Ask the Expert: How to paint your kitchen cupboards

We all have big kitchen dreams - the high-tech cooker and hob, the dreamy cupboard doors to hide away all of the necessary kitchen clutter. But then, you look at your knackered-looking cupboards, destroyed by sticky-fingered children and years of use and abuse. A new kitchen is expensive, and there's no point throwing the baby out with the bath water. Your kitchen works fine, it stores plates and has space to cook up a storm. It's just... a bit sad looking.

But what about painting your units? A fresh coat can transform a space from looking banged up and dingy, to, well, like you bought a whole new kitchen. It's cheaper too, but it's not exactly easy.it requires patience and time. And if you mess up, it's very difficult to get right. So before you get the rollers out and don those paint-splattered dungarees, Oisín Butler of Oisín Butler Ltd., gives his expert advice on cabinetry painting to keep us DIY-ers on track.

A finished Oisin Butler Ltd. kitchen painting project.

Before painting our cupboards, what should we consider?

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The biggest thing to consider, Oisín tells us, is time. "If it's to be done properly, it's unlikely to be finished over a weekend." He also reminds us "there's no going back! Once painted, that's it, so make sure to do a good job!"

When should we paint and when should we invest in new units?

Oisín recommends painting when cabinets are functional and you like the layout. "If you paint and throw in some new handles or knobs, it will really transform your kitchen." However, if you desire a new layout and have the budget, an upgrade may better suit.

What should we consider when choosing a colour?

When choosing a colour, Oisín advises that "you take surrounding colours into account." Lighting also plays a part. In a north-facing kitchen, colours should be kept light, but in a larger, brighter kitchen, darker colours can be used without closing in the room.

What type of wood cupboards can be painted?

Most surfaces can be painted after being properly prepared and primed, Oisín tells us. But we must be careful with waxed wood; "the wax needs to be completely removed before any primers are applied, no exceptions."

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What tools are best suited for this project?

Oisín gives us a list: "Good quality paint brushes, rollers, filling knives, masking tape, lining paper, caulk guns, and scrapers. You’ll also need a paint tray or kettle; working out of a paint tin is a recipe for disaster. You can’t do a good job with a bad brush, so consider wisely! We use either Purdy or Corona brushes. A four-inch magic felt sleeve is essential kit, too."

 

A finished Oisin Butler Ltd. kitchen painting project.

 

What preparations are necessary before beginning this project?

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Before beginning, Oisín recommends that we "lay lining paper on the floors around the base of cabinets and worktops. Fix the paper in place with tape. And a paint sheet should be put down."

What is the best way to paint a cupboard?

Oisín walks us through the process: "Take all the doors off and number each door with its corresponding hinge in the press. You can then take the doors outside and give them a good scrub. Painted drawers can be laid flat to dry. This will help you get a better finish and reduce the likelihood of drips!"

Should cupboards be cleaned before they are painted?

Big yes! "Even if you feel your cupboards are the cleanest in all of the land, you still need to scrub them. Even the smallest speck of grease will undermine your paint." Sugar soap will do the job, though Oisín prefers to use a powerful cleaner called Krud Kutter.

Is it necessary to apply primer before painting?

Not always. If the old paint is sound, priming isn't necessary, and you can start with the undercoat. However, if the surface "has never been painted before, is melamine, or a factory paint finish, then it's best to prime first."

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What paints or products are best suited for this purpose?

Oisín recommends B-I-N Primer from Zinsser for interior surfaces. "It has excellent adhesion properties and will block tannin in hardwood." However, the fumes in this primer are strong. Water-based alternatives are available, but Oisín warns that they're "rubbish when it comes to tannin blocking." In terms of paints, "Colourtrend water-based satinwood or eggshell are excellent."

A finished Oisin Butler Ltd. kitchen painting project.

From start to finish, what is a typical timeline for completion?

A standard 16-door kitchen should take four to five days to complete. "This includes removing all the doors, handles, and hinges at the start and putting it back together at the end."

Are there any special techniques for painting wood?

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Oisín explains a technique with a brush and rad roller for a great finish: "Using the rad roller, apply paint to the surface and spread it evenly. Next, with the brush, gently brush the paint in the direction of the grain. You should be slightly stingy with the paint, too; if the paint goes on too thick and heavy, then it won’t cure well. If the paint is spread well, it will dry and cure properly, making it more durable."

 

How much does it typically cost to paint a set of kitchen cupboards?

Cost varies depending on a kitchen's surface and size. Oisín estimates €150-200 to do it yourself; this includes paint, primer, and some fillers and sundries. A professional can cost anywhere from €850 + VAT and up. Despite the cost difference, Oisín recommends the latter, saying, "Emphasis on professional; not everyone can paint kitchen cupboards!"

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