Cabinet color question & salvaging old cabinets for reno

renorookiMarch 12, 2014

We just purchased a home with the intent to renovate part, including the kitchen, which will require removal of some cabinets and installation of new ones.

The existing cabinets are pretty nice actually and we want to salvage as much cabinetry as we can, since we'll be using the same design/build firm that did an original redo several years ago and the cabinet styles are still in stock. The cabinets are Hagerstown, cherry frames with maple beadboard doors.

The 'problem' is that the cabinet doors have been painted a teal color while the frames remain natural cherry w/ finish. We just don't like the look of a painted door with natural wood frames, so at a minimum we will be changing the doors to match the frames.

One option we've considered is painting the upper cabinets all white and leaving the lower cabinets with the existing cherry colors and getting new doors to match. We kind of hate to paint over cherry uppers but the alternative would be discarding the existing doors and getting entirely new ones on both top and bottom, which will start to add up. Plus the white upper / cherry lowers might look cool (but this is why I'm asking here!)

What do you think of a dual-tone look with white painted upper cabinets mixed with cherry under counters?

We are going to have an island too - should we match the cabinets there to the upper (white) or lower (cherry)?

Any thoughts on what color counter surface if we've got light up top and cherry below?

Any other thoughts? I.e., should we just keep the cherry frames and get new doors to match for an all-cherry cabinet look and get a contrasting island?

Separately, has anyone ever seen the painted door / natural frame look before? For the life of me I can't find any pics online. Our architect (who did the initial work) seems to think that painting just the upper doors white/cream and leaving the cherry frames is the best option, but I can't picture it and I don't like the teal/cherry combo in place now.

Many thanks for any thoughts!

This post was edited by renorooki on Wed, Mar 12, 14 at 16:57

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Is there a reason why the doors can't be stripped of the paint and then stained to match the rest?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 4:42PM
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OP here ... that's what we thought too and asked the designer, but he seems to think that will not work. I think because of the way the doors are painted at the fabricator, stripping them down will not leave a clean wood surface but rather will be messy & scarred.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 4:59PM
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Well, I think if it were me personally I would take just one door and test it yourself with sandpaper. If it can't be stripped and stained, it can always be painted over again.

Also, as a side note, why on Earth would someone have done the cabinets that way?!?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 5:06PM
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I have painted wall cabinets with cherry base cabinets. The wall cabinets are a very pale taupe-y color called mushroom. I love the two tone look and there are many GWers who have done fabulous two tone kitchens. If you search Google for "two tone kitchen gardenweb", you will find many examples of gorgeous two tone kitchens with various different countertop options. I had planned on a light granite but fell in love with a darker one, Magma Gold, at the stone yard. As for the island, I would match the base cabinets.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 5:12PM
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If these were my cabinets and they were in good shape, I would invest in new doors and have all the cabinets in cherry. I'd do only the island in a contrasting color.

But it is so subjective. There are many beautiful two tones here and if that look is calling to you, I can see it working in your kitchen. It would break up the same/same wood color it appears you have with your floor. A contrasting colored island would do that, too, though.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 5:39PM
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OP, here ... Thanks for thoughts/suggestions! A couple more details if it helps ...

During the reno, we're going to knock the wall with the oven out and open the room to the next, which will become a large eat-in area.

We will also replace the floors. The rest of the house has original white oak (unfinished) and we are planning (though not 100% committed) to carrying the oak floors through the kitchen as well. Thought I really like the light tile w/ the cherry cabinets in fishymom's pic!

Likely will do a lightish subway tile backsplash all the way between counters and upper cabinets. Something without too much flash.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 5:48PM
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Wow, those cabinets are very 90's with that paint job! I can't imagine why anyone would do that to such pretty cabinets.

I would try to remove the paint on a sample door, first. Then all new doors if that didn't work. In your kitchen, I think the white uppers and dark lowers would look too broken up. A contrasting island would be fine (hmmm maybe turquoise?)

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 6:39PM
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Errant, thanks. Re: being too broken up, I think blowing that wall out and more than doubling the size of the kitchen/breakfast room will add a lot more open feel so hopefully not too busy for two tones. Or we're you factoring that in already! Thanks ... Totally agree re: "so 90s". Blows my mind - the cabinets themselves are very nice.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 6:44PM
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Something to consider if you do open up the space is you then have to be even more careful about two tone looking busy. A more open floor plan means more elements of multiple rooms having to work together. It's the downside to having that open feel.

