How To Pick The Perfect Cabinet Finish

Kitchen Confidential 

“Life happens in the kitchen”


How To Pick the Perfect Finish for Your New Cabinets

Should I get a white kitchen?

Is that the right choice?

Are white cabinets still in?


These are just some of the questions I receive concerning putting white cabinets in a kitchen. There are a lot of concerns around white cabinets. Do they get dirty easily? How on earth am I going to keep them clean? What about damages? Are scratches easily seen? 

Whether you are looking for a bright white, a cooler white tone, or a rich creamy white, white is still in style. I have white cabinets in my kitchen that I love! You will never go wrong if you choose white cabinets. I have seen multiple buyers wanting a white kitchen, rental properties doing white kitchens, and new builds putting in white cabinetry. What you need to be concerned with, no matter what color of cabinets you choose, is what finish you will use for your new cabinets. 

I am going to break down what you need to know to pick the perfect finish to protect your gorgeous new cabinets without stress. I will also share with you a couple of tips to keep your cabinets looking brand new! 

Things to Consider 

Most of the cabinets that you will pick are pre-finished. The pretty pictures you see all over Instagram and Pinterest are not pre-finished. These are super high end kitchens and the builders install them unfinished. After they are installed a professional painter goes in. They are going over every small detail such as filling in nail holes and caulking around the crown molding. They are spending weeks if not months on this process. This is not a typical situation and will end up taking A LOT of time and money. 

When you are working with pre-finished materials it is important to work with someone who can prepare you for what to expect with pre-finished cabinetry and will work with you to get the look that you want. A good cabinet maker will work with their clients to avoid caulking lines, nail holes, etc. How the cabinets are made and installed directly ties into how they are going to look once installed. This is very delicate work and takes the time and skill of a true professional to make the cabinets look seamless. 

Know that it is very easy to cover up nail holes and caulking lines with lighter color cabinetry such as a light grey or white. If you are doing a darker kitchen with black cabinets then installing is going to take another level of delicacy. Your installer is going to have to be extra careful to avoid dents, chips or scratches as these will be easily seen and harder to cover up.  

All finishes are not the same! All cabinets are not sprayed or finished in the same manner. When picking someone to finish your cabinetry know that they all do not use the same kind of products and are not all up to the same level of skill.

Factors to consider when choosing the right person to finish your cabinetry: 

  • Skill and personality of the person 
  • Materials that are available 
  • How motivated the contractor is 
  • The level of care they have about their job 
  • How recent their training was and if they continue learning on a regular basis 
  • Their willingness to learn new techniques 
  • If they use the same tools over and over again such as the same spray gun 
  • Where they live at in the country

Cheaper isn’t always better, especially when it comes to your cabinets. So, before you pick the lowest quote possible please know that it will more than likely be a low-end finish, the look will not be as sophisticated, the contractor will probably be using cheap materials, they may lack time and attention, and you have the possibly of a rush job. You will come out of the project thinking you saved a bunch of money, but the finish is probably not waterproof, may be uneven, and you could see wear in as little as a year after completion. 

How to Choose a Finish 

The finish you choose is incredibly important. Your cabinets will come into contact with spills, people bumping into them, dirty little fingers, and water. The point is that your cabinets will get touched daily and it’s important to have the right protection for your cabinets. 

There are some other factors to consider when installing your cabinetry to best protect your cabinets: 

  • Your handles should be large enough that there is not need to touch the cabinet itself. 
  • You have true soft closing doors. 
  • You have enough space in your cabinets that you are not cramming items into the drawers.
  • Basic understanding of the high-traffic areas and how often you should clean them.

The goal is to avoid touching the wood of your cabinets as much as possible. 

Types of Finishes

There are also so many factors that go into dictating the quality of the finish put on your cabinets. Your cabinets should last forever if you choose the right finish!

Read carefully to choose the best option for you or head on over to the podcast and get even more details on the best choice for you. 

Painted Finish 

If you go with a painted finish you can choose between either water based and oil based. There are a lot of regulations now that are making options more environmentally friendly and a lot of types of paint are harder to come by now due to being so toxic. But, this is a good thing. We don’t want these toxins in your kitchen.  

