6 Easy Steps for Updating Your Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets that are painted in a beautiful color are in big demand these days. Changing a kitchen to suit one’s style used to be time consuming and incredibly expensive. However, now there is a less disruptive, more affordable way to bring a fresh new look to your kitchen — by painting your cabinets with Chalk Paint® decorative paint by Annie Sloan!

Water-based and odorless, Chalk Paint® is a smooth and creamy paint which is nice and easy to work with — and you can typically start right away without priming or sanding. Chalk Paint® is a good choice for painting kitchen cabinets that are made of wood or finished with melamine or laminate. You can use it to paint a variety of finishes. The colors can be mixed and combined in countless ways. The paint has a soft matte appearance when dry, and you can seal and protect your finish easily and effortlessly with Chalk Paint® Wax, which will give your cabinets a lovely natural sheen and everyday durability.

Use the following guidelines to help you update your kitchen cabinets with a beautiful new finish you will enjoy for years to come.

Step 1 Choose Your Color Scheme

Shelter magazines and social media sites such as Pinterest and Instagram are bursting with inspiration for painted cabinetry. In today’s kitchens, there are three trends that stand out:

  • Keeping the design simple, but not austere. Painted finishes that show the true color of the paint, cleaner lines for cabinetry and moldings, natural choices for countertops and flooring, and simpler choices for hardware and lighting are all factors for creating a kitchen that is both current in its design and inviting for family and friends.

  • Using different colors on different sections of cabinets. This enduring trend of using two or three different colors in a kitchen is a wonderful way for creating visual interest. It is not uncommon to see a darker paint color on the lower cabinets, a lighter neutral color painted on the upper cabinets, and a pop of color that reflects the decor of the home on the island.

  • Highlighting a section of cabinets with a distinctive paint color. Many people are simply tired of looking at their dark kitchen cabinets and think that painting with a white will give them a fresh new look. However, care should be taken to not go from dark and gloomy to white and boring. Consider painting the island or the insides of cabinets with glass doors or open shelving with a stronger color to give your kitchen a bit of personality.

The Chalk Paint® palette offers a wide range of colors from soft and pale to bright and strong. These colors are beautiful on their own or easily mixed to form a color that’s perfect for you. Neutral colors will always be the most popular choice amongst homeowners. Various shades of white are often chosen if one is looking to refresh their kitchen for resale purposes. Color, on the other hand, can express a homeowner’s personality. If you are painting your kitchen for your own enjoyment, why not dip your brush into soft blacks or tranquil greys, turquoise in subtle or bold shades, buttery or sunny yellows, cool industrial or warm coastal blues, greens ranging from bright and bold to soft sage, or reds that make a bold statement or add a zesty touch.

“For my modern farmhouse kitchen, I wanted a color scheme that was warm and friendly. I love that the Chalk Paint® palette of colors is like an artist palette, making it easy to mix custom colors that are perfect for my own home. For my base cabinets I created the perfect “greige” color by mixing equal amounts of Paris Grey and Coco. For my upper cabinets I wanted a lighter look, so I decided to go with one of my favorite soft white combinations ¾ equal amounts of Pure and Old White. There is a large island in my kitchen where family and friends like to gather, and I decided this was the perfect spot to have some color fun. I love deep blue colors, so I decided to go with Napoleonic Blue, a lively deep blue color that was just perfect.” — Homeowner

Depending on your choice of color, you may decide to choose an alternate color as your first coat. Many cabinets are of a darker stain color and can require multiple coats of paint for good coverage, especially when painting with lighter colors. An easy way to avoid this is to begin with a first coat of either Country Grey (for use under warmer colors) or Paris Grey (for use under cooler colors). Both colors offer good coverage and this important first step will make your subsequent paint layers go on much quicker and require less layers.

Step 2 Test and Practice

Before beginning any large home improvement project, such as painting your kitchen cabinets, it is always recommended that you test out each step of your finish first in an inconspicuous area to make sure everything is going the way you planned. A good spot to test your new paint finish is the toe kick area or the back of a drawer front. You’ll often find the same surface or type of wood as the rest of the cabinetry and you’ll be able to see the final result. If any problems arise, you can make the appropriate corrections.

If painting with Chalk Paint® is new to you, consider painting a small piece of furniture first to practice your technique. Choose a method that you will be comfortable with. This should be an easy and effortless finish — after all, you’ll be duplicating it over a large number of doors, drawers and frames.

