Optimism + White Paint

February 21, 2012

There’s been an ongoing debate in our home for over a year about painting some dark wood cabinets in our casa.  We have dark wood cabinets in our master bathroom and dining room, dark wood countertops in our kitchen and dark wood treads on our staircase too – all of them I love and would never paint.

I love dark wood, especially juxtaposed next to crisp or warm whites – the contrast is divine.  The debate in our home has to do with the dark wood built-ins in our windowless family room, which feels like a cave much of the day. I am so drawn to the look of white built-ins in a living or family room space, especially flanking a fireplace.

See how nice they look?

white built ins bella mancini

Bella Mancini Design


white shelves living room

Globe and Mail


susan marinello interiors white built ins

Susan Marinello


white cabinets flanking mantel

Better Homes & Gardens


white built in bhg

Better Homes & Gardens


new england home mag white built ins

New England Homes Magazine


White built-ins are so clean, so fresh, so timeless – there’s something so beautiful about a clean white backdrop to showcase art or other accents. I’ve begged the mister to agree to paint our family room’s built-ins white, like the ones above, remaining eternally optimistic for over a year that he’d cave and say yes.

elsie de wolfe optimism and white paint

The good news is he finally agreed.  So the plan is to paint these family room built-ins a warm white, and I’m thinking of removing the doors too.  It will expose the television, which I hesitate to do, but also provide a great opportunity to display photographs and collectibles too.  And no, I’m not painting the wood bench seat along the bottom, just the cabinets – I think it will be a nice rich contrast and brighten this windowless room.

dark wood family room cabinets


Raise your hand if this same debate about painting dark wood cabinets is one going on in your home too?   How have you convinced (or maybe not yet convinced) your mate to paint your dark wood cabinets white?



147 Responses to “Optimism + White Paint”

  1. Trish Dolan says:

    First off, I think your cabinets are beautiful and I also love the warm feel that wood brings to a room AND the stain on your cabinets is awesome! Second, I also love the white built ins because it gives such a clean look and allows any collectibles to stand out more. LUCKILY I have never had to debate whether or not to paint as our bathroom cabinets were the awful bleached oak…very easy decision at this end :/ Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures!

  2. Vonda L. says:

    I think your plan will look lovely. I’ve been debating (for quite a while now) about painting the “golden oak” cabinets in our kitchen. That side of the room has no windows and feels dark. My husband has finally said “yes, but….”. Oh, how I wish I could see what it would look like before I do it.

  3. Jen Migonis says:

    That will look incredible. And what is it about husbands loving the darker woods? My husband had a black Pottery Barn coffee table and end table before we got married and he hasn’t agreed to let me paint it to make it match the light and bright feel of the rest of the house. I’m still working on him. What’s your secret? :)

  4. kristin M says:

    I think paint will look wonderful on your built-ins. You probably want the two sides symmetrical but what if you kept the doors on one side to hide the tv and kept the doors off on the other to display photos, etc? You could see how that looked

  5. Tana says:

    What the heck is it with men and not painting wood?? My sister has the same problem with dark wood and her husband not wanting her to paint any of it. I told her the secret is to just paint without saying anything. If the piece was particulary nice and/or expensive, I might consult with the hubs first, but for thrift purchases or not that nice furniture, I paint away.

    Can’t wait to see what yours looks like painted!

  6. Chandra says:

    I convinced my husband that our outdated cabinetry would look better painted white (a lovely Restoration Hardware shade), and he finally agreed. Such a difference! The color really did change the whole mood of the space.

  7. Girl. It’s going to look amazing. People just don’t realize the transformative power it really can have. I am a HUGE believer in white paint. It may be my new favorite color. ;} can’t wait to see!

  8. Good call on keeping the wood-finish on the seat! That contrast will look fab. The only dark wood built-ins in our house are in my husband’s office and I think he would divorce me before he let me paint them. :)

  9. Your collection of images is lovely! I love the look of white open cabinets – I would definitely support taking off the doors! Can’t wait to see the ‘after’ photos.

  10. Ashley says:

    Seriously, what is it with guys and wood?! I don’t get it.

    I like that you’re choosing to leave the bench seat dark – it’s going to look great!

  11. Cynthia says:

    Love the fireplace inparticular in the first photo.

  12. Love it going white. No question! The clean feel of white is something I absolutely love.

  13. Kelly says:

    I think it will look amazing, but then I’m the queen of “paint it white”. My husband and I are having the same debate right now expect our debate is over the endless cypress trim in our newly purchased home. He, like every other man it seems, thinks it is a crime to paint wood. But guess what? I finally convinced him so white it will be… what a huge job this will be. EVERYTHING is wood: trim, doors, cabinets. Any pointers? And can’t wait to see your finished project!

  14. Debbie W says:

    I am swooning over all those white built-ins! Your family room will look divine!! Luckily I have a husband who has learned to just say “Let me guess, you’re going to paint it white?” lol

  15. To help my husband agree with painting our built-in bookcases white I reminded him that paint (1) can be stripped / removed and the wood restored, and (2) the paint color can always be changed. Now that we have white bookcases we are both pleased. I think your bookcases will look great white and I like the suggestion above about keeping one set of doors (although I don’t mind seeing a TV) … in our house if we had doors to conceal the TV they would always be open anyway! Looking forward to your reveal.

  16. Holly says:

    In my opinion white > brown. Always!
    It’s going to look SO much happier in there! :)

  17. Call me crazy, but I like the wood color. What if you took off the doors and displayed some really cool white sculptural pieces or vases? That could be nice. The white cabinets would certainly look amazing, but I think the dark wood could look great too if you displayed some bright pieces to freshen it up!

