Should I go with painted or stained cabinetry? This question is asked by EVERY SINGLE one of our homeowners as they’re building their custom home. That’s how we knew it would make a great blog post! There is a lot to consider when evaluating whether to go with painted or stained cabinetry, so we’re going to simplify it a bit by focusing on three main areas: Aesthetic, Cost, Durability/Maintenance.
It’s important to first learn what “look and feel” of spaces you naturally gravitate towards. You can do this by gathering inspiration photos online from websites like Pinterest and Houzz or by following your favorite interior designers on Instagram. After a while, you’ll start to notice a trend in your collection of inspiration photos. As you take stock of all photos together, make note of what style or feature or details the spaces have in common. There’s a good chance that doing this will reveal whether you prefer painted cabinetry over stained cabinetry, or vice versa.
Painted cabinetry offers a smooth, clean look in your kitchen or bathrooms, while stained cabinetry brings a more organic, earthy feel to a space. Keep in mind that staining cabinets will often highlight the unique knots and graining of the wood while painting cabinets will hide them. Depending on your own personal preference, you might consider these knots and graining “imperfections” while others might embrace them as character.
Painted cabinetry often offers greater options for customization, as all the colors of the rainbow are available to you. Because stain is thinner than paint, the stain will never truly hide its natural hue so the color spectrum is more limited. Also, with painted cabinetry, you achieve a texture that is smooth and uniform, whereas with stained cabinetry the finish is not always that way. Overall, you’ll want to consider whether painted or stained cabinetry fits best into your cohesive kitchen or bathroom design. Your flooring, countertops, backsplash, lighting, AND cabinetry should all work well together to really elevate your home.
Although stain-grade wood is more expensive than paint-grade, painted cabinetry actually ends up being more expensive when all is said and done. Painted cabinetry requires a labor-intensive process, including prep work (filling, caulking, etc.), a primer coat, sanding, another primer coat, sanding again, then additional paint coats. If you’re going for a high-gloss finish, then multiple lacquer coats and buffing usually follow that. Stained cabinetry on the other hand usually involves less prep work, a couple coats of stain, sealing, and then a clear finish. This simplified process ultimately translates to lower labor costs and a bit less time as well.
Durability & Maintenance
If you’re looking for high durability and low maintenance, stained cabinetry is the way to go. It is easier to touch up and doesn’t show dirt, smudges, or scuffs the way painted cabinetry does. Even without an exact match for a wood touch-up marker, the repair is often not visible because the graining helps it to blend in. Painted cabinets are more vulnerable to chips and marks, and unfortunately, it can be difficult to match the paint color exactly when repairs are done. Oftentimes, painted cabinetry is done by spray application which provides a smoother finish than brushed paint. So, touch-ups are pretty obvious unless entire cabinet doors are repainted.
If you live in a mild climate with little humidity and maintain your house between 65 and 75 degrees year-round, then painted cabinetry will likely hold up ok in your home. However, if you don’t have AC or keep your thermostat low in the winter or high in the summer you may want to avoid painted cabinetry. Wood is in a constant state of expansion and contraction so unless the temperature is consistent, hairline fractures will show up regularly on painted cabinetry. Fractures most often appear at the place where stiles (vertical trim pieces) and rails (horizontal trim pieces) join. While these hairline fractures are also present on stained cabinetry, they are often hardly visible.
When it comes to choosing between painted and stained cabinetry, you’ll want to consider your design preferences, your budget, and the maintenance level you want to tolerate. Aesthetically, both painted and stained cabinetry can be expertly incorporated into a cohesive design in your home. Cost-wise, stained cabinetry is a slightly less expensive option, unless an uber-premium wood type is chosen. And as far as durability goes, stained cabinetry beats painted cabinetry. No matter which option you choose, ensuring you have custom cabinetry with a high-quality finish will truly elevate your home.
Keep in mind that these days you don’t really have to choose one or the other! For several years, interior designers and homeowners have been getting creative with mixing painted and stained cabinetry in a single space. If done right, the result is often beautifully unique and has a truly custom feel to it.