Step 3 Get Ready to Paint

The simplest and quickest way to paint your cabinets is to paint them in place. Most people paint the frames and cabinet doors and drawer facings but rarely paint the interiors of their cabinets. Chalk Paint® dries quickly and has almost no odor so there is minimal impact to your daily life — and you won’t have to empty out your cabinets!

However, if you decide to remove the doors and drawer facings for painting, first make a schematic drawing, assigning a unique identifying number to each door and drawer location and marking each component accordingly to ensure that every piece gets returned to its original position. Be sure to indicate on each drawer facing which edge is the top.

Good preparation and a clean surface are critical to a successful finish. Most times just a good cleaning will do, but there will be times when an extra step or two may be required. Use the following checklist as a guide:

  • Ensure that your cabinets are clean and free of any grease, oils, surface debris, etc. Use a liquid TSP-substitute cleaner (the phosphate-free formula) and warm water and gently scrub. A Scotch-Brite™ pad is a good choice for this type of cleaning as it will slightly abrade the surface, making it ready to accept your new paint layers. Be sure to rinse afterwards with clean water and then leave your cabinets to dry. Avoid using harsh cleaners or chemicals that are difficult to rinse away and may prevent the paint from adhering.

  • Smooth any layers of thick uneven paint or varnish with medium grit sandpaper. Follow with fine grit sandpaper to smooth any rough spots or edges.

  • Repair any cracks and gouges and fill any holes with wood filler or spackling. Let the filler dry completely and then smooth with fine grit sandpaper.

  • Seal any repairs and fills, including areas that may have been previously touched up with a stain pen, with clear shellac. The same is true for knotholes or open wood grain; seal with clear shellac to block any tannins from bleeding up through your new paint layers. Simply wipe on one or two coats with a cloth pad. Use only the freshest shellac.

  • If your cabinets are made with a melamine or laminate, apply a very thin coat of Chalk Paint®. Don’t worry if your underlying finish shows through, you’ll cover it later. Leave to dry for a minimum of 24 hours. Be patient as this drying period will allow the paint to begin its bonding process to these hard and non-porous surfaces. Only then should you continue your painting.

Another surface worth mentioning here is thermofoil, a finish applied to cabinets by multiple manufacturers. This reasonably priced and commonly available synthetic material is a thin, tight, heat-sealed wrap used over an MDF substrate. Thermofoiled cabinets can be a solid color or imitation wood grain, the most popular choice being white or off white with a slight matte sheen. Paints of any kind do not bond to a thermofoil finish. However, on older styles the thermofoil finish can be removed for painting purposes. Heat first with a hair dryer, and then, starting on one edge, slowly lift or pull the thermofoil away, exposing the underlying engineered core. Then follow the preparation steps above.

Step 4 Apply Your Paint

Before use, shake your can of paint for about 30 seconds. Remove the lid and stir well. Use a stir stick to get down to the bottom of the can and stir in circles, touching the bottom of the can every time to make sure that you have stirred everything up. Your paint should be smooth and creamy.

Select your brush. Annie Sloan’s brushes are designed specifically for use with her paint — they are comfortable in your hand, hold lots of paint, and get into corners easily. Use a Chalk Paint® Brush when you are wanting some slight texture in your paintwork. The Flat Brush is a good choice when you are wanting a smoother finish.

Some handy items to also have on hand are fine grit sandpaper or sanding pads for smoothing, a small razor knife for lifting out any loose bristles, and baby wipes for keeping your hands clean and wiping the excess wax out of your wax brush.

Begin by applying a coat of Chalk Paint®. Take care to not overload your brush, this should not be a thick coat. Add the smallest bit of water (up to 10%) to the paint to make it easier to apply, but only when necessary. Paint in a manner that is most comfortable for you. While some painters prefer to lay out the paint by brushing in a more linear direction, others will move the brush every which way, stretching the paint over the surface and leaving a few subtle brush marks or even some slight texture which can become part of the look.

While some brush marks here and there are considered a hallmark of a handcrafted finish, you can achieve a smoother look when you use the paint thinly and apply it with a Flat Brush. Stretching the paint over the surface using longer brushstrokes and moving the brush every which way will help to eliminate brush marks.

Whichever method you choose, this should be an easy and effortless step so don’t fuss too much — most of the brush marks and texture will lay out as the paint dries. Don’t worry if your underlying finish shows through, you’ll cover it later.

