Paint vs. Stained

If you’ve been following along with our cabinetry mini-series, you’ll know that we’ve reached our half way point! Today we’re learning about the difference between painted and stained cabinets. We sat down with Bethany, one of our cabinetry experts, to get some insight on these options.

First things first. There is a difference between painted and stained cabinets. Let’s discuss.

Painted cabinets are just that, cabinets that have been painted. They have a smooth and uniform finish with little to no variation from one cabinet to the next. The paint adheres to the surface of the cabinet so that only the color of the paint will be noticeable.

Stained cabinets are, well…stained. Stain is thinner than paint which allows it to be absorbed by the wood, showcasing the grain and any other unique qualities of the wood species you selected for your cabinets.

Cabinet manufacturers often have a specific type of wood or MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) for applying painted finishes, whereas stain works best on natural wood such as Oak, Alder, Cherry, etc.

As with any part of your home, the choice between painted and stained comes down to your personal style. According to Bethany, both are popular on their own and combinations of the two are becoming more common.

If you’re looking at what’s trending, you’ll quickly learn that white painted cabinets continue to be a huge hit.

“White is by far the most popular paint color and creates a classic, bright kitchen,” Bethany said. “Just be prepared to clean it more often since every little spot and scuff will show up!”

It’s also wise to keep in mind that there are multiple versions of “white”, ranging from very stark whites to subtler off-whites. Our most common white cabinets are on the softer side of the spectrum.

Bright whites can often be too harsh with the other material choices, which is why it’s always a good idea to view your flooring, countertop and backsplash samples all together with your cabinet selection.

Another trend that’s popular is having two-toned cabinets, especially in a large kitchen space. This is very common to help break up the space and create focal points within the room.

Often times, the perimeter and island are two different finishes. For example: A white perimeter with a stained island. This can help the island feel more like the gathering space or a piece of furniture.

We also create two-toned kitchens by splitting the base cabinets and the wall cabinets into two different finishes. The darker finish typically ends up on the base cabinets since it carries more visual weight than the lighter upper cabinets.

It may feel a bit overwhelming contemplating all the different paints, stains, styles and trends you can pick from for your cabinetry needs, but don’t worry! We here at Studio H2O are here to help guide you through every step to ensure your project is everything you want it to be.

If you have more questions about what finish works best for your cabinets or would like to learn more about cabinetry contact Bethany at 319-338-8275 or

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