Should I paint my kitchen cabinets? Experts advise on whether re-painting is really a good idea

By painting your kitchen, you can give your cabinets a whole new look. But is the DIY approach worth the hassle? Here's what our experts have to say

A kitchen with red painted cabinets
(Image credit: Blakes London)

If you have good quality kitchen cabinets, but ones that have seen better days, re-painting might be an option to give your space a much-needed makeover. However, whether you're going to attempt to DIY, or hire in the professionals to re-paint your cabinets, how will it hold up? 

‘Paint is a popular choice for a kitchen update because it is a brilliant way to make a big impact very easily and quickly, making kitchen cabinetry feel fresh and renewed with a clean aesthetic,’ says Nicola Buxton, design manager at HUX London. But it’s not as easy as you might initially think, and some kitchen cabinets aren’t recommended to be painted. 

We spoke to a few designers to find out the pros and cons of painting your modern kitchen cabinets.

Oonagh Turner
Oonagh Turner

Oonagh is an experienced homes and interiors editor and writer. For this story, she spoke to the industry experts in her contacts book to find out if and when you should paint your kitchen cabinets.

Is it worth painting kitchen cabinets?

The answer to that is yes and no, but the first thing to consider if whether or not you can even paint your kitchen cabinets. If your cabinets are made from timber, they're perfect for painting. They can be sanded down or stripped, if necessary, primed and then painted relatively easily.

Laminate is another cabinet type you might have opted for when designing your kitchen, and one that you might want to re-paint. This is harder to paint, however, as you can't really key or sand down the gloss or sheen surface in the same way, which would help the paint adhere. Several cabinet-coating paints are available which allow you to paint over old plastic laminate countertops. Painting is tricky but doable. 

A kitchen with rust lower cabinets and wooden upper cabinets

(Image credit: The Main Company. Photo credit Chris Snook Photography)

How well the paint adheres, alongside the type of paint, is key to how well your painted kitchen will last. If you use a standard paint directly onto a surface with any kind of gloss, it will easily scratch off. 

When it comes to how to paint your kitchen cabinets, start with a primer.  An oil-based paint, known for its resilient finish, and ease for cleaning is often used for woodwork like kitchen cabinets. Beware, however, that it has a higher level of volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. Latex paint is another option and is widely regarded as the best choice for kitchen cabinets since it offers lower levels of VOCs and is quicker to dry. If you're painting on wood, you can use a standard eggshell, gloss or satin paint. 

Bear in mind, the way that kitchen cabinets open, you'll likely need to remove doors to paint them properly, meaning some disruption to your space. 

Paean Black No. 294, Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab)
Paint it black

Paean Black No. 294, Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab)

This black hue makes for a beautiful rich and indulgent cabinet color. Just make sure you top it with modern emulsion.

Should I paint my wooden kitchen cabinets?

A kitchen cabinet made of wood

(Image credit: Catherine Fingernagel)

You might have wooden cabinets, in which case it's all about deciding whether you should get rid of the look and go painted or embrace the natural look. Wood has its merits as a cabinet look, giving a sleek minimalist or Scandi feel to your kitchen.

Just make sure the finish is perfect. 'Choose a high-gloss or lacquer finish for wood; it's an easy way to maximize your light sources,' say Anna Baraness and Kristin Tarsi, co-founders and partners of Studio AK (opens in new tab)

A wooden cabinet scheme also can work well against other materials you might be used within the kitchen, like marble for example. 

'The kitchen in our Heath House project was a bespoke, handmade kitchen,' says London and Hamberg-based architect and designer, Catherine Finkernagel (opens in new tab), who designed this beautiful space featuring timber cabinets. 'One of the main aspects of the brief for the whole house was for the spaces to be exciting while at the same time natural and sustainable and as the kitchen plays a big role in that brief what better material provides that than timber and marble?'

'The material choice is key to this and the warmth of the material often offsets the very cold, sterile, and hard materials found elsewhere in the kitchen like the appliances,' says Catherine.      

A solid timber kitchen such as this also provides durability and strength which is unrivaled while being made of a natural product with very few VOCs being let off into the room. 'It also has a give to it in that if it is scratched or damaged it can typically be easily repaired and timber is a material which ages extremely well,' says Catherine.

What could go wrong?

If you have a small kitchen, painting your cabinets is risky business, as the color you pick could make the space feel all the more claustrophobic and restrictive. This is because cabinets protrude into your room, so darker cabinets can give a tunnelling feel to the space. For smaller kitchens you might want to paint lighter hues or creams.

Another setback of painted cabinets is that it's hard to judge what the color of the cabinets will be throughout the seasons, and if your shade works in summer sunshine, will it really create the same effect in the winter months, or will it look cold, dark and small.  

'One thing a lot of clients get wrong when painting their kitchen cabinets is that they do not order samples colors which they then paint onto the cabinets for reflection in numerous types of light,' says Catherine. 'Paints will look drastically different in different spaces, at different times of the day and in different weathers so it’s always better to try before you buy in our opinion.' If you went for a natural material, you know what you're getting from the outset.

What are the benefits?

A dark kitchen is lifted with color pop cabinets

(Image credit: Sawyers Design)

On the flip side, painted cabinets can be a great way to add color to your kitchen, and can make a kitchen feel larger through sheer drama. 

In terms of trends for painted kitchen cabinet ideas, people are enjoying going bolder and darker in the kitchen. 'There are so many benefits to adding saturated hues in a kitchen, particularly painting the cabinets. Rich colored cabinets–teal, greens, purples–not only make a statement, but make the cabinets an interesting architectural aspect of the design,' says Kevin Sawyers of Sawyers Design (opens in new tab). 'Deep rich colors make just about everything look great, even food.' 

Kevin designed the above kitchen featuring a bright red cabinet above wooden lower cabinets. 

'The kitchen is the perfect place to use more vibrant, impactful color choices and a great place to start is by adding color to kitchen cabinets,' says Ruth Mottershead of Little Greene (opens in new tab). 'Yellow is a shade that brings positivity to a space. It is a hue that makes us feel uplifted, happy, energized, and invited. Green is another fantastic choice; we feel soothed by green and its association with nature.'

White cabinets

(Image credit: Studio AK)

If you have a darker kitchen, painting your kitchen cabinets can help to lighten the space. 'The right cabinetry finish can make all the difference when you are working within a darker kitchen. We turn to Benjamin Moore (opens in new tab)’s Chantilly Lace as our go-to for a crisp white,' say Anna and Kristin of Studio AK (opens in new tab), who designed this space.

Kevin of Sawyers gives another example. 'For a San Francisco client, with a narrow galley kitchen, we solved to set the base in a dark Endive color grounding the lower half. Painting the uppers a much lighter blue and doing away with as many uppers as possible, we doubled the visual space. It was the perfect combination to bring breadth to the kitchen.'

Whatever color you decide, when painting your kitchen cabinets, keep the colors in the room the same, unless you want to make a real statement out of mismatched cabinet pop colors. ‘The key is to keep the palette consistent, as it makes the space feel lighter, brighter, and bigger,’ say Anna and Kristin.