I hope you can help me. We’re going to be renovating our kitchen.
The cabinets WILL be painted. Great, huh?
Well, here’s the problem. I’m pulling my hair out about which is the most durable painted cabinet finish for our kitchen cabinets.
There’s so much advice, but some of it is contradictory.
And, there’s more.
I found a post you wrote a while back about your living with a drove of pigs? Well, me too! Laurel, I’ve tried, but you know what they say about picking your battles.
My point is that I need to have the most durable painted cabinet finish there is.
However, I’m confused over which is the most durable painted kitchen cabinet finish.
- For starters, many sources advise AGAINST paint because the paint will crack at the joints from the expansion/contraction of the wood.
- And then, there’s the issue of paint chipping. Ugh.
- Some promote painted MDF as a better option.
Still, all of the high-end kitchens I see on your blog or Pinterest appear to be painted wood cabinet doors.
I LOVE the Devol kitchens, but I have some questions:
- How do these kitchens look 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 or show signs of wear around the handles?
One local supplier is pushing 5-piece polyester-coated doors from Miralis, a company in Montreal. I’m not too fond of the look or feel. To me, they look a bit like Thermofoil. You know, like IKEA cabinets.
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.
In addition, Miralis 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. However, maybe it would be worth going into debt in the long run?
So, please, the truth RE: durable painted cabinet finishes and wear and tear. Yes, go? Or, no?
- How do I know if painted finish x is more durable than painted finish y?
- And, should it be a factory finish vs. a local custom shop?
- What to look for?
- What questions to ask?
Thanks so much,
Thank you too, Kit, who is a real reader. I think that the topic of the most durable painted cabinet finish is one that many of us want to know more about.
So, I posed these questions to some of my fabulous interior design colleagues whose combined experience with painted kitchen cabinets is hundreds of years! These guys have the best advice, and I can’t wait to share it with you!
Let’s recap the main issues and questions.
- Kit worries that the paint will crack at the joints from the expansion/contraction of the wood. Is this avoidable?
- She wants to know how to avoid chipped paint, scratches, wearing off around knobs, etc.
- Which is the best finish? Factory paint vs. local custom shop vs. on-site painting.
- Or skip the paint and do a polyester (I’m trying to keep an open mind.) coated door. One company, Miralis, is Canadian.
- What else to look for? What questions to ask?
- She’s not sure of her budget, but she says that she 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 pretty scary to me.
Please take it away, designers!
Kitchen by Susan Serra
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 a high-quality flakeboard or MDF board. Neither of those will expand of contract.
Questions to ask manufacturers:
- How does the manufacturer recommend maintaining the cabinets?
- What is their process?
- What is their warranty?
- If doors are damaged, can they be matched later on?
This 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 their toll on the color of the paint.
Patrick Landrum Designs
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 have made her question painted finishes in general.
Christiane (Chrisse) Allan
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 between shop painting or house painting other than dust, dampness, and inconvenience. In my experience, the 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 avoid a lacquer spray finish because it is like a plastic coating. It scratches easily and 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 Kit never cleans around the knobs, 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 cheaper and friendlier on the wallet than replacements unless she goes to Ikea.
Looking at DeVol kitchens, it 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 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
Gloria Graham Sollecito – Yep, wood never dies; it’s 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 varnish is good for durability, and that frequently comes with a factory finish, not necessarily with a custom shop, though.
(Here is an article explaining what a catalyzed conversion varnish is)
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. We 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-based paint, sanding until glass-smooth between multiple coats of paint, will give you a beautifully durable painted cabinet.
I have seen it done, and the cabinets can be stunning once they are finished.
Regarding wear and tear, the darker cabinet will show less staining and dirt from an active family using them daily. I did a blog post on painted cabinetry, and most if not all of it still applies.
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 White on site. The key is thin coats, a good brush, and a light sanding in between by someone who knows what they are doing.
It is now 6 months later, with 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 usually how cracks happen, not necessarily because the wood is expanding and contracting.
The company brought the cabinets in to sit in the home for a week to acclimate, just as you would with flooring.
Chipped paint is more likely to occur on repainted cabinetry if it is not prepped well. It also requires a light sanding first. I have had a great experience using STIX primer for this, followed by Benjamin Moore Advance Formula.
I have not noticed a difference between off-site spraying or hand-painting on-site if both are done right. The main point is that you must use paint that is furniture grade for cabinetry and apply the appropriate primer using the right techniques. Unfortunately, nothing is a guarantee. If people abuse their homes, it is going to show no matter what they do.
Jennifer Michelle Hyman
Jennifer Michelle Hyman A client with a nearly $1M condo on Chicago’s lakeshore 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. 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:
Barbara Dolan Brown
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.
I 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 for Southern Living Showhouse 2017. Photo: Kelli Boyd
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 beautifully 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.
Robin Siegerman Designs
Robin Siegerman – 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.
But, it looked great for over 12 years. A factory will give her a touch-up kit for 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 nasty shite.
Oh my gosh! Thank you, my friends and colleagues.
That was seriously 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 has a smooth plastic-like coating over particleboard. 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. 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! That is a step that must not be missed.
Except in a couple of spots, the doors and drawer fronts held up perfectly for 16 years.
An excellent paint to use for this is Benjamin Moore Advance, as it is self-leveling, like oil, and is an alkyd paint that 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.
So, in conclusion, after listening to everything the designers said about the most durable painted cabinet finish, I believe that overall, the best, most durable painted cabinet finish, and for the money, is a catalyzed lacquer finish as Robin Siegerman and others suggested. Robin said that it’s like car paint for cabinets!
Although, a hand-painted finish, if done meticulously well in thin layers, in my experience gives a gorgeous, long-lasting finish.
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 beautiful designers who helped out.
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