Solutions For Ugly Kitchen Cabinets Counter Tops and Tiles

by THAT Painter Lady

By Victoria Larsen

In this tough economy, many of you are facing the fact that replacing those counters and cabinets in your kitchen is no longer in the budget. But solutions are at hand that simply involve primer, paint, varnish and stencils. These solutions will have your kitchen looking like new in no time at all, without the pain in the wallet and the demolition of your household.

Paint and primer can be your best friend in times like these. Don’t let your fear of DIY projects stop you, because it’s really very simple.

First, let’s talk primer. That’s the most important preparation step. Without the proper primer, you may risk paint peeling up or chipping off.

Ask your local hardware employee to help you choose the right primer for the surface you are dealing with. Brands vary as do results.

But my favorite all around primer is put out by Zinsser and comes in a can with a red label. I choose this primer because it sticks to even the slickest surface which means pre-sanding is to a minimum if required at all.

It is always important to try your painting techniques and colors on a sample board (even if it’s just cardboard) before painting the intended surface. This allows you to see exactly how your finish is going to look before you do it.

Paint that Ugly Formica

Firstly, clean the counter well then wipe with pure white vinegar to lightly etch the surface.

Prime with 3-4 coats of recommended primer and allow to dry overnight.

Stick with natural colors for your counter tops. That way, you can change the wall colors any time you want and the counters will always coordinate with your paint colors.

Use standard acrylic paints for the base coat and any decorative effects.

My favorite is to start with a cream color base coat, then adding stenciled granite spots (simply search the internet for “granite stencil”) in light brown first, then stenciling over the top of the first color with darker brown granite spots. Once complete, this layered effect winds up resembling real granite.

Marble techniques can also be used and are really very simple. Lightly sponge angled lines on to the counter surface and blend edges. Allow plenty of the background color to show through.

Using a darker version of the same color, simply sponge darker lines touching the lighter lines and blend. Lines should not be evenly spaced, but more random and look best when they actually cross one another in places. Blending is the key to fantastic results.

Allow your decorative finishing to dry overnight then prime with 3-4 coats of clear, non-yellowing polyurethane in “high gloss” to achieve shiny results.

Wait two to three weeks before placing heavy objects on to the counter for more than an hour or so. The varnish needs to cure to it’s hardest state first or impressions could be left in the finish. Always follow manufactures directions.

Re-fresh Your Tired Cabinets

Giving your cabinets a new look is just as easy. You will use the same procedure and products above. Remove handles and protect hinges with painters tape. Prime with 3-4 coats of the recommended primer.

Again, choose natural colors such as cream, beige, light brown or sand colors.

Decorating your cabinets can be a lot of fun! Once the base coat color is dry, try one or a combination of the following decorating techniques:

  • *Color Washing: Mix a part paint to 5 parts of translucent wall glaze (available in the paint department of most home stores). Paint this mixture over the surface, then with an old, dry towel, wipe off the excess. This will give you an antiqued appearance.
  • *Use a Raised Plaster Stencil to apply a design you love to the fronts of your cabinets using common joint compound. Allow the raised design to dry overnight then do the same color wash technique over the top of the design to bring out its detail. Allow the color to remain in any recesses.
  • *Use a painting stencil to add a favorite design. Consider a central motif such as leaves, palm leaves or acanthus leaves to bring of nature in to your kitchen or bath.

As with the technique above, allow all paint to dry and then apply 2 coats of varnish to protect your finish.

Make Your Tile Look Fresh and Modern

Just as with counter tops and cabinetry, you will clean and etch the surface with white vinegar then prime as above.

One of my favorite treatments for tile is to sponge two similar colors over the tiles (remember to keep your colors in natural tones whenever possible). Blending these colors well gives you a very soft finish.

I then like to apply a small Raised Plaster Stencil Design over random tiles or a large plaster design centered on to a tile wall. This creates the look of custom, expensive tiles that I might not be able to normally afford.

Joint compound is still used as the raised medium with tiles as it is with walls or cabinetry. By pre-coloring the compound with craft paint, I save myself the chore of painting each design individually.

Once the stenciled design has dried for 24 hours, seal the entire tile project with above sealer for super durability.


Victoria Larsen is a professional wall stencil designer and interior specialist. Her products and ideas have been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Women’s Day, Craft Trends, Creating Keepsakes, Rubber Stampin Retailer and Memory Maker magazines and The Wall Street Journal. Victoria’s website features ideas, techniques, stencils and ornamental wall molds for easy and beautiful home decorating.
Visit Victoria on line at

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