Hope you can help me. We’re redoing our kitchen.
The cabinets WILL be painted. Great, huh?
Here’s the problem. I’m pulling my hair out about which is the most durable painted kitchen cabinet finish.
It’s gotten so that I don’t know who to believe because the advice is frequently contradictory.
And there’s more.
Remember the post you wrote a while back about your living with a drove of pigs? Well, me too Laurel! Me too! And a gaggle of geese aka: “friends,” plus a large extended family of Tasmanian Devils.
That’s right. None of them clean up after themselves.
But here’s why I’m so confused over which is the most durable painted kitchen cabinet finish.
- For starters, many sources advice AGAINST paint because the paint will crack at the joints from expansion/contraction of the wood.
- And then, there’s the issue of paint chipping.
- Some promote painted MDF as better option.
But what I don’t get it is why are there so many photos of high-end kitchens with what appear to be painted wood cabinet doors?
I LOVE the Devol kitchens. How do these kitchens looks in 3-5 years? Do they get scratched up and cracked and then replaced or refinished?
Or do they use some secret formula that doesn’t chip and wear off around the handles?
One local supplier is really (really) pushing 5 piece polyester costed doors from Miralis (a company up in here in Canada, Montreal, specifically). I don’t like the look or feel. To me they look a bit like Thermofoil.
However, with kids and husband in a hard-working kitchen with only one person cleaning (the others don’t seem to notice mess), the wipe-ability of a “plastic” finish is tempting.
Miralis also has a finish called “Similaque” that is supposed to be super durable – and apparently dents and scratches can be repaired with an iron!!!! But even if it is the miracle finish I need, it would add $10k to our cabinet bill and so is outside the budget….but would it be worth going into debt for in the long run?
SO – I beg you, some truth RE: painted cabinets and wear and tear. Go? Or no?
- And how do I know if painted finish x is more durable that painted finish y?
- Factory paint vs. local custom shop?
- What to look for?
- What questions to ask?
Phew! A lot there! And Kit did write me about this topic the other day. And since painted kitchens are quite popular, I think that the topic of the most durable painted kitchen cabinet finish is one that a lot of us want to know more about.
So, what I did this week, is I posed these questions to my fabulous interior design colleagues whose combined experience with painted kitchen cabinets is hundreds of years!
Let’s recap the main issues and questions.
- Kit worries that the paint will crack at the joints from expansion/contraction of the wood. Is this avoidable?
- How to avoid chipped paint, scratches, wearing off around knobs, etc.
- Factory paint vs. local custom shop vs. on-site painting.
- Or skip paint and do a polyester (shudddddder, but I’ll keep an open mind if anyone disagrees with that) coated door. One company she mentioned is Canadian. (Miralis)
- What to look for? What questions to ask?
- Not sure of budget, but needs to reign it in somewhat from the sounds of things.
The only thing I’d like to say at this point is that a kitchen cabinet finish that gets ironed when there’s a nick in it sounds positively ghastly.
Take it away designers!
Susan Serra Designs – No, it is not avoidable for the cracking at the joints. That’s what wood does. If she wants, she can get doors painted on a stable substrate such as high quality flake board or mdf board. Neither of those will expand of contract.
Questions to ask manufacturers:
- How does the manufacturer recommend to maintain the cabinets?
- What is their process?
- What is their warranty?
- If doors are damaged, can they be matched later on?
Which is a good point…perfectly smooth painted doors are unlikely to be able to be matched well down the road if one or more needs to be changed. Time, air, indoor pollution takes its to toll.
Kitchen by Susan Serra
Patrick Landrum I’ve never had any issues with factory paint in the upper-end cabinet lines. Site finish paint just doesn’t last and is very likely what she’s seen in friends and neighbors homes that has made her question painted finishes in general.
Christiane Allan – In my experience, lacquer sprayed on will crack; however paint, spray painted on site with good prep work and minimum 3 coats will last 10 -12 yrs even with slobs.
There is no discernible difference with shop painting or house painting other than dust, dampness and inconvenience. Paint will not chip unless it is OLD oil paint. Latex does not chip unless someone takes a hammer and chisel to it.
I would advise her to stay away from a lacquer spray finish because it is like a plastic coating, scratches easily and it will crack at the corner joints with expansion. The only wood that does not expand and contract is walnut.
All other woods expand and contract at different rates.
If she never cleans around the knobs, then human grease/oil will eat away at the finish. Who the hell guarantees that kind of behaviour? And if she’s going to have problems with the paint, it will happen within 30-60 days. Any good spray shop will come back and fix it. Spraying the cabinets is a lot cheaper and friendlier on the wallet than replacements unless she goes to Ikea.
