Like you, dear reader, I wasn’t sure how to paint Westfalia camper van cabinets. Hell, at first I wasn’t even sure I should do, let alone how to do it. I was worried we’d hate it, that I’d devalue the van, and that the paint would chip off of the rubber and vinyl.
But I was given some words of wisdom by a mechanic we met at the start of our van life that stuck with me. While chatting with him about gutting all of our cabinets for larger and more functional ones (which we didn’t end up doing), he said : it’s your van, customize it however makes most sense for your lifestyle.
Plus, I thought, worse case scenario, if I really fuck it up, we’ll just find a scrap van and replace all of our jank cabinetry. An expensive fuck-up, but a back-up plan nonetheless that gave me some kind of peace of mind.
So, why did I want to paint the Westfalia camper van cabinets? I’d made new curtains and a fresh bench seat cover, so I knew Pinterest-ready white cabinets would brighten up our home on wheels even further. And so, on a August afternoon (one week before we were set to move back into the van full-time and meander from Ontario over to British Columbia, and while Coleman was in Iceland for work), I bought the supplies and went for it.
Behold! A video on how to paint Westfalia camper van cabinets:
Start to finish, it took five days. Overall, I’d say it was easy to do, so as long as you have patience, an organization system, space and some previous experience painting. With a second person, it would’ve been much faster for sure.
Still, there are some important things I learned from this whole process that’s worth sharing:
The right primer is key.
After speaking with a handful of other Westfalia owners who had painted their cabinets, too, I learned that Zinsser’s BIN primer and sealer was a must. This stuff is meant to seal in serious smells like smoke or animal pee, so it’s heavy duty.
It’s also oil-base, so wear gloves and eye protection, as well as clothes you don’t mind ruining. I did none of that and ended up with speckles of the stuff on my face and in my left eyeball (an emergency trip to the eye doctor when you think you’re going blind is never fun) and couldn’t wear my contact lenses for a month. Idiotic. Don’t do that. But do use BIN to prime every surface. I did two coats of primer and took special care ensuring the rubber trim was perfectly sealed.
Spray paint vs. rolling.
I removed all of the cabinetry and hardware and used a spray paint version of the BIN primer on the cabinet doors. It was super quick and went on smoothly. Inside the van, I rolled everything with the BIN primer. For the main white coat, I rolled everything, including the doors because I was unable to find a white that matched in a spray paint as well as rolling paint form. Nothing would’ve been worse than having two shades of white.
Take the time to mask everything.
This was by far the most tedious job, but also the most important. Masking off the areas you don’t want painted means you can use the roller pretty much everywhere and not have to get fussy with a little brush. Take a few deep breaths, find your patience, and mask.
Bag and label all of the hardware.
And on the note of patience: bag and labeling hardware. As you start to take apart each of the cabinet doors, you’ll realize how many little pieces there are for each. I removed all of the handles, too, which are two pieces in itself.
A system of plastic baggies with label that said which cabinet all of the pieces belonged to (“Above Bench Seat,” “Kitchen Pantry,” “Irritating Long Closet That’s Made for Ants”) was invaluable come time to rebuild.
Remove the bench seat.
I didn’t do this, but I wish I had. Life will be infinitely easier if you remove the bolts and slide out the whole bench seat rather than trying to paint around it.
Chips and maintenance afterwards.
Everyone warned that the paint would chip because the original Westfalia cabinets are vinyl covered and have rubber edges. But the only two spots that have chipped so far happened just two days after I had initially painted, which I blame on it not having had enough time to cure. Otherwise, the paint is holding up incredibly well–it’s been three months and counting.
I will say that with white cabinets (and that goes for ones in a house, too), you need to clean them often. Dirt marks, oil drips in the kitchen, etc. show much faster than before. We always carry baby wipes when in van, and they’re great for wiping down the cabinets and keeping the dirt smudges at bay.
If you have any questions or comments on how to paint Westfalia camper van cabinets, leave a note in the comments below. Happy painting, friends!