How I transformed my kitchen with paint

I finally finished painting my entire kitchen — walls, cabinets, and backsplash. It looks like a different kitchen! It was very economical (about $200), but involved some work. It didn’t require much skill or muscle, just patience and time. Take a look.

White and gray kitchen - kendall charcoal

Transform your kitchen with paint — before and after pictures

Here’s how I transformed and modernized my kitchen with paint:

best charcoal gray paint color benjamin moore kendall charcoal

The salmon wall was first on my list to paint when we moved in. In this house, the living room, dining area, and kitchen are all in one big space. I painted everything else white, so I decided a dark charcoal gray would be a nice contrast and help break things up. I decided on Benjamin Moore Kendall Charcoal, a lovely deep gray with warm undertones.

painting kitchen cabinets before and after

The only thing I didn’t paint in the kitchen were the brown countertops, which would not be my top pick, but I can deal with that. The charcoal wall and backsplash (also Kendall Charcoal) go well with them and sort of helps them fade into the background.

paint the cabinets

Cabinets painted white

I painted our dark bathroom cabinets white four months ago with only one quart of enamel. It took me around seven or eight hours over a few days to finish and I was pleased with the results. Several months later, they’ve held up really well. I have had a few nicks, but they were easily touched up. Make up and dirt wipes off them easily.

The bathroom vanity was sort of a trial run for my bigger project — my kitchen cabinets.

I’ve wanted to paint our dark kitchen cabinets white since we moved into our house. Actually it was sort plaguing me every single time I looked at them. You know when you know how something should go, it’s just a matter of getting there?

After painting in the bathroom, I bought all the supplies for the kitchen, but they sat around for a few months. I was just nervous to take the plunge. Then one night on a whim I took my new little sander and went for it. I knew once they were sanded, it would be too late and I’d have to finish!

The kitchen gets much more traffic and wear and tear than the bathroom, so I made a few changes to my previous process:

A small sander to sand kitchen cabinets before painting

1. Sander

I bought a small, inexpensive sander so the enamel would adhere better.

Use vinegar and water to cut through grease on kitchen cabinets

2. Vinegar and water wash

I took my time washing the cabinets well after I sanded them. I used vinegar mixed with water to strip any extra grease or dirt off. If all the varnish is not washed off, it will seep through the enamel and give it a brown tinge.

Painting kichen cabinets with a roller

3. Roller

I used a roller over large spaces to save time.

Polycrylic protective finish for kitchen cabinets and furniture

4. Protective finish

I used three coats of polycrylic to seal the deal after the cabinets were painted white. I wanted to use this extra precaution against my boys ramming their Little Tikes car at top speed into them.

By the time I got done painting the cabinets white, I was pouting that I still had to do the clear coat on top. But it went so much faster than the paint because it’s texture is much thinner. I used a sponge brush to avoid brush strokes. Sherwin Williams had the choice of satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss. I chose satin because I didn’t want to flaunt my mistakes, but it turned out much glossier than expected.

Be sure to get a water-based can polycrylic. I’ve heard over and over that the oil-based protective finish will yellow over time.

I still didn’t take the doors off this time around, and again, I used an artist brush to navigate small crevices.

First coat of paint on kitchen cabinets

Painting kitchen cabinets with the doors on

Here are updated instructions for kitchen cabinets:

How to paint kitchen cabinets

Tools needed:

DIY instructions to paint dark kitchen cabinets white

painting dark kitchen cabinets white - before and after

I used the whole gallon of Cabinet Coat on about 10 cabinets (I did the laundry room and kids’ bath while I was at it). And I didn’t even use half the quart of polycrylic for the final coats.

I’m pleased with the result, but you should know they are not factory-finish quality. That’s impossible. Even as hard as I tried, after multiple coats of paint there are occasional brush strokes or smudges. I spent less than $100 dollars to paint them, so I’m ok with that.


paint the backsplash

Paint tile backsplash with oil based paint for an easy update

Paint tile backsplash for an big inexpensive change

Painting my backsplash was apparently a controversial move. I was informed at two paint stores that this is strongly not recommended. That’s never stopped me before. I still wanted to give it a go.

