How to Update your Kitchen Cabinets Using Chalk Paint

Chalk paint is often referred to as “no prep” paint. I rolled my eyes when I first hear the term, and thought it was total bologna. The process of prep, prime, paint had been engrained in my head for so many years. How could a paint not require those first 2 crucial steps? Forget the sanding? No need for priming?? You don’t even have to remove the doors? How could this be?! After doing a bit of research, it turned out that chalk paint wasn’t some mythical unicorn of the home improvement world. It did, in fact, exist and actually worked, according to many DIY bloggers. My next question very quickly became: why haven’t I tried this yet?

I discovered chalk paint around the time we closed on our new (to us) home, which was built in 1927 in Sanford’s historic district. The timing of this discovery was perfect, because our kitchen needed a major update that wouldn’t break the bank. I realized that painting the cabinets would be a major game changer. Keep in mind, I’d never painted a cabinet in my life at this point. My experience in painting furniture consisted of a headboard my dad helped me with when I was about 12 and a dresser my father-in-law painted with me a few years ago. Needless to say, my painting skills was non-existent. Something this house has quickly rectified. In hindsight, I realize that it probably wasn’t the wisest decision for me use my kitchen cabinets as the guinea pig for my first chalk painting experiment. Definitely, not Joanna Gaines approved. Luckily for me, chalk paint is fool proof!

I used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint to paint the cabinets, and would stand behind that decision over and over. A lot of companies are starting to produce “chalk paint”, but Annie Sloan invented it! I bought my paint from an online shop called The Purple Painted Lady. They delivered my paint quickly and included a packet of instructions as well as a free container of Mineral Spirits to clean the cabinets before painting them. As I mentioned before, chalk paint is unique to other paints because it requires very minimal prep work. Traditionally, the process requires taking off the hardware and doors, sanding all surfaces, priming, and then painting multiple coats. Ugh, I’m tired just thinking about it. With chalk paint, you simply remove the hardware, leave the doors on, and don’t need to use any primer!

 

This is what the kitchen looked like the day we closed on the house. Ay yay yay! Can you see why the kitchen was the very first room I wanted to get my hands on?

PREP:

The only step you must do prior to using chalk paint is clean the cabinets really, really, really well. This step is crucial to ensuring that the end result is beautiful, so please do not skip it or rush through it. Our cabinets had years of grease and crud build up, so I made sure to scrub them 4 separate times. I would still encourage at least 3 rounds of cleaning prior to painting, because if there are any grease spots, the grease will show through the paint no matter how many coats you apply. Even if your furniture piece appears to be clean, it will still be covered in oils from hands. After cleaning your cabinets thoroughly, the only other prep involved is to edge of any areas that won’t be painted using painter’s tape.

PAINT:

After you purchase your chalk paint, allow it to come to room temperature for at least a full day before you paint.  That was no problem for me. I was so petrified to start this project that the paint supplies sat on the counter for about a week before I actually got up the courage to take the plunge. This brings me to the first stage of this emotional chalk painted rollercoaster: pure anxiety with a healthy side of procrastination. I kept second guessing my decision to do this myself. Who the hell did I think I was?? I’m just gonna slap some white paint on some dark wood without ANY prep work whatsoever and think it would turn out ok?! Oh yeah right.

When you are ready to get started, make sure the can is mixed well using a wooden paint stirrer. Because I was so nervous, I decided to begin with an area that doesn’t get as much air time like the cabinet above the fridge. Then I started to get a rhythm of using the paint, and kept working section by section. When I stepped back after applying the first coat, the second emotion I felt was total fear. The paint looked streaky and horrible. You could see every single brushstroke. I started cursing the name of every blog I’d read that reassured me this was a good idea. Why would these women tell me such lies?? And what the hell was I going to do now that I’ve single handedly ruined our kitchen? I was convinced the cabinets would have to be burned in the backyard. I went home and told Andres that his jaw would drop when he saw what I did to our cabinets and not in a good way. I sent a few desperate messages to friends who’d used chalk paint in the past, and they all told me it was perfectly normal for the first coat to look as bad as it did. Regardless of their reassurance, I barely slept a wink that night.

The next morning, I came back to apply the second coat and was amazed at the results, which brought me to the next stage of emotion: complete relief. The comparison to the trainwreck of the first coat was like night and day. I could see those heavy brushstrokes vanishing into a smooth finish. Sometimes I painted against the wood grain in order to more easily cover a section, but I always made sure that my final strokes were in the direction of the wood grain. I also read a helpful tip that suggested mixing the paint with a little bit of water for easier application. Because the paint is so thick, I opted to try this when doing the second coat and found it much easier to work with. I just poured about a cup of paint into it, diluted it with about a tablespoon of water, and mixed it well. I found the paint much easier to work with after watering it down a little. Because the original color of the cabinets was so dark, I had to use two quarts of Pure White to do three coats on the uppers. The Duck Egg Blue that I used for the lower cabinetry had better coverage, so I only had to do two coats on those.  I’m sure two coats will do in most cases. It didn’t take long to do one coat, and you only need to wait 30 minutes between coats, so you can literally finish a piece in one day if you want to.

POLY:

Chalk paint has a very flat finish. Sealing your cabinets will achieve a satin or gloss finish while also protecting them from everyday wear and tear. Most people use wax to seal their chalk paint projects. After doing some research, I decided to not go that route for several reasons. The first is that wax is not permanent. Raise your hand if you want to finish a kitchen remodel and go back every few months or even once a year to apply another coat of wax.  No takers? Yeah, I didn’t think so. If I am going to take the time to redo my kitchen cabinets, I only want to do it once and be done with it. Secondly, wax has to be applied and then buffed in order to achieve a satin finish, adding another step to an already long process. More importantly, furniture wax is not heat resistant, which is definitely a bad combination for any kitchen. Plus, if you’re like me, splashes, spills, and dog drool will need to be wiped off regularly. Last but not least, if you ever choose to repaint your cabinets or any furniture that has been treated with wax, all of the wax coating has to be completely removed before painting.

Using a polyurethane will allow you to achieve the same finish as furniture wax without any of the complications. Even though I’d purchased a tin of wax when I bought the chalk paint from The Purple Painted Lady, I decided to save that for another project, and used a polyurethane on the cabinets instead. When it comes to choosing a polyurethane, the options can be as overwhelming as picking paint colors. After doing some research, I went with Rust-Oleum Varathan Crystal Clear Water-Based Polyurethane. Applying the product was very easy as was the cleanup. The main reason why I chose it is because it supposedly won’t turn yellow overtime like many other polyurethane products. The idea of my beautiful white cabinets turning a dingy yellow makes me cringe, so I am seriously hoping that we don’t run into that problem down the road.

Supplies I used on this project:

 

After applying two coats of Polyurethane, all I had to do is take off the painters tape, clean up the bit of paint that got on the glass and floor, screw the new hardware on, and voila — the transformation was complete! I never imagined that a project like this could be so easy. Our kitchen went from drab to fab in just a few days and for less than $500 total, including the hardware and the rug. I hope this post can serve as some inspiration for you as you dream and scheme your next DIY home decor project. Try it out, and let me know what you think when you do!

Below is a photo of what the kitchen looked like after painting the cabinets and refinishing the counters.  Click here to check out my post about how we refinished our tile counters using tub and tile paint.

For the full reveal of our kitchen makeover, a breakdown of the cost, and all the sources we used, click here.

 

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