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      Hey Jordan, I tried everything! I displayed lots of white in there and it wasn’t enough…. I think the main problem is that this room has no windows of its own – it gets some light in the afternoon from the kitchen window but otherwise, it’s so cave like…. If there was a ton of light through the day in here they’d stay dark, but the depressing cave like feeling finally is wearing me down!

  18. laura says:

    why yes, that debate is happening here as well. I think the key to winning it for me is to continue to nag the crap out of him and then -Victory!!

  19. Jen says:

    We have been having the same debate about painting our kitchen cabinets a warm white color. I was actually just drafting up a post about the process!

    This is going to look fabulous in your home. Although, I think it already looks fabulous! :)


  20. Gina Christiansen says:

    I think painting them would make the room brighter. But there is always a compromise…..leave the back wood and the rest painted. I have also covered my projects with colored paper or a sheet to give my husband a visual. That seems to work well. Good luck.

  21. Cindie says:

    I think it will look lovely in white, but must admit that I also love how the darker wood plays off of the beautiful tile surrounding your fireplace. Thanks for the frequent doses of inspiration and the always helpful tutorials!

  22. Becky says:

    Why is that always the way it is? the wife has a vision and just KNOWS it will look better white. The husband doesn’t agree and so the shelves remain unpainted. I have built ins and they are currently a light oak color. But after my kitchen cabinet painting success, it’s just a matter of time until he comes around. And even if he doesn’t, I’ll do it anyway and he’ll tell me I was right after the fact.

  23. Courtney says:

    My husband hates painted wood. He thinks it looks like “trash”. His feeling about it is so strong that I don’t even go there. I did paint the trim in my daughter’s room and he said, “that is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen”. Lol. So. I pick my battles, and that is just one I won’t touch. I do slip in painted furniture here and there, and I can get away with that. But painting the trim or cabinets will never happen. But quite frankly, I think white trim and doors is a total pain anyway, so I would never paint it. But I do love painted cabinets and bookcases. Those I would paint in a hot second if I could.

  24. Dawn says:

    I think it will look amazing! I have dark wood cabinets in my kitchen and have been itching to paint them white, along with my dining table and chairs and my desk in the same room. But my Mister will not agree! He likes the wood color : ( I think he would like the white too but he won’t even consider it. Like another poster said, I pick my battles and that isn’t the hill I want to die on!

  25. Sounds funny, but I’m craving more and more wood tones as of late.


  26. Wow, I feel so lucky after reading this post and the comments that my husband defers to my good judgement (and 4 years of education) on these issues. I would personally want to paint the bench as well because after painting the cabinets it will have no reference point unless there’s other wood in the room. Have fun!

  27. Jackie B says:

    Well, this my first time to disagree with you, but I LOVE the built-ins just the way they are. They really are beautiful. I know that they will look great painted when “you” are done, but maybe can we say “stained a whitish color?” I just think you have a lot of white in your house and just love these the way the are. I am repeating myself, sorry. Go ahead and paint that bathroom vanity first because that one needs it and hurry up, because I want to copy!!!

  28. Yby5 says:

    I can relate completely! Fifteen years ago my husband built a gorgeous walnut entertainment cabinet. I loved it and it worked perfectly in our space at the time. However, recently I moved it into our livingroom and would love to paint it in ASCP Old White. I wasn’t even sure if I could ask my husband without offending him since he put such hard work into making it…eek! I through it out there in a casual conversation and I have to say he’s coming around. He’s not one to feel like you can’t paint real wood, but for him I think it’s more sentimental…I’m still working on the idea with him and I just think he may come around :)

    Your cabinets will look fantastic…can’t wait to see the end result.

  29. Emma Kate says:

    Ladies! Never ask your husband for his opinion! Just get started! ; )

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      Ha! Emma, that’s so funny! My mister defers to me 99% of the time anyway, but this was one area where he wouldn’t budge for the longest time… just kept working on him and showed him some inspiration. Love your confidence!

  30. Amanda says:

    I did win this very battle, but it took several years. We painted our fireplace and built-ins in our family room and kitchen cabinets white. Like your situation, these rooms had medium brown hardwood floors and all the brown of the cabinetry just made them very dark. We tried everything. We upgraded lighting. We trimmed tree branhes. Still dark. Since painting the floors was not an option, he agreed to have them professionally painted. I did show him many anymany inspiration pictures similar to what you have above. Now he says “best decision ever.”

  31. Kara says:

    Great idea, even with windows. I like the idea of leaving the seat too. Is that rug from dash and Albert?

  32. They always ALWAYS like it after. Does not compute. I’m so thankful that my husband couldn’t care less if he tried as hard as he could to care.

    Please paint them! Doors off. You know it’s going to look awesome. TV and all.

  33. Painting those cabinets white will make all your accessories come alive. It will also make all the moldings married together and the crown molding around the fireplace wall won’t look so alone!

    Can’t wait to see the results!

  34. I asked my husband about it. He basically said “It’s a guy thing.” Followed closely by “If it were supposed to be painted, we would have bought it that way.”

    Trying to convince him that wood isn’t always good is sometimes a challenge!

    And I agree that your plans for the painting will look marvelous. I’ll be watching for the reveal!

  35. I love all of your inspiration photos…we also have some built-ins flanking our fireplace…hideous 80’s oak. The fireplace surround is all multi-colored red brick that goes up to the vaulted ceiling and I don’t really care for it, either. I don’t know which way to go…I think I’d like a dark color, then I think I want a lighter color. Can’t decide…one of my flaws…I’m very indecisive, which is why a lot of things stay the way they are for so long. I just hate to put in so much work just to end up hating it or not liking it so much. Looking forward to seeing what you end up doing :-)

  36. Laura says:

    I also have a dark den like family room, and I just painted my built-ins last week! It’s so beautiful! I also had the walls painted a soft bluey grey. It is just wonderful! So light! I can’t wait to start getting things put away and put some prettys on my shelves. I think you will really like the white, and I love the idea of leaving the dark wood stain on the seat going across. Nice contrast!

