Stained vs Painted Cabinets: Which Look Is Right For You?

You're ready to move forward with a new look for your kitchen or bathroom cabinets. As you ponder the possibilities, you'll quickly run into a surprisingly contentious debate: painted versus stained. Each side inspires great loyalty, although many people still struggle to choose between these two main options.

Regardless of what enthusiasts on either side of the debate may claim, neither solution is perfect. Ultimately, it all comes down to your unique preferences. To guide this important decision, we've highlighted the benefits and potential downsides of each approach.


Painted Cabinets

Painted cabinets are a big deal right now. This chic look delivers the opportunity to add an instant burst of color to any space. Highly versatile, these cabinets look wonderful alongside many types of flooring, backsplash, and decor. However, they also hold a few notable downsides, including the potential for increased maintenance.

Contemporary kitchen cabinets


  • Variety. A wide range of cabinet colors make it possible to evoke a specific aesthetic. Contrast adds even more versatility and can be delivered in the form of two-tone cabinets or bold paint against neutral backsplash. 
  • Contemporary style. Modern looks tend to feature painted cabinets. If clean lines and sleek surfaces are the goal, few approaches work better than cabinets in all-white or in trendy shades of gray.
  • Perception of space. Light and bright colors are appealing not only for their contemporary vibes, but also for a practical reason: they make small spaces look and feel larger. Hence, the popularity of the all-white look, in which a combination of white cabinets and subway tile visually expands even the smallest kitchen.
  • Hidden grain. Not everybody likes the look of wood grain or knots. If you prefer to keep these elements hidden, you'll find this easier to accomplish with a thick coat of paint.
  • Opportunity for savings. Painted cabinets typically involve medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which tends to cost less than the hardwood associated with staining. Constructed from fine particles that usually lack noticeable grains, MDF delivers a smooth finish at a reasonable price.


  • Hidden grain. While some people prefer the smooth look of painted cabinets, this approach has its downsides. Often, knots and other variations add significant visual interest. They make every set of cabinets look unique. If these elements are hidden, the cabinet's personality may be lost.
  • Higher costs. While costs for painted cabinets can vary somewhat based on whether you use traditional hardwood or MDF, the paint itself is more expensive than comparable stains. 
  • Maintenance issues. The look of fresh-painted cabinets may be appealing, but it's short-lived. Even without extensive use, these cabinets can be vulnerable to chips and scratches. These issues are easy to spot and annoying to fix.
  • Colors may be difficult to replicate. Unfortunately, when paint chips, there's no guarantee that the same color will be available for touch-ups. This problem is especially common for custom colors. Depending on your preferred style, you may eventually need to order new doors or drawers — or completely swap out your cabinets. Thus, despite the low upfront costs, you may pay more over time for painted cabinets.


Stained Cabinets

Stained cabinets may not currently be as trendy as their painted counterparts, but they remain an excellent option for infusing any space with an appealingly natural look. They deliver a level of practicality difficult to achieve with paint, especially as they're typically paired with durable, yet beautiful hardwood. 

Stained hardwood kitchen cabinets


  • Balancing color and texture. The latest interior design trends are all about dimension. While there's plenty to be said about the bold looks available with painted cabinets, there's no denying the appeal of the unique textures that stains highlight.
  • Versatility. At first glance, many people assume that painted cabinets are more versatile. After all, paints provide access to the full color spectrum. With stained cabinets, however, several different styles are available, including rustic, natural, or traditional. These looks can be difficult to achieve with paint.
  • Showcasing hardwood. The style of your cabinets will largely depend on the hardwood you select — and many beautiful varieties can be showcased with the assistance of the right stain. Oak, walnut, pine, and cherry benefit most from this approach, as stains bring out their natural qualities.
  • Minimize long-term maintenance. If you dread the idea of touching up your cabinets on a regular basis, you can take solace in knowing that stains will keep them looking gorgeous for decades. The occasional touch-up may be required, but in general, stained cabinets are prized as the ultimate low-maintenance option.
  • Stains are less expensive. While the hardwood cabinets associated with staining tend to be more expensive at the outset than their MDF counterparts, the stains themselves are surprisingly affordable. What's more, full replacements are less likely over time, as stains are easier to replicate than many paint colors.


  • Fewer color options. Stains may provide access to numerous styles and types of hardwood, but the color selection is decidedly limited. If you have a specific hue in mind for your cabinets, paint may be a better option.
  • Highlights unsightly grains. While stains can bring out the most beautiful variations in wood, they also draw attention to those that should perhaps be covered up. Uniformity can be difficult to achieve, even with fairly opaque stains.
  • MDF and stains are not an ideal pair. Stains work best with hardwood, which, although highly durable, may require a significant upfront investment as compared to MDF.


Painted and Stained Cabinets at Plain & Fancy 

Painted & Stained Cabinets

At Plain & Fancy, we make a point of staying on the cutting edge of cabinet trends. Currently, the most popular looks involve white and custom enamels, although we also see plenty of demand for natural and custom stains. We've observed a definite uptick in demand for muted green and blue tones on painted cabinets, with the trendiest looks featuring earthy vibes. 

Custom colors are a big deal here. We recognize the personal appeal that various colors hold. Every hue has the potential to tell a story — and we're here to help. We can match specific shades, even if customers initially assume that these looks are out of reach. The end result: meaningful cabinets featuring stand-out colors.

Whether you prefer the look of painted or stained cabinets, you'll be pleased by the vast selection of options available through Plain & Fancy. We're determined to find an aesthetic that matches your idea of cabinet perfection. You'll find plenty of inspiration at our showrooms or Schaefferstown center, so don't hesitate to stop by. If you prefer to get in touch online, feel free to contact us today.

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