A kitchen island is often the focal point of a gathering area. It’s where we prep meals or where we stand around while entertaining or having conversations. It’s also one of the easiest parts of the kitchen to remodel when you want to add some style to your space. Here I’m sharing how I upgraded our builder grade kitchen island in this budget friendly DIY makeover (with a list of important tips I learned along the way)!
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about these links in my disclosure policy.
Beginning our DIY Kitchen Island Remodel
Before we bought our home, the previous owners did quite a few updates to the home. Unfortunately, the kitchen had not been updated at all. That meant it had the same builder grade kitchen cabinets and counters from almost 20 years ago!
After pricing out a professional remodel to make our kitchen the way we wanted it, my husband and I decided a DIY remodel might be the way to go for now. Hello sticker shock!
At first, I was a little hesitant. I really wanted NEW cabinets and quartz countertops, but I also knew I couldn’t handle staring at that oak kitchen much longer (especially once we started staying at home pretty much 24/7 in early 2020).
My husband suggested starting with updating the kitchen island first, to give me a smaller scale project before tackling the entire kitchen. (He did this after I had already started experimenting with a few cabinet doors, but I had to admit it was a good idea.)
I searched for some inspiration online before I started my little mini renovation. With this being my first sort-of-major DIY project, I wanted to make sure I had a clear vision for my kitchen island upgrade first.
Upgrades to Builder Grade Kitchen Island
I decided I wanted to add custom moulding to the island to make it look more like a farmhouse kitchen island. It seemed like adding moulding was a pretty simple and straightforward project that would give just the right amount of detail that I was looking for!
I also knew that I wanted a blue kitchen island, so I chose a deep blue paint color to use. I had just used Sherwin Williams Naval when I built the board and batten accent wall in Rowen’s bedroom, and thought that color would work perfectly for our island as well.
Once I had my ideas all figured out, I headed out to Home Depot to pick up all of my materials!
Adding Custom Moulding to Kitchen Island
- miter saw
- mini crowbar
- nail puller (or pliers)
- measuring tape
- hammer and nail set or finish nailer
- plastic putty knife
- caulk gun
- paint tray
- small sander
- trim boards (to create the “boxes” on the front and sides of the island)
- moulding (to go around the bottom of the island)
- sandpaper (I used 120 and 220 grit)
- degreaser/TSP substitute (like Krud Kutter)
- paintable caulk
- DryDex spackle
- tack cloth
- finish nails
- foam paint brushes
- 4” paint roller
- 4” foam roller (for smooth surfaces)
- primer (I recommend SW Shellac Based Primer)
- cabinet paint (I used SW Emerald Urethane Enamel)
- floor protection (plastic sheet or paper)
Step 1: Remove existing trim
Using the mini crowbar, pull the existing trim and/or moulding off the island. I was afraid of damaging the wood panels on the island, so I worked a little cautiously at first, but this actually wasn’t too bad once I got the hang of it.
Some nails will pull out with the trim, while others may remain stuck in the island or floor. These are finish nails and don’t have much of a head to grip when removing. I found that using a pair of pliers to grip the nail and sort of roll it around the pliers as I rotate my wrist gave it enough traction for easiest removal.
If you have trouble working your mini crowbar underneath the trim, you may be able to loosen it with a putty knife to create enough space to slide your crowbar in.
Step 2: Clean and sand the island
Just like any surface in your kitchen, there’s going to be a bit of grease and grime on your island. Even if you can’t see it, it’s there.
Use a TSP substitute to clean all sides of your island. I used Krud Kutter, which works well. I’ve heard of others using scrubby cleaning wipes, like Lysol Kitchen Wipes, but I can’t speak to the effectiveness of it.
This is also where I removed my island doors and drawer faces (if you have them), to make sanding and painting them easier. Remove all knobs, hinges, and felt bumpers as well.
This sanding is just to remove any rough areas that may have been damaged when removing the trim, and to smooth out the wood for good paint adhesion.
Rough spots may need 120 grit sandpaper, but overall 220 grit is what works best to get a mostly smooth finish for painting.
I use my Mouse sander to make the work faster and easier, but it does create a good bit of dust in the air! Once you’ve sanded to remove any gloss or shine on the wood, you’re good to go. A tack cloth is best for removing excess sanding dust without leaving behind any lint.
Step 3: Cut and attach your new moulding and trim
They say “measure twice, cut once” but I will tell you to measure three times! If you aren’t experienced with using a miter saw, test your cuts on scrap wood first. Your bottom moulding needs 45° cuts, and the corners won’t line up if they aren’t perfect!
Speaking of imperfect – measure every side of your island as well. Builders do NOT always install perfectly square or straight, so two sides may be slightly different or your top/bottom measurements may not be the same.
Using my miter saw, I cut my bottom moulding and attached it using finish nails. I didn’t have a finish nailer at the time, so I used my hammer and nail set to attach the trim. That method is quite a pain, so I definitely recommend using a finish nailer or brad nailer if possible!
You want to be careful when using a nail set – the nails need to go just inside the surface of the wood, and you don’t want to strike the wood with your hammer! This is how you achieve that smooth trim finish later (we will be covering those nail holes).
