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. Diana says:


  2. Diana says:

    Now change out the fan. ;) lol

  3. Nancy says:

    What a difference Kate..The whole room looks brighter..amazing what white paint can do..white is what I am planning for my kitchen soon..Love it!!

  4. jess says:

    Thank you for this post. I will now have something to show my husband who refuses to let me paint the horrendous wall paneling in our living room.

  5. Lo says:

    Wow, seriously beautiful! You have a gift with white paint :) Love the Zinsser products as well, and never would have found them without your recommendation!

  6. Gwen says:

    amazing transformation!!

  7. Sharon Hoham says:

    The difference is wonderful, you made a great decision. It is fantastic.

  8. These look amazing! I love that you took the doors off, it really opens up the space!

  9. OH MY!! I would never have thought of making the shelves look thicker. And now I’ll be looking at everything around the house that can be painted…

  10. Sarah says:

    It looks beautiful!

  11. Whoa! It is absolutely beautiful now! That is a beautiful white, as well. I am about to be shopping for a good clean, warm white and I think I may have just found it.

  12. Zoe says:

    Love the white, love the openess and love the thicker shelves!!! Great job!

  13. Kate, they look awesome! Love how they turned out…beautiful!

  14. Dar says:

    It looks so clean and crisp and I simply adore it! Wondering…what type of wood are the shelves? I would love to paint a few things around my house but I’m dealing with maple and wasn’t sure how well it would cover.

  15. It looks fantastic!! So much more open without the doors on it. I keep “my” TV in an armoire still, but the one in the living room is out on the wall. It took some getting used to, but I like it now. :) I love how you styled everything!

  16. Ilene says:

    Out of curiosity why didn’t you use Chalk Paint? Is it a durability issue? I love the look and plan to paint my built-ins as well.

  17. SDRachel says:

    Looks great! Glad your husband got on board!

  18. looks fantastic! What is your wall color? I’m actually on the same quest in our family room and wanted a nice airy gray color for my walls. Thanks!

  19. Brenda says:

    So. Freakin. Pretty! Love!

  20. Alice A says:

    Ahhh, Kate- so lovely…. and I know exactly what you went through on the hubby side… wood is just sort of “je ne sais pas” to them!

    Thanks for the tips re; types of primer and the recent article in which you explained the degrees of difference in paint- therefore, i better understand your choice of the Advance, B. Moore.

    May I dare to suggest to the previous commenter, Ilene, that the total coverage on a built in(making it look like the original idea) was at least a part of your choice to forego chalk paint. I also love chalk paint, but it would have given a very diffenrent effect to the bookcase, than that of looking part of a cohesive whole…. which I think is very successful in this room- still love the mirrors too and the light they add to your look!!

    glad you had a great visit with your sister!~

  21. Melodie says:

    I love them! What a change in the room. My sis has built ins similar to yours in dark oak, and she’s scared to paint them. She’s not going to be after she sees yours!

  22. Lisa M says:

    Beautiful!! Would you ever consider mounting the TV above the fireplace? That’s common these days and it would place it in a more ergonomic spot. : ) Still, a gorgeous room!

  23. ArOD says:

    great job i think they look amazing now

  24. Kellie says:

    Looks good; my husband is also reluctant to paint over wood. I have a question about your ceiling fan, is there a light between the fan blades and the ceiling? Do you remember where you found it or what brand it is? I’ve been on the hunt for a fan like that.

  25. Definitely an improvement! That pic is going into my inspiration folder. Love it!

  26. Denise says:

    A million times better!

  27. Leanne says:

    Wow! Your built-ins were beautiful before but are so much brighter with the new look… gorgeous!

  28. Patty says:

    I love the changes with the paint, gives me inspiration to do this now! The room looks so relaxing and inviting, makes me want to come over and visit! Great Job!

  29. Kate R says:

    My husband is the same about painting wood, however, we are likely moving into an historic home…some molding is white which i like but most of it is dark wood. My debate is whether or not to paint it white…my husband, like yours, is hesitant and I wonder about it as well because the home is historic…any advice?

  30. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Kate R, I hesitate to paint classic wood detailing in any historic home, unless absolutely everything is wood, then in those circumstances, a little contrast actually enhances the wood details.