Oil base is a harder finish and more waterproof but more difficult to touch up because it’s oil based. You can spray an oil based paint, but a lot of the times it is hand painted. In my opinion. I would never do a hand-painted kitchen because how smooth the finish will be is all based on the skill of the painter. You will want to do a spray finish so you can get a smooth look. 

There is a range of options when it comes to a paint finish. They do make a hybrid spray now and water based paint that is pretty durable, easy to spray, and touch up, but not as waterproof. Ask your cabinet maker what they are using for a paint and have them explain how that finish ends up being wateproof once it’s cured. If it’s not truly waterproof, meaning the chemical reaction in the paint doesn’t create a true a chemical bond that makes it waterproof, then you don’t want a painted finish. 

Please note that just because it is a painted finish does not mean it is easier to touch up. Painted finishes are popular and often suggested to use because a lot of people are told that they are easy to do touch ups. You will still see the touch up whether you choose a painted finish or not. It will not blend in perfectly and is the same thing if you use a lacquer finish. Unless you re-spray the entire door you will still see the touch up because now the touch up is going to be raised up and will be thicker compared to your original sprayed finish. You may have to respray the entire door. 


Lacquer finishes are typically clear or opaque and you can have a sprayed lacquer kitchen that is white. 

There are precatalized conversion lacquers. Lower end cabinet shops are still selling this. A precatalized lacquer will feel dry to the touch, but it is not chemically catalized. What that means is that if you would pour acetone on your cabinet it will chemically open up the molecules again. It never fully cures, it’s not very thick, or water proof. 

For example, say your child takes a Sharpie to your brand new cabinets and the only thing that is going to remove the marks is pure acetone. The acetone will burn into the white of the cabinet and will open to another chemical reaction. 

You have to be choose your finish carefully. For me, its too risky to use. I don’t want a customer to melt their finish off not knowing. There is catalized lacquer that is chemically changed. However, it’s only about 20% better and it’s catalized in the can. 

Conversion varnish 

Is a catalyzed product. It is thicker, more waterproof, and it is chemically cured once it is dried. It’s called crosslinking and this is what we spray our cabinets with. It is a lot more expensive, but the quality is so much better. You mix in a catalyst and pour it into the amount of paint that you will be spraying. You only have about a day to use the spray as it has a certain open time before it is completely dry. 

A conversion varnish cannot be chemically opened. For example, it can take off sharpie, crayon, or pencil mark and it will not melt the surface. It will be dry to the touch and chemically dry. This means that it leaves you with a large range of cleaning abilities. You can use pure acetone and the finish will remain intack. If you can, I highly recommend using a catalized product. 

Cleaning and Touch-ups

Remember that you should not be touching your cabinets in the first place. Make sure that your handles are large enough and there is plenty of space to avoid touching your cabinetry. Make sure that your drawers have adequate space to avoid cramming items into the drawer and possibly damaging the cabinet. The places that you will most likely see wear and tear and messes are: 

  • The top of the garbage can drawer
  • The cabinet where you have your plates 
  • The drawer you place your pots and pans in 
  • Upper cabinets that hold your cups and spices

Never wipe down your cabinets with soapy water first. Use a one inch paint brush or similar brush and swipe away the dust first. Most of what is settling on your cabinets is crumbs, hair, pet hair, skin cells (yes, gross I know), and just general dust in the air. 

If you use a wet sponge first you will risk creating a sludge mixture of all that debris. All you are doing is pushing that debris further and further into the creases of you cabinets. Overtime, this is what creates dark lines in your cabinets. Make sure your cabinets are finished with a catalized finish so you can use any product you wish to clean with. However, most of the time all it takes is some dusting and a little soapy water to take care of general messes. 

You can go in with a soft sponge, some water, and a little bit of Dawn once you have dusted. You should not need a ton of water or product. Then just dry it off with a soft towel. This is all you should be doing. You should never use an oil or a polish spray. These products will cause your cabinets to not be able to be repaired because there is now an oil finish on the cabinets. 