  37. Lesley says:

    YES! Paint them. Dark wood drains the light out of a room, especially if it has no window. I love the look of white painted surfaces and this will look great and complement the other rooms in your home. I don’t have any dark wood cabinets or doors any more, just a few pieces of furniture that I would never take a paint brush to.

  38. Mary says:

    I hate to paint dark wood if it’s in good shape, but you already have white trim in the room and it would blend in nicely.

  39. Em says:

    I never usually comment, but had to throw my two cents in on this one!

    Paint everyone on that wall white! Right now, it looks like a tv with two cabinets on a sheetrock platform. I would face the platform wall everything sits on in paneling/moulding to hide the drawer on the right side and to make it look more deliberate and less like a “stage”. I think it would also look great to extend the tops of the two cabinets to the ceiling with moulding. Then paint everything white. I think it would really add some needed cohesion to that wall and probably brighten up the room!

  40. Charade says:

    I vote that you either paint the cabinetry (leaving a door to hide the TV), or that you darken the fireplace wall surround in a shade from the tiles so the wood cabinets don’t look like they were just an afterthought. If it’s really dark in the whole room, knock out the cabinets and install windows. How’s that for an opinion offered as though I know what I’m talking about (not!)

  41. Nana says:

    I love the dark cabinets, but it’s your house, and your labor to undo it if you don’t like it. Have you considered added solartubes to bring the natural light in? I just did that in my dark hall and a bathroom with no window and it is amazing.

  42. Hi Kate –

    I am excited for you as I know once they are painted white you are going to LOVE them. The only regret you will have is that you didn’t paint them sooner. The one end of my family room looks just like yours. Two wood toned cabinets flanking a fireplace. When I bought them my intention was to paint them white, but since they were new and in good condition I just lived with them. White is the way to go. I totally understand your desire and reasoning to want to paint them and love all your inspiration photos. Your room is going to look fabulous.

  43. Carolyn says:

    I have a beautiful old pine wall unit in my family room, that houses our TV. It has doors on it. The plan was to shut the doors when the TV wasn’t in use. The problem was, that when the doors were open, they slid back into the unit, but not all the way. I finally decided to remove the doors. It gave us more room, which enabled us to buy a larger television (which my boys and husband thought was absolutely necessary!). So now we have a huge TV right out there for the world to see, but I really don’t mind as much as I thought I would. We all love watching TV together at night, and the doors were rarely closed anyway. I say that your house should be lived in and enjoyed, so remove the doors and paint the unit white! The white will look absolutely beautiful, and will show off all the contents that you display on the shelves.

  44. Elle says:

    I’ve found that dark wood cabinets can be beautiful – but the items you display on them never stand out … because there typically isn’t enough contrast. I like a white/llight backdrop (i.e., white shelves) for display but find that cabinets intended for storage can go either way.

  45. Bernie says:

    Go for it! I love the look!

  46. Nancy says:

    Yes, there are some things that I’d like to paint. He is coming around. There are times I would paint most of the furniture in the family room….but time will tell.
    But, in your case I am excited for you. Do it! They will look totally awesome!!

  47. Carolyn says:

    We are having an ongoing painting debate in this house. Only the wood I want to paint is an awful, dated, orange-y color. In my kitchen. I want it to look pretty.

  48. I think the white built ins will look beautiful. I also agree with your decision to leave the bench as is. It will look gorgeous contrasting the white paint. You have a great area to work with.

  49. I’m sold! It will definitely brighten and freshen the room!

  50. Carrie says:

    I walked in on my friend painting her nice wood kitchen cabinets with white paint. I gasped. My dad would NEVER paint nice wood, but she was right…it opened the tiny space and was a great contrast with the dark granite counter tops. The white will look awesome in your space.

  51. Kelly says:

    I love your idea! I think the hardest part about deciding to paint wood, is that it is nearly impossible to undo once it’s done. I have several pieces of furniture in my house that I am so hesitant to paint, but want to soooo bad! One day I’ll take the plunge and do it! Good luck with yours. I know it will look great!

  52. Janna says:

    My hubby and I are usually on the same page about having a balance of wood/paint, our new kitchen cabinets are maple, but we had them custum painted a dark navy with white uppers since we’ll install wood flooring at some point. But I DO run into this alot with clients and sometimes need to convince them that not everything should be wood because it gets dark/heavy with too much. It seems the males have a harder time painting wood then females, doesn’t it?

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      You said it Janna! And it’s not like I love everything white, right? I mean the contrast between white and dark wood is TDF – can’t wait to get started!

  53. Sarah says:

    In our family room, we have dark wood wainscotting on one wall and built in cupboards and shelves on the other. My husband and I actually want to paint it but our parents are giving us major flack – they say no one will ever want to buy our house if we paint the wood. I’m still determined to paint it white, but I am eager to see how yours turn out so I can show them the before and after!

  54. I think you should mirror the doors and use the overlays over top and then add some trim. It would reflect alot of light and add an extra custom look.

  55. Peggy says:

    It’s funny how men hate to paint wood – it is a universal problem for us women – and while I love wood, a little painted wood enhances an interior. We have a beautiful custom made maple fireplace surround and mantle that I have decided I want to paint a creamy white color so I planted the seed in my husband’s mind this past weekend. This “seed” is going to take a lot of nurturing in order to be realized but hey, we’ve been married for 30 years and I’ve done it before. I’m patient!

