Age and Distress Faux Painting of Kitchen Cabinets

I completed a nice one week project today. I distressed the center island cabinets in this new kitchen.

The first picture shows you the color we started with. All the cabinets in the kitchen were the same. There has been a trend in the last year or so to have the island cabinets different than those on the walls.

In the next picture you can see that the plan was to paint them black and with major areas sanded thru to the raw wood.

The first thing I did to create this look was to sand down to the raw wood in the various places where I knew I wanted to leave that area without any black paint. Then I painted on the black paint and dry brushed it over the sanded areas. Once the side was dry I sanded along the edges of the moulding with a rotor sander. A close-up view below gives you a better idea of how it all came out.


  1. about five years ago i painted my bathroom cabnets black, i thought i was so slick... of yours is way cool... i dig it. i also painted the base black, i will have to revisit this project.
    captain drywall

  2. My kitchen cabinets are currently stained brown with a glossy varnish. I would like to paint them black and distress them - do I need to sand off the varnish? - or how do you recommend prepping the cabinets?

  3. You do not need to sand off all the varnish. But you do need to scuff it before you paint.

    On these cabinets I first sanded thru the existing finish to the bare wood in the spots I wanted to show thru. Not the whole area just in small areas.

    You scuff the surface to create a tooth to help the topcoat of paint to adhere to the varnish. I use something like a scotch brite pad.

    Its important to sand with the grain, especially if you use like a 150 grit or higher sandpaper.

    If your existing cabinets are light enough in color like a medium brown you don't have to sand down to the bare wood, . With a dark brown I would sand down to the bare wood.

    Because they are varnished you need to use an oil based paint. I use the Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo oil based.

    Once it is dried I topcoat the cabinets with a product called Varathane. You can buy it at Lowe's. I use the Diamond Elite Satin Varathane waterbased for floors. Even though it is waterbaes it will adhere to the dried oil based paint.

  4. You did an outstanding job! We are going to be doing this to cabinets that are very light and have that pinkish look to them. Should we stain or paint them brown first? Also, when you said you dry brushed the paint on, did you only do that over the majorly sanded areas or over the entire cabinet? I know you are extremely busy, but if you get a chance, we would love to have some detailed instructions if you are willing to share. I would hire you but we live in Texas and your work is the best I have seen with this kind of finish.
    Any help is appreciated!

  5. Sandi, as long as you sand thru the existing finish that is there you will get to the raw wood, then you don't have to stain or paint the areas you want exposed.

    I know what you mean by the color of your cabinets. That 'pickeled' look was very popluar some years ago.

    If you don't want to sand thru the existing finish and yet you don't want to see the pinkish tone of how the cabinets are now I would use a product called 'gel stain'. You can get it at Home Depot or Lowes.

    I think it is a min-was product. It is almost a paste and will change the tone of the wood pretty good. I use a rag and wipe it on. You would only have to do that where ever you are leaving the exposed areas so you don't have to do the whole front of the door if you don't want to.

    Its an oil based product so it will take a day or so to dry.

    you are correct, you only dry brush over the areas you leave exposed. the rest you paint normally with the black paint.

    I have explained pretty much how to do this above but as to the dry brush technique.

    You dip the brush in the paint can and wipe it off on both sides. then use an old board or something and take a few strokes on that until hardly any paint is coming off. then go over the areas that will be left exposed.

    kinda paint lightly over them just leaving a trial of paint. I do that first then paint solid around those areas brushing a little over into it.

    so like if you have an area that is say 3 inches wide and 10 inches long and you dry brush over that. Then you paint solid black around it and overlap some so the result is an area more like one and a half to two inches wide and 8 inches long. see?

    now that is just for the larger areas on the flat surfaces of the doors. for the edges I paint them solid black then when dry use a dremel tool with a sand paper bit and go around the edges. it works great.

    good luck with your project.

  6. Love the cabinets. I want to refinish an antique dresser and make it into a buffet server for my dining room. It has a medium brown finish. Do I need to use a finish stripper? OR just sand it right off? This is my first project and I have NO idea where to begin to get a look similar to this one.

  7. no, you do not need to use a stripper. you can just sand thru what is there.

    you don't have to sand it all down, just where you want the wood exposed.

    you will have to use an oil paint because I am sure the existing piece of furniture has been finished off with a oilbased finish of some sort.

    good luck with your project.


  9. I am not sure what happened to your paint project. I usually sand after I prime and then wipe off any dust.

    I do know that the higher the sheen level the more flaws will show. That's one reason I never use more than a satin sheen.

    Also if you used a waterbased enamel paint it does not 'lay' down nearly as good as an oil based paint would.

    I really can't add anything more other than what I have already said about how to achieve this look.

    I think you could sand thru to the raw wood as I have stated and then dry brush the black over that.

    The thing about distressing them with chains and what have you is if you don't do it right you can ruin the cabinets altogether and not is not what you want.

    Worse comes to worse with paint you can alwways just paint over it.

  10. OMYGOSH! Just beautiful- Hope you can take a moment to help me here- What paint brand did you use? What finish- ? How you did this with out brush strokes is beyond me- Did you use a spray finish? You did a fabulous job- I like it so much I want to do all of my lower cabinets and island just like this- What an artist indeed! Looking for you relpy- Michelle

  11. Oops! My details- I have unfinished new stock cabinets that I want to apply this look to- I am using brushed pewter hardware and I am switching out the hinges- I plan to have a few large spaces (gaps) and want to cover the gaps with a very nice detailed column- ( porch spindle cut in 1/2) and mounted- I am ordering a darker wood cabinets for the top- Carmel granite with flecks of cranberry- The black is classic- Could you give me a complete step by step including product that you used for this- Any advise is greatly appreciated- Thanks Robert for your time- Michelle

  12. Michelle, I have described pretty well in the above comments how to do get this look.

    If I were going to attempt this with unfinished cabinets (raw wood) I would first seal the wood with a wood sealer and then sand.