When it comes to touch ups you want to keep it as simple as possible. Use a small amount of paint that matches your finished color and grab a small painter’s brush similar in size to a makeup brush. You only want to paint where the knick is. Don’t get carried away thinking you need to paint a large area. This will only cause the damage to be more noticeable since you are painting on a smooth finish. 

Before You Pick Your Finish

Before you buy cabinets, take the time and ask the carpenter about their finishes. Ask what they are using and how they are spraying. Ask them why are they using what they are using and what else is out there in the market.  What feedback have they gotten? What can you use to clean it? Can you put marks on it and get it off without harming the finish. You can ask them to make you a test sample. Try putting sharpie on the sample, use acetone to clean it, and see what it does to the finish. 

Don’t just take their word for it. If they can’t tell you what can be done to clean the cabinets. Ask for a sample and make sure yourself before you pay for them. 

For more details on how to pick the perfect finish for your new cabinets check out this podcast episode!

Are Ikea Cabinets Crap?

Kitchen Confidential 

“Life happens in the kitchen”


IKEA Cabinets or Custom Built? 

What Will Work For Your Kitchen? 

Is this a situation that seems familiar? You are starting to design your dream kitchen and come up with a budget. You are trying to save some money so you look at IKEA cabinets. You fit your budget around those cabinets only to be disappointed in their options, wait time and the fact that the closest IKEA is over 200 miles away. Now you might start looking into other options because you can’t wait 2 months to finish your kitchen. You start to research custom cabinets and realize that this could work as an option. 

I get asked this question all of the time, “Are IKEA cabinets good or bad?” You may have asked yourself this question at some point too. Let’s walk through some differences between IKEA cabinets and custom-made cabinetry to see which option would work best for you. 


IKEA cabinets used to be very inexpensive. You could walk into an IKEA, pay $1,500, and walk out with a new kitchen. However, that is not the case anymore. You are looking at paying about the same amount for IKEA cabinets as you would for custom-built cabinets. 

We offer a lot of added features and finishes to provide you with a true custom build for the same amount of money you would spend at IKEA. So, if money is a factor in your decision then you can either go with IKEA cabinets or custom-built cabinets and you will be spending about the same amount of money. 

Cabinet Features 

One of the major benefits of IKEA cabinets is that they are frameless cabinets. The walls are ¾ of an inch thick and because it is just the box you can maximize the space in your kitchen. However, they only come in about 6 or 7 even number standard sizes. This makes it hard to maximize your space in your kitchen. 

Say you have 52 inches of space available between your stove and the wall. Now you are going to have to come up with 2 different cabinets that would work in this area if you are going with IKEA cabinets. You select a 30-inch cabinet to start but are left with 22 inches of space left. The next cabinet they have is either 24 inches or 18 inches. You would have to go with the smaller size, but now you have 4 inches of wasted space and a weird gap. 

IKEA cabinets are European-style cabinets that are on a rail system. This is wonderful if you are working with a space that is perfectly square and straight as the cabinets themselves are perfectly square. However, this makes it hard to make adjustments as you aren’t truly screwing the cabinets into the back wall.  

A lot of the houses I have installed in aren’t perfectly square and don’t have completely straight walls. The rail system makes it hard to make adjustments because you can’t manipulate the cabinets in the same way you would be able to with custom-built cabinetry. This is one of the biggest downsides I see when using IKEA cabinets.  

They also have leveling feet with a very thin toe kick. I have seen where damage can happen to these toe kicks very easily because they are not ¾-inch solid wood toe kicks. 

A big positive is that they do have soft closing doors and drawers. However, the hardware is not the same as if you were buying custom cabinetry. The slides are the true workhorse of the kitchen as they do about 90% of the work. Our custom cabinets are on 150-pound weighted slides so that you can put what you need in your cabinets without worrying about the weight of the slides. The standard sizes of IKEA cabinets are too shallow and are not as sturdy. 

If you are going with a custom-built cabinet you don’t have to worry about figuring out a combination of cabinet sizes that work in your area. We are custom-making the cabinets for you to maximize the space and functionality of the kitchen. Our cabinets are also frameless and allow you to save that much-needed space in your kitchen. Our cabinetry is not on a rail system. This allows you to be able to manipulate the cabinetry to fit the space and screw it into the back wall. 

