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.
PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!
Thank you for sharing this blog.
I have had Wood Mode cabinets for 24 years now. When we built our house they were the only company to guarantee their finish. To my husbands horror I spent our whole cabinet budget in the kitchen. The cabinets still look great and no one seems to notice the finish around the knobs is a bit duller with wear which I notice. I’ve had some minor nicks from kids throwing things in the kitchen but they were easy to touch up. Most people who are in the house for the first time think I had a kitchen remodel as what I put in way back then is what everyone wants now. When we built I went with classic looks that would last over time. The extra money was worth it. I still love my kitchen.
Also a bit late to the game, but wanted to comment that our painted by the cabinet maker ( over maple) kitchen cabinets are doing very well after 14 years. Keep in mind the top of the paneling on the dishwasher drawers is starting to chip a bit. Also, we had to change our refrigerator and because it was another brand, new paneling cost us $1000.
Late to the game here but I very much enjoyed reading this!!! I think I will actually make time to try and read the comments tomorrow. Really, walnut wood doesn’t expand and contract. This I have to read up on!! Thanks laurel excellent post now we need an update the staircase!!
Devol told me that they spray the first 2 coats of paint and hand apply the final coat. It gives it a more historical look than sprayed (too perfectly smooth). The problem with ready made cabinets is that if they don’t fit quite right it can be a problem to match the paint or caulk it. My current challenge is that I want inset cabinets and not everyone is skilled to do them so I’m considering factory made.
We have a unique situation with our painted kitchen cabinets and it has taught me one thing – you get what you pay for. We bought an entire pre-owned kitchen from a mansion in Chicago whose owners were redecorating, and we retrofitted it into our house. The cabinets are maple and have what I assume is a factory-sprayed finish because it is hard as nails and perfectly smooth. Sorry, I don’t know what product they used. The cabinets sat in our unheated garage for almost a year before we installed them, right in front of the pipe that vents humid air from our dryer directly into the garage (I know — this vent set up is NOT okay). So these things sat in a Wisconsin garage with daily humidity pumped directly onto them, and they still look amazing. They are extremely high end cabinets. DeVol style and quality. Yes, there are few tiny chips or cracking here and there, but they still look gorgeous because they are gorgeous, high-end pieces of furniture. It truly looks like a lovely patina. Would we have ever been able to afford this level of quality new? Never in a million years. But since we bought it as salvage, the entire kitchen, including high end countertops, FOUR sub-zero paneled fridges, paneled dishwasher, bespoke French faucets, copper sinks, a wet bar with built-in hutch (I could go on) cost us $10k. If you buy new and you buy “affordable”, it will show. Time and wear will reveal the quality.
Brenda, This is such a good point. First, wood must be completely dry before painting. Once finished, cabinetry will be affected by humidity. I too live in a dry climate and used Advance with success on my kitchen cabinets. Advance is water-based, but one must be patient to allow it to thoroughly dry between coats. Very durable, in my opinion.
After the passing of my husband, my therapy was to paint my kitchen cabinets. They were a dark fake wood look-a-like, ugh. I choose to use Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and a satin poly-acrylic top coat. All doors and drawers had two holes from pull handles, which I changed to knobs on the doors only. I’m happy that I took my time filling one hole on each door, they can’t be detected visually at all. I gave the filler time to set, added more as needed and sanded until the hole was no more. Of course this had to be done on both sides of each door. I am still happy with my results six years later. The biggest lesson I learned is pick one color, do not mix paints to make another new color. Do not try this at home. The poly-acrylic top coat is simple to use. The chalk paint is self leveling using a good brush and the same for the top coat(s). This project was my first, but not last with chalk paint. I really like my cabinets, my kitchen has an English country look. I did have new countertops installed and subway tile backsplashes I suggest having new countertops or a backsplash installed first, then paint your cabinets. Chalk paint while wet, is easily wiped off with a damp cloth or sponge. My project was a budget refreshed look to a dated kitchen. If you want a high-end look, this probably won’t be for you.
This is a really helpful post. Thank you.
I painted the cabinets in my first home myself and had no problems for the 10 years I lived there with 3 dogs, 2 sons and a messy husband. I cleaned them all the time.
