Why are all the local KDs down on painted cabinets?

aimskitchenSeptember 20, 2012

I've posted several questions on this forum, and folks gave very helpful answers, some of which I still need to respond to - thank you. Several suggested painted cabintry to achieve the vintage, eclectic look that would compliment both my collections, our tiny L-shaped kitchen with no natural light, and the quartersawn oak buffet in the adjoining dining room. I love painted cabinetry, but my husband is convinced it will look terrible quickly, and every KD we've spoken to so far has tried to dissuade me from using painted wood, saying that it's not good for an active family.

We have 5 kids still at home, four of them active but not destructive boys, and have managed to keep a fair number of antiques and oriental rugs in decent condition. That said, several of the kids are budding chefs and all help with clean-up, so the kitchen gets a vigorous workout.

So what is the deal with painted wood? Is it really that hard to keep looking nice? Does it wear terribly? I'd love to hear of personal experiences. I'm considering white, cream-tones or a grayish color as options if we go with painted cabinetry, if that matters. Right now it's circa 1980 pickled oak, and I will be very happy to see it go.

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As the mother of TWO active boys (who are now adults) I can only share my experience with painted cabinets and wood cabinets.

Wood hides things better. Now, if you were planning on painting your existing cabs as a bridge until you could afford new ones, I'd say GO for it. But...I would not put in painted new cabs. Not because the finish won't hold up...it may. But because any solid-color single surface shows every ding, dent, splash, and splatter. Wood? Not so much. the grain, even if it's a "non-grain" like maple, seems to hide a multitude of sins.

Here's a way to look at it...what looks dirtier, a dusty/dirty white tile floor, or a dusty/dirty wood floor? In my experience, the white tile.

Best of luck!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 5:49PM
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I would say go with paint. I love painted kitchen cabinets and ours are painted a creamy color, which is very vintage.

Our kitchen went through a year of very active toddler twins who loved the kitchen best and the kitchen survived just fine.

... besides, it isn't hard to touch up paint these days.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 6:22PM
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I'm with mjsee, we just refaced the painted cabs with stained wood because they were destroyed by our family. They were a little worn when we moved in, but 5 years in they were really looking terrible.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 6:33PM
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All the white high end kitchens my friends have put in have chipped paint in all the same key areas. The trash door and by the sink and toe kicks. If you do not mind your white trim, ie skirting boards and door moldings, with its chipped paint and all than you are probally ok with painted cabinets. If you are one who frequently repaints the wood work for the dings and marks bother you than it is not for you. Paint will and does chip so does stained wood but not to same degree.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 6:41PM
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Keep your kitchen clean and teach your budding chefs to clean up after themselves. Simple. Better to be able to swipe off spills as they occur. One thing I've noticed about wood cabinets is that they seem to hide the dirt only from the owner. A guest can easily see that dirty things are dirty.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 6:53PM
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Paint can be an exceptionally durable film. But all paints are not created equal, and nor are all paints properly applied.

I enjoy looking, for instance, at Crown Point cabinetry. I have a hard time believing their paint finishes are any less durable than anything out there.

Just think of machinery and cars. All with paint film, -all extremely durable. Product and application. And as usual, you get what you pay for...Shop carefully.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 6:56PM
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I had the same question as OP. :-)

I understand about chipping pain.

HOWEVER, paint can be touched up or re-painted while it would be much harder to re-finish stained wood, wouldn't it?

Even if the color stayed the same, wouldn't one have to remove the top coating, sand and re-coat? Sounds much more expensive than simply painting over.

Am I missing the point?

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 12:29PM
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If the paint has a catalyzed lacquer coating on top of it to help to protect it, it's as durable as the wood with that same top coat. And that's pretty darn durable. It's pretty rare to see the top coat chip off a wood cabinet. It takes a lot for that to happen.

However, it's much more difficult to touch up than is a plain painted surface where there is no topcoat. And some people prefer the "hand brushed" look of a traditional painted cabinet. It's a pay your money and pick your poison type of situation. Pick the situation with the least amount of tradeoffs.

It's why thermofoil is popular as a low price point option for white cabinetry. It's elastic nature takes bumps and bruises more in stride than does many paints.

Or, ship the kids off to military school and get the cabinets you really love in your kitchen and not have to worry about their unrestrained hooliganism.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 12:39PM
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I agree that, aside from its beauty, wood's big plus is that it hides wear well; the wear's there too, it's just not showcased. Its big negative is that it hides dirt, months and years of it, appallingly well. So well, in fact, that a lot of people have come to consider it a virtue instead. As in "wood is easier to keep clean." :)

As a guest, I promise I never look for or notice dirt (not that great a housekeeper myself, so I'm not fussy)--until I stick to the cabinets. Unfortunately that's happened enough over the years that I just automatically avoid touching anything but the handles. Even in the nicest homes...

I'm biased, obviously, and I have almost always had painted cabinets. If you do choose them, I would suggest going for an old-fashioned hand painted look (not factory-perfect right from the start), a quick swipe here and there with a soapy sponge a couple times a week as needed, and a can of the same paint in the garage for quick touchups.

When it's eventually time to repaint, and some day it will be, you spend a few weeks deciding what the perfect color will be, then give them a quick wipedown with TSP and paint, or have painted. No first having to remove the sort of hardened buildup that causes so many people to quickly decide to call the nearest ReStore and go shopping for new.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 1:21PM
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My cabinetmaker, who sells both stained and painted cabs, said that he personally prefers stained wood. He said that when cabs are painted, you are looking at the finish, and you see any flaws in the finish like dirt or chips. With stained wood, you're looking through the finish at the wood grain, so you are less likely to notice anything on the finish.

rosie's right though, I still have to wash my stained cabs from time to time. But they don't actually look dirty before I do the way my old cream painted cabs did. Just like my dirt-colored floor. It's not that it resists dirt, but it doesn't always look like it needs to be washed like my old floor did.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 1:40PM
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I interested in responses to this Q also.

