Paint Cabinets, Paneling, Cement or Brick to Transform Your Home at a Low Cost

Paint: Home Improvement's Big Bang for Its Buck

In the town where we reside, most of the homes are older, which means most of the houses have at the very least one room in desperate need of an update. Upon our moving, we realized any house we purchased would require some help. We eventually settled on a home in a location and neighborhood we strongly preferred. Plus we really appreciated the layout of the home, something that no amount of renovations (barring basically a rebuild) could change. So, we began our pursuit to make this a house that suited our style while still fitting our budget and not steeping us into debt. We decided our main focus of time, attention and money would go to the ugliest candidate in the house: the kitchen. Our main costs went toward replacing the floor, counter top, and sink with most of this work being DIY. Still it slowly drained the larger portion of what we could immediately spend following a move. But what about those other definite eyesores throughout the house? Nothing that a little paint couldn't make better.

Our kitchen BEFORE
Our kitchen BEFORE

Exhibit 1: Painting Kitchen Cabinets

We knew our kitchen needed a major overhaul, but our budget wouldn't allow for a complete one. We quickly determined that we couldn't get all new cabinetry at this stage in the game, so it was time to incorporate paint. We almost couldn't lose with these cabinets which possessed a very dated trim and finish. The trim became the worst part because it was difficult to take off, having been glued on instead of nailed as we first suspected. Once we were done with the trim fiasco (and it was a fiasco), the actual painting process was a fairly simple though somewhat time consuming venture. Here are some simple steps to follow for painting kitchen or bathroom cabinets:

  1. First, you want to sand down the cabinets to get a smooth surface as well as removing any prior finish on your cabinets.
  2. Wash down the cabinets after sanding with warm water and dish soap (mild), ordinary house cleaner (medium), or trisodium phosphate aka TSP (strong cleaner) which you can find at your local paint or hardware stores. Be careful not to drench the wood which could cause warping. Allow to dry completely.
  3. Apply 1-2 coats primer to your cabinets. This will help your paint to adhere to your cabinets better, reducing the likelihood of paint being "scratched off." At this time, you can decide if you want to paint both the inside and the outside of the cabinet doors and drawers. I tend to be a perfectionist, but during a move where you have a billion other home projects, I focused on making the outside look the best I could.
  4. Move on to painting 1-2 coats (or as many as needed) of paint. This may depend on the color you choose as well. For our off-white color choice, we only did 2 coats maximum.
  5. End strong with a polycrylic finish (1-2 coats). This is especially important with kitchen cabinets which get a lot of use. The polycrylic finish not only provides a bit of a shine and smoothness, but it allows knicks and stains not to penetrate as easily and makes cleaning easier without worrying about taking off paint. Note, you need to use polycrylic, not polyurethane, which can discolor paint.

In each step the most important goal is not to leave drips or smudges or they will stare you in the face every time to go to open your cabinet doors. Because you have to wait between each coat to dry, It can feel like a long process when doors are off all of your cabinets (especially if you have a toddler as we did at the time). But, the amount of work and time it takes can pay off when you get results you love. In the end we have a kitchen that looks as good as new.

Our kitchen AFTER:  Painted cabinets complete with new hardware and counter tops.
Our kitchen AFTER: Painted cabinets complete with new hardware and counter tops.
BEFORE:  Paneling on our walls darken the entire room.
BEFORE: Paneling on our walls darken the entire room.

Exhibit 2: Painting Paneling

Our tri-level had a family room in the lower level encased in paneling. The lighting (still a project to tackle) is dim to begin with but the dark paneled walls give the whole room not just a 70's era-feel but a dungeon-like atmosphere. You almost feel your emotional state sinking with each descending step to what should be an inviting family room. We could go the long intensive route of stripping off the paneling and dealing with the mess-of-wall hiding underneath, but instead we chose to embrace the power of paint. Our paneling absolutely had to be primed with a special primer for slick surfaces. At first I thought we would have to sand all of the walls for a rough surface to adhere the paint, but after a chat with a nice Lowes employee, I found out the right type of primer is all you need. I believe we ended up with Zinsser's Bullseye 123 Primer, but, any super adherent primer or slick surface primer can do the job. Oil based primers are preferred as they much stickier than others. Once this is accomplished, you can paint it as you would any old wall in your house, likely requiring about 2 coats of paint. We went for a subtle shade of yellow almost akin to wheat in order to brighten the room. Personally, I love the look of paneling painted. The subtle lines from the paneling barely peek through enough to give the walls a nice soft illusion of striping. Our Family Room transformed from a dreary dungeon to a cozy delight with one warrior weekend of painting.

AFTER:  Painted paneling feels bright and cheery.
AFTER: Painted paneling feels bright and cheery.
BEFORE:  Fireplace cement mantle.
BEFORE: Fireplace cement mantle.

