(Mostly) DIY Kitchen Cabinet Transformation: The Process

We recently changed our cabinets from a dark mahogany stain to a clean, crisp white.  You can see the reveal here.  If you want a walk through of how we did it, keep reading!

 Our kids were home for spring break and so what did we do?  Sand!  For a whole week! (Before you start feeling too sorry for them we did take a day and went to Six Flags for some family fun.)  First things first, we put them to work taking off hardware. I would love to post a photo of them hard at work, but as I was going through my photos I realized that they were working shirtless.  Boys!

Our boys are still at the age where they get excited when you hand them a screwdriver and say you need some help. They are also at the age where they catch on quickly and this was about all they were excited to help with! They found other things to do once we were finished with removing the hardware.

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We used 150 grit sandpaper on a power sander for the doors (inside & out), drawers and frames, and then hand sanded the edges and insets on the cabinet doors with the 150 grit paper.  Sounds like no big deal as I’m writing it, but it was a VERY BIG DEAL.  We sanded for days and the red dust was everywhere: inside the cabinets, on the walls, in every crevice of the blinds, in our hair. Yeah, that was fun to clean up.

Once we sanded the doors, we filled more holes and imperfections (like the places we had installed baby-proofing cabinet door locks.  Can I just say how glad I am we are finished with those pesky things!  They never really kept my kids out of the cabinets anyway. I remember one time my oldest, when he was barely a year old, managed to reach inside and grab one of those plastic ant bait things I had stuck waaaaay inside the locked cabinet. I looked down and he was chewing it like a teething toy.  A panicked call to poison control quickly followed. I digress…)

After sanding with 150 grit we went over everything with a fine 220 grit sandpaper to get a really smooth finish. We wiped the dust down a few times, and then cleaned everything, inside and out, with tack cloth.  While I was sanding, etc. my husband took off the crown molding in preparation for our “upgrade.”


The upgrade wasn’t really my plan from the get-go.  I only planned to do the paint, that’s it. And then…I was looking for inspiration on Pinterest and found some tutorials that show you how to replace your crown molding on top of the cabinets with a header and new molding.  I figured we were about to go to all the trouble to sand and paint everything, so why not add this tiny project in?  (says the one that doesn’t have to actually do it).  Thankfully my husband is handy and very accommodating when it comes to my DIY requests.  He got an air compressor nail gun out of it, so he is happy too.  Win-win!


He used 1x4x8 pieces of pine to make the cabinets appear taller, and then we found this nice fat crown molding to put on top.  We used a trim piece to cover the crack where the 1×4 sat on the existing cabinets.  Click here to see the tutorial with instructions that we followed.

Here is a photo of the supports he installed behind the header:


He drilled holes through the supports so that we can install rope lights up there later and the cords have somewhere to go.

We also used a trim piece to make the bottom edge of our upper cabinets a little more visually interesting.  Pretty straightforward, if you have a nail gun!  I can’t imagine what a project this would be without one. It’s a worthwhile investment, and a necessity if you plan to tackle something like this.

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Last was installing the feet.  I kinda forgot about wanting to do this until *ahem* the day before the painter came.  A few rushed trips to Home Depot looking for the perfect thing (which I quickly realized doesn’t exist) resulted in this:


A bag of pieces!

We pieced together base-molding end caps to make our “custom” feet.  My husband worked tirelessly all day that Sunday and made it all come together, even though I stressed him out waiting until the last minute.  Look what he came up with!  I love him!

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Here are the cabinets just before the painter came, all sanded, prepped and fancied up with moldings and feet.  I made the mistake of posting a picture similar to these on Facebook announcing our “Spring Break Project.”  Several people politely asked which chalk paint color and finish I used.  I realized they thought I was posting a picture of the final product!  So just to clarify, this is mid-progress:

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Our painter came Monday morning, taped everything off and started spraying. We bought our paint from Sherwin Williams and the first coat was an oil-based stain-block primer tinted to our white color, “Alabaster.” I would highly recommend using a primer! Especially with our dark red stain, red tones tend to bleed through paint. We had a few spots of bleed through, and after it was all finished I panicked a little thinking maybe more would come through or it would get worse, but it hasn’t. It’s not too noticeable unless you know where it is (which I do, but I’m trying to forget).

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I did a ton of research about bleed-through on painted furniture and cabinetry while I was panicking, and from what I read the only thing you can do is use a stain-blocking primer.  We did that.  In hindsight, maybe we should have used two coats.

The primer had a 90-minute dry time so our painter was able to start painting that afternoon with Sherwin Williams ProClassic Oil-Based Enamel paint in Alabaster. He worked quickly and was able to finish it that same day! It was a long day for him though. He came back the next day to take off the tape, clean up and do touch ups.  The smell was horrible, but after a couple of days it was bearable.  Now (weeks later) people have told me that the smell is faint, like a new house.  Kinda cool considering our house is 20 years old.

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The kitchen was off-limits for the rest of the week. We kept the drawers pulled out and cabinet doors open until Friday, when I lined all the shelves with shelf paper and started putting things back together. That weekend I put the pretty new hardware on, and I felt like I had a new kitchen! I was also exhausted and pretty over it during those last stages of the shelf paper and moving stuff back in.

Painting is done!  Walls and hardware in-progress
Painting is done! Walls and hardware in-progress

It was about a month-long process between the sanding, cabinet trim upgrading, prepping, painting & drying, moving everything out and then back into the cabinets, cleaning up the dust that got everywhere, and finally painting my walls (which didn’t happen until a few weeks later because of an upper respiratory infection I happened to get right after the project-maybe from the dust). But I’m glad I did it. I love my kitchen again, all pretty, clean and white, and feel a sense of accomplishment having it finished!

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Have you taken on the monumental task of painting your cabinets?  I’d love to see before and after pictures of your transformations! Post and share in the comments.


6 thoughts on “(Mostly) DIY Kitchen Cabinet Transformation: The Process

  1. The cabinets are beautiful! And I love the wall color! Do you happen to know the exact color you used?


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