painting kitchen cabinets: help, my tannins are bleeding!

I finally did it. I put a toe in the water of painting my cabinets but now feel completely drenched. And now I have tannin bleed on top of it all? Are you kidding me?cabinet

This is not a project to take lightly. All those fabulous white-painted, farmhouse kitchen posts on multiple blogs out there make it look so easy, but I’ve realized the bloggers are leaving a few details out. I have known for a long time that this is an anxiety-provoking do-it-yourself task. That’s why I painted just the backside of the cabinets, those facing the family room, two years ago with linen paint and never returned after that. It is one of the most difficult, time-consuming, and completely-obvious-that-you’ve-done-a-crappy-job tasks concerning household painting ever.

I got the desire to tackle this project years ago, pre-everybody’s doing it, pre-Fixer Upper, where something like 90 percent of Joanna Gaines’s finished products contain white-painted cabinets, including those in her own home. I’ve hated my oak, blah cabinets since we moved in twenty years ago. Over the years (usually, just before company showed up), I’d take out a can of stain and go over the blotchy areas of the wood. Before too long, I had multiple stains on the cabinets in a myriad of tones, and even though it helped a little, with wear and tear the finishes got dirty and grimy, which isn’t hard to do in as tiny a kitchen as mine. And because I never properly removed the old stain before applying a new one, it had all built up, grime and all.

I have been a fan of the homey, country (now called “farmhouse”), shabby chic look for some time. I like that it’s relaxed and easy-going. It’s not fussy nor froufrou nor prone to need an update when the latest trend comes through the door. It’s basically me. So, of course, when I came to the conclusion that my life would be so much happier with antique white cabinets, I had to try it.

My cabinets are made of oak. They’re from the early 1970s. They are not in the best shape, but they’re for real, which is more than can be said of most, if not all, the cabinets inside your local IKEA or Home Depot. Yes, I could afford to go to one of those big box guys and order a lovely, matching set–and that’s still an option depending on how badly my cabinets turn out–but I wanted to give it the college try and paint my own. And isn’t now the time, what with all these awesome before-and-after shots on blog after blog?

I am a researcher. It’s part of what I do, so I researched the heck out of techniques (rollers or brushes, or both?), paints (milk paint, chalk paint, latex?), primers (oil or water based?), sanding options (yes or no?), top coats (flat or satin?), and colors (linen or antique white?). First, I tried linen. And it was just OK on these cabinets, so to live outside the box for once and not take the middle-of-the-road option (linen is a very beige-y, middling option, by the way), I finally decided on antique white.

Two weeks ago, I applied it over my old linen-painted backside of the cabinets. Then I continued with the end boxes. Today, I struck out on a single door and a single drawer. And that’s when I discovered something a lot of bloggers don’t mention/cover up: tannin bleed!

Tannins are extracts that can leach out of certain woods, including oak, cedar, and redwood, and can alter paint, yellowing it. Not a single blogger I followed who used the same paint as I am (General Finishes milk paint) mentioned this. I’m not just blaming the wood, though. I’m sure all those years of built-up stain hasn’t helped. So, I’ve taken to sanding each piece, and priming each one with two coats of Zinsser 1-2-3 for good measure. So far, so good.

I’m nervous enough about this project, so to have a poor result right away nearly devastated me. I’m glad I have found a solution. I hope it continues to work. I will update you with the results as I go along.

it may be time to bite the bullet and buy new cabinets

I’ve been wanting a nice kitchen for some time, but I am practical, thrifty, and don’t want to be like those people on HGTV who tear out working kitchens just so they can replace them with whatever is now in vogue, like a certain grade of wood cupboard or a farm sink.images cabinet

I have a working kitchen. I cook almost every night–I’d say at least 350 days a year–yet I have a kitchen smaller than the size of most modern homes’ bathrooms or walk-in closets. That’s no exaggeration. And because it’s so small and so used, it’s showing signs of wear and tear. Heck, at forty-two years old, it showed signs of wear and tear long before I moved in over twenty years ago.

I’ve Band-Aided the poor thing over the years, gluing the microwave door handle on when it pulled halfway off, inching the extremely heavy trash compactor out the door when it stomped its last load of trash and wouldn’t open back up, making my own ice using trays when the automatic ice-maker broke (it’s still broken). I finally gave in and bought a new stove the third time it shocked the bejesus out of me while stirring spaghetti. And I did end up getting other appliances (on sale and low-end models anyway) when they were on their last legs, but only then.

Whatever the opposite of a conspicuous consumer is, I’m that. I put off buying until it’s absolutely necessary. I came from a thrifty family on a low income whose patriarch fixed everything whether he was an expert at it or not. My mom put up with battered furniture (as I do) and old, nonfunctioning appliances until they were no longer reparable. And that’s what I do too.

Our fence was falling over this spring, so we contacted our neighbor, who called on his contractor, and had it replaced. It was double what I had thought it would cost, but we were able to afford it after moving money around and scrimping for a while longer. Same thing with our floors last summer. We had a leak in the wall and, well, not right away but five months later, I was on my hands and knees laying down vinyl plank in the dining room, ripping out more sections of carpet, and laying down more planks. It’s not the best-quality flooring, but it looks OK, and, best of all, I was able to lay it myself. A plus too is that when I decide to change out the rest of the carpet, I’ll at least have done half the work.

Next I thought I’d tackle a longtime problem: painting the cabinets in the kitchen. Painting would cost a fraction of having the cabinets replaced, and I’d get the color I want and not have to have workmen in my house. I knew it was a lot of work–I even heard that from a licensed painter who told me he didn’t want to paint them because of what a big job it is. Still, last summer I spent a couple days meticulously painting the backside of the cabinets, the side that faces the family room. I liked how it turned out and thought I’d tackle the big job of all the fronts of the cabinets this summer. But just as I was about to start the project, I found myself waffling, something I do when I fear making the wrong decision with long-term consequences. I waffled about the color (should I stick with the linen, which looks a bit drab, or change it to antique white, a more popular shade?), and I waffled about whether I should keep them unpainted and just apply a deeper color of stain. That’s an easier job, especially if I use gel stain, but I like the cottagy look of painted cabinets much more.

Now I’m questioning the appearance of the painting I did last summer and whether it even looks that good. I’m looking closely at the polyurethane I used, noticing it’s turning yellow. I had thought it looked great last summer but am thinking it may make the cabinets look old and dingy and is that the look I’m going for if it’s going to take so much effort?

Then when my husband asked me last night why one of the cabinets sticks out near the hinges and doesn’t close properly, I realized that the doors and drawers are nowhere near in good enough shape to simply paint. Painting would be yet another Band-Aid effect, like putting lipstick on a pig, and the cabinets might look a bit better but still wouldn’t function so great.  The real solution is new cabinets. I’m guessing nine out of ten people would agree, if not all ten.

I have company coming in another month and before that we are taking a family vacation that even after I use my airline miles will cost a couple thousand dollars. I’d love to get a new kitchen by mid-August so my best friend of forty years doesn’t doubt why she’s friends with such a schmuck as me, but spending that money now on new cabinets is not going to be easy.  Still, for the first time my mind has concluded that the cabinets must go.

Or so I currently am rationalizing. Give me a couple more days with little or no freelance work and I might pick up my paint brush and begin transforming the cupboards and drawers as best I can on my own. Time will only tell whether I stick with my plan to buy new (which adds even more complications like should we bother putting the cabinets where they are or opening up the entire kitchen) or whether I paint. Yes, time will tell.