Is White Cabinetry Right For You?

One of the first big projects we did to our house was update the kitchen. Our friends thought we were a little crazy to mess with a perfectly good one year old kitchen, but it just wasn’t our style and so we decided to go for it anyway.

Among a few functional changes like squaring off the island, adding extra counter space and removing the upper cabinets, the biggest impact was painting the previously honey-toned cabinets white.

(This photo is of a house in our neighborhood that was listed for sale a while back but it is the exact layout and very similar coloring as our original kitchen. You can see our actual before kitchen here).

We were warned that white cabinets – though pretty – were hard to keep clean. The warnings didn’t stop us, though, as it seemed every inspiration picture we liked had a common thread of white painted cabinetry.


Here we are, nine years later, and I can wholeheartedly say that painting the cabinets white was absolutely the way to go.

In fact, we are such fans of white cabinets that a few years after the kitchen remodel, we spruced up the laundry room cabinets with white paint as well.


What a huge difference the white cabinets made to this previously depressing room. Because the wood cabinets were floating high on the wall, the dark color felt heavy and looming. The white feels much lighter and feels balanced with the white appliances and dresser anchoring the bottom of the room.

Last year, we finally took the plunge and painted out our master bedroom cabinets as well.

masterbefore masterbathcabinets

I have a dream to redo this whole bathroom (see my design board here), but that was not in the budget so rather than wait any longer, we just made a few simple updates.

In each instance, painting the cabinets made a huge impact and instantly updated each room. The clean and bright style of white cabinetry feels much more in line with our simple/classic/slightly modern aesthetic and even though warned they would be high-maintenance, we really haven’t found that to be the case.

In the kitchen, we used oil-based paint for a smooth and durable finish. This was over 8 years ago when you could still buy oil-based paint at the hardware store and before the innovation of newer high-wearing, low VOC paint formulas. The benefit of oil paint and why we ultimately decided to go with it is the hard finish it achieves. The durability is especially useful for high-traffic areas like the kitchen and I can say that it has worn well. The downsides: long dry time, toxic fumes and how the paint yellows with age.

In the laundry and bathroom, we used latex paint. Neither are high-use spaces and so we were less concerned with the durability.

If you are looking to paint your cabinets – especially if in a high-traffic zone like a kitchen – try using a water-soluble alkyd paint (basically a mix between oil based and latex like this). This will give you the quality hardening effect with the benefits of low VOC, easy clean-up and fast dry times. We used a nice quality brush, good paint quality and an additive that made the paint flow better and settle smoothly.


Paint in a satin finish is recommended to ensure that it is wipeable (very important in a kitchen where spills and drips are inevitable).

So, how do you know if white cabinetry is right for you?

Well, my simple answer is if you love the look then go for it :)

35 Responses to Is White Cabinetry Right For You?

  1. Charlene September 25, 2016 at 6:15 am #

    We are getting ready to do a it hen remodel. There is no question that we will paint the cabinets a white, along with knocking out some overhead bulkheads to open it up. My question is, do you regret taking down your upper cabinets and replacing them with shelves? I have such limited storage and too many coffee mugs, unmatched glasses and junk in the cabinets I would be willing to remove. I’m just not sure how to deal with that. On the other hand, I LOVE the look!

    • Charlene September 25, 2016 at 7:16 am #

      I should really proofread before hitting submit! That should be KITCHEN remodel. ?

      And btw…I just mentioned the idea to my hubby. He’s not even open to the idea just yet. Sometimes he comes around….

    • emily September 25, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

      I do not regret it at all! Use your open shelves for your regular dishes and glass ware (I find coordinating dishes in white keeps things clean looking) and then the upper shelves for less-used items like cake plates, serving dishes, etc. It does require that you clear out some of the extras if you lack storage … but truly … do you need all the extras?! Open shelves do help keep clutter to a minimum.

  2. Valerie September 23, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

    I love white cabinetry and how much lighter it makes the kitchen feel. Yours look fabulous! Unfortunately, the paint in our kitchen has not held up like I would like. Two little boys spill a lot and there are small stains and marks all over the bottom cabinets. It has been 9 years now, though, and we really ought to re-do them. I am undecided whether to go with a gray or a white on the bottom, but I think we need a different paint than we originally used. We used a good quality latex, but I always wondered how something else would have held up. Still loads better than the unpainted cheap cabinets though!