Looking at DeVol kitchens…looks to me like a 35% gloss finish, solid colour. She can get the same with a good quality paint, of course depending on her cabinet style.
Christiane (Chrisse) Allan
Christiane Allan – I have painted cabinets with oil paint and latex paint for 40 years. I have never had any problems with flaking or cracking. However I made the mistake of having a lovely little desk painted and lacquered for a client and in less than two weeks, all the corners split.
Gloria Graham Sollecito – Yep wood never dies, always expanding and contracting with temperature and humidity. I did not know that walnut was entirely immune from that either. An MDF door is stable and joint free so that’s a good solution. Also it is common practice to use MDF for the center panel and wood for the stiles and rails of the door. This is because an expanding center panel is usually what blows out the seams. Miralis is a decent line.
A catalyzed conversion finish is good for durability and that frequently comes with a factory finish, not necessarily with custom shop though.
Gloria Graham Sollecito
Susan Serra – I Agree with Gloria but there is an important difference to be aware of between cabinets painted in a local cabinet shop vs a factory with state of the art equipment applied in a controlled environment.
The durability of the paint in every way is superior when applied in a factory.
My opinion is to use the local shop cabinetry in every other room but the kitchen and bath.
Carlo Di Conza – Geovin Furniture We offer our furniture in any Benjamin Moore colors and it is a lacquer not actual paint. It’s commonly referred to as a pigmented lacquer. It shouldn’t crack and is very durable. Highly recommend enlisting a professional company to do the finishing.
Vanessa Francis – Lovely girl’s bedroom with a nightstand from Geovin Furniture
Amy Wax – I also have found that the paint finish that is factory applied is more durable. However, many of my clients are painting their stained wood cabinets. The painters I have been using stressed that using an oil base paint, sanding until glass smooth between multiple coats of paint, will give you a beautifully painted cabinet.
I have seen it done and the cabinets can be truly beautiful once they are done.
In regards to wear and tear, the darker cabinet will show less staining and dirt from an active family using them on a daily basis. I did a blog post on painted cabinetry , and most if not all of it still applies.
Tawna Allred – Agree with above and here is another way to handle it: let’s be real. Houses are maintenance. I have dogs and kids and I cook every day. We use our kitchen HARD. If the style allows, try painted finishes that absorb wear-and-tear. We painted and glazed and put “age” into our kitchen and a few other projects.
The same finish was used in this office. (below) Of course, it may not fit stylistically, but it’s how I handled it. And is anyone else tired of the request for homes to be invincible? It’s like expecting your car to stay brand-new when you drive it every day. Not going to happen.
Christine Conte – I completed a kitchen where the cabinetry was hand-painted on site. It came out amazing. The finish looks like glass. The cabinets came in primed and were painted with BM Super Spec. on site. The key is thin coats, a good brush and a light sand in-between by someone who knows what they are doing.
They are there now after 6 months, some minor cracks where the rails meet the slab face. It will be touched up. They expect that, especially with hanging uppers and as new construction settles. that’s how cracks happen, not because the wood is expanding and contracting.
The company did bring the cabinets in to sit in the home for a week to acclimate, just as you would do with flooring.
Chipped paint is more likely to occur on repainted cabinetry, if not prepped well. It also requires a light sand first. I have had great experience with using STIX primer for this followed by Benjamin Moore Advance.
I have not noticed a difference between off site spraying or hand painting on site if both are done right. The main point is you must use paint that is furniture grade for cabinetry and apply the appropriate primer using the right techniques. And nothing is a guarantee. You abuse your home, it is going to show no mater what you do.
Jennifer Michelle Hyman Client with nearly $1M condo on Chicago’s lake shore decides my estimate for painted cabs is too high and hires the real estate agent’s husband who “does painting”.
He chose the white paint color without regard to the palette I’d designed because “it’s white”, painted on site, did not take doors off and painted over those expensive hinges, used a roller with a nap, and the whole kitchen plus 2 bathrooms looked like this with peeling paint after just a couple of days.
I get paid by the hour so, “you can cry when you write that expensive check to do it right the first time or you can cry when you write a second check to do it over,” but I’m fine with getting paid just once. And yes, the cabinet was previously black.
Note from Laurel:
Jennifer Michelle Hyman
Barbara Dolan Brown I use a professional artist who sprays the finish on. It’s gorgeous and durable. I’ve also had good luck with quality, factory-painted goods. High quality paint, with all the necessary steps, is essential and what I specify to my clients.
On another note, when I was very young and on an elbow grease budget, I hand-painted my yucky kitchen cabinets. Did it right, as BM paints suggested, used gloss finish for durability, and the results were beautiful. If my little one banged a truck into it, I touched it up.
