DIY Struggles: 1991 “Antiques”

My kitchen cabinets are finally done! I can’t believe it! After a month and a half of stepping over doors and trying to figure out how to neatly stack paint/sanding/cleaning supplies in my kitchen, I can finally put it all to bed and just enjoy my work. I am so proud of them!

And in this post, I’m going to outline how I did them but mostly I’m going to compain about some of my struggles along the way, so if you’re not into DIY posts—or complaining— you can skip this one.

When I first looked at this house, I knew immediately if I were to buy it, those cabinets would be the first to go. Or, since I don’t have $20k lying around for new ones, “refinished” would be the more appropriate word to use in this case. I initially thought I’d be able to finish them in a weekend before moving all my stuff in, but life LOL’ed at that. In my face. Very loudly. Even with the initial help I had from my parents and friends, I still didn’t come close to that three-day deadline. Mostly because I have animals and a life outside of my beginner home improvement skills along with a perfectionist streak that I can’t seem to shake. I’d also told a few people what I was doing and got some “feedback” on how I was going to get brush strokes because I was doing it myself, so I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. Sorry, but, since I don’t have serious money to throw at those ugly cabinets, this was my solution. And, frankly, I wouldn’t invest that kind of money into this house even if I did have it. While I am so in love and obsessed with it, it is still a starter house. I don’t plan on being here forever.

Anyway, they are D-O-N-E. DONE! And here is how I did it.

I started by finding a blog post (shoutout to my old roommate for sending me a good one) that outlined the process. After some debate and research by my awesome stepdad on the best paint to use, I formulated a general outline on a game plan and quickly realized it was going to take more than 3 days to complete. If for no other reason than the paint needing to cure for 8-12 hours per coat.

I started by taking off all the doors and sanding them down with 320 grit sandpaper. Probably could have gone heavier on the sandpaper, but I was new at this and wanted to follow the blog post as closely as I could.

The next step, I kind of skipped. It said to clean them with TSP, but since I was sanding them and wiping them down with a wet towel to get the dust off, I didn’t see the need to do all that. I don’t regret it.

The third step was to Kilz everything. I used my paint brushes and rollers that I bought specifically for cabinets and doors and went to town. I sanded the doors (all 12 of them) between every coat because the rollers kept leaving a little texture that I didn’t want to show through once I got to the real paint.

After three coats of Kilz, it was time to get to the real paint. I started on the “skeleton” (?) part that was attached to the wall in my kitchen while my mom started on the actual doors upstairs in the second bedroom. At first, I was using the special roller but quickly realized it wasn’t going to work. It left behind tiny little bubbles in the paint that made me nervous. I didn’t want to go through all of this work just to have to sand it down and start over (silly me). So I switched to my paintbrushes and they looked a lot better. Yes, there were brush strokes, but the paint flattened out as I went along and the brushstrokes kind of disappeared. The only real annoying thing about all this painting (and the fact that I was painting cabinets that aren’t supposed to have strokes or mistakes in them) was that if I messed anything up and didn’t notice it right away, I had to wait for the paint to dry before touching it up because it got tacky fairly quickly and would leave marks in the paint when it dried if I tried to fix it then.

After the first coat dried, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get away with not sanding the paint down between coats. Inevitably, some tiny little piece of dirt or grime would get in the paint, and I would need to get rid of it or it would show. One set of cabinet doors actually has about 6 coats of paint on them for this very reason. It was really tedious work.

My parents helped as much as they could while they were here, but eventually they had to leave, so I was left with this huge task to finish by myself. I’d asked for it, though, and I knew that in the end it would be worth it. So, I kept going. I moved as many of the doors downstairs as would fit in my kitchen since Warren seems to have a serious issue with me being in the second bedroom without him. I have a baby gate installed to keep him out so the cat can have a safe place to go when he gets tired of being licked and mouthed during play time, and W likes to bark constantly when I am in there. He barks a lot when he doesn’t get his way, and since my little teenager’s voice is changing, it isn’t just a normal bark. It is more like a high-pitched mini-screech that I can’t stand. However, for some reason, he is fine with me being in the kitchen without him. Maybe because there’s no cat food/poop treats in there for him to steal when he does break in.

