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How to Stain Without Pain: The Breakfast Bar


I hope it's warm wherever you are - the kiddos have a snow day again today, not so much for the snow (we dodged that bullet, thank goodness), but for the bitter cold temperatures.  We're talking 30-40 below with the wind chill.  Suffice to say, I'm craving a normal schedule and routine!

After staining my front doors, my "Stain Without Pain" projects continue, and today I'm going to share my breakfast bar.  Oh, how I love how easy it is to give woodwork a new look without having to strip the finish, sand and start from scratch!

Let's start with the before, shall we?

The breakfast bar was more of an orange-y wood look, especially when you see it against the hardwood floors that we added in the great room.  (And yes, I was doing this project in tandem with the fireplace redo, thus the hot mess in the background).

The white trim around the bar where the floors were installed, has always bugged me since I thought it was going to be stained to match the floor, so this project allowed me to remedy that.

But I was able to transform this space with my BFF, General Finishes Gel Stain.  

It really is a crazy simple process.  First, clean your woodwork. 

I like to use the same combination cleaner and deglosser that I use when painting kitchen cabinets which kills two birds with one stone by helping to take the gloss off of your woodwork.  Krud Kutter Gloss-Off is a great product.

Sometimes it can be hard to find, so I've also used this all-surface paint prep product, from Lowes:

Next, give it a light sanding.  Technically, the cleaner/deglosser should do this for you (like when I painted my cabinets), but I didn't want to take a chance, since I am a newcomer to the world of gel staining.

Now, wipe down your woodwork with a tack cloth to remove any lingering dust.

Finally, get staining!  I used a (clean) sock over a rubber glove, in combination with a foam brush to get into some of the nooks and crannies.  Make sure you put the stain on in light coats, moving with the grain of the woodwork.  And don't overwork the stain - you will be tempted, but trust me that it will all come together in the end.

Here it is with one coat of stain - kind of streaky, but no worries.

Two coats of stain...

Once the stain was the color I wanted it to be (3-4 coats of stain), I added General Finishes High Performance poly top coat, based on the advice of the expert at our local Woodcraft store.  And yes, it's water based (just like the top coat I used on the front door), but a satin finish vs. a semi-gloss like I used on the doors.  You just have to allow the stain to fully dry before applying it.  A week or so was the guideline the expert gave me.

And finally, finished!  Now I'm eyeing that range hood - I might have to give it a makeover...

Pay no mind to the Frog Tape...

Now the trim blends in with the hardwoods - much better.

And to appreciate the full effect - here is a side by side, before and after.

I have more makeovers in the works - I'm waiting until the kids go back to school (whenever that is) before I stain our stair railing, but it's on the list!

Stay warm - here's a fun video which pretty much sums up my pre-winter storm, grocery shopping experience.  It was like Thanksgiving shopping on steroids.


  1. Wow, what a fabulous difference. I love it. Great tutorial too. I would love for you to link up to my Inspire Me Tuesday party - - - Hugs, Marty

  2. Unbelievable girl! Wow!! Another amazing transformation and it turned out fabulous. That stuff is incredible and what a difference! Well done! That video is hysterical. I remember that when I lived in Minnesota. What's so funny is that if we even get the slightest bit of ice, all of East Texas shuts down! Ha! Stay warm!

  3. This looks amazing. Who knew it could be that simple. Are the kids going back tomorrow? I'm afraid mine may have forgotten how to read by now!

  4. Wow, what a dramatic difference!! I love the new contrast with your cabinets and tile! Tandem projects (love that description) are always in the works over here! :)

  5. Looks fantastic!!! So impressed by you and proud of you!

  6. Looks great! After applying the stain did you wipe of the excess? I recently did my bathroom cabinets the same way and even with the same color gel stain! (I'm impressed at how tidy you were, I was a mess with that stuff!) Like the can instructed, I wiped off the extra stain after applying, but it didn't ever get as dark as I wanted. Finally on the 4th coat I decided not to wipe it. Maybe I was removing too much - it was my first time using gel stain. :) Thanks.

  7. Thanks for the inspiration! I decided to gel stain my kitchen cabinets, but in Brown Mahogany instead. You can see the before and after pics here:

  8. Absolutely love it! The breakfast bar looks amazing. I have been thinking of doing this with my island. Now I do believe I will! Also, if you don't mind sharing, what is the color of the walls in your kitchen? Everything just pops and looks so fresh!
    Thanks for sharing!

  9. What color are your walls in the back?


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