The best examples of two tone kitchens I've seen are those that were very deliberate - 2LittleFishies here on GW is the first one that comes to mind. However, lately I've seen many on design blogs that look like people just got tired of refinishing or painting and are calling it a two-tone kitchen. IMO, I think it's a harder look to pull off well.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 10:11AM
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Looks more '60s than '90s to me. It's the opposite of Pete's kitchen.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 11:04AM
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LOL chick, I have that same cabinet hardware in my cabin. It was built in 1954.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 12:06PM
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If you're removing the wall behind the range, you're removing those uppers on that wall, right? If so, then a 2-tone kitchen will take on a whole new look without that run of uppers.

I'm assuming you'll leave a half-wall (pony) behind the range, and not remove the entire wall. If you remove entire wall, then you have to factor in the cost of matching skins and trim for the back of the existing lowers, as they probably aren't finished on the back.

Be sure to weigh the costs of door replacement vs cabinet replacement. I was told that doors are 80% of the cost of some types of cabinets. (Don't quote me here--I'm sure it varies based on door style and box). At the least, though, I agree with previous posters that you should try stripping the teal paint and restaining the current doors.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 12:35PM
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You have absolutely nothing to lose by trying to strip a door.
1) yes, I've seen cream with natural wood frames and it's usually gorgeous. Surprisingly so.
2) Stripping.

Take a door off.
Get Citristrip or Soygel. None of the evil, flesh-eating chemicals that take 18 coats and tons of scraping and sanding.
You don't need space suites or even gloves for these products. I SWEAR by it. 18 antique doors, 11 cabinets of varying finishes and ages later, I am here to tell you how not to waste your time or fumigate your family. My stuff is down to gorgeous, bare, unstained, un-crapped-out wood. Some oak, maple, cherry, I think birch and goodness knows what they've used over the years.

Coat a door thickly. Like you're frosting cake vs. painting it on. Even though it says it takes about 15 minutes, leave it on. It does start to bubble and you'll get all excited, but if you dig at it now, you'll probably need yet another application for just the paint.
Leave it alone overnight. Really, resist the urge to poke at it.
I also suggest cutting up some grocery bags and pressing them over the citristrip. It holds the stripper against the paint, permitting it to continue to work at it -- but you don't have to. But no peeking.

You'll see the paint start to lift in ribbons. It is FABULOUS. And very exciting. Look at the pic below. This is before I knew I didn't need to bother with gloves. This old paint is coming off in sheets!
The next morning (or 8 hours later), you can squeegee the goop into another plastic garbage bag and toss it.
Now, take another coat of Citristrip and put it on evenly, but thickly. This will suck any residual stain right out of the wood. No joke.
I'd leave this on for a couple hours. Squeegee it off again. A credit card does just fine. A toothpick or something pointy gets into any detail, but this is where it worked the best for me, and lifted old paint right out of the crevices. Do NOT use a wire brush, because the wood will be softened.

Important: Use a scrubbie and water to neutralize it and get the residual stuff off the door. I was doing this and it was working beautifully! I do it outside in the driveway with a hose, although I've stripped my cabinets in place. A small blurb on the website discussing stain removal says water, but even their customer support (Nick) was horrified and insisted mineral spirits. If you use mineral spirits, you stand a good chance of reliquifying old stain and having it soak back into the wood. Mine also turned magenta. Bright, Easter egg magenta. Crayola magenta. Really, really bright magenta. (got it?) It was 100 year old stain soaking right back into my beautiful wood.

The thing to be careful of is using something sharp to scrape. (No wire brush!) Be gentle, because leaving this stuff on so long makes the wood softer and you can gouge it.

So anyway, I think this stuff is almost fun. If you get it on you, don't freak. It doesn't hurt. Doesn't remove color from clothing (where I wipe my hands) and if the stain gets on your hands, rub some on like lotion, wait a minute and wash your hands. Done.

You'll save a lot of $$ and decision making if you just try one door. Heck, if you're in the DC area, I'll do it for you. It's totally cool.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 12:39PM
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Sorry about this. My web host isn't letting me in, so I'm doing separate posts.

Here is the coat for stain. It sucks it up into BBQ sauce-like goo.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 12:41PM
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And finally, here is the door squeegeed with water, dried (on its side to let any water drip off) and very, very lightly sanded. No destroying the door or any veneer with heavy-duty grinding. Just a nice, 220 grit polishing:

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 12:43PM
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CEF, my son used Citristrip for his Eagle Scout project - we couldn't have boys playing around with toxic chemicals. The project was cool - he gutted the 80-yr-old pipe organ in our church (it was no longer fixable as an organ). He stripped the cabinet to bare wood, and finished it with pure tung oil - another user-friendly, non-toxic product, appropriate to the age of the piece. Then he built shelves where the organ components were, and repurposed the cabinet to house sound system components.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 12:53PM
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Annkh, you got pictures? I'd love to see how that turned out.
I have an antique upright in my barn, including 2 needlepointed stools. I think (not sure) its soundboard is gone, although it plays. I think it's from the very early 1900s and is German.

