How to Paint a Cabinet the Right Way

by Kimba on April 27, 2011

in Do it yourself,Furniture Rehab

Are you ready for the step-by-step breakdown of how I painted my new foyer cabinet? Click here for more before/after pictures of this makeover. This post might get a little long, but I’m so happy with how it turned out that I don’t want to skip anything!

The first step was to ditch those crazy grills on the front.

I was really lucky because they came off without damaging the doors or drawers. If it had been embedded in the finish, it would have been a much bigger project to get them smooth for painting.

Then I needed to fill in the extra holes that the old hardware left behind.

The trick to filling in hardware holds with wood filler is to take your time. Put a little in the hole, then let it dry before putting in another layer. The wood filler shrinks a little as it dries, so take your time and keep filling the hole. Sand the top when you’re done to make sure it’s smooth.

The existing finish was really slick, so I decided to give the cabinet a good sanding. First with 220 grit sandpaper and my power hand sander. Then with a sanding sponge to get all of the rounded trim.

If you can find a cute little boy to help clean the cabinet, you’re golden.

I don’t usually dis-assemble a piece of furniture when I paint it, but I did this time. I took off all the hinges and removed the doors to make the painting process easier. Here’s a hint: Keep all the hardware and screws together in plastic baggies and label each one with it’s location. You think you’ll remember what goes where. You won’t. Trust me.

From there it was time to prime, which left me with a dilemma. I knew that an oil-based primer would give me the most durable finish, but it also required a lot of drying time which I didn’t have. I needed to get this baby out of the garage ASAP so that humans could park there again. I also didn’t want to deal with the clean-up hassle of oil-based paints.

So I compromised and used Zinsser Bullseye 1-2-3 primer. It’s a water-based primer so it dries quickly, but it’s made for glossy surfaces so it still sticks and creates a durable finish.

I also used Floetrol for the first time. I will never paint furniture without it again. It’s a paint conditioner that minimizes your brush strokes and makes for a MUCH smoother finish. You mix it with your paint and your primer and paint like normal. It kind of loosens up your paint without diluting it. LOVE!

Floetrol Lesson from Kimba’s School of Hard Knocks: If you’re trying out this (or any) new product, read the directions. If they say “shake well”, then shake it well! Otherwise your first coat of primer will be so full of bubbles that you’ll have to resand. You will curse me or anyone else who dares to say “Floetrol” in your presence. Then you’ll read the directions and realize that you need to be cursing yourself. End of lesson.

I used a good brush (Purdy XL Cub) and a foam roller to do all of my priming and painting. First I did all of the trim, edges and corners with the brush and went over the flat surfaces with the roller.

I used a fine (220 grit) sandpaper after every coat of primer and paint. I didn’t go over the whole piece with tremendous detail, I just used the sandpaper to smooth out any brush marks or imperfections in the finish. Then I cleaned off all the dust with a tack cloth.

I wanted a white (but not too white) color, so I chose Hushed White in Behr Premium Plus Satin. It gave me the perfect slightly soft white color I was looking for. It took 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of paint to get good coverage.

After I finished the body of the cabinet, I turned my attention to those interior drawers. I could have left them alone, because I’m the only one who will see them. But I wanted something a little fun inside.

I primed the drawer fronts only and painted them with a couple of coats of aqua paint that I found in the Oops section of Lowes. It’s similar to the aqua in my laundry room…just a little more gray.

I wanted a semi-subtle gray pattern on the drawers, so I used a craft store stencil and some grey craft paint mixed with pearlescent medium.

You mix 1 part paint to about 10 parts pearlescent medium to get a translucent, pearly paint. Love it!

I’m no stencil expert, so I just kept repositioning my stencil on the drawer fronts until I had them completely covered with the pattern. There was a little too much texture to the finish when I was done, I so I went over it with my 220 grit sandpaper to smooth it out a bit.

After all the paint was completely dry, I gave the entire cabinet a coat of spray polycrylic to protect the finish and, hopefully, prevent chips and scratches.

This beautiful cabinet is now sitting in my foyer and I’m already filling it up with all sorts of things that we need to grab as we’re walking out the door. The storage is tremendous!

Did anyone read this whole thing? I talk too much.

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1 Ivette April 27, 2011 at 9:15 am

I adore the way this came out, especially love the contrasting stencil on the inside drawers, ingenious! LOVE LOVE it.
Ivette´s last blog post ..Loving Mood Boards

2 Robin April 27, 2011 at 9:19 am

wow…thanks for all the detailed instructions…and I LOVE LOVE LOVE that cabinet makeover. you are one talented chica.

3 danielle April 27, 2011 at 9:23 am

I read the whole thing! Thanks for the tutorial I really want to attempt a piece of furniture and found this very helpful.
danielle´s last blog post ..Curried Chickpeas Over Quinoa

4 Ever - The red house by the lake April 27, 2011 at 9:27 am

I have to admit I am more than a bit jealous of all you americans with all the cool painting products. Paint conditioners are almost unheard of here, and there are about two different brands of primers and that’s it.

