Pimp My Cabinets, Phase 4: It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Marriage Counseling 101:  When life hands you lemons a spouse who never closes the cabinet doors in the kitchen no matter how many times you pointedly give him “the look” while slowly and deliberately closing said doors and proceeding to point out this annoying character flaw in a public forum such as a blog, make lemonade your open cabinets prettier to look at.

Allow me to present the 45-minute project that makes me smile every single time I walk into the kitchen, and hopefully will continue to make me smile once we put the doors back on and they are subsequently left open:

Okay, this would be a really good idea if you have those fancy cabinets with glass doors, too.  But we’re working with what we got over here.

Remember that pink fabric I’ve been referencing for the last week or two?  (If not, head over to Facebook or Instagram if you want a little back-story.  While you’re there, be sure to like or follow me, because that’s what all the cool kids are doing and I’d hate for you to be left out.)  I put it on the insides of my cabinets.  And yes, I smile every. single. time.

And it really only took 45 minutes.

Well, actually it probably took me about 3 hours.  Maybe 4.  But it’ll only take you 45 minutes, because I’m going to tell you how to do it the right way.

I mean, I’ll tell you how I did it, too.  So I guess you could do it my way…but the right way is faster.  Your choice, though.  You know, if you’ve got a lot of spare time to burn and you enjoy being outsmarted by inanimate objects, then I guess my way would be good. Whatevs.  Consider this kind of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” tutorial.  :)

Some of you might be wondering, why fabric?  Well.

  1. I’ve seen stencils done to enhance china hutches or bookshelves or cabinets, and I love (LOVE!) the look.  But I’m not a stencil-er.  I am pretty crafty but there are at least two things where I draw the line: scrapbooking and stenciling.  I have no particular beef with stencils; I’ve seen many that I like.  But the actual act of stenciling sounds like a royal pain in the rear, and something I’d rather not spend my time doing.
  2. I have a bit of a fabric obsession.  I love color and texture, and fabric offers a huge variety of both.  I think the added texture will take a kitchen’s hard surfaces (tile, concrete, painted white wood) and warm them up a little.
  3. I think it would be fairly easy to undo or redo if I ever change my mind.  Or if functionally, it just can’t stand up to the wear and tear.  But I’ll talk about the durability questions later.
  4. Price-wise, this seemed reasonable.  Going back to the stencil thing, if I had to buy paints and stencils and brushes (not a stenciler, remember?), that can add up.  I got 4 yards of fabric at $7.45/yard.  That’s only about $30.  I had to buy four spools of ribbon at $2.99/spool — that’s $12.  The spray adhesive was $7.99, and I already had the fabric glue (but I think a small bottle runs around $8 as well).  So let’s say I’m in for $58.  I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that’s a little more that what you’d pay for the stenciling stuff.  But this fabric idea could be done in, like, 45 minutes — as opposed to the day or two it might take me to do even a simple stencil.

So with that in mind, let’s do this!

Step 1:  Pick your fabric.  

The first place I looked was Online Fabric Store.  They just have such a huge selection, and their website is super easy to search.  Sometimes I log on just to window shop there.  (You know you have a fabric addiction when you’re pinning images of fabric swatches.)  Plus, you can get samples of just about any fabric for $1.00, if you need to see it in person to make your decision.

So…after several hours of perusing OFS‘s inventory, I ordered at least 10 samples.  It won’t take you this long because me + fabric store = kid + candy store, and you have better self control than me.  Also, this doesn’t count toward the total amount of time needed for this project, because it’s freakin FUN, amiright?

Anyway, the samples arrived within a couple of days (super fast!) and it didn’t take me long to pick the winner: Premier Prints Zazzle Flamingo.  Surprisingly, it also didn’t take me long to get Chris’s approval for a pink fabric in the kitchen.  Must’ve been my lucky day.


Step 2:  Cut your fabric.  Measure the back panel of your cabinet.  Before cutting the fabric, make sure that any patterns oriented that way you want them.  Cut your fabric panel as close as possible to the dimensions of the cabinet as possible; but in case of emergency it’s better to err on the small side.  You’ll probably be using some sort of trim to cover the edges of your fabric anyway (see Step 4), unless you’re way neater than I am, which is entirely possible.  In fact, to make this project even faster for you, you could use a pinking shears to cut your panels.  That way if you decide not to trim them out, you’ll have a cute edge that won’t unravel.


Step 3: Use a spray adhesive to attach your fabric panels to the backs of your cabinets.

This part of the project was honestly super simple.  It took me and Chris approximately 15 minutes to do, and we didn’t screw it up even once.  I just sprayed this stuff on the back of the fabric panel.

I’ve never used it before, but we followed the instructions on the can and allowed the adhesive to sit on the fabric for about a minute to get good and tacky before putting the fabric up.  It worked like a charm.

For cabinets with two doors, it helps to have another person to maneuver the fabric into the cabinet, around the center of the face frame, so it doesn’t fold in and stick to itself.

We found that the technique that worked the best was to attach the top two corners first…

…then secure the rest of the top by pressing from the center out.  Then smooth the fabric in a line down the middle.

And finally, smooth the rest of the fabric out from the center of the top towards the outer edges.

And voilà!

The closest we’ve come to instant gratification during this kitchen renovation.

But wait, there’s more!  Remember I mentioned hiding the cut edges?


Step 4: Trim the edges.

This is where the project went off the rails.

