Painting just the fronts of cabinets?

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I saw someone else had asked this question back in 2015, but I am thinking of painting just the inset part of our old 70’s style cabinets and wanted to see what others may look like if you’ve done it. Ours are a darker wood, may not even be real wood... good quality, in my opinion, but I feel it just makes the kitchen look so dark and dreary... My husband likes the wood look, but has agreed to let me paint just the fronts... if anyone has somebody this previously, could you share what yours turned out to look like?

OR what do you suggest I do, without painting to lighten up our kitchen?

q painting just the fronts of cabinets

What our cabinets look like currently

  17 answers
  • Peggy L Burnette Peggy L Burnette on Apr 17, 2020

    Hi Nickie, here are some comments and sites you may want to visit before you make up your mind. Good luck and stay well.

    Painting only Doors and Drawer Fronts | Hometalk

    www.hometalk.com › q-painting-only-doors-and-draw...


    Aug 2, 2015 - We have a large kitchen with lots of natural light and oak cabinetry. ... I painted only the door and drawer fronts on the bottom cabinets and left ...

    20 answers

  • Nan W. Nan W. on Apr 17, 2020

    Nickie: Oh my! You'd have to have a VERY steady hand and/or great taping skills! I suggest you paint the entire door. But... you could always just give it a try! ...if you "fail" -- it's a win ...because the whole door would be painted!

  • William William on Apr 17, 2020

    They would look weird with just the inset painted. Like a picture frame without a picture. Paint the whole doors

    https://www.hometalk.com/search/posts?filter=Paint%20Cabinets%20

  • Redcatcec Redcatcec on Apr 17, 2020

    Ok, just the inserts!

    I agree your cabinets are dark and I also agree with your husband, I love the look of wood. Rather than paint have you considered decoupage? Or if you want to try something less permanent there is contact paper that is lightly sticky so you can remove it easily if you don't care for it. Painting is such an invested step on something so visible, you may not care for the effect. What you could also try is taping construction paper or solid gift wrap to see how it looks without the commitment of paint.

  • Gk Gk on Apr 17, 2020

    Hello Nickie! Rather than trying to paint your door insets why don't you add some wallpaper to those insets. You might consider some wallpaper that looks like bead board. It would add a bit of farmhouse look and if you didn't like it you could take it off without ruining the doors with paint. Another thing you could consider would be stenciling. If you use an acrylic paint to stencil (the kind you find in small bottles in craft sections/stores) over any glossy surface already on the cabinet doors and you didn't like the stencil you can remove it with a kitchen scrubby and some dish soap.

    • Nickie Miller Nickie Miller on Apr 19, 2020

      Have been looking at wallpaper since reading all your comments. I am nervous, but excited to give this a shot!!

      below are the wallpapers I like the most. My husband likes the rustic looking shiplap one. 😉

  • Dee Dee on Apr 17, 2020

    I love your cabinets. Is there a way to lighten up the kitchen by painting the walls, or letting in more light through a window. Painting cabinets is very time consuming tedious job. If not done right will look awful. I have seen cabinets with the removable wallpaper that GK suggests. It looks really good and a lot less work.

  • Busch Busch on Apr 17, 2020

    I like your cabinets too, but we are just finishing up the same exact project. I liked the looks of our old wood cabinets we had, but they just looked dated and dark. We used a very light gray paint on our walls, a light-medium gray paint on the upper cabinets and wainscoting, and then a medium gray paint on the lower cabinets and trim around the room (all satin finish). Changed the hardware to a brushed stainless and it looks gorgeous. I can't believe how much brighter the whole room looks. We were not going to touch the floor, but the cabinets turned out so nice that we are installing new vinyl planking flooring with gray and brown hues to finish off the whole room. Flooring will be in next week so i can't wait to see everything together.

  • Mogie Mogie on Apr 17, 2020

    A fresh coat of paint will make a huge difference in those cabinets. Sort of like a face lift for them. Don't forget the hardware. Put it in a crock pot with a little Dawn and let it cook for at least 4 hours. That will clean off crude and loosen any paint that might have got on them.

