Is White Worth the Extra Maintenance? Yay or Nay

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The other day I received this note: “We had a house built this year and the builder would not put in the white cabinets I have always wanted, its a cookie cutter builder who just wasn't offering that in our neighborhood. To me this was crazy, all I have ever wanted is a beautiful white kitchen!
They wouldn't do it so i thought I'd upgrade one level to the very smooth nicer cabinets but not all the way to a chocolate brown. That way I have nice cabinets and can paint them. Somebody just told me this is the worst idea and I'm going to ruin them forever! They said they will dent and scratch and look horrible, given they are really new and very nice cabinets just not the finish color I want what do you think? If you think I could have them painted or do it myself what method would be best?”

Here is my response:

YES painted cabinets will never be as durable as wood but who cares? White furniture is also not forgiving but people still buy it because it's about the look and the feel. Either get them professionally sprayed for more durability or paint them yourself (whatever it takes really) and then you will have the look that you want.

Anyone that would give advice called "If you do that you will ruin it forever" is simply someone that loves wood.

And the same applies to anything white.  My office chairs are white leather and when I sat on them in a brand new pair of dark jeans, I had to clean them.  It's totally worth the enjoyment I get just looking at them, whenever I walk into my office.

Buying white furniture or wearing white presents the same problem and it seems like the more money people have the more white they surround themselves with. Ever noticed in the summer how many expensively dressed women are wearing white?

It's also why I can count on one hand how many wood stained kitchen cabinets I see in the more expensive area of the city I live in.

White is timeless in so many ways. And it needs maintenance and extra trips to the drycleaner, no doubt about it.

Over to you? Is white worth the maintenance in general? Where is white in your house or wardrobe?

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

Related posts:

White is a Snob
When is White Just Right?
5 Steps to a Kitchen You will Love

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50 Responses to Is White Worth the Extra Maintenance? Yay or Nay

  1. flyingcarrot says:

    WHITE IS WORTH IT. No question! PS – Get a new builder :)

  2. A Delightful Design says:

    Crazy builder! Yes, white is worth it! What's the point of having cabinets you don't love? We just moved into a house that has new cabinets and I'm having them sprayed white.

    I had a client who's painter *refused* to even give them a quote to paint their oak fireplace surround white. WHAT! Those wood lovers exhaust me. ;-)

  3. Wendi @ Classic Chic Home says:

    I have white kitchen cabinets that have been professionally sprayed. I don't find that they're difficult to maintain – quite the opposite.
    When my house was built in 2006, dark, expresso cabinetry with minimal decoration was still the popular trend. I knew that these kitchens would look dated in another five years. They also didn't relate to my desire for a classic and timeless kitchen. A few eyebrows raised with my choice to mix soft white perimeter cabinets with a mahogany stained island and built-in buffet. The installer actually called from the work site to confirm that there hadn't been some sort of delivery error!
    You've given your reader sound advise, Maria, and I hope she follows her original vision, and creates the kitchen of her dreams! She won't regret it!

  4. Lazy Gardens says:

    White anything requires more maintenance because every smudge and fingerprint and crumb will show up. (high gloss black and stainless steel are the same). But if you get washable white stuff (cotton, high-gloss oil paints, and microfiber) and decide that the extra bit of effort is worth it, it's your choice.

    TIP: Keep up with the cleaning, because even high gloss enamels can discolor of the grunge gets to them.

  5. Sheila says:

    I love my white cabinets! I find that my kids and husband are more conscious of their dirty hands with the white cabinets than they ever were with the cherry we had previously.

  6. Jil Sonia McDonald - Interior Designer says:

    All the more reason for people to hire a designer when building a home. We are the ones that will fight for our client, so they don't have to go through the stress of arguing and rationalizing with their builders. And… my thought is that most 'dirt' in a home is usually dust. Dark cabinets show the dust so much more than white. Paint 'em white!

