Cabinet Painting 2.0: How to DIY with a Toddler at Home.

Now, more than ever, we are spending A LOT of time staring at the walls of our homes. My favorite way to spend my free time involves imagining ways to beautify and improve my home.

I don’t get a ton of free time lately (thanks COVID-19), but in the rare moments of peace and quiet (aka: a few episodes of Blippi), I love to escape to my imagination and the possibilities of life without children when I have time and focus to improve my home.

When we made the move to North Carolina in 2017, I knew that a coat of paint and new countertops would transform our new kitchen. I also knew that I had a toddler (18 months) who wasn’t registered in preschool, and hopes of getting pregnant again soon. If I was going to get these cabinets painted it HAD to happen before the baby came, and ideally before I was pregnant (fumes, ladders, morning sickness…need I say more?).

Here is our kitchen on move in day:

At the first chance, I painted all the yellow cabinets Aesthetic White (by Sherwin Williams). It was a cool white that complimented my current countertops and wall color. I wasn’t sure when I would be able to change the counters, so I wanted the colors to jive for as long as necessary.

After all the yellow cabinets were painted, the kitchen looked like this:

I had a taste of what that white paint could do for my kitchen and I couldn’t wait to get started on the upper cabinets.

Before anyone gets upset with me for painting over the beautiful wood, I did consider keeping them brown and only changing out the countertops and backsplash.

I mean, look at this beauty…

Though my kitchen is decently sized (huge compared to our NYC apartment), its location in the middle of the home, with no direct sunlight and minimal overhead lighting wasn’t ideal.

I lived with the natural wood cabinets for over 4 months. At that point, I was tired of working long hours in what felt like a kitchen cave. Everything was dark. Everything was brown: countertops, cabinets, backsplash, floors. It just didn’t fit with the rest of the home’s cool colors and overall fresh and airy feeling.

One rainy morning, I couldn’t wait any longer and just went for it. I knew the entire kitchen would take me a while, so I worked in small sections (3-6 doors at a time).

Choosing this section over the refrigerator gave me a preview of the rest of the kitchen with white upper cabinets. Luckily, it only gave me more motivation to keep going!

Cabinet Painting with a Toddler Tip #1:

Work on prepping and painting upper cabinets while they are awake!

Although their eyes are open, they should be otherwise fully engaged…ideally with a Disney movie or a streaming show with many (many) episodes. I don’t recommend working on painting cabinets during consecutive days – the little people might revolt! Consecutive days of cabinet painting during naps and bedtimes is highly encouraged!

I taped, removed cabinet doors, prepped the wood with my favorite deglosser, and applied all my coats of paint to the cabinet boxes while my little guy was awake! He tried to climb the ladder and hang out with me a few times, but he still couldn’t reach the cabinets (or the paintbrushes!) – so it wasn’t a huge deal.

Cabinet Painting with a Toddler Tip #2:

Paint the cabinet doors behind closed doors, or at least after bedtime!

Painting the cabinet doors requires a little more focus and therefore privacy…secrecy? Solitude! This step would have been extremely difficult in NYC, but luckily in North Carolina I have a laundry room with a pocket door. I rarely painted the doors while my toddler was awake, but often the cabinet doors needed to finish drying without little interested fingerprints or cars bumping into them. Closing the door when I was finished allowed me to continue to paint until the very moment he woke up.

If you don’t have a door to close for your cabinet door painting, you can also schedule your painting around nap schedules. For example, I like to put the baby to bed and get the painting done right away. One coat of paint only takes a short time to apply, and it’s dry to the touch by the time he’s awake from his nap (1.5-2 hours later). Carefully pick up the doors and put them in a safe place until after bedtime, when you’ll pull them back out for their next coat. Put them away again in the morning before breakfast. (Kitchen tables are a great painting surface – covered with a drop cloth of course!) With this schedule, you can have a few sets of cabinet doors painted (2-3 coats) in 2-3 days!

Cabinet Painting with a Toddler Tip #3:

Save valuable time by choosing NOT to clean your paint brushes after every use!

I didn’t bother cleaning up my paintbrushes or paint containers, I stuck them in ziplock bags (or used plastic wrap to seal up paint trays) and stuck them in the fridge! Mom taught me this trick. No idea where she learned it, or the science behind it – but it works! When you are ready to paint again (ideally in a few hours rather than days or weeks) the brushes or rollers are all ready for you!

I was pretty tired from painting through all my “breaks” but seeing the results and light that was already improving my kitchen kept me pushing to finish! I only had one more section to go! (If you don’t count the lower cabinets – but don’t get too far ahead of yourself!)

I did it! All 15 doors and cabinet boxes are white! I started painting the cabinets over the fridge on May 31, and finished the cabinets over the sink on June 23! The first round (yellow cabinets and island project) started March 31, and finished up April 24. In total, I painted 21 doors, 2 drawers, a bookshelf, and kitchen island in 3 months. Each set took me almost a month to finish, but with a toddler at home I think that’s quite a feat!

That leads me to my last tip:

Cabinet painting with a Toddler: Tip #4

Take your time.

It will get done eventually. Be patient with yourself and your family when you are working on a project. I’ll never admit to this, but sometimes there are things that are more important than cabinet painting.

The top cabinets are complete. And…my kitchen is a complete mess! There’s always one more thing to do before nap time is over.

Speaking of one more thing…

To be continued!

If you are looking for my cabinet painting tutorials check out these links:

Cabinet Painting in NYC, Part 2, Part 3

Cabinet Painting Again! – in the Charlotte House