I Can’t Afford A New Kitchen. Can You Paint Stained Wood?

Dear Laurel,

We just moved into a new home. I figured that we could get a new kitchen for about 25k. Sure, 40 years ago. I got estimates ranging from 75k-150k. I’m so upset.

In addition, just found out that we have to have the entire driveway repaved or it’s going to turn into a giant sink hole.

Here’s what I’m left with. What shade of white paint could I use to freshen things up? I so, had my heart set on a fresh white kitchen. So, at least, I could have white walls.

It’s going to be at least 5-10 years before we can redo this kitchen for real. I could maybe put about 10k into it now. This is how it looks right now. I’m so upset. I can’t live with that tile. I mean, the kitchen is supposed to be a place to eat, not throw up, right?


Sally Stickershokt


Dear Sally,

I see…

To answer your first question:

What shade of white to freshen things up? None of them! You cannot paint the walls of this kitchen white!

At least not the way it is now.

However, you can have your lovely white kitchen!

Here’s the good news. The cabinets look to be in pretty good shape, they go up to the ceiling (that’s really big) and they can be painted. You can paint stained wood! Actually, with the right primer and paint, you can paint – ANYTHING!

I could write a lengthy, boring process on how to do it, but instead I’m going to give you a link on pinterest on how to paint stained wood kitchen cabinets. Just scroll down and you’ll see countless tutorials.

Here’s another link if one would like to paint stained wood trim

I’m not going to kid you. It’s a LOT of work! Unless you really know what you’re doing, and have the strength for it, I recommend hiring a professional. Ideally, the cabinet doors should be sprayed for a smoother, more professional looking finish. However, a very skilled painter who’s sanding and putting on very thin coats can do a great job. It’s not cheap, but it’s a fraction of the cost of new cabinets!


Now, for the big enchilada. The back splash and counter tile.

Very colorful, ain’t it? haha. At the very least, perhaps you can replace the counter tile. Cleaning that kind of tile is not very much fun. You could pick out a coordinating stone. Perhaps a soapstone or quartz composite.

for-the-love-of-a-house-soapstone-counter-white-kitchenFor The Love Of A House

(Fabulous information about soapstone in the above link)

Kitchen-Island-Countertop.-Kitchen-island-is-a-2-inches-thick-slab-of-Carrera-marble.-Kitchen-Countertop-MarbleKitchen Designed By Veronica Campbell of Kitchens By Deane

photo: Jane Beiles Photography

This is actually Carrara Marble, but it could be another marble, quartz or a composite material for the island.

If you don’t want to replace the back splash, you can paint that too!

Yes, you can and it looks pretty good too! Well, at least a helluva lot better than the atrocity the previous owners inflicted on you!

There are special paints to paint tile. The only thing is, to get the most natural looking result, I would go over the grout lines with a chalky paint to imitate the grout. Here are numerous posts that have tutorials for painting ceramic tile. You can do this in bathrooms too!

Here is a wonderful before and after of a total white out where she shows how she did paint  stained wood and the back splash.

PicMonkey CollageAbove and below by Top This Top That


pretty amazing transformation!

Liess HomeLauren Liess

This is probably a new kitchen but a lot of this could be replicated with an old kitchen

A+Row+House+Reinvented-lonny-backsplash-tile-ideaLonny   |  photo: Gieves Anderson   |   styling: Kaylei McGaw

This is probably also a new kitchen, but the same effect could be achieved with an old kitchen.

please pin me to pinterest for reference by clicking the pin it button

So, Sally, for about 10k, you can have your beautiful, fresh white kitchen. In fact, it might be so terrific that you will decide in five years that you don’t need to change it after-all. Then, you can take that 100k and book an around the world cruise and have plenty left over for a number of spa days. How does that sound?




27 Responses

  1. Laurel- you’ve been cracking me up all afternoon and keeping me from the piles of baby/toddler laundry that have been staring at me. We are under contract on a new house and I am going to be getting a quote on wednesday to have our cabinets painted white. Can you recommend a few shades for us to consider? We’re also going to switch out the awful backsplash for white subway tiles (predictable, I know).

