kitchen transformatio
I recently moved into a new house, and although it is located in a cute, quiet neighborhood, it hasn’t been updated much since it was built in the 1950s.   As a person who loves cooking, the kitchen was really bothering me.  It was really dark, drab, and dated.  I hated the colors of the cabinets, the counter-tops and backsplash were an off-putting vintage yellow, and the floors were in bad shape. 

I wanted to transform the space into something livable, without spending a fortune, so the first step I took was to paint the cabinets and replace the backsplash.  I also intend to paint (yes, paint!) the countertops and redo the floors in the next coming weeks, when time permits, but today I wanted to share with you how to paint cabinets without sanding.  

First… take a good look at the starting point…

before sink

There isn’t much natural lighting in my kitchen, and the dark wood sucked up the little light there was.  

It also had this ridiculous paneling on top of the cabinets, which made the room look smaller, darker and even dated the kitchen more than it already was.  

kitchen paneling before

The cabinets themselves weren’t bad.  The insides had been painted prior to me purchasing it, and they were made of sturdy wood… but the stain isn’t my style, and the hardware was rusty.  The backsplash was a yellow formica that was bowing in several places. 


My mom came up over labor day weekend (bless her) and we got started on the mini kitchen renovation!  

The first thing we did was tear down the paneling on top of the cabinets. My mom managed to tear it all down in about an hour, and that alone made the room look a lot bigger!  It also gave me additional storage space on top of the cabinets.  We discovered that the kitchen must have been painted yellow at some point (yes, it really was yellow paint, not just dirty walls!). 

She also tore down the formica backsplash, revealing lots of aged glue and sheetrock.  

paneling be gone

Once the demo/prep work was done, we were ready to start painting cabinets!  Here is a supply list of what we used: 

  • 1 quart of primer (I used this kind)
  • Nuvo 1 Day Paint Makeover Kit (you can buy a good thick paint, but this is what we used, and it turned out great!) 
  • 1 quart paint deglosser (I used this one)
  • A fine 4″ paint brush
  • New hinges or spray paint, if you want to paint and reuse existing ones

Step 1

Once the “demo” was done, we took all of the doors off the cabinets. 

step 1 - remove cabinet doors

Step 2

We were a little apprehensive if the primer and paint we picked out would actually cover such dark wood, so we did a trial run, to see how it would turn out.  We painted the cabinet shells with one layer a primer.  We let it dry 30 minutes, then painted one layer of paint on top of it. 

The paint I picked out is a bit on the pricey side, but I can say that it is TOTALLY WORTH IT.  I bought the Nuvo 1 Day Cabinet Makeover Kit (in coconut espresso color).  Really great stuff.  The kit comes with 2 pints of paint, and we were flabberghasted on how it would cover everything, but it did!! We even had 1/4 of the 2nd can left. 

You can see in the picture below, one coat of primer, followed by one coat of paint made an impressive difference!  It did take another coat to finalize it, but we were impressed with the result of the initial effort: 

First coat of primer

We finished painting all of the cabinet shells with a primer.

For the paint, we used the rollers that were included in the paint kit, and we also had a 4″ paint brush.  One of us would roll on a layer of paint, and the other one would go behind and lightly drag a 4″ paint brush down the length of the cabinet that had just been painted, to give it a little texture.

First coat of paint

In between coats in the kitchen, we took the cabinet doors outside and stripped all of the years and years of dirt, grease and grime off using a deglosser.  The deglosser also helps the primer and paint adhere to the wood, without having to sand it down.  This step is a little tricky, because you have to wait 30 minutes for the deglosser to dry, then you have a 1-hour window to paint a layer of primer onto the cabinets for the paint to stick.  If you miss the window, the primer won’t adhere as well, and your painted cabinets will likely peel easier.  

*Note: The deglosser should be used outside, or in a very well ventilated area.  It is some toxic, yet effective stuff.  Keep away from children!