  31. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Kellie, I’m not usually a ceiling fan person, but in this space it really works because the rich wood is a nice contrast, also this is where we hang out a lot on hot summer days so it’s functional too. That particular fan does have a light but we rarely use it, we use the recessed lighting and sconces instead. As best as I can recall, we bought it at either HD or Lowes but that was six years ago!

  32. Wow. It really does look so much better. Did you sand the cabinets before priming them? I know exactly what you mean about sisters. I spent Saturday with mine getting our nails done and shopping. She won’t let me talk about my blog for long so I have to come up with other things to talk about. :)

  33. Allie says:

    What a huge difference! Love it!

    My family room was originally all dark paneling, dark beam ceilings, and a really big used brick fireplace and hearth. Much to the horror and gasps of others, we painted the whole thing white. Best decision ever! It is a wonderful, warm inviting room and still has architectural interest and texture.

    Hurray for you and white paint!

  34. love this — it definitely brightens up the room — especially since there aren’t windows!

  35. Allison A. says:

    Yay for sister time! Sisters are the best. Your built ins look fantastic, Kate. Fresh and crisp!

  36. Your built-ins look amazing!!! What a difference! And too funny about your empty picture frames. I still have a few of those in my house :) I really should fill them up with photos of my kids. But boy is it hard to get a good photo of all 5 of them!

  37. ahhhhh SO gorgeous. And you styled them so beautifully (surprise? no.) :) Love that bike!

  38. Shannon says:

    So pretty, I love it!

  39. It looks great. I’d love to paint the wood in our great room. It won’t happen, though. The husband loves it too much.
    But, I can enjoy yours.
    Good job.

  40. Wow, they look totally amazing! Such a fresh and renewed feeling in the room, and you styled the shelves perfectly!

  41. Shana says:

    Wow! I must say, when I saw the picture of the original wood, I thought “What beautiful cabinets! Who would want to paint that lovely wood?” (You must understand, though, that I come from a home with truly horrid, old, nasty cabinetry). BUT – you convinced me. The white paint looks fabulous! What a great transformation. :)

  42. Jodie M. says:

    Oh my gosh. They look fantastic! I love them. Great job.

  43. Holly says:

    I’m loving this makeover. And in this instance, I’m all for painting the wood. Its dramatically improved.

    I did notice the kids watching the TV on an odd angle, do you find it at all awkward (the way the couch and the TV are not facing each other)? Or would you just sit on the other side of the sectional?

  44. I probably win the creeper of the year award, but I had to mention I have the same exact bronze bicycle which happened to make an appearance in your BOTB series back in January! My boyfriend thought I was crazy when I picked it up, at Ross of all places. Thank you for noting where you found yours! I’m tempted to pick up the metal motorbike in gold….

    PS – Built-ins look stunning in white!

  45. Jackie B says:

    Leave the fan alone! I get it! We have one in our kitchen over our table. Very new style that everyone comments on. The fact is that it gets HOT in here especially in the summer and I am all for functionality and really, it does look good too. I do like your fan too. Very tasteful. I was thinking that some beadboard would look good inside the built-ins on the back wall and sides too. Just an idea. They are very pretty, although I truly was a fan of the dark wood.

  46. Debra says:

    Wow! They look great. I am a huge fan of white paint. I like the shelves more open, although I understand your feeling about the TV. Ours is over the mantle so there’s no hiding it…

  47. Mariella says:

    Hi Kate,

    I am a relatively new fan of yours. I just bought a house that needs A LOT of work so I am inspiring myself in your work. Thank you for sharing. One curiosity I have on your post is: those mirrors above the sofa. Did you made them yourself? If so, could you share how? I would love to do something similar on a wall I have in the living room. Thanks!

  48. Kim Porter says:

    I love the new look! The whole room looks lighter now.

    Kim @ mylifeincolorblog.com

  49. Melanie says:

    One word: incredible! Looks like a totally new room!

  50. Lori says:

    Gorgeous! You definitely made the right decision in painting them white. They brighten up the room and now you have all your pretties out on display!

  51. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Mariella, those mirrors are the Palais from Ballard Designs, there is a link at the bottom of the post.

  52. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Lisa, I didn’t sand the cabinets, this particular primer doesn’t require it, bonus!

  53. Carmel says:

    What a difference a little white paint can make! Looks amazing and I also love tv marathons!! Seriously – there’s nothing better!

  54. I love the new look! We used the same colour on our son’s nursery. You can see it here:

  55. Kathy says:

    My Lord, what a difference. I’m one who has a little bit of a tough time painting nice wood furniture, but this is a classic case of “yes, go for it!” LOvE It! (and I liked it before you painted!)