The cabinet turned out beautifully, but I do not entirely understand why you ditched the grills. I think they would have looked lovely in white or pale grey…

5 Kimba April 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Thanks! I agree that we’re so lucky to have the huge selection of products.

The grills would have been pretty in grey, they’re just not my style.

6 Stacy@RedDoorHome April 27, 2011 at 9:30 am

I read and enjoued the whole thing! I always learn something new and will be sure to try Floetrol for my next painting project.

7 Laura April 27, 2011 at 9:35 am

Thanks for the painter pointers! I’m getting ready to paint bunk beds for our girls and needed a little more inspiration. Tried liquid sander to remove the glossiness, but it really didn’t seem to do much. So much for bypassing the sanding! Your cabinet almost makes me excited to get out in the garage and get to work! Almost.

8 Leanne April 27, 2011 at 9:40 am

Thanks for the lesson. I’m going to be referring back to this a lot. It turned out beautiful.

9 Pamela Manes April 27, 2011 at 10:43 am

Really great tutorial. Love how you stenciled the pull out drawers. Great touch! Love it.

10 Angie April 27, 2011 at 10:44 am

I read it, I read it! I’ve done similar projects for my home, but I always l like to read other’s techniques and tips. Very insightful, I’ll be keeping this in my favorites, great job!

11 carolyn April 27, 2011 at 10:56 am

Yup, read the whole thing!

You’ve done a great job of explaining all the steps and I appreciate all the tips. I’ve never heard of Floetrol – going to have to check that out (probably can’t get it here in Canada). Your cabinet looks beautiful and I love the detail on the drawers.

12 Kim @ Homesteader's Heart April 27, 2011 at 11:37 am

Love the cabinet! I myself have a hutch fetish and have bought 5 and painted 4 of them. LOL!
Beautiful job!

13 Centsational Girl April 27, 2011 at 11:45 am

Yes of course I read the whole thing and I want a cute little boy to help me clean the cabinet too!!!! Waaaaah. Oh wait, I do have a little boy, better put him to work!

LOVE this makeover Kimba, the hardware is so contemporary, the inside Greek key, swoon!!!! And how bout dat Floetrol, da bomb, ay?

Can’t wait to feature this weekend, brilz girl.


14 Kimba April 28, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Thanks girl! If you haven’t single-handedly doubled Floetrol’s US sales, I’ll be shocked. I’ll never paint furniture without it again!

15 AK April 27, 2011 at 11:53 am

The cabinet is completely fab!! I love it!!

16 Donna April 27, 2011 at 11:53 am

Thanks for the great tutorial…Have 2 big pieces of furniture to paint and now I’m almost looking forward to it…definitely going to try the Floetrol…hope my pieces turn out as nice as your hutch did…

17 Joy April 27, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Very clear tutorial. Needed every word and picture. Thanks.
– Joy

18 Deborah April 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Thank you! I am preparing to paint some bookcases and this will help me tremendously. I love that you gave the inside of the cabinet some colorful style. It makes it a beautiful piece.

19 Brown Eyed Girl April 27, 2011 at 1:55 pm

B-E-A-U-TIFUL! I like the classic, clean-lined, contemporary look you gave it with just paint and new hardware, and removal of the grills on front. To go and buy something brand new that lovely would cost a fortune, indeed. LOVE!

20 DanielleBartran April 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I did read it all–and hope that I can use it to finish some projects down the road…

Did you do anything with the hardware? Are the hinges the originals?

21 Kimba April 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Thanks! I saved the old hardware, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. The hinges are original. I like how the dark hinges contrast with the white.

22 Ashley @ Root and Twig April 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Read it all. Inspired to find a cabinet or dresser for the foyer. Great idea!

23 Rebecca April 27, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Read it all and boy am I glad I did! I have a few pieces of furniture in my garage waiting to be painted. I’ve been worried about brush strokes showing through, so will be following your steps. Thanks for sharing!
Rebecca´s last blog post ..Its a Monday

24 Christy April 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Wow, that’s beautiful!! And such a helpful post…I read every word. 🙂

I’m about to tackle the large project of painting my kitchen cabinets, and your tute will be a tremendous help when it comes to sanding and priming. Thanks!
Christy´s last blog post ..Oh- the Joys of Paintingand Jury Duty

25 Kimba April 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Oh boy! Love a good kitchen cabinet makeover!

26 christa April 27, 2011 at 7:03 pm

This project rocks, thanks for the breakdown of steps. I will be back, thanks
Blessings, Christa

27 Amy @ Tulip and Turnip April 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I read and loved the whole thing! I love those drawers on the inside. What an unexpected surprise! 🙂

28 SweetMelissa April 27, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Yes I read the whole thing! Steps in finishing are critical…whether we’re doing a piece for ourselves or for resale. And it’s great to hear the shared experiences of others on product trial and error!! Thanks so much for sharing. By the way, LOVE the drawers inside!

