How To Waste Time And Ruin Your Kitchen Cabinets

kitchen cabinets

Out with the old!

Let me begin by letting you know that I had a great holiday season this year. Thanksgiving and Christmas were fun and joyful around our house, and we didn’t do any traveling this year.

But the season was not without a touch of frustration.

There’s a saying in our house about DIY projects that has been repeated quite often over the years, because it’s proven to be very true. Whatever the project is, “it always takes longer than you think it will.”

My wife and I are no strangers to DIY projects. You might say we cut our teeth on them, at least as far as our married lives go. We’ve been married almost 9 years, and in that time we’ve bought and renovated 4 houses together.

So this year, despite my growing realization that DIY isn’t always a good idea, I convinced my wife that re-glazing our kitchen cabinets was a great idea.

Gluttons For Punishment

To set the stage, here was our plan: I had a couple of weeks of vacation time that I had to use up in December, so I decided to spend one of those weeks updating the look of our faded, orangey, custom-built oak cabinets. We have some nice red-brown oak flooring in our kitchen, which made the old cabinetry look very washed out. The tarnished brass hardware didn’t help.

Did I mention that the plan was to accomplish this in one week? In early December? And be done with it? Honestly, it was a good plan… if you ignore the fact that we should have known better.

After doing some research we decided that what we thought we wanted was a mixture of glazing and grey-brown paint, which would hide some of the busy oak grain in the cabinet doors and give our cabinets a more modern look to them. The problem was that after buying the supplies and painting the backs of several doors (with different mixtures) we didn’t like any of them.

The next day we moved to plan B. After doing some research I learned that Minwax makes a product called Polyshade that goes nicely over already-finished wood, because it’s really a polyurethane with some coloring to it. We grabbed some of the Tudor-colored stuff and got to work.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I liked it. I polyurethaned for two straight days and got all of the cabinets darkened, and as I went the new look started to grow on me. I also refinished about 6 of the doors, front and back. With our new iron hardware, it was starting to look very nice! At least, laid on the carpet in my office.

So What Was The Problem?

On day 3 I grabbed the finished doors and leaned them up against the cabinets, to see what the finished product would look like… and absolutely hated it. My first reaction was:

Our kitchen is where light goes to die. -Me

So the cabinets themselves didn’t turn out too bad, really. If I had windows spreading light all around the kitchen we probably would have kept them. But they were really dark, and if there’s anything my wife hates it’s a lack of sunlight (I’m not a huge fan of that either). We only have one window in our kitchen, above the sink, and the light from it was being sucked into the gloom of our “new and improved” rich, dark, cabinets.

I looked at my wife. She looked at me. I sighed.

After crossing off all the events on my calendar for the next month, I started all over.

Bring On The Paint!

The next day I went to the home improvement store and bought some paint stripper. My dad volunteered to help me strip them down, at least taking off the polyurethane I had applied over the last two days, and in some places even more.

Then it was time to prime. I applied 3 coats of white primer and 2 coats of satin white paint to the cabinets over the next week and a half, both rolling and brushing. I was back at work at this point, so the painting was done at night and on the weekends. It was painful, but obviously there was no turning back now. It had to be done!

The New Plan (And Not Stressing Out About It)


Original on the left, re-finished on the right, final white result on top.

At this point out cabinets are painted white, as well as the drawers. We’re excited about the new look, even if it’s not what we picked out at first. We haven’t done anything more to the doors except to sand them down and prep them for painting.

I’ve invested way more hours than I should have into this “fun” little project, but there’s not much to do about that now. There’s still work to be done, and it will be. But we’re not stressing out about it. We decided that we would enjoy our Christmas week and not have other areas of our life suffer because of our poor DIY decision making.

Will we learn from this experience? Maybe. My line between DIY and hiring help is definitely moving closer to the hiring end of things every year, especially as I pick up side jobs to help us pursue FI and as my family grows.

But there’s still an element of satisfaction in taking care of my own home with my own two hands. Learning new skills and saving money definitely have value. And there’s also the benefit of spending time at home and showing my kids a solid work ethic that I don’t want to dispose of. Replacing working around the home with earning some extra money outside of it is not my goal.

I’m chalking this experience up to simply underestimating (again) the size of a DIY project. Next time I’ll definitely keep the light in mind.

Have you had any DIY projects go well or not-so-well recently? We’d all love to hear about them in the comments!