On another note please tell me the name of the fabric on the dinning table in the post. It looks like Chinese lanterns I love it.
Another KEY element, not mentioned here, is that the HUMIDITY level in your house must stay level. I had my 20 year old maple (originally clear lacquered) painted a couple years ago by a professional. He used Benjamin Moore Advance and did a really good job. However, even 20 year old maple expands and contracts, which can show separation in the joints etc. The key to making sure your wood stays stable is by installing a humidifier on your furnace and keeping your humidity level stable throughout all the seasons. I live in a dry climate and like my level to be at 45%.
YES! MDF does NOT handle water well at all! We did a major renovation and the kitchen cabinets were made with wood and the center panels were MDF. I had no idea that they were not all wood until I had a painter give me an estimate to repaint and he told me that. 2 years later the paint was eaten off by water…and we are very careful. I just had them repainted at a huge cost. Never again will I use paint never mind MDF.
Hi Laurel…been reading your blog for a few years and have valued the content. Thanks for your efforts to make beauty more accessible.
Now, about the painted cabinet subject. I have been a woodworker for about 40 years and am finally hitting my stride. All wood moves with the seasons. Even Walnut. Paint film doesn’t as a rule, so cracks happen sooner or later.
Wood moves in width and thickness by the way, not length, since the movement is all about moisture getting between the millions of fibres running lengthwise. The US forest service published a paper in the 80’s that showed that finishes do not prevent eventual moisture transfer and movement. Unless of course you resort to that plastic dip caper.
I have deluxe level cabinet maker friends, and I am sometimes a client, sometimes a supplier. We all use MDF for painted finishes for its stability. Solid wood has grain filling and movement issues that makes warranties a losing proposition. All of that for a bit of visible grain which is seen once then forgotten.
In my part of the world we use two pack paints similar to auto paint. It has variable gloss levels, is hard and scratch resistant. It is beautiful, and expensive (circa $120 USD/ sq yard). Primers are involved, and hand sanding. I have had two kitchens in that material with zero defects, and have just commissioned another for my own house. (I am busy making Georgian period panelling details and doing airline flying so had to farm that out).
The take away: MDF and two pack paint, either lacquer or enamel. Careful attention to proportions, careful selection of moulding profiles and a sympathetic painter with good dust control. OR even bigger dollars: you would of course be familiar with Smallbone in the UK. Their top end kitchens fetch Ferrari prices, and the most expensive are hand brushed. Hand brushed paint like mom and dad, only an invoice with a telephone number for a bottom line. What a world!
Keep up the good work. The world needs more beauty.
For reference: We have had painted kitchen cabinets for over 25 years. The first group used 15 years were 25 year old originally stained cabinets which were spray painted with an oil based paint (Pratt & Lambert) and looked and felt wonderful, a hard, glossy finish that was invincible. The white did yellow over the years, something I think all oil based paints will do. I painted over with the same paint (using a brush) 15 years later. It leveled and looked and lasted great. For a complete kitchen remodel (those cabinets were 50 years old!) the new cabinets are being sprayed on-site with 3 thin coats of Sherwin Williams Urethane (water based). We used this same paint in our garage earlier and it looks wonderful and holds up beautifully with a hard finish (eventually, it takes weeks to set up and 24 hours between coats), but it is not like the hard finish you will get with an oil based paint. Do they look like “factory finish.” No. It’s a softer look, not so plastic looking. Probably will not wear as well, but they can easily be painted over on site. And no smell and no yellowing. What I did not mention was prep. Extensive on all. That doesn’t change no matter what you use.
For one of my three kitchen remodels, the budget ran out before the custom cabinets were painted. I would up painting the cabinets myself, with a great deal of trepidation, by hand with a paintbrush.
I used Fine Paints of Europe primer, paintbrushes and paints. I sanded between the three coats. While I give the credit to the high quality of the paint, the results were great! The cabinet maker was visibly awed by how good the paint finish looked. The paint continually self-leveled over time so that all traces of brushstrokes disappeared, leaving a smooth, custom-look finish. The FPE finish proved far more durable than the professionally applied Benjamin Moore paint in my current kitchen which gets less use.
I read once that high-end decorators paint with expensive brushes where the end of the bristles have split ends!