  3. Heidi September 16, 2016 at 6:59 pm #

    Love your kitchen Emily! Do you happen to know the name of the color/material you used for your counters? I love those too.

  4. Raquel September 14, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    I painted my kitchen cabinets (white uppers) earlier this year with BJ Advance–love the new look! Amazing how it changes the look and feel of a kitchen. However, I’m so disappointed in the paint quality. In just a few months the areas around the knobs have started wearing through. I used four coats of paint and it still isn’t 100% covered in some areas. Not the BJ quality I’d heard everyone rave about. However, I do love white cabinets in the kitchen and will just have to do touch ups regularly.

    • emily September 14, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

      Oh no! That is a bummer. I have heard such good things about that paint.

  5. Geneiveve September 14, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

    Have you heard of the new cabinet paint from Valspar? You can have it mixed in pretty much any color. It is self-leveling and incredibly easy to use! In January we painted our (old oak) uppers white and lowers grey and we’ve been sooooo happy with the results so far!!

    • emily September 14, 2016 at 9:52 pm #

      Oooh, that sounds amazing! I will look into it …

  6. Kelly September 14, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

    Hi Emily! I love your kitchen and would LOVE To paint my honey colored maple cabinets white, but I’m concerned about resale. I’d like to sell in the next few years, How do you think a buyer would react to “painted” cabinets??
    This thought is what stops me…

    • Aurora September 14, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

      Hey Kelly! We sold our house this spring and had just painted our honey oak cabinets white the previous fall. We got nothing but positive feedback on our home! No one was turned off by the painted cabinets. We are about to do it again in our “new” house! I say go for it!

    • emily September 14, 2016 at 9:53 pm #

      It is always a concern, but white is so classic that it doesn’t really go out of style. If it works with the rest of your house, I say go for it!

    • Julie September 15, 2016 at 9:45 am #

      I do kitchen and bath design, over 75% of what we sell is a painted cabinet. Usually white, an off-white or gray. This is true in both new construction and remodel. I don’t see this as an issue for resale. White is definitely classic and goes with all styles of decor.

  7. Liz September 14, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

    I had my light maple cabinets painted SW Dover White white years ago and love the look. Ours were painted with latex paint and we have them touched up once a year. It is high maintence because of the paint. I wonder whether we could do a coat of alkyd paint over the latex? That would be great!

    I don’t mind at all that they show dirt more easily than darker cabinets. Really, this is food or liquids in the kitchen. If the cabinets have specks of food on them, I want to be able to see it so I can clean them.

    Your kitchen is beautiful. Thanks for sharing it!

  8. Candice Hope September 14, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

    We built a house two years ago. Our former kitchen was the same honey toned Oak. I had a very clear picture of what I wanted for our new kitchen and that was white cabinets. I don’t regret it one bit and all it takes is a weekly quick wipe down and they stay clean. Our Laundy and Master bath are also white, only place I have dark is in the boys bathroom, enough said right?! If you love the look of white, go for it! You wont regret it!

  9. Jana September 14, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

    Great job on your kitchen. We had a house with Oak everywhere which wasn’t my style, I painted the island black and distressed and loved it. Also did my oak stair railing black. Another built in was sprayed grey. It covered better then brushing. I loved the grain coming thru the paint and had loads of compliments.
    Many people dislike the idea of painting wood but makes a dated look come alive and appear new again.

    • emily September 14, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

      I totally agree :)

  10. Tiffany September 14, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    Even though my style is slightly different from yours (I prefer darker and moodier colors then light and crisp), I do love your house and your kitchen especially motivated me to do a builder’s upgrade to white cabinets when we built 3 years ago. Yes, they show the grime but I would not change them! We saw our floor plan built before we bought with medium dark cabinets and the kitchen looked half the size. As far as cleaning, I recently discovered Norwex and E-Cloth microfiber towels. The E-Cloth microfiber for stainless steel appliances has a soft scrubby side and is the best, easiest cleaning method I’ve found. Just water and a cloth. Can’t beat that!