  7. Anonymous says:

    She's paying him and he won't do what she wants? WOW. How is it he stays in business? I agree with the other comments. White is classic, beautiful and always will be. Everything gets dirty – even stained cabinetry.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I love my white kitchen, sofas and chairs and don't find the maintenance to be any worse than any other color. If you really want white, I think any other color would be a downer on a daily basis.

    And hardly a day goes by that I'm not wearing a white tank top.

  9. Aurora says:

    While I don't think white is worth it, by any means (I'm much more interested in having flattering colors in my environment–and the reality is, white is NOT flattering to most complexions, never mind that it gets dirty so easily and to me, looks sterile and dated! ;)), I think that what IS important is to ask yourself what you're willing to put up with, to make YOU happy. If white will make you happy–and you're willing to put up with all the drawbacks, cheerfully–then go for it! :)

    My mom hates dusting…so she hates having "stuff" around her. Me, I LOVE "stuff"–the more there is, the more I love it. And yes, Mom's right–it needs to be dusted, and it can be a real pain to keep up with–but it makes me so happy, that it's a price I pay for what I like.

    On the other hand, much as I love the look of a tufted sofa, I KNOW I'm not willing to vacuum out all the little indentations as often as needs to be done, to make sure it always looks good–so that's NOT worth it to me…but it might be, to someone else.

    So think realistically about every white thing you've ever owned, and how much time you spent maintaining it…then ask yourself if you're willing to go through all that and more, for your white cabinets. If you are–go for it. If you're not, move on. :)

  10. Coley says:

    I would have walked away from that builder in a second!

    White is worth it!

  11. Jeannine 520 says:

    Is it worth the maintenance? Of course it is but unless you're hosting food fights, wild animals or throwing heavy, sharp objects around, I don't find that there's any difference in upkeep compared to any other color of cabinet.

    I've lived with my creamy white cabinets for a little over 8 years and have done nothing but wipe them down with a damp cloth every now and then and they look exactly as they always have.

    When I asked my upholsterer to cover my office couch in an off-white linen silk blend fabric he tried to talk me out of it, when he found out I wanted the tufted cushions down filled he told me I was nuts and asked if I had any kids or pets in my house. When I admitted to kids and five cats he laughed at me but here we are 4 years later and it's just as beautiful as it was when it was just covered. I'm so glad I didn't let him scare me out of it.

    My best advice is, don't let anyone talk you out of what will make you happy in your own home. If you treat your items properly and provide the basic guidance to any children in your house (which should happen no matter what color your things are) there won't be any problems. I think it's ridiculous to compromise.

  12. Marlo says:

    I've had a white kitchen and a light brown kitchen and I saw more oil stains around the handles of the brown cabinets. I prefer white and I don't mind any maintenance that goes along with it but I would consider white furniture more carefully because the maintenance would be more than the cabinets and I don't to call in an upholstery cleaner every month or so.

    For white furniture, it might be easier to maintain with a stain resistant and water repellant finish called Nano-Tex. Have you used it yet? I'm in the middle of testing a washable, white chenille with this finish and so far I'm liking the results.

  13. Momlady says:

    I'm prep-ing my 60's wood cabinet kitchen for a creamy white paint over-haul. I've had white cabinets before and I too prefer them. Since I'm kind of organizationally challenged I like to know where the smudges and splatters are so I can wipe them upright away. So the maintenance thing is an advantage as far as I can see. Go for it.

  14. Red Door Home says:

    Having something you truly love is always worth the extra effort!

  15. rachel @ Just a Touch of Gray says:

    White IS worth it! No doubt about it!

  16. Shannon says:

    I painted my cheap builder grade light maple cabinets myself about four years ago and they still look awesome. My wall cabinets are painted black and my two kitchen islands are painted white. I used a Benjamin Moore oil based paint called Super Spec. It's designed to be used as a rust preventing metal coating, but the BM guy recommended it for my wood kitchen cabinets. I did very minimal sanding. I used TSP to degloss and clean the cabinets and painted them with three coats of the Super Spec. It's self priming, but you do need to wait 24 hours inbetween each coat because it's an oil base. I have a few nicks on the legs of my island from my kids and dog (and husband) ramming them, but other than that they still look great. I cook EVERY day so they get a lot of wear and tear. The white has held up just as well as the black. I love Benjamin Moore and they don't pay me in anyway to say that. I would not hesitate to paint kitchen cabinets with this product again.

