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Monday, September 02, 2013

Update Oak Cabinets: Old Masters Gel Stain, Spanish Oak

My kitchen transformation has been a work in progress since we first stepped foot in this house. The previous owners really had a thing for ivy. Oak and ivy, everywhere. Each wall was builder's white, every countertop cotton candy pink. I'd say that it wasn't really my style, but truly it was awful.

A serious renovation was easily years away, so my first battle plan was to hide the orange cabinets by painting the wall orange. As a bonus, this also softened the orange parquet flooring in the living room.

We lived with it for four years, the house taking a huge hit on the priority list as we completed our family with three kids and a new puppy. This summer, I had a goal: tackle the kitchen. I read blogs for weeks and scoured pinterest for a way to update my cabinets. I settled on Old Masters Gel Stain in Spanish Oak. Less than $30.00 for a can. Doesn't get much cheaper than that! Nine years and many projects in, my husband still doesn't completely trust me, so I convinced him to let me try out the process on our oak bedroom set. I invaded his garage with sandpaper, tack cloth and my nightstand, took out all the drawers and got to work.


Gel stains are typically wipeable. You apply the stain liberally and remove with a cloth after a few minutes. I tried this, but didn't get the look I wanted. I decided to paint it on in a thin layer with a foam brush and let it dry completely for a minimum of 24 hours. This is a VERY important step. Gel stains are a solvent, so it will actually remove the first layer if you try to recoat before it is dry. 

One coat looked TERRIBLE, streaky and 1980's wood paneling-esque but the finish was amazing after two!

Two coats of Old Masters Gel Stain

LOVE! I touched it up in spots with a third coat, leaving some of the brown peeking through to see some variation in the colour. It was more black than I expected, but I was in love.

G's response to this transformation? "I don't care. Do what you want." And then he left for work for 4 days. I will take that as a free pass!

With three kids under 6 and a border collie running around, this was a slow process. I worked on the base cabinets after the kids were in bed, and blocked the entrance to the kitchen with the oven when necessary.  Start to finish, it took me two weeks. It does scratch a bit around the edges and handles, but I am letting that happen until it is "distressed" enough for my liking. The plan at that point is to apply a clear poly coat over to finish them off.

The cabinets are crazy awesome, but there is so much going on: orange, black, pink, and clutter. This kitchen is a hot mess!

Update Oak Cabinets

I painted the orange wall the same color as the rest of the kitchen and this really brought out the drama of the cabinets. I asked G to take the range hood down and allowed him to think that replacing it with a shiny new one was completely his idea! He also "decided" that the old track lighting had to go. Can this really be my kitchen?

The only downside...the countertops are almost unbearably pink against the neutral walls. Shhh...I don't dare mention this to G yet, but I have a plan brewing. Next transformation...countertops!

***edited in response to requests for more photos*** 
I have had a number of requests for more photos of the cabinets!! YAY! Thank you for being interested in my home. The cabinet project was finished this spring, before I was even thinking of starting this blog, so the photos were taken primarily for my own records. I recently took a few more after updating my counters. If you would like to see better photos of the kitchen, please check out my countertop transformation, where I have added some at the end which show closeups of the cabinets. I apologize for not having better photos of this stage! 


  1. What a difference! It looks great, Julie :)

    1. Thanks, Melissa! And holy, wow...thanks for mentioning this on your "eye catcher" post! As a brand new blogger, I am honored!

  2. Beautious! Saw it on Melissa's blog and wanted to let you know!

  3. Thanks! It was a lot of work, but I love how it turned out.

  4. Did your cabinets turn out blackish with the Spanish Oak gel stain? It looks really dark in this picture but I want to make sure before I go purchase some for my bathroom cabinets.

    Your kitchen looks awesome! Kudos for tackling this project!

    1. Thanks Elizabeth! They are definitely blackish. Did you get a chance to look at the updated photos? Check out the bottom of this post:

      There are a few close ups that give a better look at the finish. If you wipe the excess stain off between coats, the colour is significantly lighter!

  5. Julie...beautiful job - I'm working on the same project right now and trying to decide gel/stain, etc. BUT...regarding your countertops, look up Gianni Countertop Paint...I did mine and they look fabulous. I had ugly blue corian countertops from previous owner - the countertops were in perfect condition but just needed a color change. Gianni is great for the DIYer - it comes with automotive grade paint and you control how much color you want to use. Look them up online - I would attach pics but I don't know how.

    1. Thanks Diane! I actually have already used Gianni on my counters, I love that stuff! If you want to see how it turned out, there is a link in to my counter transformation in the *edit* at the bottom of this post. Good luck with your cabinets, I would love to see what you end up doing!

    2. Out of curiosity, how are your counters holding up? Mine have a few chips and scratches from the littles not being careful. I am thinking of ordering their improved clear coat and touching it up.

    3. I noticed some scratching, but we did the backsplash after the countertops and maybe the scratches came from that. I don't have children so its just me sliding things around. But there are no chips. I actually did the whole process once and then resanded and recolored it to my liking with more variation and then did the two top coats, so I have a pretty thick layer. I'm also thinking about doing another clear coat too. Can you tell me how to post pictures if possible?