Ideas for Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Four Simple Ideas for Painting Kitchen Cabinets

If you look a little, you'll find tons of ideas for painting your kitchen cabinets.

This page touches on four basic ones, plus a couple of variations.

If you are simply looking for instructions on how to paint kitchen cabinets, check out our easy Repaint Your Kitchen Cabinets page for some simple painting steps.

1st Idea:  Paint Your Entire Kitchen the Same Color

Keeping your kitchen one color is the simplest way to paint your kitchen cabinets, and probably the least time consuming (other than just painting motifs on them).

2nd Idea:  Paint the Frames and Cabinet Sides, But Order New Thermofoil Doors

You don't have to go through all the work of painting your entire kitchen.  An actually better alternative is to just paint your frames, and cabinet boxes if needed, then purchase thermofoil doors.

You can link to our Unfinished Wood Kitchen Cabinets Page for complete information on how to do this.

The photo at right is of kitchen cabinets we built and installed for a local daycare center.  The doors are white thermofoil.  We just painted the frames using a white lacquer, and left the ends their natural, unfinished, white thermal melamine, 5/8" thick.

In brief, here are some simple tips and ideas for painting kitchen cabinets if you are going this route with thermofoil doors:

  • Paint your cabinet boxes and frames white (or another color of your choice).
  • Purchase Thermofoil doors from a reputable company.
  • You can get other colors than white, but be sure to match door and paint colors.
  • Doors other than white may be considered custom from where you are getting them, and may be cost more than white.
  • If you are purchasing new kitchen cabinets from a custom cabinet shop, or your local home center, check to see if they can order your ends white so you all you'll have to paint are the frames.
  • Make sure you know beforehand, what quality of white exterior the sides/ends will be.  If they are a high quality, white, thermal melamine, that's great.  You won't have to paint the sides.  If they are a low-quality 1/4 particle board, you might want to ask if anything else is available, or you may end up painting the ends anyway, or even re-enforcing them (like adding a 1/2" sheeting material).
  • You can add a painted wainscoting on your cabinet ends for a different look.

3rd Idea:  Leave your fronts (door and drawers) wood, but paint the frames and boxes, or tack painted wainscoting to the sides.

One of several ideas for painting kitchen cabinets is to stain and finish your wooden doors, drawers, and/or frames, but then add a painted wainscoting to the sides of the cabinets.  It will give your kitchen a nice contrast, and a cottage kitchen look.  You can always mix painted wood with stained in a kitchen.

There are several ways to do this and variations.  One is, if you have open cabinets, bases or uppers, you can line the interior of these open areas with the painted wainscoting as well.

The photo at right is of a birch kitchen.  The family who owns this home purchased their kitchen from us, a custom cabinet shop, but saved a lot of money in the finishing (over $1,500).  They painted their kitchen frames white, but then were going to stain and finish their doors and top trim.  The photo shows the work in progress, before the doors were stained and finished, but it gives you the general idea.

When we built these cabinets, this idea and other ideas for painting kitchen cabinets came from the customer.  This is a good example of the customer letting their cabinet maker know exactly what they want, and of it working out well and saving them money.  Don't ever be afraid to let your cabinet maker or home center salesperson know what you want.  If they won't listen, find a different cabinet maker or place to purchase your cabinetry! 

The photo at right is of a shaker style table that utilizes the same basic concept of keeping your doors and drawers a natural wood color, but then painting the frames and sides.  It looks great.

Variations of these ideas for painting kitchen cabinets include:

  • Staining and finishing the wainscoting so it matches the doors and drawers.  This means everything will look like stained wood rather than paint, but doing this adds a nice texture to your kitchen cabinets if you like the stained look.
  • You can also just paint your entire kitchen white (including the doors, drawer fronts, and frames), but add wainscoting to the ends.  This gives a very country cottage kitchen feel and is a really nice idea for painting kitchen cabinets, like the photo at right.  Doesn't it look terrific?
  • You can paint your cabinets white, but then add a white or off-white wainscoting in your backsplash area like the photo below, right.  This also lends a very country cottage kitchen look, and is terrific.
  • If your cabinet finish isn't in bad shape, another easy thing to do is to take a door or two off your upper kitchen cabinets, then paint the interior of that cabinet (wall paper it, or tack up wainscoting).  With little effort, you have an entirely refreshed kitchen!

4th Idea:  "PICKLE" THEM

This is really a form of painting, and I think is one of the neater ideas for painting kitchen cabinets.

You put a light coat of flat, usually oil-based paint on your kitchen cabinets.  Let it dry slightly, then wipe it off before it completely dries.

This allows the paint to seep into the grain, but not as much on the surface, leaving a "white washed" or "pickled" effect on your kitchen cabinets.  The photo at right is of lightly pickled cabinetry.  Notice, because it is light, you definitely see the color of the oak come through.

Depending on the wood you use (for example, birch or maple would pickle more uniformly) you can get quite a variation.  Do test by staining on several scrap pieces of wood before you decide how you want to proceed.  This will help ensure you like your results.

An alternative:

Purchase a pickling stain, then stain and finish your kitchen cabinets like you normally would.  See our page How to Stain Kitchen Cabinets and Cabinet Finishes for more information about these ideas for painting kitchen cabinets.

Real World Experience:

When we owned and operated our custom cabinet shop, we built and installed a pickled kitchen for a customer.  It would have looked beautiful, but . . . She had painted two of her kitchen walls bright, I mean BRIGHT RED Wall color is definitely something to keep in mind when you paint your kitchen cabinets.  If you paint them, they will reflect back to you the color of your walls.


  • Paint your kitchen cabinets one color (frames and boxes), and the doors and drawers a different color.
  • Rag, feather, or sponge paint your kitchen cabinets like you would a wall.  Paint your kitchen cabinets one color first, then, after drying, going back and sponging, etc., with a different color.
  • Get a stencil that you like, such as leaves or vines.  Clean your cabinets well (see our Cleaning Wood Kitchen Cabinets page).  Paint your motif onto your cabinets.  A neat idea is to paint the same motif on your ceiling (say a few leaves) if leaves are what you are using for your kitchen motif.  If you are using a vine motif, you could work that into the backsplash area, the ends of the cabinets, or a wall as well.
  • If you would like to try your hand at the Norwegian art of rosemaling, that could very well work into your kitchen decor, although you will probably want to simply stencil some rosemaling, rather than trying to paint the entire cabinet!  The photo at right is of a rosemaling type stencil.  Below is some true rosemaling work, on a cabinet door, then an entire cabinet rosemaled. True rosemaling may prove to be too time consuming for an entire kitchen, unless you are really devoted, and probably willing to take a class!!






Enjoy these ideas for painting kitchen cabinets. . .

And remember - Have a Happy Kitchen!!!

Return from Ideas for Painting Kitchen Cabinets to Kitchen Cabinet Finishing.


Cabinet Finishes
Information about cabinet finishes with links to further finish sites.

Cleaning Wood Kitchen Cabinets
The easiest way to clean wood kitchen cabinets, and some things to keep in mind when you are cleaning.

How to Stain Kitchen Cabinets
A step-by-step how to.

Kitchen Cabinet Finishing and Refinishing
Do your homework before you finish or refinish and you'll have an easy time of it.

Repaint Your Kitchen Cabinets
A simple how to.

Unfinished Pine Kitchen Cabinets
Ideas on how to finish your unfinished pine kitchen cabinets:  clear-coat, stain, how-to's, painting, and rustic oak as a substitute.

Unfinished Wood Kitchen Cabinets
How you can save money by purchasing unfinished wood kitchen cabinets, and ideas on how to finish them.

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