  17. Marivic says:

    1. Change builder (unless he's your husband?)
    2. Change husband (if he's the builder)
    3. Stick to what you love.
    4. Anything you love is worth the effort.

    I came from solid mahogany wood cabinets in my old house, but now I have professionally sprayed white cabinets and drawers in my kitchen with dark granite on top. My island is naturally-stained mahogany with the same dark granite. Handfeel is smooth and I've never had a problem keeping it clean! I dust them every now and then, and wipe them down only occasionally. Nothing different from maintaining other cabinets!

    White upholstery and clothing are different, they get spills. Cabinets are vertical, I've never had anything splashed on them, and if they did, a regular wipe is all that's needed.

    I have two gradeschoolers who always have their friends over in the kitchen cooking, and a dog (doesn't cook). No problem.

    Sorry so wordy–I still can't get over that builder! Maybe he doesn't know how to spray paint them smooth? Good luck!

  18. Kristie at The Decorologist.com says:

    I totally agree! Maintenance-free does not necessarily mean better, especially when you are talking about aesthetics! That's why so many homeowners end up buying hideous, dark sofas that are "maintenance-free." Who cares if they are UGLY????

  19. The enchanted home says:

    No pain no gain, white is absolutley worth every dollar and ever ounce of energy one might spend in its upkeep, I LOVE white from my collection of white pants to my semi white kitchen to all the white marble baths I am doing…its so beautiful, elegant and timeless. White gets my vote everytime!

  20. Robyn @ Imperfect Nest says:

    I'd be more irritated by a builder telling me I couldn't have something. Go for the white! If you wanted to paint them hot pink, who cares? It's your home.

  21. pve design says:

    White can be timeless, be chic and also be easy to live with whilst wood seems to suddenly date a home. I have been seeing tons of rustic wood that I love. I think there can be a mix of both but I love white. Love white in homes, in baths, in kitchens and in art studios.
    pve

  22. Anonymous says:

    The expression is "yea or nay".

    And I think painted white cupboards are wonderful. My mother has had them for years and just need a touchup once in a while.

    Ann

  23. Marcus Design says:

    Definitely, WHITE is sooo worth it! I have white office chairs too, so I can identify with that Maria.

    Also, I painted my wood cabinets white and 4 years later they are doing just fine!! And since I did it myself, I have the leftover paint handy for any little touch up that may eventually be needed :)
    Nancy xo

  24. Carol@SofasandSage.com says:

    What? Is there even a question? I will take creamy ivory cabinets over the most expensive wood ones you could give me! They make me happy. Unfortunately, they don't make my man happy. That said, he did agree to letting me stain my oak cabinets a color. White on oak always goes pink. I'm thinking some kind of gray. We'll see. Just a thought.

  25. dicey1 says:

    White kitchen cabinets are most definitely worth a little extra effort. Don't mind it in the bathroom either as I want to keep these rooms as clean as possible anyway. But white furniture and floors will never work in my home. I live with three other humans and three furry kids and I really appreciate low maintenance finishes.

  26. kcripper says:

    What would a summer house kitchen be if not white. If you love white do white. White like black is classic. Just like a person cant have too many white shirts or black slacks. IMHO black and white are the perfect backdrop whether it it great accessories in the home or fabulous jewelry. For a year round kitchen I personally need something "warmer" than an all white kitchen that can be accessorized with white in the summer and then darker color in the fall/winter and holidays, but definately NOT wood stain.

