Painting Over Old, Frightening Cabinets.

Q: What’s black and grey and staring you right in the face when you walk up our stairs?

A: The linen cabinets!

Feast your eyes on THIS!

three black and grey ugly upper linen cabinets

(And ignore the frames—they belong to the prior homeowners as this pic was taken during the first inspection, before we took over.)

black and grey wood lower cabinets and drawers

Yep, this is what they called “the linen closet.”  Except it’s not actually a closet.  Clearly.  I want to say to the real estate agents, “It’s just cabinets, people.  Cabinets.  Cabinets at the top of the stairs.”

(They’re more commonly known as “cupboards” in New Zealand, but I digress. We’re not in New Zealand anymore, I remind myself, but yet little words and phrases keep creeping back into my vocabulary.)

I have so many questions about this.  Such as, why are the linen cabinets upstairs when the laundry room is downstairs?  Is that why it’s so close to the stairs?  So you can traipse up and down with your laundry but hey, they’ve saved you a few extra steps because boom—the linen cabs are right there?  So convenient. They thought of everything in the 80s, didn’t they?

Here’s another view of them during the inspection, this time from the downstairs entryway looking up. (Note Matt up there with our 5-month-old baby strapped to his front while simultaneously having a deep discussion with one of the flooring guys. We got several to give us quotes, as we wanted to refinish the hardwood floors upstairs before moving in.)

looking up from entryway to stairway landing on second floor with chandelier
You can find the full (before) tour of our upstairs here!

And I know, I know…it’s hard to see the awfulness of the linen cabinets when you can’t get your eyes past that hanging light. I’m with ya.

We can’t continue without acknowledging the two-tone paint job of the cabinets. In case you hadn’t noticed.  Someone took a lot of time to do that. That 1980s painter painted his heart out.  Unfortunately, it’s—ahem—not the look these two new homeowners are going for. 


I’m going to share something a little unorthodox with you.  This happens sometimes when I’m looking to help improve a room or object.  I feel like it has a personality.  (Do any of you ever do this?  You must. I think it’s only natural for some of us.)

I shall use these linen cabinets as an example:

Here they are.  27 years old and painted two-toned.  Imagine me coming up to the cabinets gently, laying a hand on one of the open doors, and telling it in my quietest cabinet-whisperer voice,

“Don’t worry.  No one is going to paint you two-toned again.  No one is going to come up the stairs and then jump from shock at having you right in his or her face upon arrival on this landing.  You’re going to be beautiful.  Just wait.  We’ll take care of this.  You’re going to be lovely.”


Do I want to sand all the paint off these and then restain them?  No. 

Is the reason that I had a five-month-old baby strapped to my frontside, keeping me from doing that?  Maybe. (You know, when it wasn’t Matt’s turn.)

What I want to do is paint them white.  The walls are white.  This linen cabinet is visible from the entry below when you walk in the front door.  Painting them white will help them blend in (or so I’m hoping).  It’ll brighten up the entryway from downstairs and just simplify it, not assaulting your eyes when you come in and have so many different things to look at.

(And yes, I said assaulting. I’m dramatic like that because it is important to me that you understand the DEPTH of my passion here.)

curved stairway going upstairs
A full (before) tour of our downstairs!

See why we chose so much white in this particular house!

Plus, it should also be less shocking when you come up the stairs.

We painted all our walls in Benjamin Moore “Swiss Coffee.”  So these cabinets will be in Swiss Coffee as well.

[Pause for a coffee break, because saying “Swiss Coffee” always makes me think of coffee. And being in Switzerland, for some reason.]


Now, pretend you’ve come over to see our progress on the house—after the prior owners have left and we have now dominated the space and painted everything to our little hearts’ content.

You walk in our door…you gaze around…your eyes go up…

And you see this little preview:

curved stairway with view of white cabinets
Let me convince you why you should paint before moving into a new home!

(And yes, Eagle Eye. We did paint over some of the black on the stairway woodwork as well. You say it looks SO much better? Yes, I agree! What good taste you have!)

Now clearly you need to walk up the stairs to check it out, because that angle is hard to see.

white upper and lower cabinets and drawers with shelf in middle
Want to see another stunning built-in makeover? I know you want to!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  Can you see the cabinets smiling?  They look so happy!  They look so fresh and new and like they’d walk around the upstairs strutting their stuff if they could.

Personally, I love it.  The 1980s two-toned situation is gone.  I’m no longer reminded of the ugliness everytime we pass by.  The “Paint it white! Paint it all white!” solution has worked. 

It doesn’t feel dingy anymore, right?  Now I actually want to put my clean linens inside. 

And that, my friends, is what a linen closet is all about.

Click for a full tour of the upstairs where these linen cabinets reside, as well as a downstairs tour of our house!

Why we ripped out our small laundry room and why we intentionally did so much white in this house!

➜ Photos of all our house renovations are available on this page.

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