  56. Cammee says:

    Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission :)

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      LOL Cammee!!!!! You’re so right and you made my day, thanks for the giggle and nugget of truth!

  57. I think the white will look beautiful. No debates around here. I do what I want and am lucky if he notices :)

  58. Such a good choice to paint! Once it’s done, he will wonder why he waited so long to agree!

  59. pam says:

    First thing I did when we moved into our house four years ago. The ink wasn’t even dry on the mortage papers when I busted out the paint brush!

  60. Maura says:

    We have a built in book case in the den of our split level (which truly is a cave) and there is a fireplace on the same wall with white brick. I think the wood looks really dark in contrast, but my mom and husband cringed when I suggested painting it! :) We have only been in the house 2 months so we will just see over time. Funny to learn this isn’t a uncommon issue!

  61. Jamie Figari says:

    I think it is a fabulous idea! Do you have any ideas of what type of paint you will use? I have a black media center in my living room, and am DYING to paint them white as well to match our fireplace mantel. I am a little intimidated it will look like I did it myself. I wanted to try the Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations. Can’t wait to see your results!

  62. Paige says:

    Windowless? Definitely do white! Speaking as somebody who lives in a condo that doesn’t have very many windows (ugh), you want lighter colors around so it doesn’t feel like the inside of a cave. :-)

  63. sheila says:

    I would paint! I think you are right on with what you are going to do.

  64. Melodie says:

    I love white woodwork – shadows make it look sculptural, and the more of it there is, ie., paneling or bookcases, it just becomes artwork all on its own!

  65. Joyce says:

    Can’t wait to see your gorgeous white build-ins! Mine will never be painted; my husband is a carpenter by trade and we love his hand made beautiful cherry cabinets build-ins and shelves with our white walls in our family room. Anyone that sees them always compliments them. We have cherry cabinets in our kitchen also which I wanted to paint white 20 years ago. My husband said ‘absolutely not’ so we still have the cherry wood. I bring in lots of color with accessories. Our cathedral ceiling in our living room had an ugly painted chocolate brown narrow beam across the width of the room; my husband doubled the size of the beam and stained it a pretty walnut color and it is stunning…a la difference! The previous owner of our home had painted all the woodwork and baseboards white – my husband has since replaced them with the real wood. I do like wood contrast with the white walls….sometimes you have to not convince by leaving things alone …..My hubby has always been wonderful and generous about my choices in decorating, furniture, colors, etc. It’s a perfect compromise; besides, we have never had a service all because he can repair or do almost anything! I count my blessings! I am a lucky gal.

  66. Rhonda says:

    I’m going thru the same thing here. I’m debating about painting the mantel and kitchen cabinets a creamy white to match the baseboards and trim work. They are all a beautiful dark wood. It’s just that my taste has changed in the past 3 yrs since we bought this house. I think I might just paint the laundry room cabinets for now and see how they look.

  67. Katie says:

    I think it would be beautiful. Always a nice balance between dark wood and white. Sounds divine. I have a question for the all-knowing Kate. We are planning on trying to sell our house this year and I’ve been dying to paint our light oak kitchen cabinets since we moved in. I’m just too scared, I guess. But really, with our dark floors and sunroom windows nearby, I think it would look great. Would it be a mistake to paint the cabinets knowing we would be moving? If I were looking at buying our house, I would think it was a plus. But I don’t know if someone else would like it. Especially if they are done by an amateur (me!). They are good enough cabinets, obviously well-worn, but since we painted and did new floors with the intention to complete the look with cabinets, it just looks unfinished now. Should I hold off? Advice please from anyone! Thanks so much!

  68. I can already see it in my imagination!! I agree, keeping the bench area dark will be such a nice contrast! Can’t wait to see…you’re a lucky girl to have an agreeable man at home. :)

  69. Gina says:

    This one is no brainer Kate. I LOVE white built-ins too. I am totally with you. Why does it always take men so long to come around??? In the end, we women are usually always right aren’t we? :)
    I am sure that the are going to look fabulous! I can’t wait to see your finished product.

  70. I am so pining for white built-ins right now. I’m not really feeling the look of the paintings stood up against the wall instead of hung. But those pictures are lovely overall.

  71. Lisa says:

    We did it and WHAT a difference! Our family room is on the dark side too and it brightened it up SO much! One of my all time favorite changes I made to this house…..I’m excited to see yours done!

  72. TieDye64 says:

    I think it’s a great idea. It will make the room feel so fresh and bright. One thing about removing the doors, if you decide you don’t like it you can always paint the doors and put them back on.

  73. Sonya says:

    I love white. Can white be my favorite color?? That, and any shade of blue. I can’t believe I would disagree (did I mention my love of white?) but…I actually think the wood gives a lot of warmth to the room, is tied in through the tiles and I like the contrast between the muted, light colors and the wood now. You are a great photographer, but the wood looks like a beautiful tone. I would paint out the wood below the bench and add some beautiful hardware that had a lot of character and were unique. The ceiling fan may be a necessity, but I could see something more grand like a chandelier?
    SIDE NOTE: Other Kate… paint the light oak! You will be so happy with it. Just take CG Kate’s how-to and do them right. Did I mention I love white?

  74. White will look so pretty!

    Ps I love the wall color in the room! What is it??

    • CentsationalGirl says:

      Megan, that color is ‘Camouflage’ by Ben Moore, same as in my dining room and kitchen… I will probably paint the entire wall white though for cohesion…

  75. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Katie, I think a fresh coat of paint on oak cabinets can only improve a kitchen, but it has to be done right. There are a lot of tutorials online for those who are beginners, but for me, I’d never hesitate to paint a honey oak kitchen in a fresh shade of white or pale gray.