So, overall it is great that they are soft closing, but they still do not provide you with what you truly need in a kitchen. 

Cabinet Finishes 

IKEA cabinets are made up of laminate plywood. This is a type of wood that is made up of crushed composite, cardboard, and sawdust. The problem with this is, is when your kitchen has water damage. In a kitchen, it is inevitable that you will get water in one of your cabinets at some point. It’s truly only a matter of time. When this happens since they are laminate this causes the wood to puff up, swell and pucker since it’s not real wood. 

Also, you can only get IKEA cabinets in white laminate plywood. They offer a very modern style and have a variety of colors for their flat doors. So, these truly are a great option if you are looking for that modern plastic look. 

However, our cabinets are prefinished ¾-inch maple and are waterproof. This means they don’t swell or puff up since they aren’t made out of particle board. When you purchase custom cabinetry you can do any type of door. They can be raised, inset, or solid wood with any type of finish and color. There is no limit to the look of your cabinets when you work with us. 

Receiving the Cabinets

Another downside to IKEA cabinets is that you have to go to the store to pick them up. This usually isn’t a problem if you live in the area of an IKEA. However, we have had many clients where the closest IKEA is hundreds of miles away. This can make it very difficult to plan a time to pick up the cabinets. 

They also have been seeing a lot of shortages. I have heard that you can expect to wait anywhere from 6 – 9 weeks. This can be a huge problem if you have already decided to demo your kitchen without purchasing your cabinets ahead of time. 

If you decide to go with custom cabinetry, through us, we ship to every single state in the country. We work directly with you to make sure you are getting exactly what you want and it will get delivered right to your driveway. This is a huge convenience since you don’t have to worry about when you will have time to go to the closest IKEA. 

Overall, IKEA cabinets are not total crap. They are a great option if you are looking for a modern look for your kitchen remodel. They are a frameless, European style and are soft closing. However, they do have a flimsy toe kick and are on a rail system. Being on the rail system makes them hard to adjust, but not impossible. They also don’t offer custom sizes so you may be left with some wasted valuable space in your kitchen. 

They are not a bad option, they just have their limitations. It is the small things that truly make a difference in your kitchen remodel. If you are looking for a true custom build that offers everything you are looking for then we might be the right fit for you! 

If you would like to hear more about what I feel the main differences are between IKEA cabinets and custom-built cabinets check out The Kitchen Sink Podcast Episode 24: Are IKEA cabinets crap? 

Should I hire a kitchen designer, architect, or interior designer?

Kitchen Confidential 

“Life happens in the kitchen”

ep 23:  Should I hire an architect, builder or kitchen designer?

When starting your kitchen remodel you may be confused about what type of help you need to complete your project. An architect, kitchen designer, and interior decorator all have very different purposes and it’s important to know what level of help you need to properly complete your kitchen remodel. Hiring the wrong expert for your project may lead to a loss of true functionality and the best kitchen layout for your project. 

In this post, we are going to break down the differences between hiring an architect, kitchen designer, and interior decorator and helping you decide what’s the best fit for your project. 


Architects are very high level. They are great to hire if you are building a new home, are wanting to add a new room, move structural walls that are on the interior of your home and are holding up your roof, or if you are doing a larger-scale project such as combining two or three rooms. They are who you hire if permits need to be involved and if you are going to be working with a true general contractor. 

Architects are concerned with things such as safety and following guidelines within the city. They are there to make sure things are done correctly and up to code. They are concerned with making sure that something isn’t going to be in the way of sight lines for your or your neighbors, if the remodel is going to affect the foundation or the roof, or if you will need to move electrical or plumbing. 

Architects are great at visualizing a new space such as combining two or three rooms and changing the pitch of the roof or adding more structural elements. They are meant to look into things such as how you come into the kitchen, where you should place new windows, or where the doorways should be. An architect is more concerned with the larger elements of the remodel.

