Whitewashing Honey Oak Kitchen Cabinets: The Process Begins!


Of all of the projects on my to-do list, this one Kitchen Beforehas been the most daunting: how to paint the honey oak cabinets and island AND extensive trim in our kitchen for a more updated style that matches our light-and-white French country-inspired cottage decor.  

I previously painted the large family room built-ins solid white, and the process was very time consuming. The result is beautiful, so it was worth it in the end – though at about 3 times the cabinetry, I have not been excited about the prospects of tackling the even bigger project of the kitchen.  Needless to say, this project has since been on the back burner…  

In the meantime, I’ve been looking around, trying to figure out how to solve this dilemma without employing costly contractors to do the work for me, or allow the project to take over my life for the foreseeable future.

Kitchen Before Cabinets Close-upFinally, the answer came: whitewashing!  I whitewashed the ceiling beams in our family room, and paired with the newly white-painted built-ins, it looks fresh yet cozy.  What used to be a dark, depressing cave that I called “the bane of my existence” is now truly a relaxing, soothing space that we enjoy daily.

The kitchen is not oppressive – in fact, the wood and cabinets are quite pretty – it’s just that the finish and grain feels dated, reminding me of almost every 1980’s built-house I’ve known.  And after all – I like to make things my own. ;)

To test out the whitewashing theory for the kitchen cabinets, which I anticipated would be much faster and easier than full-on painting, yet still yield a similar result in terms of the overall effect, I started with the island.  I grabbed a few supplies:  sandpaper, a sanding block, a rag, and few different widths of paint brushes and chip brushes, plus a $9.00 gallon of flat off-white paint I found on the mis-tint shelf at Lowe’s.

Here’s the “before” close-up of the island:

Kitchen Island Cabinet Before

To prepare the surface, I removed the knobs and lightly sanded the cabinet surfaces, then used a damp rag to wipe off the dust and any food and drink residue. This only took a few minutes, since I did not feel like I had to sand off every bit of finish – just enough so the new paint would stick.  Since I still want the look of wood underneath peeking through a bit, there’s no priming in this method, which was probably 70% of the work when I was doing solid white on my built-ins.

The first cabinets were dry by the time I got done with the last, so I went back to where I started to begin painting.  I did not dilute the paint in any way for this project, since when I whitewashed my beams, it seemed to have a fine effect undiluted – and it’s just one less thing to have to worry about getting right, especially on a vertical surface, which can cause drips if using a thinner solution when whitewashing.

Taking a small brush, I started with the insets and the trim on each cabinet, then used a wide brush for the main flat panel.  For the first pass, I applied the paint somewhat slap dash going in the direction of the grain, here and there.  I left spaces, letting the paint adhere and dry for a few seconds, and then went back to spread it with the brush.  This has the effect of giving a natural distressed texture to the finish, as the level of paint is slightly more or less over the span of the cabinet panel.

The chip brushes worked best for creating the desired affect.  The higher grade paint brushes are meant for creating a smooth, brushless look on walls and trim … though for my purposes here, it was turning out too smooth.  I wanted things a bit drier and dustier looking, so I quickly ditched my nice brushes and worked exclusively with my stash of chip brushes.

I didn’t bother taping off the hardware, but I did take time and attention to wipe them thoroughly after I was done with each cabinet, including in the grooves, so there would not be any paint on the hinges and it would look professionally done.  Even though this was a pain, it took less time to wipe them down afterward than it would to tape up and remove tape later.

Once I gave a first “coat” to all the cabinets, I lightly sanded the surfaces again to both even things out a bit and create more distressed finish.  I also sanded the edges and corners, as an antiquing effect.  I then went back over each cabinet again with paint using a lighter hand than the first round, just to add more solidness to the color and get rid of any of that old 1980’s oak-y heavy grain.  You can see from the photo that even though it’s not primed at all, the grain and stain is effectively filled in and camouflaged, but the natural wood feel of the cabinets is still there.

Here’s the island “After”:

Kitchen Island Cabinet After

I haven’t waxed the cabinets to seal my work yet, which I figure I’ll do once the whole kitchen is done and I’m finished making any tweaks.  I’m happy so far with how it’s coming along – the look is brighter but also organic and “vintage” rather than dated, in tune with the cozy, rustic feel I’m going for in this section of the house.

I’m planning to tackle a section or two each week until it’s done – though I have a sense that once I get halfway through, I’ll be so eager to see the completed look, it will be a race to the finish. ;)

Stay tuned!

Love and light,

Samadhi  ✷



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