Painting our RV Kitchen Cabinets (and what I learned the hard way)
A year ago we painted our RV kitchen cabinets. Twice.
Okay, maybe more than twice when I think about how we had to remove the cabinets after discovering a major water leak in the ceiling.
You see, we sort of just stacked the cabinets in our garage while we practically gutted our RV kitchen and bathroom, and for some dumb reason we didn’t cover them properly. After several months of them getting moved around in the garage they got dinged up and we had to paint them again. And that’s not including the fact that I originally painted the lower kitchen cabinets gray, only to decide I really wanted them to be black. Or that I tried several different top coats on the black lower cabinets but they either turned out too streaky, too glossy, or birds crapped on them when I left them outside to dry and I had to paint them again. Yes, that really happened.
To sum it up I felt like a paint failure, and never wanted to see another can of paint. EVER.
Eventually, that feeling passed because I love me some paint, despite our love/hate relationship.
Truth is, I’ve been putting this post off for so long because it exhausts me just thinking about the process we went through.
With that said I’m finally gonna put on my big girl panties and share our painted RV kitchen cabinets with you. That way we can finally move on to bigger and better things like the wood counters, or the planked backsplash, or any of the other projects we’ve completed and I have yet to share on here. Woops.
If you’re thinking about painting your RV kitchen then I hope this post will help inspire you in some way. Especially if you’re a little hesitant to use black or are considering the two-tone look. If anything I hope we can prevent you from making the same mistakes I made. You can also view more photos of our RV Kitchen Reno here.
For those that are new here, we recently left our sticks and bricks home to spend a year traveling in our RV. You can read more about us here. This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. View our full disclosure here.
Painting our RV Kitchen Cabinets (and what I learned the hard way)
In case you need a refresher, here’s a photo of our RV kitchen when we first bought it. It’s a 2008 Tiffin Allegro Open Road 32LA.
At the time we decided to move forward with painting our kitchen, our RV was being kept in storage about 45 minutes away from our house. This obviously made painting the cabinets a bit more difficult.
The owner’s of the storage facility had told us we could work in the RV while there, which is pretty awesome. The only problem is we wouldn’t have any electricity and couldn’t use our generator. This was last October and the RV was getting pretty chilly during the day.
Being so far from home without water or electricity, and not a ton of space to work in, we ultimately decided it would be better to remove all of the cabinet doors and drawers up front and bring them home. This way we could paint them with our paint sprayer.
We figured we could then take the RV on a short weekend trip where we could hike during the day and prime the inside cabinets at night with the “luxury” of electricity.
Removing the Cabinet Doors and Drawers
Before we headed out for our weekend trip, we decided to remove the cabinet doors and drawers and leave them back home.
It may sound silly, but it took us a little too long to figure out how to remove the drawers from the kitchen. Just in case anyone else runs into this issue, all you need to do is push down (or sometimes up) on the little black levers located on both sides, while sliding the drawer out.
I didn’t realize how many cabinet doors and drawers there were in the front of our RV until we removed them all.
At least that meant we had a decent amount of storage, right?
Prep and Primer are Key!
Prep and Primer are key if you want quality results.
We enjoyed our short trip to Helen, GA and saw some pretty amazing waterfalls. It turned out to be a rainy weekend, but it was still beautiful and we didn’t mind staying inside a little extra to enjoy our new to us rig and get a taste of life on the road.
At night, we grabbed some booze and played a movie in the background while we primed all of the cabinets, which are mostly made of particle board and wood veneer. We had already previously lightly sanded all the cabinets and wiped them down with cleaner (I recommend using Simple Green).
If you plan to use chalk-style paint you can generally skip this step, but I originally chose to use latex paint. I’ve also heard good things about Beyond Paint, which is similar to chalk paint, where you can skip the sanding/priming process and it apparently has a sealer mixed in so it doesn’t have the “chalky” look. You may want to consider paint like this but I personally haven’t tried it, so I would just say to do your research, read reviews, try samples, etc.
Here is our tiny kitchen during the first coat of primer. Not the best paint job, but it was progressing in the right direction. We used primer we had grabbed from our garage before the trip,but I’d recommend buying a bonding primer.
We also should have picked up quality rollers before we left on our little excursion, but instead, we had to paint the first coat with brushes since the nearest hardware store had already closed for the night. We did pick up some rollers the next day though, which got a lot better coverage.
If you plan to paint your wood cabinets white I definitely recommend 2 coats of primer with a quality roller, followed by two coats of your white paint. If you plan to use a dark paint color you’ll probably be just fine with one coat of primer, although it doesn’t hurt to add an extra coat just in case.
Side note: We later decided to remove the microwave, which helped us paint a little further into the side cabinets. It also made it easier to install our wood backsplash, which we’ll share in a later post.