  27. Mira says:

    as lady Lazy Gardens- high gloss black is the same – my high gloss black TV stand is driving me nuts! I have to clean it every other day. white? at least you don't see all the dust on it as you do on a black piece of furniture. I would always go white simple because that's my fav color (besides gray and pink) and that's what makes me happy. I wonder, how can I builder refuse to install hatever you want? what would he say if I wanted pink kitchen?! my money, my call.

  28. housewife says:

    I followed your blog for 6 months before i painted my cabinets. It was the best thing I ever did. I love being in my kitchen. Before it was dark and undesirable. Oh, I did the big no no, paid for granit countertops but left the 80's walnut cabinets alone. Take it from me, if you want white cabinets it will eat and you day and night that you didn't get what you want and settled.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I had our '80s oak kitchen painted white – best thing we ever did. Now we're waiting on delivery of a white linen sofa for our living room.

    Life is short. Live in the things you love.

  30. Momlady says:

    Maria, I can't believe you let the "boycott American Women" post stay on here!

  31. Saypoint says:

    I also cannot believe your builder refused to give you white cabinets. I would have had him deduct the cost of the cabinets from his price, and hired another kitchen installer.
    I like the boycott post. If men who agree with this nutcase use his service, the risk of one of us accidentally ending up married to one of them is eliminated completely. Win-Win.

  32. Anonymous says:

    This post is truly an example of everyone sees what they are looking for (me included)! In my area, almost none of the million dollar plus homes have white cabinetry. And it is considered a bit risky for builders to put white cabinetry in a spec home. A lot of people think white cabinetry has a hospital lab feel about it – not warm.

    I also seldom see people dressed in all white, wealthy or not.

    A couple of years ago I moved into a brand new expensive spec home that I got at a bargain. The builder had put in white tile flooring in 4 of the bathrooms. It has been such a pain to keep clean and it is not worth it. It's not even that attractive when totally clean. I would have loved a darker tile or natural stone.

  33. Honey says:

    No matter what color your cabinets are, they still need to be kept clean. White just shows the dirt better and actually makes it easier to keep up with any spills.

    I love my white cabinets. I painted the original dark oak cabinets that were in our kitchen. It was quite time consuming process since I filled in all the grain, but it was so worth all of the effort.

    If done correctly, the cabinets will not be ruined. I say go for the white if that is what you want!

  34. Elizabeth Roberts Design says:

    GO WHITE !!! And you don't have to use an oil-based product. I painted old laminate-front Ikea-type cabinets yr's ago (they simply got smoother and smoother the more they were sanded – not what you want) with water-based latex paints, and they looked great for years and years b4 we finally tore our 1918 house down.

    1-2-3 primer is a great product and anything will adhere to it. Start with 2 coats of that, then 2 coats of a water-based latex paint (better for the environment and your body will appreciate it too).

    I love BM Simply White if you want 'really white' but not a cold white.

    I have a ton of cabinetry in my kitchen – all white. Plus white cabinets in my laundry room and one bathroom.

    GO WHITE !!!

  35. Maria Killam says:

    Hi Momlady,
    That spam email came through while I was sleeping and usually my spam filter is better than that. So no, I am definitely not that desperate for a big comment count :)
    Maria

  36. Anonymous says:

    Hi…

    Everyone here talks about spraying cabinets and furniture. Where can you get that done in the Vancouver area? I've had no luck finding someone or I have been looking in the wrong places!

    Thanks!

  37. kelly@refresheddesigns. says:

    Yah! Absolutely white is worth a little extra effort. White can be warm or cool, it always looks fresh and I use it everywhere.

  38. Linda @ a design snack says:

    White cabinets don't show any more dirt/dust/grime than stained! I think they are far easier to keep clean than stained wood.

  39. Donna says:

    I have white cabinets which I have to clean a lot in our busy kitchen, but I like to think that I KNOW they are clean whereas if they were wood, they'd be dirty and I might not notice. It's not a big deal to maintain them, though I do have to repaint one of the doors. The people who painted over the wood didn't do a very good job and it started chipping right away.