  2. I’m curious if Sally every got her kitchen painted and the “interesting” backsplash dealt with? I would love to see the before and after of that!

    1. Hi Gail,

      Sally like about 90% of my Dear Laurel emails is fictitious, but based on situations I’ve had or heard of. Often the clue is the name. Sally Stickershokt. lol

      But usually, I’ll say if it’s a real person.

  3. Well, it must be my age. I actually like that backsplash. I would paint the cabinets and the wall white yes. My current fave paint is F & B Wevet. I’d replace or paint the countertop too.

    Personally, I love lots of white/neutrals and a big, contained splash of color. The island is too much of a good thing. Or maybe I’d keep the island as is and paint/redo the rest? Money and how it felt would be my guides there.

    Since I’m not really visual but I’m married to someone who is a visual artist, we’ve developed a set of tools for this sort of thing. Covering areas with a sheet/matboard, white or otherwise can be a great way to try and visualize how something would look.

    I’m spoiled. I haven’t moved or bought/sold a house in decades and I don’t expect to anytime soon, so the marketplace isn’t my concern. However, I also think that’s how these people probably thought when they made this kitchen.
    And because I know my taste isn’t classic and is out of date, I try and keep the quirky bits in something easily/cheaply changed, like area rugs.

  4. Even if I don’t immediately need your blog info, I read it anyway, cuz you CRACK ME UP! Keep it coming!

    1. Thank you Holly! I crack myself up too sometimes! Often people tell me that something is funny and I don’t even realize it. When I go back to read it, I see what they’re talking about.

  5. Beverly Shatzen – March 20, 2016 – 6:46 PM
    Where did I read in one of your blogs that someone turned the cabinet doors around to make it shaker style? I want to do that!! How do you do it if the brackets on the inside took out a chunk of golf ball sized wood?
    Our cabinets were painted white before we moved in and they are cracking at the seams already and that was a little over 6 mo ago. I have “new” granite but it’s the ugly spotted builders grade “we gave you granite what else could you want” granite. I’m dying to get rid of it but hubby is going to have a heart attack if I start chopping on my “new” house which I fully intend to do (maybe he won’t notice).
    Turn cabinet door around.
    New hardware.
    Paint cabinets again using Laurel’s “no fail” white color.
    Cararra marble or Carrara look alike counter top.
    What else???

  6. Hi Laurel! Can’t resist throwing in my ideas about this kitchen, a true horror — the tastefully co-ordinated fruit and flowers really made me cackle! Yes to painting the cabinets, DIY means using a good primer and then two or three thin coats of paint (as always from me, F&B water-based eggshell recommended, with a huge choice of off-whites). Yes to painting the backsplash tiles too, but I agree that the island countertop must be replaced. I’d go for a reverse colour system: pale countertop, darker cabinet colour for the island, since matching the existing counters which look greenish grey (? but the reflections from the underside of the cabinets and from the tiles make it difficult to evaluate) will be pretty much impossible. Then the paint for the backsplash could create a pale marble effect to go with the island countertop. This is easy to do (much easier than trying to get a uniform fake subway tile finish with paint), I’ve done it to my bathroom floor, and the paint is holding up very well after two years (but the prep work was no fun). Another cheap fix is to change the handles on the cabinets to update things. For those prepared to do most of the work themselves, this is a good way to get a great look on the cheap!

    1. Hi GL,

      Yes, to the lighter island counter. (with darker cabinet paint) I realized that later that in this specific case it should be lighter since the other counters are that dark greenish color. If for some reason they could match it, then that would be okay too.

      Interesting about the faux marble on the backsplash. That’s probably beyond the capability of most people. I took a course in decorative painting oh man– 26 years ago! It was a lot of fun but a whole backsplash would be taxing for sure.