I also extended my moulding along the back side of my island as well. My island had an inset here (the “kick” area, I guess?) and I didn’t want my moulding to just stop suddenly on the back. So I just added one piece of moulding to this part to cover the whole area up! Easy peasy.
Once the bottom moulding was attached, I measured (again) for each of my remaining pieces of trim.
I used a 1x4x8 pine board (about $11 at Home Depot) for the front of the island, and a thinner poplar board for the side trim. I didn’t worry about miter cuts on the front and side trim because I wanted a slightly more farmhouse look (so a square finish was fine).
See how to DIY farmhouse trim for your doors and windows here!
I attached the trim to the front of the island first. I let the side trim overlap the moulding on the front to create a mostly seamless side view as you enter the kitchen.
Once all the trim was attached, I used my sander to smooth any rough edges. Then it was time to fill in the details.
Step 4: Fill in the gaps
To make the finished project look professional, we must fill in and conceal any wood seams, joints, nail holes, and imperfections.
If you want to hide the wood grain in your wood, now is the time to do that as well. When I’m filling in wood grain for a smooth finish, I prefer to use DryDex putty. It’s pink in the tub, but it dries white (which is great for letting you know it’s ready to be sanded or painted!). DryDex putty is easy to work with and I just use my plastic putty knife to smooth it onto the wood.
After filling in the wood grain, use your 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out any bumps or imperfections. You can use your mouse sander here, but be careful not too sand too much. I find it’s usually fine to just use a sanding block or sanding sponge and sand by hand.
Then you’ll want to fill those crevices and nail holes.
Using paintable caulk, go along the corners where the trim meets the walls of the island. Using a smooth and steady motion, apply a uniform ribbon of caulk along the corner. Then slightly dampen your finger (I just dip mine in a bit of water) and gently run your finger along the caulk to smooth it into the corner.
Oh yeah – it’s best to keep a small cup or bowl of water and an old rag nearby for quick and easy wet, swipe, wipe, repeat!
Use your DryDex to fill in all of the little nail holes where you attached your trim and moulding. Once it has dried, lightly hand sand with your 220 sandpaper or sponge to smooth out any bumps, vacuum loose dust and debris, and then wipe away any remaining dust with your tack cloth. Now you’re ready to start painting!
Step 5: Prime and paint your island
You want to make sure you prime your island first, to give a good base for your paint to adhere as best as possible. Only one coat of primer is needed, so just cover it one good time and then you’re ready to paint!
After your primer has fully dried, it’s recommended that you give it a light sanding with 320 sandpaper (use your hand, not an electric sander) to remove any brush marks or drips. Wipe the surface down with tack cloth to remove any dust particles before painting.
I used a foam paint brush 4 inch foam roller to apply my primer and my paint, to keep from having any brush marks or roller lint. You want your cabinets to have a smooth finish, right? Foam will help you get that!
It took me about 3 coats of paint before my island was fully covered and I couldn’t see through to the primer. But there could be a reason for that…
I used the wrong paint. Yeah. That was SUPER frustrating.
So if you were wondering, NO, you CANNOT use the same latex paint that you use on your walls. It does NOT work.
Not only does regular latex paint not give great coverage on cabinets, it also wipes off REALLY easily! Plus it was really obvious when a bit of water splashed onto the island and the water droplets made the color change.
SO – definitely use a urethane enamel paint, like Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Enamel. Once I added a coat of this (and then added another coat to be safe), it made a huge difference.
I will warn you – it takes a while for the paint to cure! Avoid putting your doors and drawer faces on for about a week so the paint can fully harden, and be careful not to bump the surface!
I learned this the hard way as well. I didn’t remember to put new felt bumpers inside my cabinet doors (and of course I reattached them to my cabinets as soon as the paint felt dry to the touch), and I ended up chipping some of the paint where the door stuck to the island when it was closed! We also got a few dings in the cabinet doors since they are close to our dishwasher.
Plus, toddlers. Toddlers destroy everything.
Our Builders Grade Kitchen Island Makeover Before and After
Even with a few oops here and there, I am so glad we decided to give our kitchen island an upgrade! The dark blue color was a nice change from the boring oak, and the farmhouse trim just added a bit of character to the base.
As you can see, we also decided to upgrade the island countertop and went with a butcher block island top. That was a project in itself, but it actually wasn’t as hard as I expected!
We bought the Hardwood Reflections unfinished birch island top from Home Depot and stained and sealed it with Hardwood Reflections walnut stain and clear top coat. I just used my Makita circular saw to cut it to the size we wanted and attached it to the island!
You can read how we refinished our kitchen countertops with a stone coat here!
The total cost of this project was less than $500, with the bulk of the cost being the butcher block island top (around $225) and the paint (around $60-65 for a gallon of SW Emerald Urethane if you use a 30% off coupon). With it being such a simple project and pretty budget-friendly, it’s definitely an upgrade I recommend you try!
Find your next home project with all of our simple DIY ideas and tutorials!
Amanda is a mom of 4 living a mostly crunchy lifestyle outside of Atlanta, GA with her husband, 2 dogs, and a cat. As a former special education teacher who also has her personal training certification — Amanda really enjoys teaching others how to do things!
When she’s not working, Amanda enjoys DIY projects, exercising, photography, hiking, and long walks through Target.