How to make your nice new kitchen cabinets look old and wrecked.

Let me make something clear: I’m an artist. A drawer, a scribbler; a sloppy, spontaneous painter, of sunsets and aliens and circus tents. NOT a crafter and definitely not a DIYer. So if anyone says that painting kitchen cabinets should have come easy for me, I’ll punch you in the face.

We bought stock cabinets at Lowe’s, and surprise! I hate builder’s grade oak with all my mind, with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my strength.

Something had to be done, and it was up to me, mainly because Caleb’s so occupied with all the other aspects of house-building that he would’ve popped those unfinished Project Source cabinets in as is without a second thought.

Here’s an idea of what we were working with:


These were born to be stained and ugly, but I was not having it. I picked a color at Ace Hardware and took it to Home Depot to color match and mix it with the most inexpensive paint money could buy, because if I am anything at all, I’m cheap. Annie Sloan chalk paint? Toni don’t play that.


Please be aware that there are a ton of posts on distressing things made out of wood out there and I read them all. I do not love the look, especially when people just smear glaze over an entire piece of furniture and call it vintage.


As usual, I hated following instructions because they remind me of rules. I roundabout developed my own “technique”; I call it “playing around”. Steps to making your cabinets look like hell are as follows:

1) Lightly sand cabinets with extra-fine sandpaper, and wipe them down with a damp cloth. I used this stuff:


…and an old disgusting dish towel.

2) Slather on two or three thick coats of paint. I used a $2 jacked-up old paintbrush, but you can get fancy and spring for the $7 one. I also can’t stand wood grain showing through, so I kept painting until it was gone. DO SAND LIGHTLY BETWEEN COATS. Here’s where all that got me:


Personally I could’ve lived with them just like that but Caleb digs a more rustic look. So I persevered.

3) Again with the sand-paper, sand only the straight edges and corners and crevices. Think about it: when cabinets age naturally, where do you see the most wear and tear or grimy build-up?






Got it? Good.

4) Getcha some paper towels, some Q-tips, a damp kitchen towel, and stain.

5) It’s all about strategery: apply the stain to the corners and edges and crevices with the q-tip, working only a small section at a time.



5) Put some baby oil on a paper towel and smear that stain along the edges. This will lift some of it and make it easier to spread.



6) Then wipe off the main surfaces with the damp towel because we’re all about a clean grungy look.


7) Repeat the q-tip, paper towel, and regular towel steps until you like the way it looks. Then do it to the other sections.




*Sometimes you might accidentally use too much stain or you might get stain where you do not want it. Crud crud crud crud crud! Just hit it with some more baby oil and lift it off with a paper towel, then the damp kitchen towel.


Eventually I did what I always do and just started using my fingers.


588) Let these oily puppies dry overnight, and then wipe them down with a clean damp kitchen towel again. They should look pretty kickass at this point.




589) Congratulations! You now have some 10 feet or so worth of busted, tired-looking cabinets for a total cost of roughly $30. Here’s the breakdown:

$20ish gallon of paint (used: a quarter of the bucket)
$5ish for sandpaper (used: less than half the pack)
$5ish for stain (used: I have almost an entire can of stain left.)

The baby oil and q-tips and stuff? I had it on hand.


Now text your husband and brag. Do not take it too personally when he texts back simply “cool” without so much as an exclamation point or winky-face emoji. You done good.


About Toni

Mom. Wife. Artist. I take care of the kids and pretend to clean sometimes. I can cook spagetti and I have never been arrested. View all posts by Toni

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