I'd love to give this to someone, but if not, I might gut it myself. It's really very beautiful and going to waste in the barn!

Anyone in DC want a piano to refurbish...?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 1:00PM
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Hey CEF, sorry it took me a while to get to this. It seems I don't have any great closeups of the organ after it was finished, but I think you'll get the idea.



Sound system components, now housed in organ cabinet:

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 9:51PM
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Wow! The difference is subtle, but very evident.
What a great job!
It's nice he had such a success at such an early age. :) DIY won't develop into that frightening monster most of us face when we have to do something out of our box. He'll be ready to jump in and try!
That's really lovely. :)

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 10:47PM
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CEFreeman- I just wanted to say thanks. Your post on stripping cabinets is invaluable to me, I have saved it for future reference when I tackle my bathrooms and mud room!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 1:52AM
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Will Citristrip work on my urethaned and stained kitchen cabinets? I looooaaathe the idea of sanding and deglossing and sanding and.....

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 3:36AM
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Thanks, CE - I should get a closeup of the top of the organ to compare with the "before" picture. I think he ended up with 6 coats of tung oil on the top (3 coats everywhere else). It feels so nice!

Scouting has been a fantastic experience for both my sons (and their Dad, the Scoutmaster). My other son's Eagle project was the construction of a 10' x 12' shed at our church - I called it "Some Assembly Required - Extreme Edition!". It has a concrete foundation, roll-up garage door, vinyl siding, and architectural shingles (donated by a church member who had them leftover from a new house build).

My son raised $2000 for the project, including $500 from selling scrap metal; he talked to the concrete company and lumber yard to get discounts on materials; he organized the work crews for each stage of construction. The church is thrilled with the result, and my son decided he didn't want to do construction for a living.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 10:40AM
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I am also interested in using Citistrip to remove a polyurethaned, honey oak stained cabinet. This is a bath vanity, solid wood but its turned that orangey color over time. I've been toying with gelstaining (but to me it looks like paint and not sure of the durability) or painting them (concern over chipping) The ideal would be to restain it in a darker shade. I've done stripping before (with those noxious chemicals) but don't want the fumes, mess, etc. If the citistrip will work without too much scraping, recoating, etc please let me know!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 10:59AM
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I would only take on DIY stripping/restaining if you feel confident about the effort that would be involved. Also, get a quote for what it would cost to have a local pro refinish the lower doors and paint the uppers - because it would be nice to use what you already have. Painting cabinets properly is also a pretty labour-intensive job.

I love two-tone kitchens, especially when the uppers and walls are painted to match - then the uppers seem to become less prominent, which is a look that I like.

IMO, the island should match base cabinets.

I would strongly recommend using a 3d software to mock up your choices - I liked the one on You don't have to use those cabinets, but it allows you to visualize different cabinet/wall colours, and flooring choices, as well as how layout changes will look from different angles.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 11:50AM
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HPNY2, I kinda thought I'd already "let you know." I think I'm pretty clear, don't you?

Moving on. My experience with more modern woodwork/cabinets is a bit different. Learned this since I did my doors.

Working on golden oak finishes, I put it on thick, then did the pressing plastic bags onto it to keep the stuff against the wood. Where I could, it was easier to lay the cabinets, and definitely the doors, flat. Where they were on the walls, I put tin foil underneath them on the counter just in case of gooey drips. Particularly when I used the scrubbie to wash off the goo.

In these newer cabinets, it seemed like there was a layer of something underneath the clear coat that was stubborn. I discovered I needed a new, fresh plastic scraper. I had to be careful (because Citristrip can make the wood soft after a while) but had to scrape with the scraper held almost vertically. In some places I spot applied it again. When I went to get the stain out, I was careful to leave it overnight. I did the same squeegee to get it off and love it!

Something else I thought of. Frequently, after the water/scrubbie step, I used a flat scraper to press down along the wood to get any extra water out of the wood I could. Going down with the grain. It could be substantial at times, depending upon how much stain I was sucking out and how much water I used to wash it down. This helped them dry faster and less water on the wood is always a better thing.

When dry, sometimes there is a white dust/film on the wood from Citristrip that didn't get washed off. No biggie. I take a fine to medium sanding pad and just brush it all off. Done. You can use the slanted edge of these to get in the crevices and get out any dried, residual stuff. A tiny eyeglass screwdriver's flat edge, a fingernail file, whatever. Just be gentle in case the wood is soft.