  76. Marley says:

    Hi Kate!
    I think the cabinets will look fabulous! I painted our built-ins White Dove by Benjamin Moore and they look fab! I waited 7 years to take the plunge…the only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner! The compliments keep coming! I am getting the nerve up to do my perfectly good quality cabinets in the kitchen also. I go back and forth everyday. The only thing holding me back is the “wear and tear” that goes along with painting high traffic areas; I just need to go with my gut and do it! Good Luck! Painters unite! :)

  77. m says:

    We Floridians love white, any shade will do.

  78. Paula says:

    White is most definitely in. And I for one think it looks so much better. At my house, I make the suggestion. Listen to him complain and screw up his face anytime I mention painting anything wood and then paint it anyway. Then he ALWAYS tells me how much better it looks

  79. Carmel says:

    It’s going to look so amazing!

  80. Tardevil says:

    My husband is soooo not going to like you! Of course, it wasn’t even a consideration until I saw this post and all the pretty pictures of the white bookcases, and now you’ve got me thinking of another project. He will not be happy about this one…My vote goes to removing the doors.

  81. Sonia Lidbury says:

    White will look so fresh and lovely – can’t wait to see the finished result. I am trying to get my hubby to let me paint our bedroom furniture!! Wish me luck :)

  82. I raise my hand on this one! I want to … ACK. I want to … ACK. More time needed, but think at some point it will happen :)

  83. carol says:

    HOLY COW!! It’s going to look GREAT!

  84. Susan says:

    Call me lucky–the yuck wood in my last house was already painted…no priming, no begging involved–I did not know how good I had it until I visited a neighbor’s house. The contrast between her den and mine stopped me in my tracks. As to resale, my husband and I painted cabinets in his last kitchen and sold the house in record time during the slump, June ’09. I love wood and leave most as-is but sometimes paint is the answer, the only answer :-)

  85. Arlene says:

    My hubby is one of the non-painting men. I think I can understand it a little bit because he is also a wood-worker and knows the price of oak, walnut and other fine woods that everyone is slapping a coat of paint on. And he knows the work involved in getting them to that original sanded, stained and varnished lovely wood-grainy look. Cheap wood, such as pine and items in disrepair, he has no problem with painting. And I think we all wonder if all this white we’re seeing all over the internet is a trend that will die out eventually. But I do like it! And I love all your inspiration pictures and I think yours will look fabulous in white and it will do wonders for your dark room. My ‘touch-of-rustic’ home has natural light cedar trim and woodwork everywhere, so the white bug hasn’t bitten here. I have one large wall of 3 dark wood bookcase units that I would love to lighten, but it’s not gonna happen in this lifetime. So, as a compromise, I cut light grasscloth wallpaper to fit the back wall of the shelves and tacked it on with sticky-tack and this really lightened it up. So that is another alternative for those of us in this situation. It made a huge difference in our room, although our room does have lots of windows. Anxious to see the finished product!

  86. Julie says:

    I love white and me things you are right to leave the bench untouched. Please be sure to post the “after” photos! I can’t wait to see!

  87. SheilaG says:

    It is going to look beautiful, can’t wait to see the transformation- get to work, girl! :) As for how to convince hubby to paint wood- wear them down- it’s been 30 years and hubby is tired of arguing- ha! :D

  88. Amanda Eck says:

    awesome!! That is going to be beautiful. Another option for the TV- above the fireplace? it would hide the niche unfortunately-but you could also have a frame made to go around the TV to jazz it up. ohhh or one of those pieces of artwork that roll up when you need the TV & down when you dont.

  89. Erin D says:

    My husband and I DEF spar over this issue. He HATES the idea of painting over nice looking wood. And even not-so nice looking wood. I’ve been dying to paint the dressers in our bedroom, but because they were his grandmother’s he won’t. And I have to respect that. But they would look awesome painted white or even lacquered black. In the meantime, I’ve resorted to painting thrift store finds so he has no attachment ;)

  90. Hi Kate,
    I am going to paint my ugly oak built in corner cabinet in my family room as well as the fireplace mantle. I would like to have a Swedish look. I would like to find some antique trim or molding to add to give the built in an antique look. I am thinking of using the Annie Sloan paint. I am new to blogging so this will be a big project for me to feature. Can’t decide about the doors. If I should just paint them, or add some floral applique, or have new door fronts maybe with chicken wire inserts. Maybe I could do both and change up the doors for winter and summer? So many decisions. Can’t wait to see how yours turn out.

  91. Shelby says:

    The painting wood furniture/cabinets/whatever is an ongoing battle with my husband. He doesn’t believe wood should ever be painted. I have one piece of furniture from before we were married that was my grandmother’s and it’s the only thing I have convinced him we should paint. And only because it was mine and even he had to admit the finish was in pretty rough shape. I think your family room will look beautiful with the white built-ins and congratulations on winning a battle I never seem to be able to!!

  92. sue says:

    I had some pieces of furniture that I got from my MIL that I was never, ever fond of. My husband would NOT consider painting wood, ever. I have seen pieces that were so similar, painted and distressed, and I wish that I still had them, so I could paint them and finally enjoy them. However, as someone who has seen styles come and go, I wonder if our children or grandchildren will cringe at the wood we have painted? It is not easy sometimes.

  93. RB says:

    Hi Kate,

    I think the cabinets are beautiful in the color they are but I agree that maybe the doors should be removed. Before you paint them I would consider stylizing the shelves with white accessories and light wicker contrasting storage baskets to see how you like that look. Once you paint them there’s no turning back and if you don’t like the look you could always go ahead with your plan to paint them.