I hear the same thing from KD and wood stained cabs are more popular here anyway...or is it because the KDs aren't into painted other than an island or accent cab? So much so that I wonder if they make more money on stained cabs??

Many use manufactured cabs for stain, but have to go to local cab makers for painted. I'm not so worried about keeping them clean, I can do that, but I'm afraid of scuffs, dings, etc especially if it's true they don't touch up well.

If a dropped can bumps into my white painted cab on the way to the floor is it going to scuff and ruin the finish when that hasn't happened to my 12 year old light maple ones? I don't baby those at all and they look brand new...unfortunately. Would be easier to think about trashing them if they were beat to heck!

The things the KD's really play up:
Paint finish will crack (for lack of a better word) in the joints and those seams will be obvious. I get that, but are they so obvious that it takes away from them? Some say it adds to the charm or lived in look like etched or worn marble, but my dream kitchen is a white shaker with a modern or coastal feel rather than vintage. Will it be a problem?

White yellows over time. Is this true?

They don't touch up well. If so how did your installers touch up areas where nails and fastners went in during install, like at the crown. I never hear anyone here complain about that so again wonder is it true?


    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 2:35PM
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For all the reasons mentioned above I decided against painting my oak cabinets and am considering using a gel stain in a brown cherry color (no red undertones).

This I believe "I hope" will give me the stained wood look I want (hate pickled oak color) while hopefully blurring the oak grain of the wood. From what I've read it is also a lot easier to apply, just light sanding and 2 coats. I've seen people paint their oak cabinets, it looks nice, but at the end of the day it looks like "painted oak" not factory white cabinets, because the cracks and seams still show.

I have an extra door I am going to experiment on as soon as I finish a couple of other projects. If it gives me the look I want I've moving forward, otherwise saving my money until I can reface or replace. I've seen a couple of photos of cabs that were done this way, I think it can look really good as long as the color is right. I will post pictures if I ever get to it.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 5:48PM
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FYI: It is far easier (and cheaper) to apply a stain than a perfect paint job. This undoubtably influences the opinions of contractors.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 7:54PM
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Thanks all for excellent input. You've brought up lots of positives and negatives worth considering re: painted cabinetry. Our current picked oak - which I hate - has the positive of hiding dirt well. That said, I am horrified when I realize how dirty certain areas are, and I'd likely be forced to keep painted cabintry much cleaner (a good thing). That said, I don't want to be a slave to my cabinetry, my stainless appliances, etc. I also don't want it to look so bashed up within 3-5 years that we'll want to do something else to it. We have the added interesting circumstance that one of my guys wears prosthetic legs, and while he doesn't often bash into things, those titanium knees can be rough on things when he does.

We're going to look at samples today, maybe things will become clearer as I look at the finishes. If I had a large space, I'd be more comfortable with lots of wood - I think it can go vintage well - but continue to worry about the lack of light in our small kitchen as well as the antique buffet (and matching windowed top cabinets I'm having built) it'll be keeping close company with.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 9:57AM
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You could always do white uppers with dark lowers : ) I sort of like that look. There are a lot of pictures of these on Houzz.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 10:25AM
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Yea mona I don't think painting over the oak yourself would come out that great because the grain is so strong. Years ago we restained kitchen cabs in our condo to prepare to sell it. They were oak probably original 1970's cheap builder grade, medium brown worn in all the high use areas like at the sink and where you'd open them because they had no hardware. We just cleaned them well and did a quickie job with Mimwax stain in a deeper brown and holy crap I couldn't believe how good they looked! We should have done that on move in instead of move out. So I imagine with a careful restaining your cabs could look fantastic. I too don't care for the strong grain of oak and the deeper stain really disguised that.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 8:57PM
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I love my new stained cabs.

But in 1987, prior to our stud reno last year, we had our original 1960 cabs painted BM Super White. They had been sanded, painted twice, and covered with some poly finish. Last year they were still in perfect condition.

Granted, a lot of those years we were empty nesters who didn't cook much, but the years were kind. Not one chip- a couple of scratches and some diminishment of the shine, but essentially really good.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 9:28PM
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I prefer painted just because I do.

That said, I've picked up a lot of cabinets at the reuse center with full intention of painting them. They're usually some type of oak. I can tell you I can barely stand to touch them.

More than a few times I've literally taken a spatula and scraped the grease of them in long, ribbons of dark brown filth. Couldn't use paper towel to clean them because the towel just stuck and tore. TSP took a very long time to eat thru the residual grease that was in the grain. God bless Kilz oil based primer, because nothing (No.Thing) gets nicotine out, particularly when combined with grease.

I've only picked up a few that were painted white, but they were greasy as well. Tacky, but in no way were they this horrible disgusting (what?) repulsive .. ick. And to think people lived with some of these and even touched them.

This topic has been discussed so many times it's crazy. I have come to believe like most things involving human beings, there is no single answer. Bottom line is eventually you're gonna have to clean your cabinets if you want a clean kitchen. All finishes wear, but the better quality the finish, the longer it won't wear.

Or paint over the filth.
OR!!! just tear them out and donate them and the filth the stained cabinets ... hide.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 10:19AM
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If I had a rambunctious family, I'd worry more about my standard grade stainless appliances getting dented. That thin sheet of stainless is not terribly forgiving.

I've had wood and painted cabinets and I prefer painted. This time, I'm going with a hand finish rather than a factory's.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 11:24AM
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