I’ve Painted My Kitchen Cabinets 4 Times — This Is the Best Paint for Budget Kitchen Makeovers

published Nov 8, 2021
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Credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom

The first time I painted kitchen cabinets, it was a slapdash affair. I was living in a rental apartment with a very absent landlord, and I figured I wouldn’t lose my deposit for painting the hideous cabinets. This was before there were thousands of how-to videos on YouTube, so I did what any twenty-year-old would do when they needed DIY advice: I called my dad. He recommended washing the cabinets with TSP (a heavy-duty cleaner you can find at home centers and hardware stores) before lightly sanding and priming, and then eventually painting with semi-gloss latex paint. The results were admittedly not professional-looking, but the fresh coat of white paint was a major improvement on the grungy looking wood. From then on, I was hooked on the power of paint to transform a less-than-luxe kitchen.

My second attempt at cabinet painting came with my first owned apartment. Now that it was my kitchen, I used the same dad-prescribed method, but I took the extra time to take every door off, really sanded out each imperfection, and waited the recommended amount of time between each coat of color. The cabinets looked better, but still, the paint job eventually chipped. Ditto on my third kitchen cabinet paint job in my next apartment. 

Credit: Laura Fenton

It wasn’t until my husband and I were painting the 1970s cabinets in our investment property (you can see the before just above) that I decided to examine my methods. This time I went straight to the source: The guys who worked at the paint store. I told them what I usually did, and the paint store guys said my process was good, but they recommended I try a different kind of paint: A waterborne alkyd. 

I’d worked with both latex and oil paints before and knew the pros and cons of each, but I had never even heard of this type of hybrid paint before. I was thrilled to discover that alkyd paint can be cleaned up with soapy water but contains resins that give the paint an enamel-like finish — a best of both worlds option. The paint pros recommended Benjamin Moore’s Advance line, which can be tinted to any of BM’s 3,500-plus colors. So we ordered up enough for our project. 

Credit: Laura Fenton

After carefully cleaning, sanding, and priming the cabinets, we set to work coating them in the alkyd paint. As the first coat went on, I was nervous. The paint handles a little differently than both water- and oil-based paints. Brush strokes seemed like they might be more visible because the paint is thicker than latex and self-levels a little more slowly than oil. The color also looked a little off when we compared it to the paint chip, but we soldiered on. 

After the full dry time had passed, my fears were quelled: The first coat dried to the right hue and had smoothed out significantly. It took us several weekends to get two coats on every door, but when the project was finished, the cabinets were completely transformed with a smooth finish in exactly the color we’d chosen. We even used the paint on our vintage dishwasher in a gray color to match the bottom cabinets! I’d been through the magic of paint transformations before though, so I knew the real test would come with time.

In the end, I’m happy to report that what set the Advance paint apart was its durability. We used those cabinets (which you can see above) for nearly six years before we finally did a proper renovation. In all that time, the cabinets’ finish never chipped or wore out in any way. The paint created a hard, enamel-like surface that we could scrub vigorously. It also endured all the bumps and knocks that come with having a small galley kitchen. After several kitchen makeovers both big and small, I can say with confidence that Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint is the very best paint for a budget kitchen makeover.