  94. Cynthia says:

    If you haven’t looked at my kitchen makeover post yet I painted some cabinetss and stenciled and aged them. I love the way they came out.

  95. Sandra says:

    I agree with everyone above. I think its a wonderful idea and will give such warmth to the space.

  96. yesyesyes! paint ’em out! :) I really do not understand why men (in general) don’t want to paint wood. It’s the same thing w/murals & color on walls. The mrs. always wants some color and interest and I always see the mr. nearly backing up out of the room!

    Here’s the funny part (and this will happen in your casa too, I bet) once they see the transformation, they want to do more, more, more, ha ha. Some of my best ‘repeat’ customers are because the mr. wants some more wall art.

    It always makes my heart smile :)

  97. Becky says:

    Love the white. Have been trying to convince hubby to let me paint the little bit of staircase we have in our little foyer white. He’s not convinced yet. But several years ago when he was on a business trip I painted the brick wall surrounding the fireplace because I couldn’t stand the aged country looking red ones. He loved it. It opened the room up instead of overpowering it. Guess I’ll be waiting for another business trip for the stair railings :)

  98. While I can understand the hesitation (that wood is beautiful!), I absolutely agree that painting the built-ins in this case is needed. It will brighten the space so much that it will be like a whole new room! I am so glad that you are leaving the “bench” natural though. It will really be a beautiful contrast! I can’t wait to see how you accessorize the new open shelves!

  99. Clare says:

    Yes! Paint!! Paint!!!

  100. I agree that white is the way to go! I’m a white-loving gal, so unless its vintage or weathered wood, it usually gets painted. I usually justify it by leaving a piece of wood, like your bench that you will leave alone. The white shelving will only make it pop even better and show off the wood. Good luck!

  101. We had a similar “discussion” at our house…we had some 80’s oak built-in cabinets in our family room and I could not get past the orange hue. Many people said, “You can’t paint wood.”

    Oh, but you can!

    I didn’t do white – it doesn’t go with my decor – but I did paint the insides of the cabinets (there are no doors) an olive green and the exterior black. It made such a HUGE impact on the room and tied it all together. Wondering why I didn’t do it years ago!

    I say go for it!


  102. Laura says:

    I agree….paint em! I think they will look awesome in white. I love dark woods too, but have started to add a few painted pieces in my house and love the effect. I think it’s going to look great…can’t wait to see the after!

  103. Jody says:

    Ok, I love most anything white and I do agree it looks better MOST of the time. However, I love the dark color of your cabinets in that space. It gives it such a rich, custom, look. I am not feeling white in that space.

  104. Sara says:

    I like the idea of painting them white! We don’t have a lot of natural wood colors in our house…but the stuff that we DO have is that nasty warm-orangey retro wood color, so there’s not much of a debate over whether to paint them or not! Plus the hubby doesn’t really care, so I can pretty much do what I want as long as I don’t expect extensive help from him ;)

  105. Ann V. says:

    Built our home in 1990. Custom built, solid oak cabinets! Incredible artistry. The PRIDE of our home. FFWD ten years later, the itch begins to paint them white. NO ONE is on board. “crazy to paint wood” ” way too difficult to do yourself” “hire a professional. Now I am ready to take the plunge and DIY! Seriously think my husband is SO hesitant because he hates the inconvenience and mess!

  106. Rachel says:

    I can see why Mr.CG hesitated for so long, the wood is beautiful, but I agree that the room will seem so much brighter and even bigger with them white. At the end of the day you are equally capable of restoring them later (if you wanted) as you are of painting them out now! looking forward to seeing the results!

  107. Karen says:

    Yes, you must paint those things-you will not regret it!! We just recently did this in our familyroom, and what a difference it made! Our wood was yellowy oak, along with the baseboards and crown moulding and it was yucky-1990’s yucky!
    We recently did a kitchen remodel and have cream cabinets with a brown glaze and the painter matched that color exactly to do our familyroom. It is so awsome looking!
    We have 2 windows in our fr-but a huge tree behind the fr, so we were not getting a lot of light in the room, but now it seems so light and airy. I had to convince my husband with pictures, because he was in the same camp as yours. Good Luck!

  108. Twyla Hajdukiewicz says:

    If you do not sand all the polyurethane off, but merely scuff it up and prime well, it could be returned to wood someday by someone else if they have that itch. I think the main reason men don’t like to paint wood is that if the wood isn’t sealed against the paint it soaks in and makes it all but impossible to refinish the wood to wood colored. I, too, tend to not want to paint nice wood, but in the setting it definitely needs to go white.
    Doors: to keep or not to keep. Is it possible to either cut them down or replace them with shorter doors that could still conceal the television but open up more of the shelves? I’m with you on not having the tv out there, but those are very large doors and I can see why you might want to remove (or reduce them). Either way, I know it will look lovely painted. Glad your hubby decided to go with painting!

  109. Ilene says:

    I’ve been struggling with this same dilemma. I have 1990’s oak built-ins in my family room. The rest of the furniture is more French country. To make matters worse the previous owners painted the adjoining brick fireplace white. Budget constraints prevent a full renovation, but white fireplace and white built-ins might be too much white. Thinking about painting the front of built in white and the backs of the shelves a brighter color for contrast.

  110. Karin says:

    Haha! Hubby and I just had this conversation (disagreement) about painting wood a couple of days ago. He just doesn’t get why anyone would be crazy enough to paint anything wood. I am in your camp Kate, I think there are certain pieces of furniture/cabinets that should be left alone, but oh, the fresh, clean look of white/light paint, especially built-ins like you have…love it. I say go for it. As for me, at least I know I am not alone in this!

