How to Paint Kitchen Cupboards…from Oak to White! #DIY

My next few DIY projects were more of a DIYWHFYF (do it yourself with help from your friends/family) projects! I hauled in the big guns as my brother, Shannon, took over the kitchen cupboard portion of my kitchen makeover and my friend, Rob, jumped in on the backsplash.

However, I DID re-paint and recover a few bar stools so I can SORT OF say that I helped with my kitchen makeover…right?

For the remainder of this blog post, I’m going to use the pronoun “we” when describing how to do something…but make no mistake…there’s really very little ME in the WE but it’s so much easier than saying “my brother” or “my friend”…but believe me, it’s implied!!! Also…while I snapped a few pictures on my phone so you can get an idea of how it all went…I’m saving the best shots for when I reveal the entire look in the next few days! (So stay tuned…there’s more to come after this instructional post.)

About this kitchen…I’ve never liked it. From the moment I bought this house the plan was to change things up but the thing is…ripping out a perfectly good kitchen seems rather unreasonable…and quite expensive! Plus, there’s always something else to spend the money on!

Painting it seemed like a doable option…albeit a rather scary one…but Pinterest makes it all look so easy! (Insert sarcasm font as I’ve been known to fail on many Pinterest projects…especially the baking kinds!) However, I have to admit, with a bit of prep, sanding and the proper paint…it turned out AMAZINGLY WELL and I can’t believe the transformation!

So…here’s how to turn your kitchen from Oak to White!

Scrub and Prep:

To get started, the kitchen was emptied making it completely unusable for a number of days! SOME of the cupboards weren’t emptied completely and to avoid all of the dust from entering, my brother hatched up a plan for the cupboards with tape and plastic wrap that worked quite well. Before sanding, he plastic wrapped the doorways so it felt like you were entering either a hazmat scene or a meth lab which really matched the way I was feeling about the entire project…upheaval, chaos and my brain don’t work well with one another…especially when getting my morning cup of tea became a massive undertaking!

Check out this mess!

We removed all of the doors, drawers, hardware and hinges and labelled each door to remember their placement for later.

Learn-From-Our-Mistake Pro-Tip #1: You might want to also label the hinges…we didn’t, but realized later it may have been easier as they were already set to the proper balance and levels.

To keep things organized, we placed all of the hardware in plastic bags as there were a number of small pieces that could easily get lost in the chaos. Then, with the doors removed and the hardware put aside, we got to scrubbing with TSP to remove every bit of kitchen grime, residue and grease imaginable! (Which was a lot…it’s a kitchen after all!)

Sand and Sand Some More:

Once scrubbed…it was time to sand. Using a fine grit sandpaper, we gave a light sanding to all of the door fronts, drawers and casings. In the case of my oak cabinets, the clear shellac on the cupboards was so difficult to rough up with sandpaper that we used an electric sander on parts…but if you use a sander, be super careful not to round out the edges of the wood on the sides of the cupboard doors. (There’s no need to bring it down to bare wood…just rough it up enough to allow the primer to adhere to the surface.)

Using a vacuum and tack cloth, remove all of the dust.

Learn-From-Our-Mistake Pro-Tip #2: Don’t use water to wipe up the dust or you end up with a crazy “dust paste” that’s a pain in the butt to clean up! Stick with the tack cloth and vacuum.

Prime the Project:

With the scrubbing and sanding complete and the mess cleaned up, we looked for a spot to lay out the cupboards to paint. Considering there’d be a few coats of primer and then a few coats of paint…with two sides to each cupboard…we wanted to lay things out to avoid as much bending and getting up and down as possible…creating a spot that was reminiscent of an assembly line! This is a miserable and lengthy project…you may as well plan it out as comfortably as possible!

Pro-Tip: USE A LADDER! We ran a ladder from the stove to the other side of the room, using it as a surface to lay out all of the door fronts BUT, keep in mind the ladder is likely to be dirty and might scratch the cupboards, so we (totally my brother I would never have thought of this) ran duct tape down the edge of the ladder to protect the newly painted cupboard doors.