Lisa Mende – The main thing to know about any type of cabinetry is that the kitchen is the room in your home that gets the most abuse. So if a family is rough, no matter if it’s stain or paint. it’s all going to wear over time.
However, products like Wood-mode are expensive because they last! I have clients with Wood-mode cabinetry who still have beautiful painted kitchens 20 years later because the finishes are multi layered and hand applied. Devol makes a quality product, although I have never used them. Buy the best and only cry once motto especially applies to painted kitchen cabinetry.
Lisa Mende for Southern Living Showhouse 2017. Photo: Kelli Boyd
Robin Segerman – I’ve done many painted kitchens. The best way to avoid cracking is to spec a painted MDF door, but it needs to be a factory-applied, catalyzed lacquer finish not a paint, so the MDF is properly sealed and finish is baked on otherwise you can get swelling, cracking and flaking the finish.
In my own house, I had a painted MDF Shaker door with kids, dogs, and a cleaning lady who insisted on using ridiculous chemicals when I wasn’t looking. And it looked great for over 12 years. A factory will give her a touch up kit for any small nicks and scratches and a matching wax crayon. But with a great finish, she probably won’t need it.
This, however, is what a cheap, crappy facsimile looks like after only 3 years …buyer beware. Price matters. Cheap out and you’ll get the shit in this photo.
note from Laurel:
That is indeed some bad shit.
Thank you my friends and colleagues. You are all so awesome!
In a sec, I will sum up what these designers have to say.
But first I’d like to weigh in my personal experience.
For 16 years, I lived with painted kitchen cabinets. And we painted over the melamine that came with our townhouse. Melamine is a cousin to formica and a smooth plastic-like coating over particle board. Most would say that you cannot paint it! But that is not true!
The trick in getting paint to stick is in using a great primer as other designers stressed.
They are absolutely right. That is a step that must not be missed. The doors were sprayed off-site with oil-based paint that was probably thinned down and then sprayed with light coats. They did an amazing job!
The doors and drawer fronts except in a couple of spots held up perfectly for 16 years.
And make no mistake. My boys were very young when we did this and as wild and hyper as they come. Plus, there was a pass-through, where I set up two stools so that they could sit, eat and watch TV.
There really wasn’t quite enough room for the stools and they were black and right in front of the white doors under the pass-through.
No problem at all! 16 years and not one chip– on the cabinets, that is. I’m sure that I chipped some of my toe bones tripping over those damned stools. But they were a necessity!
The cabinet-maker I have worked with on a few kitchens, (see below) paints both on site and off, but for the on site work, the cabinets come to the home primed and then after installation, comes the laborious process of hand-painting with a fine brush, numerous thin coats, with a light sanding in between. That painted finish holds up beautifully.
However, this method because of it being very labor-intensive is quite expensive. It’s what we did in the Bronxville kitchen.
An excellent paint to use for this is Benjamin Moore Advance as it is self-leveling, like oil and is an alkyd paint which means it dries to a hard, durable finish. But there is no odor (low VOC) and the brushes clean up with soap and water, instead of mineral spirits or turpentine.
The other type of “painted” finishes include lacquer and catalyzed, pre-catalyzed/conversion varnish. This is what Robin Siegerman and Gloria Graham were discussing above and some of the others.
But the latter varnishes are what I’m ascertaining on what is meant by a “factory baked-on paint finish.” That’s layman’s marketing-speak I read somewhere. The durability occurs in the evaporation process. It does not require baking, but heat will speed up the process.
Bottom line. Who freaking cares what’s in it as long as it looks good, stays put, and doesn’t give us cancer!
Kit, after listening to everything the designers said about the most durable painted cabinet finish and then listening to your concerns, here’s my assessment of what I think will most likely work best for you. Of course, you are free to object. :]
As soon as you said that you didn’t like the finish of the Miralis, my feeling is– done. If you are feeling relief then it is absolutely the right decision. And NEVER let some foamin-at-the-mouth salesman talk you into something you don’t really want. I hate that. If a client of mine said they didn’t like something, it was never mentioned again!
I think that you would do best with a good cabinet company that offers one of the catalyzed lacquer finishes as Robin Siegerman and others suggested. Robin said that it’s like car paint for cabinets!
As to which company, Wood-Mode that Lisa Mende mentioned is a wonderful company, but if that’s not in the budget, at least you’ve narrowed down the field considerably and know what you’re looking for. Plus, thanks to Susan Serra, what questions to ask!
Well, that was fun. And I don’t know about y’all but I certainly learned a lot from this exercise.
Thank you again to all of the wonderful designers who helped out. I think that we should do roundup posts like this every once in a while if you guys liked this.
Happy Easter to those who celebrate it!