Distressed Kitchen Cabinets

This timeless antique look for your kitchen cabinets is all the character your kitchen needs.
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Photo by: Gordon Swanson

Gordon Swanson

By: Melissa Webster

Distressed kitchen cabinets are achieved by a quick and easy faux finish technique you can do in a matter of hours. Transform your basic builder cabinets into something timeless that looks custom-built and stylish.

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From the fun and flirty, relaxed and casual cottage style of white to the more formal and traditional, regal sophistication of black, distressed kitchen cabinets add character and charm to give the most popular room in the house a lived-in look that conveys an aura of comfortable warmth and age.

There are many ways you can achieve a distressed look for your cabinets, depending on how "distressed" you want them to come across. If you simply want your cabinets to lose the brand-new look, try creating something that's just a little worn around the edges through well-placed layers of paint, followed by strategic sanding in places that would naturally be rubbed and worn over time, and then finished off with a protective seal at the end. This is especially effective with black cabinets.

For a look that is a little more extreme, try hitting the cabinets with hammers and chains or denting them with a nail or an equally hard tool. This, along with sanding to reveal the various colors or wood underneath in seemingly random spots, works to age your cabinets as well by making them look as though the paint has worn over time. Just be sure to hit them gently so as not to actually destroy them, and only strike them in random places. Too much distress and you'll just make your kitchen cabinets look shabby (and not in the intentionally cool, chic way).

You can use an antique glaze rubbed all over and then sealed, or try several layers of varying paint that's then battered and sanded. You can distress every surface or only wear down the corners and raised surfaces that would be likely to get the most traffic. A distressed finish looks good with any color depending on the look you're trying to achieve, but black and white tend to be the most popular. Blue works really well for a worn country look, and white works best for an antique traditional look. Black and red are great for an in-between transitional look that bridges the classic with contemporary and modern. This is a fun and easy project, and it's inexpensive to pull off, even for a DIY dabbler not used to tackling major projects.

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