Okay, so you decided your kitchen needs a facelift, you’ve done some research and professional painters like us are telling you that painting cabinets with lacquer is going to be your best bet. Originally you wanted a full remodel . . . You thought your Uncle Gene said that he left you some “fracking land”, but it just sounded like that with his south Texas accent. He actually said “some freaking land”, because of course he doesn’t curse. Now you wish he would just keep his… Never mind. Anyway, you see your chance for new cabinets slipping away. You decide that cabinet painting it is.
So what are your options for painting or updating your cabinets? And why do we think painting cabinets with lacquer is a fabulous option?
We know you want a dream kitchen – or at least one you can walk into without cringing:
· Photo by Matthew Niemann Photography
Here’s what this kitchen looked like before:
As we stated in Part 1, outdated cabinets are a common plague. Everyone seemingly woke up one day and realized they hated their “orange” (usually golden oak) wood cabinets. The priciest option is complete cabinet replacement. This is practically a kitchen remodel in itself, by the time you’ve added the cost of replacing counters and sink. New doors and refacing are next in terms of expense. Both of these options look great, but they can run in the tens of thousands of dollars – way more than just painting cabinets costs. You’ll be paying for those cabinets for quite a while. (The gorgeous remodeled kitchen above? It’s part of a whole-house remodel project we worked on for Haven Design and Construction in San Antonio. Yep – tens of thousands of dollars.)
Or you could go old school with the complete stripping and restaining of the cabinets. “Refinishing” cabinets always meant “strip and restain” back in the day, but I have never seen it done successfully. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve all seen a great piece of stripped and restained furniture. But those who try refinishing cabinets this way soon realize the daunting task they have undertaken. Every cabinet door or drawer can be like a small piece of furniture, so imagine refinishing 50 to 100 pieces in your kitchen alone. It is not for the faint of heart to be sure. Maybe your Uncle Bob did it once. Good for him. But I would almost bet you he was retired, had no time constraints, and saw refinishing cabinets as a “labor of love”.
So then you think to hire a professional to do this tedious work. The key word is “tedious.” The pro knows what he’s in for and will charge accordingly. Unless you’ve got access to some minions who will work for pennies a day stripping those cabinets, then it’s time to look for more practical alternatives.
Our favorite cabinet painting technique bar none is sprayed lacquer. Here’s why:
- We all tend to think of clear shiny topcoats when we hear the word, but lacquer comes in different sheens just like paint, and can have a sheer tint like a stain or solid color like paint, so it can be used in any scenario where you’re painting cabinets.
- We’ve all seen painted cabinets that have visible brushstrokes, and it cheapens the whole look. Lacquer lays down perfectly when it’s sprayed, and melts into a truly furniture-quality finish that will make your cabinets seems like you bought them that way, rather than taking the design low-road. And nothing feels quite like the silky-smoothness of lacquer!
- Lacquer is hard and durable, and has traditionally been used as a topcoat. If your cabinets were factory-finished, they were probably done with lacquer.
- It also dries incredibly quickly, so we can spray multiple coats in one day (so you can get back to your new kitchen faster). And although it’s smelly when it’s being sprayed (there’s no way around it!), the fast dry time means the smell should dissipate quickly. And we tent off any areas we’re spraying in to contain it all. You can see our full process here, including video.
It’s a no-brainer.
Here’s another inspiring before-and-after:
· Photo by Matthew Niemann Photography
Use lacquer if you want a furniture-quality paint in a fresh color like gray or white, or in a strong color like blue or black. It’s smooth as butter, with no brushstrokes. (By the way, the lovely kitchen cabinets in our header image were painted for Inside Story Design, in a lacquer tinted to match Sherwin Williams’ “Repose Gray”.) And if you want to retain the look of stained woodwork, we use lacquer for that too. We add stain-like tints to clear lacquer to turn your “Little House on the Prairie” cabinets into up-to-date, richly-toned beauties. Honestly, you have to see it to believe it. By the way, this technique typically runs 20 – 50% of cabinet replacement, so you won’t need to take out a loan to bring your kitchen into the twenty-first century. You’ll save tons of space in the landfill, plus the savings you get by not having to replace your counters, sinks, and faucets while you’re at it.
Do we ever use oil- or water-based paint when we’re painting cabinets?
Sure, but honestly, I recommend using colored lacquer rather than traditional paint, for all the reasons stated above. Oil-based paint used to be the standard for painting cabinets, but it takes too long to dry, off-gasses in your home for what feels like forever, and (worst of all) light colors will turn yellow over time. We use traditional paint mainly when we’re going to apply a decorative glaze or antiqued finish on top, or for a few other specialty considerations – otherwise, lacquer wins, hands down.
There you have it! Take a look at our Cabinet Gallery and our Kitchen Painting Before and After pages for some of our work painting cabinets with lacquer in both Austin and San Antonio, and call us if you have any questions!