  56. Oooh I love those pillows. I’m reupholstering an old rocking chair and bought the same pattern fabric in a different color palette this weekend. So pretty!

  57. Kristen says:

    Loving your blog!! Found you through Pinterest, and keep coming back to your site time and again for your gorgeous projects! You are definitely an inspiration for the makeovers I have planned for our home – thanks for all you do!
    (P.S. I do custom Facebook pages if you need help – all Pages are converting to the new Timeline format on 30 March).

  58. Kathy C. says:

    Wow… I love the white! It really opens up the room and makes it look brighter and fresh… Nice work!

  59. sharon says:

    Looks great, has a nice “crisp” feel to it. I have a hugh pine entertainment center
    that I want to paint, but I’m stumped as to what color. It is against olive green walls.
    Tan sofa’s, 2 green chairs. Accent color is cranberry red….Any ideas??? I would certainly
    welcome any suggestions.

  60. Layla says:

    Oh my goodness, they built-in look SO LOVELY!
    Way to rock that redo, friend! :-D

  61. Cathy M~ says:

    Stunning!!! I am so glad that you painted these AND that hubby is happy!! Great job!! hugs, cathy

  62. Amanda says:

    Gorgeous, bright and comfortable – great job! We are in the middle of a living room transformation. Our walls were a darkish red when we bought our house and I hate the dark cave effect they give off. The walls are primed and now its decision time when it comes to the color of the walls and built ins. We’re looking for something light and neutral, though not pure or off-white. What color are these walls? Are they the same color as in the before photo? I may add it to the pool of contenders. Thanks in advance, and congrats on such a beautiful transformation!

  63. Amanda says:

    Just answered my own question by stumbling upon your post on all colors used in your home! Thank you!

  64. Sandra says:

    Three Cheers for you that your hubby saw the white, that is the light. I hate to say how many times I’ve backed down from painting because it was “nice wood”! And like you I knew it wood } be better. I like that you explain what you’re doing and how you do it. That’s why I voted for you in the AT DIY contest!
    Your weekend sounded like a blast. I don’t have a Sis like you do that I can do stuff with, but I am blessed with a great friend like that and those kinds of people are treasure.

  65. Gillian says:

    What a lovely makeover! I’m impressed with how calm the room is even with the open shelving. You must have done a great job going through everything behind those doors. Beautiful!

  66. Kim says:

    WOW! LOVE the what white paint can do. I’m a BIG fan of white cabinets in a space like this. A friend had beautiful wood cabinets like yours & the same type wood on all 4 walls in her large, family room. Talked her into having it all painted. It’s such a stunning room now, bright and light & still cozy. Love your “new” family room.

  67. Kristin says:

    Great transformation…congrats on a beautiful job! My question is about the throw pillows in your “before” photo, I have seen then in a couple of posts over the last months and I love them. I have a red sofa in my living room and they would look great on it. Do you remember where you found them?

  68. Susan says:

    This makes the whole space brighter – love it! I have built in bookcases that I really want to paint – but I’ve been put off by all the little holes in the sides that are there for adjusting the shelves. I see that your built ins have them as well – how did you paint without having the holes get painted over or just have extra paint in them? I’ve never seen any tutorial that addresses this and would love some advice! Thanks!

  69. Amanda says:

    Oh I love the change! You’re right – the room is so much more breathable now!

    We have our TV out in the open, too. I kind of prefer it that way because I don’t like bulky storage units. I think the TV looks great right where you have it – it fits perfectly and kind of just blends away now with everything else going on. Besides, the fireplace is the main focal point of that area anyway. Great job!

  70. I can’t believe it’s the same space! They look brand new!!!! Beautiful room.

  71. Zoe says:

    Wow I think that looks so much better and makes your room light and airy. I recently painted the built-ins in my office and got the same sort of airy effect. http://www.creativeinchicago.com/2012/02/decorating-home-office-progress.html

    Now if only I had the guts to paint the cherry cabinets in my kitchen!

  72. It looks so good! Adding the trim on the front of the shelves looks AWESOME. Seriously great job!!

  73. Sarah says:

    Love it! It looks so wonderful!

  74. Awesome…I have a client who needs convincing…I will send this link.

  75. PS…love your relationship with your sister. I am lucky, too.

  76. Kim says:

    I love everything about your room. What a wonderful transformation! And a great story about your relationship with your sister. So fun.