Back to the Cabinet Doors and Drawers:
One we were back home from our weekend in Helen, we removed all of the hardware from the cabinets to prep them for painting. You may notice I had labeled everything. To be honest, I don’t know if this really helped all that much, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
We separated the hinges and screws into jars to make them easier to find later on.
Our new knobs and drawer pulls didn’t fit into the existing holes, so we filled those in with wood filler. Afterward, we sanded down all of the doors and drawers to prep them for paint. We also cleaned them up so they were free of dust.
These cabinet door faves were real, solid wood so I decided (hoped) light sanding would do the trick and chose to skip the primer.
If you are painting anything other than wood, you definitely want to make sure you use a bonding primer or some sort of chalk-style paint! When in doubt, use primer first.
Setting up for the Paint Sprayer
In an attempt to make things easier I taped parchment paper around the drawers to help prevent overspray. I then set them up in this super awesome painting spray shelter Homeright had sent us to try out. (Here’s a smaller version)
From the beginning, I knew I wanted two-toned cabinets, but was torn between painting the lowers black or gray. To be honest, I really wanted black but everyone kept telling me I was crazy to put black cabinets in such a small space. In most circumstances, I would have done it anyway but for some reason, I was more nervous this time around with this being our first real renovation project.
So we painted the upper kitchen cabinets white and the lower cabinets in a medium gray.
After two coats our lower cabinets looked so buttery soft and pretty. That’s why I love paint sprayer’s so much, they prevent brush strokes and make the paint look so smooth.
Side note: I did a test on another cabinet first to see if I needed to prime these first, but ultimately decided it wasn’t necessary because this paint color had great coverage.
I did use 2 coats of primer on the upper kitchen cabinets, followed by two coats of white paint.
Sealing the Cabinets:
Once everything was dry I sealed all of the cabinets with a Wipe-on-Poly, which worked good, but my new favorite sealer is General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Poly!
Overall we were very happy with how the cabinets turned out. They were pretty, and everything seemed to go smoothly during the paint process which seemed like a success.
There was just one problem….
I didn’t love the color.
It felt more contemporary than rustic if that makes sense, and the lower hardware felt really bulky. It just didn’t feel right, boooooooo.
I told Eric I was going to re-paint the lower cabinets, and although he was cool with that, he thought I was a little crazy because they looked good gray.
Yeah, they looked good, and probably could have come together once the rest of our reno was finished, but I knew they would look even better in matte black.
Even so, I decided to give it time and thought I may re-visit the idea after we completed some other kitchen projects.
Only that didn’t happen because less than two weeks later we discovered a massive water leak in the ceiling due to cracks in our skylight. The upper cabinets had to come out so we could replace the ceiling panel, and that’s when I made the decision to go with my first gut instinct and repaint the lower cabinets black.
I figured I would use chalk paint this time around because at least then I wouldn’t have to re-sand the cabinets, and could just paint right on top of the previous paint job.
I’ve used Annie Sloan and CeCe Caldwell Chalk paints before but thought it would be fun to try a different brand. Plus I know those brands aren’t always easy to find, and I thought it would be nice to try something almost anyone could find locally.
I saw DecoArt Chalky Acrylic Paint in Carbon and it was sold at Hobby Lobby and Home Depot so I figured that would be a good option to try. While they do sell it in 16oz containers at HD for about $16, I was only able to find the 8 oz containers nearby, which were about $8 each.
The paint turned out to be on sale for 40% off at Hobby Lobby, but they only had two containers left. I snagged them up, hoping it would be enough.
Technically it probably would have been since I was only painting the lower kitchen cabinets, and it’s a pretty small kitchen.
Side Note: I would stick to 16-32 oz containers unless you want to test the color or use it on a very small project.
I decided to paint the cabinets using a roller this time around since I didn’t have a whole lot of paint to work with. Even so, I still set them up under our paint tent to dry.
The paint went on smooth, covered nice and while two coats looked good, I did three coats which looked better. I LOVED that it was a pure, matte black.
By the way, these are my favorite paint rollers:
I had previously used the Annie Sloan Graphite chalk paint (and wax) on our dining and coffee tables, and while it was charcoal, it wasn’t nearly as black as this Carbon chalky paint color. This is the matte black I really wanted, and I was super excited.
It wasn’t until I added some of my Annie Sloan wax that my excitement started to fade. (I don’t recommend sealing kitchen cabinets with wax)
The first drawer looked AMAZING but for some reason, the others looked like they had spots all over them. I had wiped them down prior, used a lint-free cloth, and even tried buffing out the marks but nothing seemed to help. I had no idea why the first one was so different from the rest.
All of this happened around the time my computer crashed, which is why I don’t have any photos of this process. I lost months of photos I hadn’t backed up for some crazy reason. I was obviously off of my game, to say the least. Haha.
