Colin asked me to comment on painting my kitchen cabinets. I started to simply respond, but I figured why not just post it (and I’m surprised I haven’t already written about it!).
So: The why, how and what of my kitchen cabinet finishes:
I built the cabinets intending to paint them. I simply prefer the more casual look of painted kitchens to clear-finished wood, at least in a “workingman’s Victorian.” Were this an Arts & Crafts home (or a fancier, high-style place), I’d likely have chosen oak or another appropriate hardwood.
I used 3/4″ maple plywood that was factory-finished on one side – that became the interior cabinet surfaces – with a paint-grade reverse. The boxes are simply rabbeted and screwed. All the plywood shelves (which are adjustable, of course) are edged with a 1″ x 1″ strip of hard maple. That edging is finished with Formby’s Tung Oil Finish (low gloss, 3 coats), which is the same finish I used on the beech countertops (7 coats for those…or maybe it was 8).
After filling the screw holes with Durham’s Rock-Hard Water Putty and sanding those areas smooth and flush, I painted the exteriors using a brush for the edges at the wall and a smooth roller on most of the surfaces. Sure, it would have been easier to paint them before installation…but I was too eager to get them hung and build/apply the poplar face frames so I could get started on the door and drawers. It also would have been faster to spray them (before installation), but I don’t have paint-spraying equipment – plus the late autumn/early winter weather precluding setting up for that in the backyard (also known as my spray booth).
With the cabinets installed and painted, I hung and fit all the doors, then removed them and painted them with brushes and rollers. The drawer fronts were painted in place; I just had to remember to not shut them as the paint dried. (That was difficult; there is little that bugs me more about furniture than doors and drawers not in their proper positions.)
For the paint, I decided on the same as is on my interior trim work – Valspar Reserve (semi-gloss) in…I have no idea what color – some sort of slightly antique white. It is theoretically “one coat, stain-blocking Paint + Primer” that holds up to scrubbing/washing (which it really does!), has “super adhesion,” “maximum hiding, anti-fade formula” and is “mildew-resistant.” Also, it doesn’t smell bad during application, which is a plus.
It is not, however, one coat on a fresh surface (nor over existing paint on walls, for that matter). I applied two coats on the plywood, and three coats on the face frames and doors/drawers. Had I not been wanting to match the trim, I’d have probably gone with Valspar’s “Chalky Finish” paint, because I like that dead-flat, milk-paint vintage look.
I know a lot of folks who swear by Benjamin Moore’s Aura paint for interior work, but it costs about one-third more than the Valspar Reserve, and I’ve found it more difficult to apply, and with no better coverage – though I can’t comment on long-term durability/fading differences. I used Aura in my dining room, but only 4 years or so ago. The yellow in my kitchen is Valspar flat, and it was painted at about the same time. Neither has faded, and both have been scrubbed in areas a few times, with no adverse effects.
The “Mission Bin Pulls” with a brushed-nickel finish are from Rejuvenation, which also offers an amazing array of very well-made period reproduction lighting. I love those bin pulls – I used them on the cherry coffee table and bookcase I built for the living room. But I will say I liked the company a lot more when it was privately owned (it was bought in 2011 by Williams-Sonoma). I’ve been less-than-impressed with the customer service in recent years – but their product is good enough that I suffer it.
The “Classic Kitchen Knobs” and “Non-Mortised Hinges” (I think of it as “efficient” rather than “lazy” in this application) are from the family-owned company Horton Brasses. I quite like the company’s cabinet hardware – it’s what I and others use for a lot of the furniture pieces you see in Popular Woodworking Magazine, and their customer service is unfailingly friendly and fast. Heck – the owner himself (Orion Henderson) often gets back to you. You really can’t ask for more!