How to paint kitchen cabinets

Updating old units with a lick of paint in a fresh colour can completely transform your kitchen. We show you how to do it with this step-by-step guide

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Whether classic and muted, or bright and fresh, the colour in which units are painted completely dictates the look and feel of the whole kitchen design, and is a signature feature of styles such as Shaker and country.

Repainting existing door fronts is a great way to refresh a tired kitchen. Try to look past an unattractive surface finish and assess whether you like the door design itself. If it’s a simple Shaker style, for example, it can be completely transformed.

Solid wood doors lend themselves best to being repainted, but melamine units can also be updated. The key is to ensure the surfaces are property prepped and primed. Also check that the cabinets are in good order and not warped.

Grey painted kitchen by 1909

The 1909 range has a 24-strong colour palette, here mixing charcoal and chalk finishes for a sophisticated two-tone look, from £20,000

Step-by-step guide to painting kitchen cabinets

  • If possible, it’s best to remove the door fronts and drawers.
  • Unscrew all ironmongery, and mask off any areas you can’t remove.
  • Lightly sand the surfaces with fine-grade sandpaper.
  • Vacuum up the dust and clean surfaces with sugar spray and a damp cloth.
  • Once dry, use a traditional wood primer or undercoat, or a specialist melamine or universal primer.
  • Choose an eggshell paint finish for the doors, which will be hardwearing.
  • Use a small roller or paint brush to apply the paint in confident, long strokes.
  • You will need at least two coats. Allow paint to dry fully in between, as per instructions on the paint can.
  • Reattach ironmongery. Investing in new cabinet handles will help give the units a complete new look.

Along with netural shades, soft blues, greens and greys are ideal for all styles of kitchens, and lend a light, elegant feel. Light pink lends a romantic look, while red has a characterful country feel.

The entire kitchen need not be colourful – a bold shade, such as red or dark blue, can be used to accent a short run of units, a kitchen island or statement dresser, with the rest of the kitchen in a neutral or natural wood finish.

Add depth and interest by using different shades of the same colour. For example, painting the wall units a lighter colour than the base cabinets is a clever way to make the kitchen feel more spacious.

Mixing more than one complementary colour, such as teal with soft blue, creates a cottage or eclectic vintage-inspired look.

Bespoke kitchen with contrasting painted island by Christopher Peters

A rose-painted island adds interest to this bespoke kitchen from Christopher Peters; a similar design would cost from £25,000

How to accessorise painted cabinets

  • Painted wall panelling or tiles in a complementary colour will enhance the overall look.
  • Smaller details in a natural wood finish, including worktops, peg rails, shelving and chairs, will prevent the look from cloying.
  • Choose retro appliances in complementary colours, from range cookers and fridge-freezers, to toasters and coffee makers, in a brighter or darker tone of the main colour to finish off the look to perfection.

Harvey Jones Original blue and cream painted kitchen with breakfast bar

The Original kitchen from Harvey Jones adds subtle character with its delicate detailing and ornate cornice. Priced from £18,000

Lift the look of a budget kitchen

Painted kitchens are often associated with higher end bespoke manufacturers of handmade solid wood units, but the beauty of painting cabinets is that the species of timber underneath doesn’t have to affect the end appearance.

For example, a pine kitchen might cost less than half the price of hardwood, and still have the same finish and handcrafted quality once painted and dressed with beautiful cabinet door handles and worktops. It’s a great idea for saving money on the cost of a new kitchen.

Fired Earth handcrafted and painted Bastide kitchen cabinets

For beautiful country charm, Fired Earth’s Bastide collection is handcrafted in France. From £14,000 for the free-standing version

Cotteswood kitchen painted in Duck Egg

This beautiful Renaissance bespoke kitchen in maple, by Cotteswood, painted Duck Egg, features tongue and groove wall panelling, a maple plate rack and black African granite worktops. From £15,000