When painting a traditional 5-piece cabinet door, begin with the center panel. Then move on to the rails and stiles, brushing on the outside edge first and working your way in towards the center panel to avoid a heavy buildup of paint on inside edges and corners.

Leave the paint to dry. If you’re not in a great hurry, letting your first layer dry overnight can be best as it will allow the paint to begin the bonding process to whatever finish is underneath.

Continue painting, applying enough coats of paint for good coverage. Most times two coats will do, but this will depend on your color choice and application thickness. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next.

After each coat has dried, look for any loose bristles stuck in the paint or noticeable accumulations of paint along edges and in inside corners. Carefully remove any bristles with the tip of a razor blade and sand away any unwanted paint accumulation. It is best to apply another quick coat of paint after making these repairs to avoid any unsightly marks in the finish.

When you are done, clean the ring of the can so that you can close it properly in case you have some paint left over. Squeeze out as much excess paint from your brush as you can and then wash it with a mild soap and warm water to rinse out the remaining paint. Hang or lean your brush to dry bristle-side down to avoid any water accumulating in the ferrule.

Step 5 Protect Your Finish

Finish with two or three coats of Clear Chalk Paint® Wax. Easy and effortless to apply, Chalk Paint® Wax makes a good bond to the paint for protection and durability and gives a beautiful natural sheen. It’s water-repellent and food safe too, making it a wise choice for kitchens.

Spread a thin coat of Clear Wax over the paint using a Chalk Paint® Wax Brush. There’s no need to use a lot of pressure or move in tight circles — simply apply a small amount of wax using a gentle sweeping motion, following the contours of the cabinet components and letting the tip of the brush get the wax into inside corners and other details. Work in manageable sections at a time and wipe off any excess wax with a clean absorbent cloth as you go.

Let the wax dry just until the surface no longer feels cool to the touch (this will typically take as little as 20 minutes). Add another thin coat of Clear Wax to even out the finish, again making sure to wipe away any excess as you go.

When you are done, remove the excess wax from your brush using a baby wipe or dry cloth and then wash it with a grease-cutting soap and hot water to rinse out the remaining wax. Hang or lean your brush to dry bristle-side down to avoid any water accumulating in the ferrule.

Let the remaining wax penetrate the paint layers and dry 24 hours. If the sheen appears a bit uneven, apply another thin coat of Clear Wax and let dry yet another 24 hours. For a natural sheen, you can leave as is. For a more polished look, buff with a soft cloth.

Step 6 Let Your Finish Cure

Allow your new cabinet finish to cure. Curing, a hardening process that takes significantly longer than drying, is what strengthens your finish and gives it its durability. Cabinets painted with Chalk Paint® and finished with Chalk Paint® Wax typically take between 5 and 21 days to cure. Note that new finishes prefer warm, dry conditions during the curing process; cold temperatures, high humidity, and application thickness can extend drying and curing time substantially.

You can use your newly finished cabinets during the curing process; however, treat them gently and with respect. Avoid extreme heat and moisture and any objects that would scratch or otherwise damage the surface. Wipe up spills immediately and avoid harsh cleaners and abrasive pads. A little bit of care and patience during the curing period will reward you with a finish you will enjoy for years to come.

Helpful Tips

  • Remember that hand-painted cabinet finishes do not have to be perfect. They are meant to give a beautiful handcrafted look with character and interest, rather than a perfectly smooth “factory-like” finish.

  • Complete each step of the finish across all your cabinets before proceeding to the next to help ensure a consistent look.

  • Finish your cabinets with Clear Wax only. Avoid using colored waxes on surfaces that will be subject to heavy use, such as your kitchen cabinets, as they can make future repairs difficult. Touching up with additional wax often results in a halo or ring effect in the affected area.

  • Caring for a wax finish is easy. Wipe clean with a slightly damp cloth followed by a dry cloth. To clean marks or stains, add a little mild soap to your cloth. More stubborn marks, such as scratches and stains, can be easily rubbed away with a little Clear Wax on a cloth pad. Avoid liquid furniture polishes and oils. Chalk Paint® Wax is water resistant but will spot if not wiped immediately. It is alcohol soluble and should not be used in bar areas.

  • Refreshing your cabinet finish is quick and simple. When your finish becomes dull and you can no longer buff it up to a nice sheen, apply a thin coat of Chalk Paint® Wax. Remove any excess wax with a clean absorbent cloth and let the remaining wax dry. Gently buff with another clean cloth.