    Either get new hardware or paint your old hardware after cleaning in the crock.

    How to Paint Kitchen Hardware

    https://homeguides.sfgate.com/paint-kitchen-hardware-28819.html

  • Flipturn Flipturn on Apr 18, 2020

    Agree with William that the cabinets would not look attractive if only the centres were painted. IMO there is even a risk that the whole cabinetry may be ruined by the effect turning out to resemble a botched diy job.


    Although painting cabinets has been getting lots of talk these days, I also agree with Dee that embarking on this project is more work that most people think. Proper diligent preparation, patience, and using quality brand materials is the key to having the results meet with expectations.


    Do you have any other cabinet fronts like the kitchen ones anywhere else in the home (in a bathroom maybe)? If so, then I would suggest you start with these before you jump into trying to 'redo' the kitchen ones.

  • Flipturn Flipturn on Apr 18, 2020

    A much easier and faster way than painting cabinets to brighten any room is to change the light to LED light, either with bulbs or with an integrated LED light fixture.


    What type of lighting do you presently have in the kitchen? If there has been no changes since the home was constructed, it is most likely incandescent or fluorescent.

    LED light is clear and has less shadows than either of these older types.

    • See 1 previous
    • Flipturn Flipturn on Apr 18, 2020

      Good to hear. At least if when you do choose any new colors for the kitchen you know what color you will get when the project is finished, is what you see now.

  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on Apr 18, 2020

    Hi Nicki,

    If you do want to paint and the cabinets are free from grease you could try Chalk paint ( a shade of Turquoise and a finish coat of clear or antique wax might look good). If you want to be more conservative - go for a warm white rather than hard white. If you don't want to paint then Contact paper/wallpaper or Fabric sealed with Mod Podge might be an idea. Best wishes.

  • Nickie Miller Nickie Miller on Apr 18, 2020

    Thanks for all the suggestions!! I will look into the contact paper route! My biggest worry, as many of you stated, is getting too far in and hating it. I like the idea of being able to remove it pretty painlessly if it’s not what we want or like.

  • Morgan McBride Morgan McBride on Apr 18, 2020

    If it looks bad, you can always paint the rest to match

  • Carolyn C. Carolyn C. on Apr 18, 2020

    Hi there, I did do this on my kitchen and bathroom cabinets that were a darker wood. AND, it was not easy without a paint spray machine. I used brushes and sponge brushes. You have to use a “sticky” type paint first. I got mine at Home Depot. The paint people will know what to use. This sticky primer allows the latex to adhere better to the wood cabinet. Of course, you will have to paint the entire cabinet not just the doors. You have to work fast too as the base primer is very thin and runs easily. Honestly, I would not attempt it again, I would hire someone or start with a smaller room, like a bathroom cabinet. Maybe try the inside of your cabinet first to get a feel of how the products work. Good luck.

    • Flipturn Flipturn on Apr 18, 2020

      Hi Carolyn,

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience, which verifies that attempting this project is not always easy going. I too suggested starting with a smaller scale (other than kitchen cabinets) project first to get the feel for how much work is really involved.

  • Rymea Rymea on Apr 19, 2020

    We had cabinets that looked exactly like yours. Ours were solid wood and I bet your are too. I thought the yellow tones made them look dated. We put 2 coats of Min Wax Poly Shades over them in a dark, little redder, tone. It gave them a beautiful rich color. When we sold the house a few years ago our realtor even said how great the 1970's cabinets looked. We mixed a small amount of regular oil based stain with the Poly Shades to get the color we wanted. That gives it longer working time but also takes a little longer to dry. FYI Poly shades is only for polyurethane finished surfaces. So if the insides of the doors aren't then it won't work there. I think Gel Stain is another good choice.



  • Agnes Chrzanowska Agnes Chrzanowska on Apr 30, 2020

    I think you should paint inside of the doors together with cabinet frames too .. it wouldn't look attractive if front will be only painted