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Need Advice on Kitchen Cabinets - Paint or Re-stain?

Janet Buckingham
May 9, 2019

I need some advice. My kitchen has 32-year-old honey-oak stained cabinets. The countertops are granite (Bordeaux). The ceramic tile floor is Vigne Champagne. ALL the baseboards, door trim and window sills in the entire house are stained wood. I would like to do something different with the cabinets, but don't know whether I should paint them or re-stain them (possible a different color). So, my questions are:

  1. If I simply re-stained them, what color do you suggest? What should I do about the baseboards, window sills and door+trim?
  2. If I paint, should I paint all of them or maybe just the island? Maybe just the top cabinets? What color would you suggest?
  3. Since I have stained wood trim throughout the house, I don't know where I should stop the painting or re-stained. Just keep it confined to the kitchen?

Thanks in advance for any advice!

Comments (13)

  • Constine
    In order to stain the cabinets, you’d need to remove the varnish completely. Stain is a treatment that colors raw wood, which is sealed with varnish later. It is pretty much impossible to remove the existing varnish from the kitchen cabinets to allow the stain to evenly saturate the wood. What you might consider is a translucent glaze instead on top of your existing varnish - you could go darker, but not lighter. Painting is easier since it is an opaque layer which covers up everything. Both glaze and paint require thorough surface preparation, and you need to make sure that any old varnish remnants are compatible with the new finish. From reading many comments here on Houzz, the general opinion is that refinished cabinets don’t look good for long - it might not be worth the cost and effort.
  • Sammy

    Have you considered making other changes, in lieu of refinishing the cabinets, to freshen up?

    For example:

    • changing out the backsplash
    • different wall paint
    • different window treatments and seat cushions
    • new lighting
    • de-cluttering
  • Kendrah

    I'd like to hear what it is that you don't like about your kitchen now or about your cabinets. Why do you want the change? Do you want to brighten it up, do the cabinets look beat up, do you just feel like you want a change?

    Do you plan on painting them yourself or having them professionally done, and could that money be used on something else?

    There are many things you can do in this kitchen short of painting the cabinets that would give it a very different vibe - repaint, declutter, change out the lighting and furnishing.

  • herbflavor

    new backsplash and floor would be on my list. if more was sought: I'd get a cabinet depth fridge and remove the desk. Have you retro fitted the base cabs with rollouts .You have a side hinged door set up...no base drawers. that's the point you have to decide if you'd want to replace the cabs or not?

  • calidesign

    Use Old English Oil on the cabinets to help restore them. Spending any other money on the cabinets without addressing the back splash, countertops or floor will just be a waste. The biggest impact you can have on the look of your kitchen is removing the mosaic backsplash that you put on top of your 3" backsplash.

  • AC LB
    I agree with Sammy!
  • PRO
    Beth H. :

    forget staining them. as mentioned above, it's actually more work than painting. you have to get them down to raw wood again before applying a new stain. (if you want it to look good)

    If you were thinking about doing a darker stain, you could do what they've done here to resemble a dark stain. General Finishes Dark Chocolate paint, and 2 coats of their clear coat.

    (you still have to sand and prime prior to painting)

    this is from a poster here on Houzz who shared this.

    right now, your backsplash, tile flooring and countertop are at odds. It's very busy with those 3, and all the other stuff you have going on in there. you have a lot of knick-knacks, plaids, stripes, tile pattern on the floor, granite movement, mosaic tile movement, etc. they really compete with one another.

    I'd remove the backsplash and that 4" granite piece up the back.

    Remove everything on top of the cabinets.

    Pare down half of what you have everywhere else.

    Paint your cabinets and get new hardware.

    I'd paint out the trim and baseboards to white, but that's me.

    on these first few pics, notice how these owners dealt w/the small space above the cabinets by have boxes built to fill in above it. If you're painting, this is easily done.

    Before/After. paint color is Shoji White with glaze, and Annonymous on the island

    the one above, and this one, show how removing old tile and the 4" granite piece up the back, make a big difference in look.

    you could always do a nicer crown molding on the tops of your cabs. look how nice it looks w/the white cabinets, darker wall color, and no stuff collecting dust on top!

    Maria Kilim before/after. she painted all the oak trim/baseboards, windows, etc.

    If you want to paint, hire a pro Cabinet Painter, not house painter. ask them how they prep the cabs and how they plan on painting. It's a ton of work to do and cost is going to reflect that. If someone gives you an estimate of 2-3k to do yours, don't fall for it.

    Read this if you want to know just how much work it takes to get professional looking painted cabinets.


  • jhmarie

    If your cabinets are worn then painting previously finished cabinets can give them some new life - for a time. You will need touch ups in 3 years or sooner, more by 5 years and probably need to replace in 10. If just a few cabinets have wear, you may ask a refinisher to work on just those cabinets. My mother did that and it was not very expensive - though we live in a part of the country where that kind of work is not that expensive.

    Lighter, natural tone cabinets are the style right now - not that you should just do what is in style - who can keep up with that. I am not thinking the darker stained cabinets with the natural trim is the best look.

    In my opinion, the cabinet tone is fine - there are things I would change before spending on the cabinets. I personally have trouble (can get a headache) with the visual impact of a busy backsplash and would not do one in my own kitchen - and I also have oak cabinets.

    Here is my wood kitchens idea book. It has both newer and older refreshed kitchens. You might see something that helps you see what would make a good change in your kitchen.


  • lindastein


  • Janet Buckingham

    WOW! Thank you all for such wonderful advice and amazing ideas. I will start with the decluttering and wall paint and then see what happens. I was just wanting a new 'look' to the kitchen and thought the painting or staining the cabinets was where I should start (yes, I watch way too many home design shows). And, thank you for pointing out the 'busyness' of my competing designs. You have given me a lot to think about.

  • PRO
    Michelle Yorke Interior Design LLC

    Honestly we think the cabinets are not bad. What we would recommend working on is the lighting and backsplash. Right now we would recommend removing the backsplash and painting instead, since you already have a 4" backsplash, you don't need another.

    Mountain Home: Kitchen · More Info

  • ldecor54

    Agree with Beth that your flooring and countertops and backsplash are all fighting each other with different colors tones. I like your floors. A different countertop and backsplash would make a huge difference

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