So far it’s worked out great. Painting the backsplash the same color as the wall helps it blend into the background. I wouldn’t suggest making your painted tile a focal point or accent color, just because it won’t look the same as tile and will show off any brush strokes.

How to paint a tile backsplash

I painted the tile backsplash in a snap. If I would have realized how easy it was I would have done it a long time ago! Here’s what to do:

  1. Remove outlet covers. I painted mine with the oil paint off off to the side so they wouldn’t stand out as much against the dark backsplash.
  2. Sand if your tiles have a glossy finish. These were a stone texture so I skipped sanding.
  3. Clean well. Be sure to get all the grease splatters and food off before you paint.
  4. Fill in any missing grout. Ours had three holes where something had been hung. I cheated an used caulk because they were small.
  5. Tape off areas as needed.
  6. Paint at least two coats with an oil-based paint in your color of choice. Replace outlet covers.

Paint tile backsplash with oil based paint

It was my first time working with oil-based paint. It takes much longer to dry than water-based paint. Professionals recommend 16 hours before adding another coat. (I couldn’t wait that long though!) It’s stickier than the dickens as it begins to dry, so try not to get it all over your fingers or you’ll leave your mark on everything you touch. And again, this satin dried a lot shinier than I expected. I wouldn’t have picked a shiny finish per se, but I actually really like it.

How to paint a tile backsplash

How I transformed my kitchen with paint — Benjamin Moore Kendall Charcoal

Painting tile with oil paint

It’s not a proper scene in our kitchen if there’s not some cheese, crackers, and wine. And on the weekends, Marcello always has a pot of sauce simmering for some delicious Italian treat. Don’t ask me for a recipe. He never makes anything the same way twice!

In summary

Let me say first that painting the cabinets white completely brightened up the space and my husband and I love the change. I’m glad I did it. Now having said that, it took quite a bit of time and patience. Combining the cabinet paint and polycrylic finish, I painted about six coats on these suckers, front and back.

Paint cans for painting entire kitchen

My schedule was erratic and I worked whenever the boys were asleep or deeply engaged in some truck activity, so I don’t have an accurate count of how many hours it took. But it was a lot. It sort of took over my life for a couple weeks. Would I do it again for the result? Yes! It was worth the couple weeks of kitchen chaos.

Gray and white kitchen with Ikea Duktig child's play kitchen

Update: See how the kitchen looks a year later!

See how I organize my kitchen here.
For more on cabinet painting, go here.

Instagram @housemixblog pic

House Mix Picks

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. 

47 thoughts on “How I transformed my kitchen with paint

  1. Love it!! I love that you didnt remove the cabinet doors. Now I am really going to move forward and paint my awful cabinets.

  2. This is gorgeous and you’ve given me hope! I’m starting on my kitchen next week, much to my husband’s dismay. :) Your whole blog is so pretty and I’m heading over to follow you! Always nice to meet a fellow DIYer.

  3. Thank you so much for your kind note, Meredith. That sounds like my husband’s demeanor too! Why you gotta fix it when it ain’t broke? We DIYers just can’t help ourselves. I’m sure your kitchen will turn out great. I’ll check out your site too!

  4. I heart you so much! I was so overwhelmed by the idea of removing cabinets and of course was thinking of replacing the backsplash. Now I’m totally pumped into doing this. Thank you thank you! BTW, this is the first time I’ve responded to a blog.

  5. Silly question but I have to ask. You mentioned that you lived in South Florida. Any chance you might live in Homestead? I ask because that’s where I live (Ventanas del Sol) and when I saw the pictures of your home I couldn’t believe how much the layout looked like our home. I am so happy I came across your blog. How great if we were neighbors! I love what you’ve done with your home. Absolutely beautiful! You’ve given me some great ideas!

  6. Ah, nope, the other coast :) Funny how all the houses down here start to look the same! Thanks for the lovely words, fellow Floridian.