    White shirts are my FAVORITE. I just keep buying more-LoL! I don't have a big budget, but frankly, there is nothing quite like white. It feels so fresh and cool and I like the summery look of them. I feel almost like a 'princess' in white and it goes with EVERYTHING. So I get VERY good at pre-treating and cleaning my white blouses.

    I'll never quite wearing white. It's one of life's few luxuries. :o)

  40. jenna marie says:

    I'm completely on board with white. my last two kitchens are white, and yes, in certain lights I could go crazy cleaning them of the finger prints and splash marks, but most of the time all I notice is how much I love my kitchen!

  41. Fly Away Home says:

    I love the idea of white. I wish I had lots of it in my home. I'm entirely on board with white cabinets – BUT – I can't (won't) embrace white upholstery. I have a house full of animals and teenage boys; white soft furnishings are simply not practical for me at this stage in my life. :)

  42. Anonymous says:

    I'm all over the white thing – I just cannot get enough. White slipcovered sofas – what a statement. Gleaming white painted paneled walls, white linen drapes wafting in the summer breeze. White linen sheets! Fluffy white towels! Okay, okay, I'm getting way carried away now. I'll stop. But …honestly…

  43. Naturally Carol says:

    White is a very popular colour here in the warmer climates of Australia and especially in summer. The light we get here is very bright and white looks great and gives the illusion of coolness!

  44. kathi123 says:

    For over 18 years, I had a White Damask couch and loveseat on a white carpet in our living room, where we had our 4 children, many dogs, a cat and their friends run through,along with a ton of parties, and it still looked fabulous, but when it was time to update this year, I gave the set to my sons girlfriend for her new apartment,and I am honestly missing the crisp,clean look-so I say,you can never go wrong with white-it never goes out of style, I used to just change pillows and room accessories after a few years,it was the best money ever spent on furniture!

  45. mrsben says:

    White …. definitely a 'yay'. The more the mix, all the better! Anyone who has had 'dark' colors will tell you, there is far more maintenance involved in upkeep. For example in our old home we had light ceramic kitchen flooring and in comparison to my present terra-cotta colour it was a breeze to look after. (My children were little at that time and we also had a Sheepdog.)
    In summary, I totally agree with Maria so if you love 'white' or even 'light', go for it!!!!!!!!!
    -Brenda-

  46. traci zeller designs says:

    Yay! Yay! Yay! Of course white is worth the extra maintenance. If I had my house to do over, however, I would have the drawers and shelves themselves be wood … because the white does show every speck of dirt. But I would never sacrifice the white exterior!

  47. Kelly M says:

    Some of the cheaper cabinet lines can be very easy to dent and mark, and it may be that the painted line the builder had wasn't that good, which could be the reason he was so adamant about them.

    Also, no one has mentioned yet that if you can, try to get the cabinets made with the white rather than buying and painting. The factory finishes are simply that much more durable.

  48. Anonymous says:

    YAY!! Its totally worth it…we never had white before and we choose this particular rental only cause it had white kitchen! We cook indian food all the time and i have even given up adding tumeric (an integral) indian ingredient as it tends to stain very easily…But its totally worth it…May be the countertop was not white too, but I love it!

  49. Anonymous says:

    I'm not convinced that white cabinets are more work (yes …I have warm white painted cabinets and I love them). The same amount of dirt and dust lands on the cabinet surface regardless of the colour. The only difference is you can see the dirt on white and therefore can wipe it off more easily. Since we are talking about a food preparation environment, this actually seems like a real advantage (i.e. I'd rather have a kitchen that is actually clean than one that looks clean but is hiding lots of dirt).

  50. Anonymous says:

    Every kitchen I have had has been white. I just finished remodeling my current kitchen a few months ago and this time around I even used white marble counters. My three previous kitchens required a bit more upkeep and smudges were harder to remove. The finish on my new cabinets seems to be almost bulletproof. Finger prints and food drips wipe easily. White kitchens are timeless and beautiful.

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