Once the doors were in the kitchen, they were harder for me to ignore, and it was easier to get a coat of paint on them without being screamed at by my dog or having to worry about Gray walking on them while they were wet (he had shown up a day previously with a streak of grey paint down his side, which I found quite hilarious). But, still, it took me a month to get them all finished. Single life is hard, y’all.

Eventually, I started thinking about hardware. My house was built in 1991, and I am pretty sure everything—from the doors to the smoke alarms (that have since been replaced)—is/was original. So, I knew I wanted a more modern look than what was on there previously, and if I was going to update, I may as well update everything, even the hinges. And apparently, anything built in 1991 is considered an antique now (good grief). So, while my parents were here, we went to Lowes to get new door handles (hinges weren’t on the do-to list just yet), and bought the wrong size. I mean, naturally. Luckily I didn’t even have to take those out of the package to realize they were the wrong ones and was able to take them back, no problem (although I did find out later on that Lowes will take hardware back that has been opened). I went back (eventually) and exchanged them for a different style and a bigger size that fit perfectly and looked great.

When I went to buy the hinges, I brought one of the old ones with me (I wasn’t going to make the door handle mistake again). I found one I thought matched the old one closely enough, got 12 of them (12 doors with two in each packet) and went home to try them out. I had two doors finished and ready to be hung, so I tried out the hinges on those. It took me a minute to figure out how to even attach the hinge to the door (why don’t those things come with instructions?!), but after watching a couple YouTube videos, I kind of figured it out. Everything seemed to go well with the first one, but once I got the second one up, I realized the overlay of the door was so far off that it left a gap between the front of the door and the opening of the cabinet when the door was closed. Ugh. And I’d had to drill new holes in those doors for these hinges, too, which just meant that the new ones would either have to cover up those holes or I would have to patch them and paint them all over again.

So, back to Lowes I went. Determined to ask for help this time, I found someone, and they literally did the same thing I’d done the first time. She held up the hinge and kind of guessed what she thought would work. When she went straight for the hinges I’d just bought, I politely told her those wouldn’t work because they were the ones I was currently returning. I picked out another one I thought could work and asked the associate what she thought. She said, “sure,” and I wasn’t really confident, but I needed to get away from this person at this point and didn’t know how to politely ask her to find someone who could actually help me. When I got them home, I didn’t even need to attach one to a door to see it wasn’t going to work.

Damn. Here we go again!

This time, I returned them to Lowes and went to Home Depot. I found someone in the appliance section and asked if they actually knew anything about hinges. Something more than just holding up the old one and guessing whether or not it was the right one. I’d already done this and didn’t want to waste time doing it again (time is money, y’all). Plus I was getting close to having the doors done by this point and was ready to get it over with. The person I talked to there was super knowledgeable and very helpful! He found a satin nickel hinge (!!) that matched my old one’s measurements perfectly. He also told me how I could clean and paint my old hinges if the new ones happened to not work. Man, I couldn’t believe I’d wasted so much time at Lowes! I had walked into Home Depot frustrated and just about prepared to have to use my old hinges on my “new” cabinets (while also trying to keep my mind out of that this-type-of-thing-would-be-so-much-easier-with-a-husband rabbit hole—but that’s a whole other box to unpack for another time and place) and walked out with everything I needed and then some! (Six different colors of glitter spray paint being the “then some.” I have a problem.) And, would you believe it, the new hinges covered all the old holes in the doors! Even the new ones I’d had to make with the first set of incorrect hinges.

Anyway, now they are done and hung and I finally get to live my life without the nagging, “you need to put a coat of paint on the doors today” thought hanging out in the back of my head. There may be a few brush strokes if you look hard enough, but I am so proud of the work. They turned out better than I could have imagined. They totally changed the look of my countertops and brightened up the room as a whole. I actually hated my countertops before all this, but the grey color of the cabinets has brought out more grey in the granite and they almost look completely different now.

Plans this weekend, and probably for the foreseeable future, now include carving out time to stare at my new kitchen.

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