    See what happens is with raw wood the first coat of any paint will lift the grain.

    So the wood might be smooth but after the first coat it will be rough because the paint will penetrate into the wood and lift the grain some.

    So what you need to do first is seal the raw wood by appling a clear sealer. Once dry you can sand down the lifted grain and the wood will be smooth again.

    Then when you use paint the wood will stay smooth.

    The thing about brush strokes is that when you use an oil based paint like the Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo and you use a good brush the paint will 'lay down' some and give you minuium brush strokes.

    That is one reason why an oil based paint job always looks better than water based. With water based you get more pronounced brush strokes.

    Plus applying a clear top coat also helps with the look a lot. As stated above I use a product which it water based but will adhere fine to dried oil paint. I get it at Lowes 'Diamond Elite Satin waterbased polyurethane' by Varathane.

  13. This looks great, and just the job I'm hoping to achieve with my own kitchen island. What color paint did you use? I looked at the selection of Benjamin Moore paints and there are so many blacks!

  14. Hi Robert, We are moving into a new place but hate the kitchen. I love the look of your cabinets. I would like to do it using dark brown paint - what do you think? Also, the cabinets I'm working with are "pickled green" from the 80's and I'm not sure if they are even real wood...more like oak veneer (basically cheap builder cabinets) and I don't want to see any of the green. Please help!

  15. Dawn, without seeing the cabinets its hard to advise but I will do my best.

    The first thing I would do is determine if you can sand thru the finish that is there. If you think it is a thin veneer be careful not to sand thru the veneer.

    If you can sand thru the paint and not hurt the veneer you are in business, you can follow the instructions already given.

    If sanding thru the existng paint job is not an option there is still a way to get the same look.

    What you do is paint in the areas that would simulate areas that you have sanded. So I would use a lighter brown and paint in areas on the cabinet door to represent an area that would have been sanded. Then when that dries i would follow the instructions from that point on.

    Using a dark brown color would look great by the way. I like a very dark brown color from Benjamin Moore called Black Bean Soup.

    Good luck, Bob

  16. Thanks Bob. I get the house next week so let the fun will begin! I have a few more questions...

    it doesn't look like you primed your cabinets, the Benjamin Moore rep said you need to sand then prime. I'm painting it dark brown over green stain oak/veneer (so you can see the grain).

    also, she said that I should use the new "Aura" paint which is latex instead of oil...but I'm afraid of seeing brush marks, what do you think?

    did you brush all the cabinets or did you foam roll any of it? (I'm not doing just the island I'm distressing the whole kitchen!)

    thanks so much for your advice, it is really appreciated.


  17. If you want to use the new Aura paint you will have to prime because that is a waterbased paint and will not adhere to your existing cabinets. That is one reason I use oil paint to do cabinets.

    Another reason is oil paint is much harder and will give you much better service in the long run.

    Another reason is with oil paint the brush strokes 'lay down' and the dried finish is much smoother that a latex. Although with the Aura paint the brush strokes lay down better than with other latex paints.

    I use a brush to do all my work. It would be very difficult to use a roller and get a distressed look, imo.

    If you are just painting the cabinets a solid color and not wanting to get a distressed look then a foam roller is a good idea on the flat areas. I use one of those small 'whiz' rollers which is one of those 6 inch ones.

    Hope this helps, and good luch with your cabinets.


  18. Love your island! My bathroom cabinet was painted white by the builder and I do not know what type of paint used. Do I still use a black oil based paint and what type of prep do I need to do other than cleaning them?

  19. Sabrena, If the builder painted the cabinet I would like to think it is in an oil based paint.

    If it is in oil you will need to use an oil based paint to go over it unless you prime it first with a good primer then you can paint over it in a waterbased paint.

    If it is painted in an acylic paint you can also paint over it with an oil paint or you can use an acrylic paint.

    oil over oil will adhere well and il over acrylic will adhere well, its just that acrylic over oil will not adhere well.

    good luck with your project!

  20. I currently have oak cabinets in a honey color but want to refinish them to a cherry color. Do I need to totally strip them or can I sand them and then reapply the finish? Thanks for your help, and love your work.

  21. jkchianese,

    you know what works great for that type of thing is min-wax gel stain. I have used the product several times and it looks and works great plus they have a cherry wood color. great thing about the gel stain is you don't have sand much at all.

    what you do have to do is make sure there are no oils or grease on the cabinets.

    typically kitchen cabinets will have oils and grease from cooking that gets in the air and will settle on the cabinets. So the best thing to do is wash them good with a degreaser.

    you don't have to sand per se, and you don't want to either using the gel stain. the gel stain is transparent and if you sand you will the sanding marks.

    good luck with your project.

  22. OK...I've got the cabinets painted, now I need to distress them, can I use a sander or do I hve to do it all by hand, and what grit should I use.
    by the way great info...many thanks

  23. On the corners and edges I use a 150 grit sandpaper and sand by hand.

    In the middle of a door's flat surface I have a small hand power sander that I use but you can still sand by hand just takes some good old elbow grease.

  24. Beautiful job. Love your post & all your helpful comments. Thanks for all the details and tips. I'm hopefully starting my project this week (crossing fingers that it works out).


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