29 Lucrecia April 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Thanks for the painting tips! I’m starting my first big project this weekend and I had never heard of Floetrol. I love the stencil, I bet you smile every time you open the doors!

30 Kimba April 28, 2011 at 9:21 pm

This was my first experience using Floetrol and I’ll never paint furniture without it again. Just make sure you shake it first!

31 Leanne April 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Thanks for the lesson. I’m going to be referring back to this a lot. It turned out beautiful.
Leanne´s last blog post ..Home Decor and Organizing Link Party 1

32 Jennifer April 28, 2011 at 12:04 am

I read the whole thing! You are amazing. I do not have the patience to refinish furniture, and you did such a beautiful job. I love it!

33 Jutta@Organized Living Solutions April 28, 2011 at 3:30 am

Lovely! I did read it all :-). Thanks a lot for the inspiring pics and words
Jutta@Organized Living Solutions´s last blog post ..Apr 26- Gorgeous Places

34 TR April 28, 2011 at 7:29 am

#1-Anything worth doing is worth doing well, right? Good job on doing it well, Kimba!

#2-The reason we all read you so much IS because you talk too much so keep on yapping, baby!

#3-Thanks so much for introducing me to the paint conditioner. We’ll be using some of that lovely stuff on our next project!

35 Kimba April 28, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Awwww. Blushing.

36 Lisa April 28, 2011 at 10:18 am

Read, re-read and bookmarked. You most certainly do NOT talk too much! How are we to learn if someone doesn’t take the time to teach?

37 Amy April 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm


38 Karyn Heath April 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Thank you for this post! I just painted 2 nightstands and a bookcase using a similiar method. After all the work, I was amazed that so many people in blogland seem to just slap paint on have it done in 1 day! Cause it took a lot of work and patience to get the finish that I wanted. Glad to know I’m not the only one out there 😛

39 Kimba April 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I’ve done plenty of down-and-dirty makeovers, but they’re usually with spray paint. If I’m getting out the roller and brush, I want to do it right..

40 Jeanie Cullip April 29, 2011 at 3:38 pm

It is so beautiful, I am inspired..

41 Rachel April 30, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Thank you so much for explaining how you did this. You didn’t talk too much at all. 🙂 I appreciate the lesson on how to paint the right way. I’ve never done anything the “right way,” but have been wondering how. Now when an important project comes along I’ll now know how to do it and do it well. Thanks!
Rachel´s last blog post ..Resurrection Sunday

42 EncoreBride May 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Very nice and thorough instructions, I have a cabinet I need to repaint and I will follow your directions to the “T”.

P.S. Found you via Centsational Girl
EncoreBride´s last blog post ..Lost In Pinterest

43 Tania @ Carnoustie Lane May 1, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Wow! This project is beautiful! I am debating painting a cabinet but I think you pushed me to do it! I love the stenciled drawers. Great job!
Tania @ Carnoustie Lane´s last blog post ..White Kitchen Inspiration

44 Jessica @ Decor Adventures May 2, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Yes I read the whole thing, fabulous lesson! I just got some Floetrol yesterday and am looking forward to using it.

The cabinet looks lovely, congrats to you for taking it all apart, and doing the insides with that cute pattern 🙂
Jessica @ Decor Adventures´s last blog post ..AbbyDora Design Giveaway

45 Kimm at REINVENTED May 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm

You do NOT talk to much, I hung on every word! The cabinet is beautiful, and you’ve inspired me to FINALLY paint my kitchen table. Gee, thanks! 😉

46 nimisha May 3, 2011 at 12:43 am

love the way your armoire turned out…..I so want to try furniture painting but I live in a condo with a toddler so can’t really do that, I am bookmarking all of the good projects that I see, may be some day when I have a backyard or garage, I will try them, until then I am enjoying reading and learning the process.

47 Hollie @ I'm Busy Procrastinating May 3, 2011 at 10:42 am

I’ve got a furniture painting project lined up, and your step-by-step instructions are a good review before I get started. I heard about Floetrol from Centsational Girl, and I’m glad to hear that it worked great for you as well. I hadn’t think of adding it to the primer.

48 tracy May 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm

i read the whole thing…and am SO THANKFUL that you wrote it. now i don’t have to pray that restored furniture doesn’t chip! thank you!

49 Lissa May 3, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I absolutely adore this! I have a huge ugly 70’s cabinet/hutch thing that I want to paint. You’re inspiring me to just take the plunge!
Lissa´s last blog post ..Bulletin Board

50 Denise C. June 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm

this is beautiful! I love the detail on the inside drawers.

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