Does anyone know why kitchen cabinets might develop pin-holes? These cupboards were custom, painted off site in 2016 but within 2 years developed a few pinholes. Contractor passed away so I never contacted them. My last custom kitchen lasted almost 20 years before I had to paint.
As you know, this is one of my specialties because I work in mostly older homes and have clients who have older wood cabinets that they love and what to keep. Any good painter will tell you the key is in the prep. If you prep well, your job will last – regardless of which finish you use. The thing I love about painted wood is that the client can easily touch up any nicks (or get me to) should they happen. Wood cabinets are durable and paint is more forgiving for touch ups and blends in. TRying to touch up a lacquer cabinet usually doesn’t work well. MDF is okay as long as its just the center panel but in my experience, I notice they don’t last as long, especially cabinets near microwaves and stoves. Better if the framework is wood. Wood does not dent as readily. To prep, I wash, then sand, use STIX primer, followed by 2 to 3 coats of Advance paint. This paint has a 16 hour redcoat time that needs to be respected and 30 day cure time. It doesn’t mean you can’t use your kitchen for 30 days, but you need to be gentle with it. To avoid nasty oils from fingers around knobs, select knobs and handles with longer shanks to avoid this. I built my own wood cabinets 10 years ago for my kitchen and Advance paint is still perfect today. You can scrub that paint. It’s tough. I have done one 5 minute touch up in that time on a couple edges of the hard wearing cupboards under the sink. My kitchen gets loads of use. Hope this helps. BTW, spraying results in thinker coats so you need more of the paint. I roll on the Advance paint with a mohair roller, then brush it out and it levels beautifully. But you have to always go back in a few minutes and look for drips and brush them out if seen.
I just want to add that MDF is highly susceptible to water. It looks like that is what happened in the above picture.
Years ago when money was very tight I had thermofoil-type cabinets installed on one side of my kitchen. I am a passionate cook, and soon discovered the coating on the upper cabinet next to the stove was literally melting on the closest edge. This was next to the right front burner I used for flambeing dishes like steak au poivre. I ultimately replaced that whole wall of cabinetry. Hard lesson learned.
I have oak builder grade cabinets from 1985. I stripped, filled, sanded and sprayed with latex paint. After doing much research I chose Ben Moore STYX for the primer and Ben Moore Cabinet Coat for the topcoat. The paint is holding up well for a novice. Another durable paint that wasn’t mentioned is the chalk paints like Annie Sloan or Dixie Belle. These are extremely durable. Many paint their kitchen cabinets with these and have a great experience. They do need a top coat though. Most use an acrylic poly like Minwax or the top coats manufactured by the chalk paint companies. Priming is still recommended if it’s a high traffic cabinet. Colors are limited though so this might be an issue for some.
I have also used STIX primer and BM Advance paint on kitchen cabinetry with great results. A very hard and smooth surface, easy touch up if needed. No noxious fumes either.
I painted my RV cabinets with Benjamin Moore Advance Boosted White, carefully following all the steps. I did it in the fall, and when I returned to the RV in the spring, the paint was hard as a rock, and essentially as perfect as a non-professional can do. Great product!
My painter used BM Advance on kitchen cabs, built-ins, and trim throughout our new 1929 condo two years ago. It’s a gorgeous, hard finish that’s also easy to touch up when the need occurs.
Benjamin Moore Advance paint is spectacular but takes a long time to really cure and requires lots of coats. It’s worth the time.
I repainted our kitchen cabinets. Took forever but I took the doors down, hardware off, scrubbed, primed, painted, sanded everything about 57 times.
I’m just never happy with a painter, an annoying touch up here, a drip over there. I feel like I do a better job in the end.
I hired a professional painter and his team spray painted existing (dark kind of cherry red cabinets….ugly for sure) cabinets through out my newly bought home. Twelve years later I had the worst wear zones touched up and the kitchen still looked new. The worst wear was under the sink cabinets and the refuse bin cabinet. Easily touched up before the sale. I would not hesitate to have existing cabinets spay painted again using quality paint and professional painters. I have had good luck with clients having their cabinets sprayed with C 2 paint and that paint is supposed to be nearly as durable as a car factory finish.