  7. I am in the process of sanding my kitchen cupboards. However I am having problem deciding on colour. I think I want white but everyone likes antique white. What was the colour of the paint u used. Thanks

  8. Hi Judy. I used just plain old bright white. Besides the gray wall in the pictures, the rest of my walls are white so it would have looked odd if I’d used a creamier color.

  9. My cabinets looked so good I had to do something about my out dated counter tops. So I painted them. And I can’t help but want to tell you I think yours would look great painted the same way. I wish I could show you a picture of how they turned out. I just primered them then painted them black and then sponged with a sea sponge shades of grey on them then coated with clear coat. I used spar urethane. Had I had more room in my kitchen for putting things and functioning while it dried I would have used Enviro tex Lite but that can take up to a week to dry. It looks like granite! And after a few coats shines like granite too!! You should give it a go.

  10. That’s amazing, Kathleen. I’m impressed. My kitchen countertops aren’t laminate, they’re … I don’t know what they are! Some sore of man-made rock. BUT my laundry room countertop IS laminate, so I just might have to give it a go!

  11. Have you had to do any touch ups? We painted our cabinets in 2009 and it needs a few touch ups?

  12. I plan on doing a year update next month, and yes, it needs a few touch ups. Most places held up great, but the silverware drawer will need a little help. I think I’ll put more acrylic on that highly-used spot this time.

  13. Would the oil-based paint work for above a shower surround? The previous owners of our housed DIYed some truly heinous Italianate style porous tile, and I’m sure it would destroy the drywall trying to remove it. I love how your backsplash turned out! So sleek!

  14. Megan, I’m sorry I can’t say for sure! I took a chance with my backsplash and it worked out. I knew I wouldn’t keep the tiles the way they were, so I figured worst case scenario I ruined them and would have to retile down the road. I didn’t care about the tiles so it was worth a shot. So if you’re going to retile at some point anyway, it might just be worth it to try :)

  15. Looks amazing!! We have a similar “before” kitchen with salmon walls and (eek) pinkish cabinets, and I was also thinking about repainting to white cabinets and charcoal gray wall! It looks soooooooo goood!!!

  16. You inspired me with your renovation that I’m going to do it today!! I am SO excited!!!! Thank you so much for all your tips!

  17. This is beautiful. i have ugly cabinets too and want to paint them badly. However, i have this ugly blue gray tile for countertops and backsplash that need a rescue worse than the cabinets. i just wonder how the tile countertops would hold up painted. it is only myself living here, so it’s not like i have to worry about someone recklessly abusing the countertops. What do you think? Do you know anyone who has painted their countertops?

  18. Good idea, but a slightly different shade than the walls would have made it look a LOT more like an actual tile application. The fact that what’s supposed to be tike and grout happens to be the identical shade of the walls gives the trick away at first glance.

  19. Thanks for all the info! I just moved into a new house. This is not our forever house and the plan is to update it over the next year or so and then possibly sell it. So I’m trying to make the updates cost effective, BUT it needs to look good and not obviously cheap! Lol :) everyone I’ve talked to says to spray the cabinets and to let a painter do it. The fact that you only spent a few hundred though is very appealing. The cabinets in your pictures certainly look good to me. How do you think your painted cabinets look compared to those that are taken off and sprayed etc? And now that it’s been a few years, how have the cabinets held up? Thanks again for the post and great information! :D

  20. Hi Danielle! I did an update of the kitchen a year later. You can read it here. It’s been two years now and I’m still very happy with the cabinets. It essentially looks the same as the pictures in the year update — no real dings to speak of since I patched them then. You can see occasional brush strokes on my cabinets and with a sprayer you wouldn’t. But neither option is a factory finish at the end of the day. When I tell people who come over and see them in person that I painted the cabinets myself they can’t believe it. I think this has to do with 1) buying the right products, 2) using a polycrylic finish and 3) taking your time while painting. Obviously you can’t get sloppy and get in a rush. It will show.

  21. I’m so excited I found your blog as I want to paint my kitchen cabinets again. The first time all the doors and knobs were taken off when I had a painter do them for us about four years ago but now I want to redo them a different colour and I just don’t love the idea of removing all those doors. Thanks so much for all the tips here. Your kitchen is fabulous.
    Cheers, Marie.