The actual remodel of the kitchen is not what an architect is meant to do and you generally do not need to hire them for a kitchen remodel. You will end up spending a lot more money and they won’t be thinking of the true functionality of your kitchen. 

An architect is not going to be thinking of where you are going to put your Ziploc bags, how many kids you have at home and if they are younger or older, or if you like to bake or entertain. They are not there to help you design the space. And truthfully, you don’t want them to as it is going to be very rare if an architect is worried about the smaller details of the design and functionality of the space.  

These are the types of details that you need to figure out before hiring an architect. You don’t want to waste thousands of dollars for your architect to come up with a layout for your kitchen remodel and then come to find out that the functionality of the space is not going to work for you and your family. Because now at this point of the build you won’t be able to change where they placed windows or a beam. 

The kitchen is something that you are going to be using every single day. It needs to be functional and fit your needs. You should spend the time before hiring an architect to design the actual cabinet layout that you would like and determine the purpose and function of every single cabinet. This way you know the layout will solve your current problems and then the architect can help you put them into the bigger structure and plans. 

Kitchen Designer 

Kitchen designers are great for coming up with new ideas. They specialize in new ways to use colors and patterns in your space. They may also be able to present you with new types of materials that you have never seen before. They are great at opening up a space and showing you two to three different versions of ways they can design the space. 

Kitchen designers are really pricey. A good designer can cost anywhere from $6,000 – $10,000 dollars. I even know some designers that charge upwards of $50,000 just for the design. Kitchen designers are there to help you with the overall vision of the kitchen and what is going to make it pretty. 

Most designers will not be thinking about the functionality of the space. They won’t think about where you put items in your kitchen or how you use your stuff. Rarely will they open your existing cabinet doors to see how you are currently utilizing your space and what you could do to improve what’s already in the existing space. They often don’t ask you questions about what you like to do in your kitchen or how things are currently functioning. They do not think about the day-to-day of being in the space. 

Kitchen designers are usually more worried about the pretty aspect of the space rather than solving the problems that you are currently experiencing. They are there to show you new special ways of using things that you may not have thought of before. 

Remember that design doesn’t mean functionality. Design means what it looks like on the outside. Do not assume that means the interior of all the cabinetry and how you are actually using your current cabinets. Some designers will help with this, but a lot of them will not. It is up to you to know how you use your kitchen so you can inform them of what’s not working and what you would like to improve. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask those questions of your designer. 

It’s also important to note that a lot of kitchen designers make their money by showing off pretty new kitchens that they have already done for other clients. It’s easy to be enamored by beautiful-looking kitchens rather than how you eventually will use the space. They often make a percentage on the things that they suggest to you and get a percentage of pay for recommending you to other contractors, decorators, etc. The markup of these services can add a lot to your budget. 

Overall kitchen designers are a great option for you if you are working with a large space and a large budget. This is also a good choice if you want to be more hands-off with the remodel. 

Interior Decorator 

Interior decorators are great at helping bring a cohesive look to a space. They are great if you are struggling with bringing your ideas together. They can help you with color choices, space, furniture, fabric selection, opinions on textiles, lighting, and rug choices. 

However, please be aware when you are designing a kitchen that an interior decorator may not be the best fit. I have seen a lot of interior decorators try to do kitchen remodels, but they just don’t understand how to create true functionality. Their specialty is in the design and look of the space rather than understanding how your space needs to work. 

They are there to create photo-worthy spaces and make your space look grand. They are not concerned with functionality. I would not use an interior decorator for a kitchen remodel unless they have a known specialty in kitchen design and functionality. 

What Do I Choose? 

Ultimately you will need to figure out what is going to work best for your project. Are you building a new home or moving walls for your remodel? Then your best bet is going to be to go with an architect. Do you like the overall function of your kitchen, but it just looks like it’s straight out of the 70s? Then a kitchen designer may work for you. And an interior decorator would work if you are looking at bringing in new colors, lighting, and furniture into your kitchen. 

It is a big decision to bring in the correct people for your remodel. If you aren’t careful you can end up wasting a lot of time and money on your project. Pick the best option on what your needs are to truly create the space of your dreams.