the tips. I be sure to let you know how it turns out (12 weeks from now 😉

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