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Custom Cabinets – Painted or Stained

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

How To Decide?

painted cabinets

When building or remodeling a home, chances are there will be a major focus on the gathering place and that will most likely include the kitchen. Kitchen cabinets play a critical role in the aesthetics of the room and are a substantial cost in a construction budget.

In custom homes and remodels your kitchen should be both eye appealing and functional. The most important decision on cabinets is what finish you desire, natural wood or painted. If you are not sure here are some tips to help determine the finish that is best for you.

Painted Cabinets -Modern Look


If you desire a clean sleek design painted cabinetry is one that can deliver that. The classic all-white kitchen would not be what it is without white polished cabinets. All paint colors whether -whites and creams to grays and blues – will be clean and finished in appearance. Paint is perfect for homeowners who aren’t a fan of grain or character marks and imperfections that you find in stained wood cabinets.

If you are thinking of a pop of color painted cabinets are the way to go. Whether it’s a muted red or a beautiful teal blue it will cover the surface of the wood and provide a smooth and clean finish. Paint sticks to the surface of wood, so you will not get a mix of grains and knots as you would with stained cabinets.


Choosing a medium-density fiberboard, MDF is a way to cut costs when building cabinets. Paint adheres to the material well and when cabinets are painted it is difficult to determine the type of wood or material used once they are covered. One of the drawbacks to painting your cabinets is it hides the character of the wood. Paint is thicker than stain, so the wood does not absorb it like a stain. If you want to see grains and knots in the wood, painted cabinets are not the way to go.

Painted cabinets are about 15% more expensive than stained cabinets. Some builders will use a spraying method to paint the cabinets for efficiency. However, hand painted, and brush finished cabinets will allow for ease with touch ups. One thing to consider is your household, kids and the traffic that will travel around your cabinets. Painted cabinets will ding and show scratches more prominently where stained cabinets are better at concealing those damages.

Stained Cabinets – Traditional Look


stained cabinets

The biggest attraction to stained cabinets is that it highlights all the wood features. Unlike painting, stain does not steal the spotlight from your woods natural character. Stain is a thinner substance so it seeps into the surface of the wood which can enhance the natural beauty of the wood. Maintenance on stained cabinets is less of a concern for homeowners. Scratches and chips are going to blend into stained cabinets easily, so the upkeep is minimal in comparison. Using touch up markers is a low-cost solution for stained cabinets and an exact match is not necessary as they blend better with the imperfections of the grains.


Cost of cabinets can vary depending on kitchen size, cabinet construction and your manufacturer. Staining is lower in cost, but the wood selection can be more expensive. Oak, Pine, and Maple are all hardwoods that stain well but are higher in cost. To achieve a similar look, you can use softer woods that will give you the same effect and save on your budget. Knotty Alder is not only affordable, but it is great to work with. Alder is a softer wood which allows staining and a customized look. Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) offers huge savings in a budget, but it does not take stain as well as it takes paint.


If you are considering refinishing your cabinets instead of replacing them, re-painting is much less expensive than re-staining. A cabinets surface must first be prepared before the new finish goes on. Painted cabinets have a simple process of only cleaning and light sanding since paint can be reapplied over the existing finish. Re-staining, however, is a more difficult process because stain cannot be applied over the existing finish. The cabinet surface must be fully stripped and sanded before applying new stain. This is much more labor-intensive which will drive the cost up by about 30%.


The kitchen is a frequently used room in your home. A kitchen design will utilize high-quality materials, adequate space and functional options that appeal to your style and vision. The different components of your kitchen need to work well together and cabinets are an important part of that process. Take the time to research the best options for you and your family and work to create a budget that will support those choices.

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