      I forgot about the hardware. Yes, absolutely! myknobs.com has a wonderful selection too!

      Thanks for such a great comment!

  7. I painted our kitchen cabinets myself, and it wasn’t really difficult at all. Rust-oleum has put together a kit that includes the everything you need to paint cabinets, except the brushes, and the best part is no sanding. I did it several years ago, and it’s held up great.

  8. Laurel,

    You are brilliant. I deal with this issue in my real estate business everyday. I have a ton of sellers who will take a huge financial hit due to a dark and outdated kitchen and I discuss these tips everyday to freshen things up and help appeal to the buyer market. I am forwarding this along to many of my clients.
    Love your blog – its invaluable!


    1. Hi Angela! Thank you so much! I bet they look at you like you have three heads when you suggest that. I know the look. haha! Geee… and have them take down the fugly drapes too! Horrid, just horrid!

  9. Sally, I would definitely paint the cabinets white and consider having a professional cut and install stainless steel sheets on the backsplash and over the kitchen island with the edges folded over. They’ll have to be very precise on the corners – like gift wrapping a present – but it absolutely can be done on your budget in a hurry. Stainless steel is sanitary and develops character as it gets light scratches and whorls on it – just put hot pans on the stovetop. That will buy you a few years, look very current and give you the luxury of deciding what you want and can do at leisure. Plan B: butcher block wood top on the kitchen island and planed slab backsplashes in the same kind of wood. Good luck!

  10. Holy Cannoli- wow, honestly I don’t think the counters are that bad on the perimeters, I am all about cheap Renos- I would paint the cabinets white, for sure-we just flipped a condo and a painter charged us $700 to paint a similar wood BM Chantilly Lace and it turned out gorgeous- We always go to Ace hardware and use their Kensington-Clark paint-It is so reasonable, around $26 a gallon and has a built in primer- It is rated No 1 in paint in Consumer Reports-It is fantastic! I would chip that backsplash off- I bought ceramic white 3 by 6 subway tiles for around $80 at Lowes and I paid someone $300 to install them-if i couldn’t find anyone, I was going to watch Utube and learn how to do it-next, the island top must go-there is no saving it-I would buy some carrara marble and have it put on-You can buy real carrara at Home Depot for under $60 a square foot and use a Lowes 10 % off coupon-they accept them-Good luck to everyone-It is so much fun to do a reno and be creative on a budget-we made $30K on that Condo when we sold it in less than a year!

    1. thanks for all of that wonderful info Kathi! I especially loved your last line. It feels scary to put all that money into a place you’re selling, but if it’s done right, you’ll get every bit back and then some!

  11. The kitchen will be beautiful with a professional coat of white paint- and a new countertop. I would spring for the soapstone as it can be good forever, so from that perspective, it can be a good investment. I’m with you, Laurel. I’d rather have that money in the bank for future needs, considering also that in another 25 years, that $100,000 kitchen will be outdated again…Why be house poor?Go travel- or save for retirement.It comes too soon!

  12. The “after” is wonderful.
    I agree, get an expert to do the cabinet painting. I know Benjamin Moore has a great paint out which I think is called “Advance” which everyone seems to like. I had my cabinets painted with oil paint and I don’t regret it but not everyone wants oil. I also love the paintings in the kitchen. I have original artwork in my kitchen and it makes it charming.
    Wish I had done Carrara marble but I let my business mind convince me not to. So sorry. I know there is a wonderful quartz on the
    market now which looks like Carrara.
    Wish you well.

    1. Hi Diana,

      I had my old kitchen painted too nearly 20 years ago. I had the standard 80’s melamine with the oak trim. So ugly. I had the guy nail on trim to look like picture frame moulding and he sprayed the entire thing a creamy white. It was wonderful. And yes, he used oil-based.

      1. OK…….. But remember Harry Chapin’s precious song “Flowers are Red”? (That little boy is still in me.) The cabinets are too dark for me though, had the same once and painted them white with a “Melamine?” paint which turned out nice.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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