  22. Was it tile I’m thinking about putting tile behind my stove your resembles mine just alike gonna try

  23. Curious how well the painted tile has held up? my husband and I recently remodeled our master bathroom & left the walk-in shower as it is……I thought it wouldn’t bother me but now that everything is gray and white and new the ugly brown shower looks even worse. I really really really want to paint the tiles white, but I’m scared it’s going to look bad in a few months.

  24. The backsplash has held up perfectly, BUT it doesn’t get hit with water every day. I’d say it’s not quite a fair comparison. What if you painted just a couple tiles and tested them out?

  25. U should do Giovanni White Diamond on ur countertops to update them to match the rest. It will turnjr laminate into a top that looks and wears like real marble!

  26. Love how warm your kitchen is now! Those colors look great together. I’m obsess with my kitchen and I really wanted to find a way to transforme it without loosing its soul. Painting your cabinets white was a brilliant idea! Great post!

  27. …Thank you for this great post! There are many inspirational ideas that I will try to make. Explaining each step will be very useful for my own kitchen. I will let you know how it will turn out ;)

  28. Hello, Kate!
    You have written a nice, helpful and informative blog. We can use multinamel resurfacing technique which is a commercial grade enamel that lasts for long time.

  29. Hi Kate
    I am in South Africa. Our kitchen (not even talking about the bathrooms) are awful. I would like to send you pics for advice. We want to do it ourselves.
    Romanda Potgieter

  30. Hi, thanks for your blog. I’m going to paint our backsplash tile but wanted to ask- I noticed you just used the oil based paint, no priming? Have you had any chipping?

  31. Hi Jill. I did not use a primer on the backsplash and haven’t had one chip, BUT our tile had a stone-like finish. It wasn’t a sealed or glossy type texture, so it didn’t require sanding or primer. Hope your kitchen turns out beautiful!

  32. Thanks, Kate. Our tile is similar to yours, so I was wondering how it is holding up. Having the cabinets painted next week and our painter doesn’t recommend painting the tile. I am going to do it myself but before diving in wanted to see how yours have held up. Thanks again!

  33. Hi Jill! I have had zero problem with the tile backsplash. My cabinets have some nicks in them, but the tiles literally look the same as the day I painted them, and the oil paint makes wiping it down easy. As I said in the post, it wasn’t recommended to me either, but I’m glad I tried it! You could try a sample of the tile first to test it. I just went for the whole enchilada like the daredevil that I am!

  34. Kate, I got into a dispute with my husband on being able to paint some tile I wanted to use for my back splash and this is how I ended up on your post. I already knew it could be done was just looking for confirmation on what to seal them with and of course found it with your help. Your kitchen turned out amazing, but that’s not why I’m commenting. I would just like to say I found all your responses to be so delightful and encouraging to everyone and I’m am so happy to have stumbled on your post I’m not a “follower” type person but you I will save! You have given me hope, by responding to each and everyone of your commenters, that there are still decent people out there who don’t care to lend a helping hand if they can. Keep up the good work and thanks for just being nice!

  35. Oh Cathy, your comment truly makes my day! A sincere thank you for your kind words and encouragement. It really does mean a lot that you would take time to send me a sweet note like this.

  36. I love how your kitchen turned out- so bold and classy! I got to your site because I am looking for a paint color for my kitchen walls. We just bought a flipped house with a brand new white kitchen – love the cabinets but the walls are blah greige and a disaster with my five boys. I was thinking of repairing with super washable white paint but I think you sold me on charcoal. How is it holding up with your kids? Do scuff marks show up easily?

  37. Thanks, Nechama! I usually get sick of colors quickly, but I still love the charcoal. It has held up very well with the kids. My only mistake was using VOC-free paint, the non-toxic version. It peels so much easier than regular paint. It sounds bad to actually type it out but if I did it again I would use regular egg-shell! Send me a picture when you’re done if you think about it!

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