Ask the Pros: Should You Paint Your Kitchen or Bathroom Cabinets?

should you paint your outdated cabinets kitchen two toned white and blue uppers lowers fresh styleberry creative interiors

Let me guess… you’re tired of those dated oak, cherry, &/or chipped bathroom and kitchen cabinets. They’ve seen better days, right? But should you paint them? Is it as easy as Pinterest and IG make it seem? All great questions!

This month, we’re calling on Lisa Moon of Paper Moon Painting to talk all things cabinetry. If you’re wondering whether to refinish or buy new, her insights will help you make the right choice.

On a personal level, Lisa is a kindred spirit with a passion for people. (Take-charge woman? Oh yeah!) Lisa and I met here in San Antonio years ago through a mutual acquaintance, and we instantly connected over our California roots, our love for color (we’re both True Colour Experts), and our passion for home. 

Since then, we’ve been sending our design clients to Paper Moon for all of their paint and wallpaper needs. But let’s get to your questions. Follow along with our interview to see what the pro suggests…

peter lisa moon paper moon painting should you paint your cabinets article
Lisa and Peter Moon

Interview with Lisa Moon of Paper Moon Painting

SP: Hi, Lisa! Thanks for chatting with me. Why don’t we start with you sharing a bit about yourself and your background?

LM: Sure! I’ve had some fine art and interior design training, but I was a full-time faux finisher back in the day, when that was “the” trend of the early 2000s. For the record, I’m delighted that trends have moved away from the heavy finishes of the past! If a client asks for a specialty finish now, I’ll usually steer them toward something classic and timeless, like a simple off-white plaster.

When I met my hubby Peter back in 2009, we realized we had a lot of shared expertise regarding paint finishes of all kinds, including residential interiors and cabinet painting. So we started Paper Moon Painting!

SP: Amazing. What would you say is the biggest challenge you see homeowners struggling with when it comes to painting their homes? 

LM: I see struggles with both the design choices to be made, especially regarding color, and the budget concerns that are part of any painting project. This is especially true when cabinets are involved. Painting walls or ceilings is fairly straightforward, and with a good designer to help with color choice, decisions are simple. 

Cabinets are usually the single biggest item to address, especially in high-visibility areas like the kitchen, powder baths, or areas where the homeowner spends quite a bit of time, such as a primary bath. For powder baths, a lot of homeowners ask us to paint the vanity in a fun pop of color such as blue or green, to add a bit of interest to what is otherwise just a small, boxy space! Primary baths usually have a fair amount of cabinetry, so homeowners are eager to update those with some fresh paint as well, usually in a soothing neutral.

“Most homeowners aren’t sure about their options, such as whether they can refinish their cabinets to make them look beautiful, or whether they need to do a mini-remodel with all-new cabinets.”

Naturally, there is a huge cost and labor difference between the various options, so it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. 

bathroom cabinets painted charcoal black and white san antonio tx

SP: How can homeowners know if they should refinish their cabinets or if they have to replace them altogether?

LM: Most people don’t realize that, with rare exceptions, existing cabinets can be beautifully refinished to completely update the look of a kitchen. So long as the layout of the kitchen is satisfactory, there is no need to tear out the existing cabinets… and incur the additional cost of replacing the counters, plumbing and even appliances.

Most homeowners want their cabinets to be smooth, look relatively new, and be painted in a fresh, updated color. With the right process, this can all be achieved even on “grainy” cabinets such as oak. And if the profile of the existing cabinet doors is outdated, it’s possible to order new cabinet doors, then have a professional finish them and the cabinet bases together, to get a unified new finish, for a fraction of the cost of replacing the cabinets entirely.

SP: It’s great to have these different options. For those who want to go the refinish route, is it as easy as swiping on a fresh coat and calling it a day?

“Painting cabinets is nothing like painting walls or ceilings.”

LM: Great question! Painting cabinets is nothing like painting walls or ceilings. Unlike walls, woodwork such as cabinets is meant to be smooth to the touch, with a silky feel that doesn’t show any application marks like brush strokes or roller stipple. This can only be achieved with a sprayed finish, and with products that are meant for cabinet finishing.  

And, if the existing cabinets have a heavy grain, your cabinet painting professional should be using products such as heavy-bodied primers and wood fillers, to fill most of that grain so that your cabinets will look and feel almost like smooth, new cabinets. 

kitchen cabinets painted white san antonio tx interior design kitchen renovations

SP: So you probably don’t advise that homeowners do this on their own?

LM: Correct. The spraying of the finish really takes a practiced hand and the right equipment. And professional cabinet painters won’t feel the “project fatigue” that DIY’ers might experience mid-way through the second or third day of work! None of the steps in cabinet painting can be short-cutted without compromising the beauty and durability of the finish. 

“Cabinets need to be thoroughly cleaned, scuffed, primed, grain and dings filled, sanded, primed again, sanded again, all before the color even goes on… This is not something to try yourself!”

Not to mention removing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts for processing, and separating and labeling hinges, plus thoroughly masking the kitchen area so that overspray from the painting process doesn’t get on any surrounding surfaces. Professionals like us usually take a week for an average-sized kitchen, with two craftsmen working full-time using an efficient, practiced process. For bathrooms, the process is quicker – usually three days for a primary bath, for example. This is not something to try yourself!

SP: I completely agree. Always trust the experts if you want something done right. For the homeowners who do come to you, what would you say their biggest concerns are when refinishing cabinets?

LM: Most homeowners want to know that their new finish will be durable and easy to clean. If they have grainy cabinets, such as golden oak, they also want to know that the newly-finished cabinets will be largely grain-free. 

“If you’re evaluating professionals to refinish your cabinets, make sure you see a sample of their work in person.”

We always bring a sample cabinet door, painted using our process on heavy-grained oak, for this purpose. This way, a homeowner can see the extent to which the grain gets filled, and can feel the smoothness of the sprayed finish for themselves. It should look like new.

bathroom cabinets in white and dining room cabinets in white fresh relaxed style interior design modern

SP: Is there anything else you want to make sure homeowners know before starting this type of project? 

LM: Like all painting projects, painting cabinets can be a bit, shall we say, “invasive” during the week we’re working in a client’s home. The kitchen area will be tented off using plastic walls with zippered openings, so homeowners can still access their sink or refrigerator in the evenings, but they won’t really be able to use their kitchen for most of the project timeline. 

Since it’s usually a week or less (and often just three days for bathrooms), this is a great opportunity to try those new restaurants in town you haven’t gotten to yet! Just be patient with the temporary disruption, and know that you’ll love the result.

SP: You have been so helpful and this is all very eye-opening. Thanks so much for taking the time to share this with us!

LM: My pleasure! Nothing is more fulfilling than seeing homeowners’ kitchens and baths transformed before our very eyes.

SP: Couldn’t agree more.

Isn’t Lisa a goldmine of info?! I hope this interview has given you the insight you need to make the right choice for your home. And if you would like our help with this decision (and a custom design plan to go along with it), be sure to check out our design services here.

Until next time,

Styleberry Creative Interiors specializes in fresh, relaxed design crafted in a meaningful way. With a team, process, and done-for-you Design Kits you can trust, we’ll help you create soul-soothing spaces that inspire you to unwind, connect, and finally… exhale. Our studio is based in downtown San Antonio, Texas and serves clients in the Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, and greater San Antonio Metropolitan areas, as well as Nationwide.

Ready for a refresh?

5 Steps to Selecting the Perfect Sofa

From style to comfort, quality to size, finding the right sofa takes a trained eye and some strategy! Get our step-by-step guide to discovering your perfect match.