Sarah’s way:  Plan on using flat wood trim.  Spend an extra weekend painting said trim to match the cabinets.  Spend more time mitering the corners so they look neat.  Curse a bit while trying to maneuver the nail gun around inside a 12-inch tall cabinet.  Realize you don’t have any white wood filler to fill the holes.  Realize that you don’t like the way the wood looks anyway.

Spend some time thinking about how maybe it would be better if it were black.  Spend some more time thinking about how you really don’t want to waste three more days and three more coats of paint to make it black.  Consider the possibility of simply not trimming it out, and wish you had done a better job of cutting during Step 1.

Or, alternatively, you could save time and money and do this:

The right way:  Find some ribbon that you like.

Cut the ribbon to the appropriate lengths.  You can achieve the “mitered corners” look easily by picking a pair (either left+right, or top+bottom) and cutting the ends of only that pair at a 45-degree angle:

Attach the un-mitered pair first, and the mitered pair second.  No one will ever know that you didn’t try harder.

See the difference a little trim makes?

But before I forget, let’s talk adhesives for the ribbon.  Because once again, you have two options:

Sarah’s way:  Cross your fingers and hope that the same spray adhesive you used on the fabric will work on the ribbon.  Realize after the first piece of ribbon that it’s not working nearly as well as it did on the fabric.  Push harder to get it to stick, and finish the project anyway.  Snap a couple of pictures and walk away to write a how-to blog post about using fabric to add some punch to your kitchen.  Come back a couple of hours later to this:


The right way:  Use fabric glue.

This was, as I had feared, messier and slightly more time consuming than the spray-adhesive method.  But it still wasn’t too bad.  The hardest part was getting the right amount of glue on the ribbon.

Also, I found it useful to have some nail polish remover handy to keep my fingertips clean, and to clean up any spots where the pre-glued ribbon accidentally attached itself to something it shouldn’t have, like the side of the cabinet, or my hair.  The nail polish remover cleaned up the glue without messing up the brand-new paint job on my cabinets.  Or my hair.

And that’s that!

Fabric in back of kitchen cabinets

I love (LOVE!) the fun pop of color that this adds to the kitchen.  I especially love that it’s going to be a little surprise every time I open the cabinets.  On the outside, it’s going to be all classic and classy, but on the inside it’ll have a little rebellious streak.  Something a little unconventional.

Speaking of unconventional, some of you might be wondering about the durability of this little project.  Well, I haven’t seen this done before.  At least not in kitchen cabinets.  So maybe I’m the guinea pig on that.  I’ll be sure to keep you posted here on the blog with updates after a couple months or years of use.

When this idea first came to me, I thought I would roll a couple coats of polyurethane over the fabric to seal it in and make sure it’s cleanable.  If anyone out there wants to try (or has tried) this, I’d love to hear about it!  I decided against it because after almost 10 months of kitchen renovation, I’m sick of adding extra steps.  I justified the poly as unnecessary because

  1. How often do you clean the back of your kitchen cabinets?  I never have.  Not once in my life.  And I don’t remember ever looking into a cabinet and thinking, Holy God, that’s a dirty cabinet-back.  Someone should clean that.  Despite the cabinet being a hard-working area, the back is not a high-traffic area.  I don’t think it’ll get dirty.
  2. If I’m wrong, pulling the fabric off and replacing it (or maybe even washing it) is totally within the realm of possibility.  The spray adhesive allows the fabric to be moved and re-stuck.
  3. I can always go back and poly it later, if it becomes necessary.

So that’s why I did what I did, and how you can do it too.  I will definitely keep you posted on how it stands the test of time.  What do you guys think?  Is this something you would try?

We still have one more step to go in the #PimpMyCabinets series, but it may be a little while yet, because the #FauxcreteCounters are rolling right along and taking priority right now.  Which one will we finish first?  Either way *fingers crossed* by this time next week I’ll be moving the appliances in!


Update: To see the next phase, click here.  To see the finished cabinets, click here.

Disclosure:  I collaborated with Online Fabric Store to write this post.  I asked them to supply the fabric, but all opinions expressed are my own, and I only recommend products that I use and love.  

FYI: I shared this post on Beth’s Tutorials and Tips Link party, (over at Home Stories A to Z), as well as Tauni’s Show and Tell (at SNAP! Creativity).  Click on over to check it out and get inspired by lots of other DIYer’s achievements!



  1. Mom says

    I love it, Sarah. And your descriptive tutorial made me laugh. BTW,I have spent hours perusing online fabric stores and it appears you’ve inherited your love of fabric from me :-)

  2. Marie says

    I want to try this so bad but I have a question. What happens to the wood surface when you remove the fabric? I ask because I rent an apartment and my landlady wont let me do anything to permanently alter the place. Does it damage the wood or make it like permanently sticky at all?

    • Sarah says

      Hi Marie! It doesn’t damage the wood. And it doesn’t seem to make it super sticky; but I think the key is to spray the adhesive on the fabric, not the cabinet itself. When I did it, it made the fabric sticky but didn’t seem to transfer to the cabinet. However, since you rent, I would recommend trying a sample on a small piece of wood and letting it sit for a couple of weeks, then pull the fabric off and see if anything is left behind.

      Hope this helps! Let me know what you decide to do. :) And thanks for stopping by!

  3. TrueChick says

    Another way to do this (especially if you’re renting) is to glue the fabric to a foam board and then slide that into the backing. Plus then you could change them out with your moods.

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