Spreading the doors out on the ladder was the perfect painting surface at the right height to make the project flow a little faster (although it did make getting to the kitchen sink a bit challenging for a couple of days!)

With all of the doors laid out, using a paintbrush and a small roller, we applied two coats of primer on the front and back of each door front, drawer and casing. Use a brush in the insets of the cupboards being careful that paint doesn’t pool in the corners…the small roller was perfect for the rest.

In my case, I knew I’d be re-using my original hardware, but if you’re inclined to change it, you’ll need to fill in the holes with wood patch…luckily, we were able to skip that step!


Once primed, two coats of Melamine paint were applied to the project, allowing 10-12 hours between coats to dry completely. It’s recommended by many companies that you actually take the door faces out of the house and have them professionally sprayed…but we opted to do this ourselves with a roller and a few thin coats of paint and it turned out absolutely beautifully. In a few spots, we opted for a third coat but mostly it covered quite well with two.

Re-Hang Cupboards:

Once completely dry, the cupboards were re-hung and re-levelled and the kitchen felt brand new again!

Except, I still needed to install the backsplash.

And THIS is when I got sick and things stalled drastically leaving the entire kitchen reno in jeopardy as I was plum tuckered out. If you recall, I got Pneumonia…and everything shut down.

In fact, the very day after I was diagnosed (right after the painting was complete), my friend Rob popped by to drop off a wet saw and some tools and to give me a few tips on how to install the backsplash. The plan was that he was going to show me…and I’d take on the project from there with his guidance and encouragement.

However, as I stood in the kitchen and he was explaining everything I needed to do…all I wanted to do was nap. I’d hit the wall…I felt weak. I was in my jammies and he’d never seen me in my jammies before. My head was pounding, my lungs were screaming…I was full-fledged pneumonia in both lungs and completely miserable! As he stood there explaining what I needed to do…I looked at him and said, “you have to go.”

I could tell he felt awful for me and he suggested I hit the sack and he’d come back to help me when I felt better…but that was a solid ten days later and by then, I needed to catch up on work and then, I headed to Edmonton with my daughter’s volleyball team. So, despite having purchased backsplash tiles that had taken up permanent residency in the trunk of my KIA, I didn’t have the gumption or energy any longer to get the work done.

I considered not finishing…but I’d tacked this one wee tile as a reminder of how amazing it would look…if I just did the work!

And that’s when Rob showed up, evaluated the project…and got to work!

I was headed out to a meeting so a few hours later, I received a text from Rob showing how things were going!


The next day, he came back to grout and finish things off and now, my kitchen is complete! (Except for the mess that I need to clean up from weeks of renos!)

On Tuesday, the house goes back on the market and I’ll post photos of my brand new kitchen!

But first…a huge, HUGE, thanks to my brother Shannon for spending an entire month at my place painting the walls, fixing numerous little things and turning my cupboards from oak to white! And to Rob, thanks for coming in to finish up the kitchen and making it look absolutely fabulous!

It’s been a long reno but I’m thrilled with the results…almost enough that I don’t want to sell but the fact remains…this house is too big for my emptying nest and it’s time to move on.

I’ll post in a few days with the complete kitchen makeover…but if you’re considering painting your kitchen to freshen up the look…it’s totally worth it!!! AND totally easy…with a bit of help, from your friends.

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Have you been following along on my Makeover Journey? Check out these posts:

How to Paint a China Cabinet
From Drab to Fab – My Living Room Makeover
How to Recover an Ottoman
How to Apply Silver Leaf to Chair Legs
Making a Mirror from a Vintage Frame
Mixing a Little New with a Little Old – My Dining Room Makeover

2 Replies to “How to Paint Kitchen Cupboards…from Oak to White! #DIY”

  1. Oh my gosh!!! I saw the cupboards painted which looked fantastic, but the tile COMPLETELY pulled it all together!! GORGEOUS!!!

    I’m inspired!!! Tackling my house this summer!!

  2. OMG!!! I’ve been thinking about switching our oak cabinets to white for years! This gives me the confidence I need to actually do it! It looks Amazing 🙂