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…

Java Gel Stain

Pay no mind to the Frog Tape

Staining with Java Gel


General Finishes Java Gel Stain


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!


  • Reply
    marty (A Stroll Thru Life)
    January 7, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    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

  • Reply
    Andrea @ Decorating Cents
    January 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    I have got to get me some of that stain!

  • Reply
    Cassie @ Primitive & Proper
    January 7, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    so rich and gorgeous!

  • Reply
    Cyndy Aldred
    January 7, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    January 8, 2014 at 1:04 am

    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!

  • Reply
    pam {simple details}
    January 8, 2014 at 4:10 am

    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! 🙂

  • Reply
    Peggy Willhelm
    January 8, 2014 at 8:26 pm

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

  • Reply
    January 11, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    Krista Townsend
    February 7, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    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:

  • Reply
    Susan Mendoza
    June 17, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    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!

  • Reply
    Hunter Leake
    September 30, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    What color are your walls in the back?

    • Reply
      February 14, 2017 at 9:27 am

      Looked for your reply on the living room color you used above but didn’t see it. What is it? Looks great! How has it held up? Thank you

      • Reply
        February 14, 2017 at 8:39 pm

        I’m sorry Susan, I thought I answered it! The living room color was Palladian Blue – it’s a great color. Although since I’m always itching to change things up, I have repainted it Revere Pewter, which I love as well!

  • Reply
    Mori Bell
    January 21, 2017 at 11:12 am

    What is the paint color in your living room? It’s gorgeous!

    • Reply
      January 25, 2017 at 5:19 pm

      The color at the time was Palladian Blue (Benjamin Moore). I have since repainted it to Revere Pewter (also Benjamin Moore).

  • Reply
    February 12, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Hi Im interested in painting my stair hand rails. Did you ever gel stain yours? I am hoping so! Send me the link if you did. I love to know the process.

    • Reply
      February 12, 2017 at 6:54 pm

      I haven’t gel stained mine (but it’s on my to-do list). I have a friend who did hers and it turned out beautifully! Same process as the other gel stain projects, although I think she had to do extra coats to get the color she wanted. I would go with extra top coats too for durability. 🙂

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