While white kitchen cabinets are a great starting point for an antique or cottage-style kitchen, new cabinets or fresh paint may look a little too new, white and bright for the style. Spruce them up with a beat-down, paired with a tinted glaze or layered paint color to make those cabinets look as though they're well-loved, well-worn and suited to your kitchen's style.
Cleaning the Cabinets
Whether the cabinets are already white or they need several coats of paint, a thorough cleaning helps ensure your antiquing techniques take hold. Dust cabinets that are fairly new or recently painted with a soft dustcloth or feather duster, then clean them with a soft cloth dipped in mildly soapy water. Wipe clean with a damp sponge. For dirty, greasy cabinets, clean them with a degreasing household cleaner, followed by a damp sponge. Allow the cabinets to air dry.
Preparing for Paint
If the cabinets are not currently white, they must be prepared and primed before painting. Remove cabinet doors and hardware; then sand all surfaces with a fine-grit sandpaper to scuff up the existing finish. After sanding, wipe the dust away with a tack cloth. Sanding makes the finish more receptive to primer and paint. Use painter's tape to mask off any areas that you wish to keep paint-free. Prime the paintable surfaces with a stain-blocking primer; it may take more than one coat for sufficient coverage. Once the primer dries, sand it with fine-grit sandpaper; remove the dust with a rag; then paint the cabinets in an antique white latex enamel or latex semi-gloss paint. Avoid using flat paints, which are not designed to be washable; kitchen paint must be durable so it can withstand washing.
Adding dents and dings to your cabinets on purpose may seem counterintuitive, but it's just the treatment needed to give those cabinets a distressed look. Whack areas of the cabinet -- especially the doors and edges that would normally receive a lot of wear -- with a sturdy sack full of heavy hardware such as nuts and bolts. A ball-peen hammer adds various indentations around the door and edges; use the ball as well to keep the marks from looking too much like hammered dents. Hold large nails or bolts sideways against the cabinets, then hit the items with a hammer to create unusual dented shapes for a "repurposed" look. Sand away any rough or sharp edges created during the distressing process; if some of the paint comes off, it only adds to the look. Less is more when it comes to distressing; too much, and the effect no longer looks realistic.
Antiquing Over White
Whether the cabinets are bright white or antique white, rubbing them down with a tinted glaze or stain adds to the aged effect. Mix your own glaze color using clear latex or acrylic glaze and a paint shade such as honey or sienna brown. If you prefer a grayer look, use a charcoal-colored paint. Use twice as much glaze as paint, testing it on a scrap of white paper or cardboard to ensure it looks the way you expect it to. Adjust the proportions as necessary: The more paint used, the darker the effect; the more glaze used, the more translucent the finish. Brush the glaze mixture over the cabinets with a paintbrush or foam brush; then rub most of it away with a clean, dry rag. Wood stain may be used in exactly the same manner, no mixing of ingredients required. To create flecks that look a bit like insect holes, load a toothbrush with the tinted glaze or stain; then rub your thumbnail over the bristles while holding the brush near the cabinet. Create a few small flecked clusters over the cabinet surface, rather than all over; otherwise, it may look too fake.
Give the cabinets the look of decades or even generations of use with paint layers in different colors. This technique works well if the cabinets are already painted a color other than antique white, as one layer of paint is already complete. After cleaning the cabinets, rub candle wax over select areas, such as the edges of the doors and drawer fronts and areas that would receive a lot of wear over time. Brush on your favorite antique white latex paint, allowing it to dry completely. Apply a second coat if necessary. Remove some of the paint with sandpaper, focusing on the areas previously rubbed with wax. For even more of an aged effect, first rub wax over the cabinets; then paint them another shade, such as red or pale yellow. Rub on an additional layer of wax; then apply the antique white paint. Sand through one or both layers of paint in various areas on the cabinets for a distressed, worn look.
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