  77. I absolutely love it!!! Makes me want to finally attack my kitchen cabinets. The white just freshened it up so much. You amaze me!

  78. Jennifer says:

    Absolutely love this. What a transformation! And you’ve inspired me: our fireplace has built-in bookshelves on one side and blank wall on the other. It always looked a little lopsided to me. Now I’m envisioning built-ins (to the ceiling) on both sides of the fireplace.

  79. Kasey M. says:

    Those are very well edited bookshelves, bravo! And the trim on the skinny shelves was a fantastic idea.

    So does anyone know when season 3 of Dowton Abby airs? I’m dying of anticipation!

  80. K. Marie says:

    That looks fantastic! I love how the wood below the fireplace contrasts with the white.

  81. kristin says:

    oh my goodness Kate, this is fabulous! It opens/brightens and compliments the room so much! Lucky you to have such a wonderful sister!

  82. ReenieLou says:

    Much better ~ looks great :)

  83. Jennah says:

    Looks fresh and fabulous! You’re DIY projects are so inspiring. I love your blog.

  84. Jen says:

    I had to giggle at the part where the hubs was hesitant but now loves them. That’s the story of our DIY life here. :)

    I am so excited for you that you were able to do this! I have two painting projects sitting here that I have been wanting to do and you have completed like at least 5+ and I still haven’t started… I think it’s time to open some windows and start priming!


  85. Kate, I love how this project turned out. The room does have a coastal feel to it now. Bright and sunny looking. Love that. Thanks for sharing!!! :)

  86. Great remodel – love all the white and the openness, less formal, more family. Glad to see you left the hearth warm wood….not only looks great but will be a lot easier to keep clean. Love the pale blue/aqua….I’m always amazed how a little color goes a long way. It’s always hard to re-do a room that actually looks fine s is, but if you know it can be so much better, go for it! Kids adorable too!

  87. Laraine Hoffman says:

    Thank you! Thank you! This just pushed my husband into the agreeble zone. We have been at odds for months over our cabinets.

  88. Melissa says:

    looks amazing! Im so glad you decided to go for it! Love them :)

  89. It’s amazing what a (relatively) quick paint job will do to open up a space! Hope this fix won the hubby completely over to painting them. :-)

  90. P.S. This is the first time I’ve used the mobile version of your site, and I love it! I’m on an Android phone, and the navigation within the page is really easy, especially the comments. Definitely worth the time you put into it!

  91. Celeste says:

    Wow! That made the world of a difference. It’s so great to know you can completely transform a space with some elbow grease and a bucket of paint!

  92. Meers says:

    Beautiful! Could you please tell me the wall color you used?

  93. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Meers, the wall color is ‘Camouflage’ by Benjamin Moore, it’s in my kitchen and dining room too!

  94. Cyndy says:

    Oh wow Kate, what a beautiful difference! Great job girlie! I have almost the exact same set up as you and have been begging my husband for two years to let me do it and he thinks I have lost my mind. I’m going to make him read your post and show him the difference. I think when he see’s it, he will love it more as well!


  95. The “after” is absolutely gorgeous, Kate! The room looks so fresh and bright now! I love the pops of blue too. Fantastic job!

  96. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Susan, I use a roller and really light coats, that seems to avoid any paint filling in the holes!

  97. I didn’t even notice the TV! It is sooo beautiful!!!

  98. Rob O. says:

    The bookcases are stunning!

    But I hafta admit that I liked the “Camouflage” color on the wall around the fireplace better than the white. I like the way the bright white crown molding pops off that color on the side walls.

  99. Darlene F says:

    OMG! I thought the wood actually looked pretty great. BUTTTTT now I see the light! The white looks stunning. I have ulgy golden oak builtins and I going to paint them also. I cant decide on white or grey to match the wall color. My trim is not white in the rest of my house, it was golden oak, but i have painted it choc. brown and i love it. Great job, im am in awe of you.

  100. donna altieri says:

    i just paid someone to paint a used china cabinet i bought. i had him paint it in white but it’s too bright. of course right after i painted it i found all sorts of posts with people listing great whites. can i just paint the front of it in the linen white? the painter was supposed to use a satin finish but it came out very shiny, more like a gloss finish. any helpful ideas? i would like to send a picture but i don’t know how to attach something to a comment.


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