Color Ideas for Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets


Kitchen cabinets get a lot of hard use. Often they begin to look worn and bedraggled before anything else in the house. Refinishing them will help improve their appearance considerably, and selecting the right color scheme will enliven them even more. You can refinish existing wood cabinets by restaining, by painting over the existing finish or by refacing the surfaces with a colored laminate or composite.

Bleaching a Stained Kitchen Cabinet

  • To lighten or change the existing color of a cabinet, you can strip off the existing stain with a varnish-removing paste and sand down the wood before making a decision about the replacement color (or "tint," as cabinet makers call stain colors). If the underlying wood has some discoloration and you'd like to lighten the stain rather than darken it, you can bleach the wood.

Refinishing a Bleached Cabinet

  • You can rub the bleached cabinet faces with linseed oil or one of the many commercial finishing oils available at home improvement stores and specialty cabinet maker supply and equipment stores. The oil preserves the wood, helps prevent openings along the grain, and deepens and restores the wood's natural color. Rubbing on white paint and rubbing it back off before it dries also helps keep the wood from opening along the grain. The white paint tends to remain in the softer part of the grain and brings out the grain pattern without darkening the wood; this technique is sometimes used by floor finishers, particularly with oak. Let the paint dry for a day or two before applying linseed or another finishing oil. If you do not wait, rubbing the linseed oil into the wood may dissolve the paint.

Darker Stains

  • Alternatively, you can buy a stain that mimics a darker wood, like walnut or cherry. Cabinets treated with darker stains look best when you give them multiple coats of finishing oil after applying the stain, rubbing with a soft cloth after each coat.

A Monochromatic Color Scheme

  • Instead of staining the cabinets, you can paint them the same color as the kitchen walls, which can give the kitchen a contemporary monochromatic effect. This works best with white, near-white or soft pastel colors, such as light cream, light lemon or very light grey-blue, which is often called French blue. Use warmer pastels, like pink or orange, with caution. They can easily dominate a kitchen.

Contrasting Color Schemes

  • For a bold effect, you can paint the walls one color and use a contrasting color on the cabinets. If you do this, keep the overall color balance on the light side; using strong primary or secondary colors on the walls as well as the cabinets can look overwhelming, even claustrophobic. One effective design calls for white, or near-white walls, and dark grey or middle grey cabinets. You could then add a stronger color for your floor tiles, like brick-red, black (which looks classy but requires a lot of cleaning) or a black and white checkerboard.

Color Laminates

  • Another solution calls for repainting the kitchen cabinet frames and buying new doors finished with a color laminate. Matching a paint color and a laminate color can work, but you could also paint the cabinet frames in contrasting colors to the doors, such as a soft cream matched with a light French blue laminate on the doors. Many other combinations will also work well, but remember to keep the intensity of cabinet colors down. Generally, you will get a better result using contrasting pastels.

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  • Photo Credit kitchen image by Ritu Jethani from
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