Exhibit 3: Staining the Fireplace

The fireplace was quite a puzzler at first sight. Here we have a fireplace made of bricks in warm colors tones of browns, oranges, and yellows. Why on earth would someone make the top and mantle out of gray cement? Cement is tacky enough, but gray belongs with the cool colors on the color wheel, and as mentioned the bricks are all warm tones. Eyesore! We threw around creative options of trying to recover the whole fireplace or trying to tile the cement areas in some fashion. We could only guess how to do this or how it would turn out. Then we threw up our hands and saved our wallet by purchasing some stain. Some people opt to paint their outdoor cement with a stain. Ours ended up being inside. We wondered if a stain would give it a more natural look than a glossier paint finish. So after scrubbing the cement with cleaner, we added multiple coats of stain until we were happy with the final results. We barely made a dint in our gallon of stain. What a simple way to make the fireplace come together.

BEFORE:  The pink brick home starting to be primed for painting.
BEFORE: The pink brick home starting to be primed for painting.

Exhibit 4: Painting the Exterior Brick House

We didn't even consider this house upon our initial glance. The reason? Pink brick. It's not painted brick. It's pink brick. Seeing the inside layout of the home sold us, as opposed to the negative first impression of a pink-coated house. Our pink house was infamous in our neighborhood. In fact some neighbors gave directions from our house: "We're the house directly after the pink house." Apparently, the then mayor of our city (in 1968) built this home and his wife held a special affinity for pink (pink brick, pink siding that another owner painted over white, pink bathroom, and touches of pink in the kitchen. Oh, help us!) We knew without a doubt that the pink had to go. My husband simply said, "I can't live in a pink house forever." And so about a year later, we chose a color, primed the brick and painted away. Here are two pieces of advice in painting brick that we discovered in our research and painting. 1. You want to paint with a large nap roller to help fill in all the grooves. 2. Priming is a good idea and helps with the brick not soaking in the paint too much. I believe we did just 2 coats of real paint, and with the priming done first, it was nearly as easy as painting a wall.

During the process, our painting project was the talk of the neighborhood. We would watch as people drove slowly by our house watching the transformation, and many neighbors out on summer day walks stopped in to express their approval. Not many were fans of the pink and all approved of our choice to paint. The exterior of our house finally possesses a look we like along with two thumbs up from our neighbors. I'll admit my worry about the ease of painting and how well the paint would hold up come rain or shine. Over a year and a half later, the painted brick is holding strong. I suspect down the road touch-ups will be necessary, but with the low level of difficulty and cost versus the welcoming results, we are happy to pick up our paint brushes and paint once more.

AFTER:  Freshly painted brick.
AFTER: Freshly painted brick.

Tackle the Eyesore in Your Home with Paint

So what about you? Do you have an eye-sore in your home you'd like to tackle without extraneous costs? Is painting an option? Whether cupboards, paneling, cement, bricks or some other questionable surface follow any tips here plus do a little extra research, then pick up a brush and supplies, and GO for it! If you're like us, you may have very little to lose and a whole lot of satisfaction to gain.

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Comments 9 comments

Beverly Stevens 5 years ago

Paint is wonderful, isn't it? I love your home improvement ideas. Your house looks great!


Ashlea B profile image

Ashlea B 5 years ago Author

Thank you!!! If done well, paint is such an easy and inexpensive way to make things look, well, happier. :o)


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

Paint makes most everything better and you've done some wonderful projects with it, although I would have loved to see that pink brick in real life before you painted it. Veeery interesting. :)

Great hub, voted up.


Ashlea B profile image

Ashlea B 5 years ago Author

Thanks! Gotta cover up that pink brick! Yuck. Hehe. Our home is a gradual work in progress, but we love it.


SUSIE DUZY profile image

SUSIE DUZY 5 years ago from Delray Beach, Florida

Great ideas.


frugalfamily profile image

frugalfamily 5 years ago from Houston, TX

Paint is my favorite fix up project too...I'm wondering if you know what I can use to fix the bottom of some of my cubbards. It looks like there is some water damage from an old leak.


Ashlea B profile image

Ashlea B 5 years ago Author

frugalfamily.... i'm not really sure... i guess it would depend on the level of water damage. if rotted, you'd probably need new wood. which if you paint your cabinets could be blended in, maybe? if it's just discolored, then giving the area a good primer coat and then a paint could do the trick. we have had a few cabinet doors (they are 40+ years old) that have a little bit of warping and/or minor cracking, so at some point in the future we hope to go to a local lumber place to have them re-make a few doors for us... then we'll just paint them and put them back up.


WallStickerDecals profile image

WallStickerDecals 5 years ago from US

Modern kitchen cabinets are awesome!


andrebreynolds profile image

andrebreynolds 5 years ago

Paint can really give a new life. You have great tips here. Thanks.for sharing.

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