  11. Melinda September 14, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    Wow! The cabinets look so very clean and new. I love what you did with your kitchen!

  12. Selina September 14, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    I want to paint my kitchen white again (have done it at two other houses) but am concerned about long term durability. Having to constantly clean them doesn’t bother me, it’s the constant touch up that does. Has anyone tried enamel paint? Or had them professionally done?

  13. Jo September 14, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    I have white (like a vanilla bean ice cream white) cabinets and dark stained island in my kitchen. The white stays cleaner and appears cleaner than the dark. Cabinets that are not fussy in the trim/detail (nothing scroll-y or fancy patterns) are way harder to clean than the basic squared trim lines like Emily’s and what I chose for mine. White tells you when to wipe it clean. The smooth lines make it easy to do so.

  14. Jeanette September 14, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    Great post, and I agree on all points, especially on the yellowing of the oil based paints. We just redid our kitchen a second time for the same reason. Love your blog and all you do!

    • emily September 14, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

      Thank you Jeanette!

  15. joanne cosh September 14, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    I have had white cabinets for 20 years. I love to see the spills and clean them immediately. Always looks fresh and clean.
    Good choice.

  16. Melissa September 14, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    How did you choose the shade of white? Is it cool town or warm? Sorry if you’ve answered this question elsewhere. I’d love to do this in my honey colored kitchen as well. :)

    • Jay September 14, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

      I’m interested to know as well!

    • emily September 14, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

      We had the white for the kitchen cabinets color matched to the existing trim throughout the house. It is a little bit creamier than I might have chosen, but it doesn’t look yellow, which can often be the case with warmer whites. Choosing the right white for your space depends on your preference (do you like crisp, cool white with blueish undertones? Or softer, warmer white with yellow undertones?), the natural lighting (some light makes white look gray, other light makes it appear more yellow) and what other elements are in the room (color of countertops, floors, etc). Don’t be afraid to try out a bunch of samples to get it just right. You can see our process for picking a white paint for our walls here: https://jonesdesigncompany.com/decorate/process-picking-white-paint/

  17. Heather Smoke September 14, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Painting our cabinets white was also one of the first projects we tackled after buying our house almost 2 years ago. It’s such a huge difference, and they can easily be wiped clean. Here’s my before and after pics: http://www.curlygirlkitchen.com/2016/08/before-and-after-kitchen.html

  18. Chris September 14, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

    Beautiful! I only want white kitchens and also painted our solid wood cabs white, BM Chantilly Lace, with a black granite counter. To me, unless very rustic natural wood, any polished wood tones just don’t look right in a kitchen. It would be a reason for me not to buy a house because I know I would have to paint them again…which is hard work and/or expensive if you have some one do it professionally. To me, polished wood looks like furniture, and I feel don’t want to be cooking on my furniture. Actually, it does not always have to be white, but any painted color that coordinates with the house.
    But, nothing is a divisive as white vs wood kitchens!
    Emily, please tell me where you got those great shelves in the kitchen, the ones with the nickle bracket ends?

    • emily September 14, 2016 at 10:02 pm #

      Our shelves and brackets are from IKEA! We bought the wood boards there and painted them the same white as our cabinets.

  19. Cheryl September 14, 2016 at 11:20 am #

    I’ve always had white cabinets and I hear they get dirty from everyone, too. Honestly, my black island shows more than my white cabinets. I would also rather see the mess and be able to clean it up than not know what is on my cabinets because I can’t see it.

  20. Jennifer September 14, 2016 at 6:53 am #

    In my experience, wood cabinets are just as dirty as white ones, they just don’t show it ;)

  21. Jill T. September 14, 2016 at 5:59 am #

    It’s so interesting to see your before kitchen. Those cabinets are so not you! I love the kitchen now!! Beautiful redo! And props to you and Ryan for going with your gut and doing what you love.

    • emily September 14, 2016 at 11:51 am #

      So not me! Thanks for your encouragement :)

  22. Laurie September 14, 2016 at 5:00 am #

    Hi Emily!

    I think your cabinets look wonderful. When we re-did our kitchen several years ago the cabinet maker made them out of rustic cherry, I would never paint then as the grain and knots are beautiful to me.

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