I’ve used chalk paint and wax numerous times in the past but never dealt with this before. It was pretty frustrating. I went online and read that sometimes darker chalk paints can show wax and imperfections much easier than lighter paints.
Since this was my first time using this brand of chalk paint I wasn’t sure if there was something else I needed to do.
I ended up going out to buy another container of paint, only no one had it in stock! Apparently, my idea of using something everyone could easily find had backfired on me.
I had to drive a little further out to get another container and I bought extra this time. These cabinets were quickly becoming more expensive than I had anticipated.
Once re-painted and dry I tested a different wax on only one drawer, only the same thing happened.
I then tried spray-on-poly, which is something I had never used before but thought it would be easy, and it left awful streaks.
I then tried the same wipe-on poly I used on the upper cabinets, but it was glossier than I wanted, even though it was satin.
I felt pretty defeated at this point.
I watched countless videos and read numerous blog posts but nothing seemed to be working as
it did for everyone else. I think if I had been going for a distressed look, maybe one of these products would have worked better, but I wanted a more modern look. I had also been using an oil-based wipe-on poly because that’s all I could find nearby, but I probably should have just ordered this water-based wipe-on poly online.
Ultimately I went with Americana Decor Soft Touch Satin Varnish (I think I used two 8 oz containers because I couldn’t find a 16oz at the time), but I don’t actually recommend using this on kitchen cabinets.
I was just happy to finally find something that looked decent, durable, and left a nice matte finish. I can see some streak-ish marks in certain lights, but overall it was good enough for the time being.
While I used these products and think they could work well, especially on other projects, I don’t recommend them for kitchen cabinets. I share what I do recommend at the bottom of this post.
It’s possible I would’ve had different results if I hadn’t painted, then re-sealed, then painted-then re-sealed the cabinets. Who knows.
Whatever you do, please promise me that you’ll go with your gut instinct when it comes to painting your kitchen cabinets.
If only my instincts had told me what type of sealer to use…
I know this post is long and I wanted to share the products I used to paint our RV kitchen, mainly because so many people ask. With that said, I thought of this as an experiment to try new products…probably not the best idea, and if I were to do it all over again I wouldn’t go the same route. Sometimes learning what not to do can be just as valuable as learning what to do. At least that’s what I’m gonna tell myself…
Would I use this specific chalk paint again?
For kitchen cabinets? Nope. Mainly because of all the issues I ran into when attempting to seal it. Same goes for the varnish.
What’s funny is I would’ve been better off just painting the lower cabinets with primer and then Matte Black Latex Paint the first time around.
So my recommendation is to either use a primer, followed by black paint, then use your favorite sealer OR make some practice boards if you’re going to use dark chalk paint. This way you can play around with different sealers to see which gives you the look you want before using it on all of your cabinets.
Is there a better sealer option that doesn’t suck?
Yes! Since writing this post I have used General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Poly many times, and LOVE it! It’s now my go-to for sealing projects. If you have another product you recommend, I’d love to hear about it!
I had worked with BEHR in the past so I used paint they had sent to me for previous projects.
BEHR Marquee Ultra Pure White in Satin | This is the color of our walls, ceiling, all of the upper cabinets in our RV and even the painted wood backsplash.
BEHR Marquee Mined Coal in Satin | This was the gray color we originally used.
An alternative non-chalk paint option would be BEHR Carbon | I used the exterior kind on this sign.
DecoArt Chalky Finish in Carbon | This is the Matte Black Color I used for the lower cabinets. (I recommend this paint for other projects but not for renovating a kitchen)
DecoArt Satin Varnish | This is the sealer I used for the lower Kitchen Cabinets. (Again, I don’t recommend this for kitchen cabinets)
I used wipe-on poly for the white cabinets which worked good, but my new favorite sealer is General Finishes High-Performance Water-Based Poly!
The kitchen hardware came from D. Lawless Hardware with the exception of those below the sink. We planned to use the bar pulls below the sink too, but I didn’t like how they looked and ultimately went with these instead. I would have used the same ones we used on our bathroom vanity, which are the same ones we had used for the barn door style cabinets, but the holes we drilled were too far apart and I didn’t feel like filling them in.
1. Trust your gut.
2. Don’t leave any of the cabinets or drawers in your garage without proper protection for several months, unless you don’t mind the possibility of having to paint them again.
3. Chalk paint IS worth the extra money in my opinion because it’s environmentally friendly, dries quickly, is easy to clean up, and requires little to no prep. However, I would stick to 16-32 oz containers, unless you want to test the color or use it on a very small project.
5. Nothing is worse than a crappy roller that leaves furries behind, or a brush that leaves little bristles in your paint. Buy Quality rollers and brushes that are recommended for the type of painting you are going to use them for.
6. TEST sealers on one drawer before sealing all of them.
7. Always use a water-based sealer on white or light cabinets, otherwise, they could yellow over time.