Really, this becomes almost fun, since it's almost immediately gratifying! The hardest part is leaving it alone and resisting the urge to scrape or poke too soon. Remember, not 15 minutes as instructions say. Leave it up to the 24 they tell you it can continue to work. If it dries, just add more or use my plastic bag trick.

This post was edited by CEFreeman on Thu, Mar 27, 14 at 12:08

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 12:04PM
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CFF, sorry my question was annoying to you. Having stripped a good amount of both painted and stain/poly wood, its been my experience that paint is a bit easier to remove down to bare wood vs. stain/poly. Of course, I have only used the toxic strippers. Having had no experience with the newer, less toxic stripping formulas I wanted to clarify that they do work equally well on stain/poly finishes as well. Excuse my ignorance, but I know from past experience that if you don't get every bit of the old stain/poly finish off, restaining will not come out even. I thought the purpose of these forums was to share information, and ask questions.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 2:17PM
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My point was that if you were to read the novel I wrote, you'd have your answers. I wasn't certain if you expected me to write it all over again? Or was there a specific question I didn't think to address?

Sure. I share. It's up to someone else to read it if they're interested.

I am perceiving attitude that is unnecessary, in that default comment of
>> I thought the purpose of these forums was to share information and as questions.We see that a lot when someone is called out, but that's OK. Just take the time and read.

Of course, without human interaction I could be wrong, but I did just hijack this person's thread and write for days...

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 2:25PM
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No need to be testy. A simple yes, it takes off stain and polyurethane would suffice. If you notice, the post by greenhaven(before mine) asked the same question. That aside, thanks for the helpful tips. Not sure if I am up for stripping though, my cabinet has some decorative trim that makes it more of hassle. But it sounds like the green strippers are the way to go if I do decide to do it.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 6:06PM
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Sorry, I guess we did hijack this post though. As for the original post person - sorry! It looks like you have some nice, solid cabinets there. Stripping or painting, both involve a lot of work so its up to you whether you want to do it or not. Either way, I think they would look really nice. And there is a satisfaction in a job well done when you tackle a DIY project like that, as well as saving a lot of money! BTW, kudos to the eagle scout on that organ, what a great project, good job!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 6:31PM
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hpny2, there you go!
You hit upon something I didn't mention.

In my experience on the older doors, it did bubble the topcoats and stain out of the wood's detail actually faster and better than it did on the flat surfaces. Again, lay it on thick....

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 11:30PM
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hpmy2, Typically, no, strippers don't remove stain. Stain soaks into the grain of wood, whereas paint sits on top. So it's a lot easier to lift off the paint.

However, on the oak cabinets we all had in the 80s (and since), most of the orange colour came from the polyurethane on top. Citristrip and organic strip will take that off. Plus, even if you need to do some sanding to remove a layer of stained wood, removing the top coat using a stripper will significantly reduce the amount of sanding you need to do.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 12:11AM
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amberm145, that would be one of my most thrilling points! Traditional, flesh eating strippers don't do anything with stain. However.... [insert drum roll]

If you put a coat of Citristrip on your stripped wood, it will such the stain right out of the grain. See my pictures above. And we're talking a very dark, 1920s door with tons of paint and clear coats on it.

and I have not sanded a speck on the 15 doors I've worked on, nor the kitchen cabinets I've done, other than to brush off the dried Citristrip as I mentioned above.

The golden oak cabs I did got very light natural wood, too. I was able to ceruse them with a vinegar (I choose ume plum vinegar, just because I had it) and then a very thinned wash of Varathane 'Sunbleached'. I wanted them to stay light. I love that I don't have to sand.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 1:05AM
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Well, since I am torn between stripping and restaining/poly vs. painting, I guess I could try some citistrip out first, to see if it removes it as well as everyone has found it to. This is a vanity, with balusters and crown moulding, so there are a lot of grooves and non flat surfaces to contend with. I also have found stains don't come completely out, but I felt that the honey oak was light enough, perhaps no stain at all, just the yellow/orange poly coat that I might be able to strip off and then stain it a bit darker. If it doesn't look good, then I can always start the paint prep. Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 1:22PM
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hpny2, I definitely find that each piece behaves differently. Only natural, I guess, given the variety of finishes available over time.

I think my best thought is to leave it on thickly, overnight. A 2nd coat has always brought out the stain for me, no matter what the original top coat was. Also, be gentle with that lovely detail. It'll be easy to scrape when it's softened. OTOH, when restained, that makes great antiquing, for which people pay many $$!

On a different thread, (since we took this baby over) I'd really love to see how it comes out before you restain? I'm always interested.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 1:32PM
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I''let you know how it comes out, whenever I get around to doing it. Right now I am gearing up to do interior wall and ceiling painting, long over due!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 2:18PM
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