Thursday, September 26, 2013

Transforming Kitchen Cabinets with Chalk Paint

My sister-in-law and my brother recently inherited the house in southwest Virginia that her grandfather built around 1900.  Her mother was born there, and it was always the place that everyone in the family gathered when they went 'down home'.  The place hasn't been used as a permanent house for many years, and it was subject to some updates and changes in the past with this status in mind.  It's still going to be a part-time getaway house for my brother's family ... but he wanted to fix things up and make it look better and function more efficiently.  (You may remember that my brother is a remodeling contractor, specializing in kitchen and baths.)

I call this project "Granny's Granny's Kitchen".  The idea is to respect the fact that this kitchen has been used by three generations of country women, and to give the impression of age and use.  A new shiny kitchen would be totally out of place here.

The best 'before' photo of the kitchen we could find is this one, taken at Thanksgiving.  The cupboards are a hodge-podge of two kinds of oak veneer, that cabinet beside the stove creates a traffic problem, and the whole kitchen is dominated by the cast iron wood cook stove (used mostly for supplemental heat in the winter.)

The wood stove was the first thing to go ... it came out in pieces and was already outside on the porch when I arrived on my first trip down there in April.  To help with the traffic flow, my brother moved the cabinet that was beside the electric stove, opening up a larger area to pass through the kitchen to the rest of the house.


The next job was to rearrange some of the lower cabinets to make room for a dishwasher.  The old cabinet that been beside the stove got cut in half.  My brother then pulled out the cabinet to the left of the sink base and moved it to the wall where the wood stove used to be.  One part of the cut-in-half cabinet went beside this, and the other half slid into place in the corner on the sink wall ... leaving exactly enough room for a dishwasher!
Screwing a new plywood side onto the cut-in-half cabinet.
The other half of the cabinet is to the left of the dishwasher.
This was the point where it was my turn to step in, removing all of the doors and drawer fronts so I could paint them here in my home workshop.

Painting at home has its drawbacks ... in this case, it was kitties that are not as helpful as they think they are.  (The feathery toes on these cat prints indicate that the culprit was Alice.)

I worked on the doors and drawer fronts from time to time over the summer.  Knowing I wasn't going back to finish the rest of the kitchen until early September, there was no need to rush to get them done much before then.  It took a bit of time at first to perfect the custom color, and to get just the exact amount of distressing and wear that I was looking for.

The color is a combination of Annie Sloan's 'Provence' and 'Olive' ... approximately four parts 'Provence' to one part 'Olive', painted over a base coat of 'Country Grey' and wet distressed to show subtle wear, as if it accumulated over time. 

The top coat is something that Annie Sloan would probably never tell you to do ... but I will.  In high wear situations that require maximum durability (like tabletops and kitchen cupboards), I use Minwax wipe-on oil-based satin polyurethane instead of wax.  I apply two coats very sparingly with a rag, buffed with a sanding block between coats.  The varnish dries to a soft sheen, comparable to a hand-buffed wax finish, but this is scrubbable and durable and practically maintenance free.

Part Two of this kitchen began when I made the 300+ mile trek down there, with my Jeep loaded with tools and supplies and all of the cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

The first job was to make sure that all of the surfaces to be painted were clean.  I scrubbed them to remove all the dirt and any grease, then lightly went over them by hand with 150 grit sandpaper.  This knocked the sharp corners off of all the edges of each cabinet, and allowed me to make sure that every inch of the surfaces were truly ready for paint.

Let's back up here for a second.  In order for my brother to install an over-the-range microwave, he had to shorten the cabinet over the stove.  He took that cabinet with him and did this at home.  I picked the cabinet up after he finished with it, and I painted it at my house along with the doors and drawer fronts.

The upper cabinet on the wall where woodstove used to be came from my stash.  It used to be in my in-laws' basement ... I took it and the other cabinets to use in my own projects.  Since this one was almost a perfect fit for this spot, I gave it to my brother.

With all of the cabinets clean and sanded and taped off, it was finally time for me to apply some paint ... base coat:  one coat of 'Country Grey'.




Here's a helpful tip for you ... a tall kitchen trash bag is the perfect length to use to protect the insides and contents while painting 30" upper cabinets.

To get the smoothest finish possible when using Chalk Paint, I lightly sand between coats of paint with a fine-grit sanding block.  This helps the second coat go on easier, too.  Speaking of the second coat ... let's do that.



Once this coat was dry, I used my sanding block to give the cupboards a light buffing.

My secret weapon for getting a subtle wet-distressed finish is the humble kitchen ScotchBrite pad.  I use this to scrub down the cupboards, paying particular attention to areas that would naturally receive more wear.  I could do this with sandpaper, but wet distressing is easier (in my opinion) and it is a whole lot less messy than sanding.  (BTW, I never use a power sander to distress my painted furniture.)