  111. Ami Ponzo says:

    Thank you for this! Couldn’t have a come at a better time for me. I have ALWAYS wanted white cabinets but when we built we chose dark wood b/c they were beautiful and that was the trend for the area. (See here: http://www.asierrahome.blogspot.com/2011/03/bright-white-kitchen.html). But now that they are showing wear I am having been nonstop trying to convince my husband to go white and think I am ALMOST there. I know seeing your before and after will go a long way in convincing him, so get on that would ya? :) Can’t wait to see it either way!

  112. Kate says:

    I would definitely paint the cabinets white, but leave the natural wood color for the hearth for a contrast.

  113. Diana says:

    If I wanted to convince my husband of this, I would simply remove the doors from one side and paint the back white, leaving the shelves wood. See how it feels. Then if you still want to try the white shelves, paint them next. If he hated it in comparison to the other side, put the doors back on. :)
    In actuality, I would probably paint the backs the same wall color, whether I left the shelves in their wood tone or painted them white. The top crowning should absolutely be white to be cohesive with the other trim in the room.

  114. Lynne says:

    Oh, man, this has been a constant struggle for me this year. When we build our house almost 23 years ago, we loved all of the honey oak cabinets, bookshelves, mantle and trim. Now, however, I wish it wasn’t such nice wood and wonderful stain, as then I could, without hesitation, paint it white. But, alas, it is beautiful wood and my hubby is shocked and appalled that I would even consider painting it. Oh, and all of our windows are the same oak stain. So we continue to have warm, honey trim and wood throughout the house. I make up for it by adding a large silver framed mirror to the mantle, white and bright things to the bookshelves, etc, etc.
    I think your built-ins will look wonderful white! And I love that you are leaving the bench wood. Lovely contrast.

  115. Will look beautiful. The white will contact and be gorgeous.

  116. diane says:

    Love the white paint idea and even exposing the tv and electronics doesnt seem to be a design sin any longer. Also, do you get permission from BHG to use pics or do they have a policy that it is OK? As a blogger struggling with this.

  117. I think that’s the perfect cabinetry to paint because they really do stand alone. The bench will be a nice contrast. Can’t wait to see it, I bet it will be beautiful!

  118. Rx says:

    I like the white paint. I’m in the middle of a kitchen remodel. My cabinets are maple (frost). They’re not really dark, but we’re adding a bunch of built-ins to freshen up my 15 year old kitchen, & then painting the cabinets & all woodwork white, new granite & quartz countertops, refinishing the oak floor (dark), honed carerra marble backsplash, new brushed stainless faucets, & combo brushed stainless & polished chrome hardware & polished chrome & crystal lights for sparkle. I’m leaving the paint color as is. It’s going to be really nice. I’ll post pictures when finished. I’ve been taking ongoing progress pictures. I’d definitely paint your fireplace white & depending on how it looks, I’d do the seat in white also. I’d use my accessories for color. It’s going to look nice. Good luck. My kitchen is under construction right now & what a mess. But sawdust is clean dirt, & it’s loaded with fiber (LOL).

  119. Helen Peterson says:

    Well – I love the white in the pictures you included, and I know I’m in the minority here, but I was thinking that the cabinets would look pretty elegant if they were a fruitwood or pecan tone. That would mean stripping, and staining. I’m just fond of natural wood. I guess it’s all in what a person is brought up with. What would you do with the fireplace surround, are you painting it or tiling over it?

  120. Karen says:

    Very persuasive images! Yes, I’ve had this discussion with hubby and he’s always thrilled with the outcome…white is so fresh and allows so much more light.

  121. Tina says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes. I love white paint! What is not to love? Please post pics ASAP when done. Beautiful room, by-the-way!

  122. Zoe says:

    Love the idea – It will freshen-up the space. Bet you’ll both love it!

  123. nita says:

    Yes! Yes you have to paint them, they are just sitting there looking hidden next to that beautiful fireplace. Painting them will really make them pop out. I am not sure on the benches but you could do them later if you decide it would look better.
    We have been having this discussion about painting our kitchen cabinets. They are Honey oak and need help. I told my husband they aren’t top quality cabinets to begin with (except for solid oak) So why not paint them and have that for a few years until we can afford to replace them.
    I have him convinced! I am just holding back because I know it means alot of work! I am tempted to take the doors to local cabinet maker and have them sprayed.

  124. Shavonda says:

    Just successfully bribed, er, convinced my other half to let me, er, US paint our kitchen cabinets white. I’m so excited…our cabs looks quite similar to your wood actually. I can’t wait to give our kitchen a much needed dose of crisp modern refreshing!

  125. Shavonda says:

    I just successfully bribed, er, convinced my other half to let me, er, US paint our kitchen cabinets white. I’m so excited…our cabs looks quite similar to your wood actually. I can’t wait to give our kitchen a much needed dose of crisp modern refreshing!

  126. Chantel says:

    We have lived in our house for 23 years – the wood work is a fruitwood stain. Been having the debate about painting it out white for about 10 years now. But came to the conclusion it would change the feel and look way too much and since I couldn’t stain over paint and would have to replace it, well it is staying, even though I think a coat of white paint would brighten the space. Your family room however is a different story . . . your woodwork (crown molding) is white and I believe the cabinets painted out would look just beautiful especially with your fireplace! I LOVE the tile!!! I would go for it and I know it will bring the whole room together! The fireplace is your focal point it will stand out more with the cabinets painted. Can’t wait to see it when it’s done! :)

  127. Mindo says:

    Definitely paint them, it will lighten the appearance of the room and I can’t wait to see the “after” photos.

    I am sure that we got a great deal on our last home because no one else could see past the light PINK hue on the kitchen cabinets (limed oak gone wrong) which clashed with the green/gray slate flooring! We took one look, said “white painted cabinets” and now have a wonderful home with a light and airy kitchen.