This window of time is definitely doable, if you only deal with around 10 doors at a time, and get everything setup and ready to go.  Wipe down the doors with the deglosser, let them dry, then lay them out to paint.  I purchased several 1 x 2 pieces of wood to rest the doors on to paint, so they weren’t laying straight on the ground. 

Quickly paint on one layer of primer, let sit for 30 minutes, flip, and paint the other side of the cabinets.  Once the primer dries, apply a coat of paint, allow that to dry, and apply a second layer of paint to the cabinets.  

We used the same painting method: roll on a layer of paint, lightly go over paint with a 4″ fine brush, and repeat.   

We waited 24 hours before hanging back up, to give the paint some time to set. 

paint the doors

I ended up soaking my existing hinges in vinegar water to clean them, and then spray painting them with a metallic spray paint. This saved around $50+, and they turned out really great! We allowed them to dry 6 hours before installing the doors. 

I did replace the drawer handles with these.

We also purchased and applied joint compound to repair the tears in the ceiling where the paneling attached.  Then we painted the walls (no more dingy yellow) to blend in. 

And that was it!  

Actually, it was quite a bit of work.  The whole process took from Friday afternoon until Monday morning, with two of us working on it… but we did have a baby and 5-year-old to take care of, so I would say this is a 2 day project if you have 1 focused person.

Finished cabinets

Doesn’t it look so much better?!  For a weekend’s worth of work, and around $125, it is a remarkable improvement, in my opinion. 

after fridge

If you’re observant, you may notice that the backsplash is now textured.  That was done by my mom and cost $10.  I will share next week how she did that (plus have some videos to go along with it).  

kitchen after

I have to figure out how to hide, or get rid of the dangling wire you see in the photo above (maybe that was why the paneling was up?) and I am also going to redo the countertops and the floors, and will share a post about those when that happens.  


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16 Responses to How to Paint Cabinets without Sanding

  1. C. Lee Reed says:

    These turned out so nicely. We tried this with a product made for laminate and it did not end well. It was the worst smelling stuff on the planet. In the end, I got a new kitchen…just not for the inexpensive price and fix that I wanted. Glad yours came out.

  2. Scarlet says:

    My cabinets show wear and I think a good paint job would work. If only, I could make myself be industrious enough! Your transformation is inspiring though. I feel one step closer!

    • Andrea says:

      Thanks! It definitely is a bit of a time endeavor. Not sure if I would undertake it for a touchup, to be honest… but my kitchen needed a major overhaul!

  3. JANICE TRINH says:

    Great renovation! That new paint really dis make a difference in the lighting in there. My formal dining room is dark too, and I want to do the same thing – although I’m just lucky it’s just an empty room with no cabinets! Great job to you and your mom! Wow!

  4. You did a fantastic job. We need to do this in our kitchen but it looks like so much work.

  5. Paula says:

    It’s so much better now ! Amazing how a dark kitchen was transformed into one full of light. Well done !

  6. Love this! I have a kitchen that looked much like yours when I first saw it…little natural light, dark cabinets. We painted them white, but they need a redo. I was going to get new ones, but I got a new septic system instead. Woo. Hoo. Anyway, do you think your method/the products you used would work if my cabinets are already painted white? I’d love some advice…I need to make the most of what I have! 🙂 Thanks for sharing–and for hosting This is How We Roll!

  7. Kimberly M. says:

    I love what you did to your kitchen. I painted my cabinets about 10 years ago and sanded every one of them. What a pain. I added a piece of wood border to mine too and people could not believe it was the same kitchen. I put up a stone tile backsplash. Well, I didn’t a friend of mine did. It went from drab to fab in no time at all really. I love how bright it is now.

  8. Susan says:

    Your kitchen looks amazing, Andrea! I’m awe that you and your got those cabinets all done over the weekend.

    • Andrea says:

      Thanks, Susan! I definitely couldn’t have done it alone (especially with my two kiddos). I am looking forward to getting some organization tips from you, once my kitchen is done 😉

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