I Painted My Built-Ins

March 11, 2012

My sister came to visit this past weekend and she only comes to visit a few times a year but when she does, great things happen.  Mostly she makes me do what I need to do more of these days and that is take a break from the computer to watch movies and eat cookies on the couch – she’s a good influence.  My sister and I love to watch television or movies together and to the program we always add our commentary based on our strange sense of humor. We are known to bust out in random monologues about things that are completely nonsensical to others but make perfect sense in our little world.

This information is irrelevant to today’s post but I thought I’d share anyway because what’s true is if I hadn’t finished painting the family room built-in cabinets I wrote about a few weeks ago then I’d have absolutely nothing to say to you today other than the marathon session of Downton Abbey Season Two spent with my sister this past weekend was as the kids say “epic” and as the Crawleys might say “splendid” and I’m counting the minutes until Season Three. 

Back to those cabinets. You may recall I desperately wanted to paint the built-ins white because there are no windows in this room and it felt like a cave but a certain person I’m married to was hesitant to do so. Then you faithful readers came rallying to my defense and I was emboldened and so I went ahead, trusting my instincts, and painted them white.  And here’s the best part – my mate who didn’t want to paint them at all at first, actually likes them much better now. I think you will too.

Here’s a glance at the behemoths before I pulled off the doors and painted them.

family room cabinets before

And today.

cg family room white built ins

Much improved I must say.  The cabinets were primed with Zinsser oil based Cover Stain last week.


zinsser cover stain


Then I painted them with two coats of a warm white – Benjamin Moore’s Advance formula in ‘Linen White’ to be exact.

ben moore linen white


Just the paint wasn’t enough – the two inner shelves looked disproportionate to the top shelf so I cut two pieces of pre primed 2 ½” trim (the same we used on these bookshelves) and attached them with a brad nailer to create the illusion of thicker shelves. This is an easy trick for giving your shelving units greater thickness and the shelves are still moveable since the trim is only attached to the front.

brad nailer


You can see the difference below…

thin to thick shelves

I was sad to see the cabinet doors go because I could hide all sorts of games and photo albums behind them, but taking them off forced me to weed through everything we didn’t use and find new places for what was left.  Now I’m loving all that white space surrounding the objects on the shelf – I feel like I can relax and breathe in here now.

cg white built ins left side


And yes those picture frames are empty for now, soon to be filled with family favorites.  I’m also adjusting to the television out in the open too.  I know I was among the minority who hid their TV behind closed doors, but then I realized an exposed TV is more common than not these days so I’ve adjusted to the difference. 

cg family room


Meanwhile, it’s just nice to relax in a calm space that feels a bit more coastal in style and less like the cave it felt like before the cabinets were painted and the doors removed.   

cg family room kids on sofa


Slipcovered sofas are Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams from the Pottery Barn Basic collection (blue slate slipcovers no longer available) – we’ve had them for several years and they are extremely comfortable.  The three Grand Palais mirrors are from Ballard Designs (I painted them white a few years ago); the striped chair was a floor sample on clearance from Macy’s furniture store last year, Silsila pillows from Z Gallerie, baskets from the Container Store, bronze bicycle from Pier One, glass bottles and other collectibles from various sources.

It never ceases to amaze me what a fresh coat or two of white paint can do!



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211 Responses to “I Painted My Built-Ins”

  1. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Donna, find out exactly what kind of paint the painter used (water or oil based) and if the painter used a protective coat o top of that paint before you do anythign and let me know – you can’t layer latex paint on top of oil based paint, you need a layer of primer in between. Another alternative is Annie Sloan’s ‘Old White’ it’s a lovely soft white and you don’t need to prime with that.

  2. rga says:

    Hi- I love this post because I’m looking to do the exact same thing and it’s my first DIY (starting big… ack!). I noted you said you didn’t sand because you used oil-based primer. Did you put your Penetrol (mentioned in other posts) in this?

    I have some really tight spaces (i.e., between where the mantle juts out and overlaps the outside wall of one built-in) that I have no clue how to get into so I want to maximize my chances for success here. I want a semi-gloss, white finish if that helps answer the question.

    I’ll try to post a pic of that tricky situation too to see if you have any ideas but otherwise, thanks for any input. I’m guessing the steps would be 1. clean, 2. prime x 2 (with Penetrol?) 3. paint (several coats) based on what I read in the post and comments section but any additional pointers for a true novice are much appreciated!

  3. CentsationalGirl says:

    No Penetrol this time RGA, and I think semi gloss white will work for you. Yes, your steps are correct, clean, prime (Penetrol optional), paint two coats!

  4. Colleen E says:

    How did you like the Advance paint? Do you think it would hold up in a kitchen or should I stick with oil based on the island?

  5. Julie says:

    Your painted bookcases look great! I am going to paint mine. Took 9 years but I have finally convince my husband that they will look good. Just wondering how long it took you and if you had to caulk any of the corners?



  6. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Julie, I finished it over the course of three days, priming the first, then a coat of paint on the second and then third day. No caulking!

  7. Julie says:

    Wow! You are fast. I have been looking at mine kinda like I look at 7 loads of dirty laundry after vacation. Ugh. I know it will look great when it is done, but I am procrastinating. I also need to paint the mantle, the crown moulding and the baseboards and a really large window (12′ x 8′). But thank you again for showing me how great it will look when it’s done. Just one last question (I promise), did you have any problem with brush marks? I plan on rolling on the primer and the paint too ( I think) but will need a brush for the fluted moulding and crown and of course any tight spots. Did you post any super close up pics?

  8. kelly arent says:

    Good morning CG!!! Can you tell me what color your living room walls are? Looks like ancient marble. Thanks a bunch!

  9. Kate says:

    I’ll apologize to begin because I don’t have any questions about painting the cabinets – your site is extremely helpful and I plan on using your method in the upcoming weeks! What I’m interested in is the pillow fabric. I love it! Any chance you can provide the name? Thank you!

  10. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Kate, those pillows came from Z Gallerie, I think they still have them!

  11. Amy says:

    Hi Kate, I’m curious if your built-ins have held up with the Benjamin Moore Advance paint. Have you noticed any problems with the flat surfaces scratching when you take things off the shelves? I just finished painting our entertainment center with this paint and wonder if it’s durable enough to leave it as is, or if I should apply a top coat. I did Zinsser Cover Stain, with 2-3 coats of Simply White in Satin. This is also where the kids’ toys go, so there would be some traffic. If I did apply a top coat, would you recommend a clear poly or clear wax? I saw that you are using wax over white paint now instead of poly. I really don’t want it to yellow since I put so much time into it. Any help would be great! Thank you!

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