  128. Last year I painted our beautiful mid 80s alder wood kitchen cabinets…whew! I painted them a pale blue. Now I’m itching to paint them white. I believe in white. It allows us the space to think about things.
    I also sprayed white paint mixed with three parts water on my red brick walls. There are no windows in our main living room either (we turned the living room into a master bedroom), so it’s important to me to have good energy and light…my next move is to add more ceiling recessed lighting (house built in 1970) and possibly raise the ceiling height or add a skylight tube.
    I’m very lucky that my hubs is happy with all my decorating moves…he knows in the end I’ll be right. Smart man!
    This summer we’re taking all the doors out and painting them white (entire house), just to add light and brightness. Wood is great in small doses right? (I painted all the wood moldings white too…hee hee).

  129. Stacey says:

    Kate, you are a girl after my own heart!! There isn’t an inch of my home that I haven’t been itching to paint, cover, re-do or rip out and change!! Luckily for me, most of the woodwork (including the awful 60’s wood paneling in the ENTIRE downstairs) was already painted with a lovely shade of puke green when we moved in, so I didn’t have to have that debate with the hubs. He is a lover of all things stained wood, so I would have had quite a fight on my hands!! Much easier to convince when it’s already painted a terrible shade (and yes, there was some debate about whether the paint could be stripped and the paneling re-stained. Ugghh!!) I think your cabinets will look fabulous, and I love that you’re keeping the bench seat the wood!! Great look!

  130. Laurel says:

    I love love love white built ins! I have white bookcases flanking my fireplace as well and I love it! I would do it if I were you, and I love dark wood too. But I mostly love the mix of them. I recently painted an armoire white that was a medium dark wood and everyone thought I was crazy and that I should go darker, but if it’s a big expanse of wood like that, I definitely think white is the way to go otherwise it can feel too heavy for a room.

    I kinda think if you’re gonna go for it though, you should also add a mantel. Did I just say that out loud? Yes I just told Centsational Girl to add a mantel. It would make that whole wall transform into a wall of white woodwork, dreamy.

  131. Andrea says:

    I live in a 1916 four square with original unpainted dark trim. When we bought the house we loved it but in the 13 years since the wood is dinged up and needs to be either stripped, restained and varnished or painted. I have refinished a lot of furniture and I know the amount of work that would be. I love the fresh, crisp look of white painted trim if it is done well. Also we have the original windows that are in great working order but because they aren’t efficient and we really need new. If I painted the woodwork I could buy the new Pella vinyl series and not spend more money on the Pella wood windows. I am almost ready to paint but I’m afraid of having remorse.

  132. Mendi says:

    I am actually considering doing this right now to ours next to our fireplace. What I am struggling with in is our fireplace is an off-white stone for the entire fireplace and I am having a hard time visualizing how it would look with the white on white.

    Thanks for the inspiration it has me thinking again.

  133. judy h. says:

    I finally convinced my husband to paint 2 rooms of dark wood built-ins white. After they were crisp and white, he told me he was SO glad HE had the idea to paint them… hmmm

  134. judy h. says:


  135. Susan P. says:

    We had stained bookshelves/cabinets in our last home and painted them white but left the main shelf stained…the one that separated the open shelving on the top from the closed storage below…the result was the crisp white/warm wood that you like. We also painted the backs of the open shelving a pale blue and it all looked great!

  136. Janice C says:

    We just went through this at our house and the wood won out and I can honestly say I am glad it did. When we bought 5 months ago, I envisioned a living room with pale greys, blues, greens, creams, and wisps of browns. We did it and love it! When it was time to do the den, I was hesitant on having it be a mirrored reflection of the living room. Especially when my husband utilizes this room the most. The color palette is the same but the wood tones are more pronounced. My room (the living room) is where we go to relax and drink our wine and entertain. The den is where we go to play games, drink our beer, kick back and socialize with family and friends. I guess it all depends on what you want the feeling of the room to capture. I actually like the woodsy tone now when I walk in there. It’s like the house is hugging me in it’s warmth.

  137. Cathy M~ says:

    this is so funny! i have gone room by room and painted all of that medium colored wood to a soft white and have never regretted it!! i told hubby tonite that i am painting the cherry (gasp, i know!) kitchen cabinets that i have hated for 9 years. {my bookshelves are white next to a white fireplace mantel and it is beautiful!!} can’t wait for your reveal!! hugs, cathy

  138. Desha P says:

    Judy H, SO like a man to claim our ideas as their own:)

    I LOVE white in pretty much any capacity. We bought our 1980s home in Naples, FL about 6 months ago and pulled up ALLLL the nasty carpet and replaced with wood laminate floors. Our next big project will be to completely renovate the kitchen, and I’m going with white white white and more white. Dining room is next: white chair rail and molding squares with blue and white big-print floral wallpaper (a bit nautical). I love white, BUT here’s my issue: my husband is an aircraft mechanic and I have a 5 month old baby boy who will likely take after his daddy with his grubby-fingered tendencies! Any suggestions for how to keep white WHITE? I’m afraid my white dreams will turn into a dingey distater!

    Thanks, as always, for the inspiration!

  139. Laura M says:

    We are currently having the same debate about our chestnut molding. We decided to paint just the molding in our bedroom as it felt like a cave. We love it more than anything, what a difference. I am still scared to do the rest of the house because we want to move and I am afraid people would appreciate the original wood more. I would definately paint your built ins. The wood takes away from your beautiful fireplace.

  140. I love the look of white cabinets, but I would be hard pressed to actually paint over real wood. I think it will look really nice, though, judging by the examples you showed.

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