When the cabinets were dry, it was time to apply the first coat of wipe-on varnish.  I wear a glove to do this ... pouring a little bit of varnish into a paper bowl and applying it with a small lint-free rag.  I dip the rag into the varnish, rub it into the surface of the cabinet, and finish with long, even strokes in the direction of the wood grain.

Here is a good side-by-side comparison of results of the painting, distressing, and varnishing process.

It doesn't take long to wipe the varnish on all of the cabinets.  Notice how it accentuates all the details of the layers of paint and distressing.  I allow 24 hours between coats of varnish, sanding lightly before applying the second coat.



The antique brass handles and hinges that were originally on the cupboards would have looked awful with this new painted finish.  My sister-in-law liked the satin nickel patina handles I showed her, and we paired them with new black hinges. 



The new hinges are the self-closing spring-loaded type, and they mount to the face of the cabinet ... which meant that I couldn't reuse the old hinge holes inside the door openings.  Each door now had to be measured and have new holes drilled, with no margin for error.  I stressed so much over that first door ... measuring and checking and rechecking.  I finally just gritted my teeth, said a small prayer, and drilled the first hole.
After this, I got into a rhythm of measuring and marking and drilling, though it still took a LONG time since each door was slightly different ... made even LONGER by the fact that I was working by myself.  Upper cabinets first.


Then the lowers.

All finished! 
Don't be concerned about those places you see where the cupboard door and two drawer fronts that are missing.  The door needs to be routered out a tiny bit for it to fit into the opening.  The cabinets with the missing drawers are the result of cutting that one cabinet in half ... now my brother has to cut the drawer in half and make two smaller drawers out of it.  The door and the drawer fronts are painted and ready to go, whenever my brother gets around to installing them.
What started as a cobbled together 1970s kitchen in a modest turn-of-the-century mountain house, went from this:

To this:

Next phase of the project will make some more major changes to this kitchen ... drywall repair, some electrical work, recessed lights, countertops, new flooring, hook up the dishwasher, etc.  My only contribution to this will be to paint the wood panel to cover the exposed side of the slide-in range ... whenever my brother builds the panel, that is.
The best part of this project for me was the look on my sister-in-law's face when she came home and saw the kitchen when I had most of the doors reinstalled (after she had spent a difficult day at the lawyer's office, courthouse, etc.).  I could see that my vision for her idea of a country/cottage/cabin turned out perfectly!


  1. I could sure use you and your brother in my kitchen!

  2. I agree with Ms. A -- I have horrible white cabinets in my kitchen and would love a makeover like this! Just beautiful -- you should be very proud of yourself and your brother owes you big-time!

  3. Beautiful transformation that, like you said, honors the kitchen's history.

    Other note, I KNOW that floor tile. My mom picked it for our downstairs bathroom in our old house back in the 70's. What a fun-shock for me to see that - it brings back memories.

  4. oops - that was my wrong log in. The comment above was me :)

  5. I just think you have the luckiest brother in the world! You did a fabulous job, the cupboards are beautiful!

  6. That was a lot of work and you did a beautiful job. Thanks for sharing the step-by-step. After you sand cabinets, what do you use to wipe off the grit before you add another coat?

  7. Awesome job transforming this kitchen! I over that you respected it's history and didn't change the look of it too much. The color and finish are fabulous!

  8. Connie- That is a fantastic job. I love, love, love the color and how it looks like it has been there forever. Great job with the re-arrangement of the kitchen and the new cabinets you supplied. GREAT job- xoDiana

  9. One of the nicest distressed finishes I've seen. Mucho kudos.

  10. Wow! I'm sure your sister-in-law's jaw had dropped to the floor. I know that would have been my expression!! I absolutely love the cabinets. You did an absolutely fantastic job, girl!!

  11. Wow, Connie! It's just beautiful!!!!! How did you ever decide to use those colors together? I just love it! Great job, my friend!!! :)

    xoxo laurie

  12. You and Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan make one ROCKING team!!!!!!

    Just beautiful are a good Sis ;->

    Janet xox
    The Empty Nest

  13. Wow, Connie, I wish you would come here and do something with my bathroom! Your sister-in-law is so.o.o lucky! Beautiful job! P.x

  14. Hi Connie, You did a great job! I love the color too.

  15. The cupboards turned out beautifully! Love the custom color.

  16. Looks great!!! What happened to the old wood stove? I won't show that picture to Bob, he remembers fondly watching his aunt cook on one of those....

  17. Oh wow, what a fabulous makeover, I love it. I would love for you to link up to my Inspire Me party that is ongoing. Hugs, Marty

  18. They look fabulous! I love that shade of green!

  19. I was considering using wipe on poly over some painted furniture. I am concerned that the poly would dissolve the paint. Did you have any problem like that?

    1. If you're using genuine Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, like I did, there's not worry about the polyurethane dissolving the paint. I have done it on other projects besides this kitchen, and the result is always fabulous. Practice first on a sample board till you get the hang of it.


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