Painting Oak Grain Cabinets


Painting Honey Oak Cabinets

Well, the kitchen cabinets are done.  I would say I’ll never paint cabinets again, but I’ve got two bathrooms full of honey oak so that would be a lie. It was a process. A labor of love. And far from perfect. But they’re painted, and it’s been a game changer for the overall feeling of our house.

Let’s review: When we bought the house, the kitchen was sage green, the island was chocolate brown, and the cabinets were orange honey oak that blended into the hardwood floors. Taste is so personal, but let’s just say this wasn’t ours. But the layout was good, and we knew the potential of paint. After painting our cabinets in our last house, we knew the impact that white cabinets could have. We like bright and cottagey, so painted works well for us. Don’t get me wrong, I can totally appreciate beautiful, warm wood cabinets, too. But these builder grade orange oak monstrosities weren’t working for us.


Six days after we moved in, we hired painters to paint our two story family room and when they said they could paint the kitchen walls for an extra $50, we told them to do it. Could I have painted the kitchen myself? Yes. But time is money and I wanted the sage and brown out as fast as possible. B and I agreed we’d paint the cabinets during our first summer in the house. And then we found out Peter was on his way, which put a halt to my involvement in painting. Any painting that happened in our house over the next 9 months was either hired out or done by my mom and mother-in-law while the kids and I were out of dodge of the fumes (even the no-VOC paint we use can add some VOCs in the tinting process, and the fumes are very obvious to me while pregnant, so we just play it safe). Anyway, the gray paint made a difference and helped the entire house flow much better, but we still couldn’t wait to get rid of the honey oak cabinets.


So, with Peter’s baptism scheduled for July 12th, I decided to start this project at the end of June. We were leaving on vacation in the middle of July, so I knew it was now or never for getting this project done this summer. We used Benjamin Moore Advance paint in Simply White. I primed with Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer to help prevent the heavy oak grain on our cabinets from bleeding through the paint, and followed up with a coat of Kilz on each side of each cabinet, as well. With anywhere from 4 hours to a full day drying time with these three products, it was a process. I started on the island, then moved to the upper cabinets and then the lower cabinets. We finished installing the cabinet doors and drawer pulls the night before Peter’s Baptism, but had to order knobs for the doors after coming up empty on the style we wanted in stores nearby.

Painted Kitchen Cabinets

I will say that despite my best efforts, the wood grain still shows. And I’ve accepted this – it is what it is. I was hoping for a factory finish, but with the heaviness of the grain on our doors, I was living in la-la land. But, they’re painted, and they no longer blend into the floors, and I love my white cabinets.

Painted Cabinets

The next order of business in here is to do some form of woodwork on the island that faces out to cover up the drywall. I haven’t decided what style I want here, yet, though, so that’s a ways off.

Painted Oak Cabinets

So, that’s our kitchen. I didn’t love our backsplash originally, but now that the cabinets are white, it brings out the lighter tones in the stone backsplash and I actually like it. Eventually we’ll replace the countertops and the sink – B hates our sink. I knew he didn’t love it, but I wasn’t aware of how much until he confessed to me over our anniversary dinner that he dislikes our asymmetrical kitchen sink more than our carpeted master bathroom…and let me tell you, he has strong words for our carpeted bathroom. So, that’s the latest in our house adventures – we’re just making it a little more our style every day.


  1. That is BEAUTIFUL!!!! You did a great job, Emily! And with three kids in tow… I don’t know how you do it!

  2. They look great! I would love to paint our cabinets, but since our house is a rental it isn’t going to happen. Oh well! I love your kitchen!

  3. I love them! You did a great job I can’t believe you can find the time! I’m going to be doing ours soon and I cannot wait! I’ve been told I should just replace them because I won’t be able to out paint the woodgrain but for our house I just don’t think replacing them would be worth it. I’m gonna do what I can and then accept whatever happens!

  4. This looks awesome, Emily! What a difference! I may be borrowing your tips depending on what house we end up in.

  5. Looks great! Do you use brushes, rollers, or a paint sprayer? You’ve inspired me to paint my cabinets!

  6. This is just lovely! So. Many. Cabinets. I can’t imagine painting them all, but you did an amazing job.

    I know what you mean about the grain – it’s tough to get rid of the grain when it’s so heavy in oak. But, it’s truly only noticeable to you. Love it!

  7. Holy cow–such a huge and amazing difference! For what it is worth, I see no grain, and they look incredible.

    We’re about due to touch ours up–I don’t know whether it was the particular brand we used or whether we’re just really rough on our kitchen, but nearly every cabinet has little chips and dings in it now, and I’m feeling like the grain shows through more than it did initially, if that’s possible. Maybe someday we’ll just replace them. I can dream, right? 😉

  8. this looks SO good. can’t believe what a difference it makes – it was a nice kitchen before, but now it’s much cleaner looking and obviously a lot closer to your style. we desperately need to repaint ours (the previous people didn’t use primer – hooray…). i’ll have to remember the materials you used and go that route — whenever we get to it! 🙂

  9. good info thanks

  10. Do you mind telling me what color gray you used for the walls? It actually complements the oak pretty well!

  11. You have a wonderful kitchen! I love the white color. I think that this is the best color for kitchen. It looks clean and fresh. Thanks a lot for these great ideas!

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