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What does scuba diving in Borneo have to do with Cabinet Refinishing…?

Cabinet Painting Vancouver founder Jon Milstein shares his journey to save the environment and client costs one cabinet at a time.

“I was flying over Borneo on my way from Kuala Lumpur to the east coast of Borneo and the year was 2013. I was 23, and an avid traveler and scuba diver. Located in Celebes Sea right off Sabah’s east coast, Sipadan National Park is one of the top diving destinations in the world. It enjoys such a status because it is part of one of the world’s richest marine habitats.

But it was the plane ride there that created a lasting impression. From miles up, as far as the eye could see, were rows of perfectly planted palm oil plantations where virgin jungle had once stood. This jungle would have provided a home to orangutangs and a myriad of other life. After the jungle was slashed and burned, it became home to a single species of palm tree that creates cheap oil, which finds its way into about 50% of the pre-packaged products we find in the grocery store.

Green Palm Oil Plantation | Sukabumi, West Java, Indonesia
Photo: Tom Fisk

I had the chance to dive in Sipadan and Komodo National Parks, experiences I can only describe as a psychedelic kaleidoscope of colour and life: tornados of schooling barracuda, colour- and shape-shifting cuttle fish, manta rays 20 feet wide, and coral the size of houses. I couldn’t have imagined so much life and abundance.

Then I went diving in Thailand… I saw a desert of grey and white coral that was completely devoid of life. Not a single fish, turtle, or ray in sight. Fans of coral swaying softly in the current were replaced by plastic bags caught on sticks of petrified coral. Here, rising atmospheric and ocean temperatures have caused coral reefs to bleach, killing it and with it, these vast and rich ecosystems.

The contrast between what abundance nature can provide, and how fragile it is, deeply impacted me… Ok, you might be wondering: what the heck does that have to do with cabinet refinishing?

Well, the experiences I took from my travels have changed the way I see the world. I realized that if we’re to thrive here on earth, we have to rethink how we do a lot of things. But I also had that nagging thought that squashes so much potential “What can I do? I’m just one person.”

At the time I was working in construction. I owned and operated my residential painting company The Shore Decor. I would watch contractor after contractor tear out a high quality and oftentimes extremely expensive sets of cabinets and the kitchens that accompanied them. They would go to the landfill and the homeowner would pay another $30,000+ for the same cabinets, but with a different aesthetic look.

So I started with the simple idea of saving cabinets. We realized that with some highly-skilled labour, the right products, and only a garbage bag of waste, we could deliver a factory finish on existing cabinets that would last for years. This saves trees from being cut down, saves cabinets from our landfills, saves homeowners thousands of dollars, and saves weeks of time in their kitchen remodel. And it took off!

We had so much fun finding ways to improve efficiency and quality in this emerging specialty trade, that we realized there were more places in the industry that could use our help.

I had spent a decade working alongside general contractors. It was frustrating. They could never keep a timeline, and could never keep a budget.

Their clients were always frazzled, over budget, out of money, and having buyers remorse by the time we, as the painters, came in at the end of the project to put on the final touches. You could literally feel the tension in the air when we would arrive to work in these homes.

I started to realize that every contractor was just repeating the same old system of performing renovations that they had learned or seen done elsewhere in the industry. When a suggestion was offered on improving efficiency or anticipating their clients needs, it was met with, “Look kid, I’ve been in construction for 25 years, we’ve always done it this way.”

Their systems and processes weren’t developed with the client in mind, efficiency in mind, or even their own profit in mind. Efficient job sites mean happy clients and profitable jobs, and —surprise, surprise — we found a lot of contractors were grumpy, stressed, and unprofitable.

While we did see some companies that offered a great customer experience and a quality product, they represented the highest end of the market with a $100,000+ price tag for your kitchen. While there is definitely a cost associated with providing great customer service, if you operate extremely efficiently and anticipate your client’s expectations well, you can achieve great customer service in construction without a massive cost.

So I thought…

Is there any reason I can’t give people the look, feel, and function of a new kitchen in less than half of the typical $40,000 – $100,000 price tag?

Can I do it in drastically less than the typical 6 – 24 weeks it takes most contractors?

Can I guarantee my price at the outset of the project?

Can I actually remodel any kitchen in under two weeks?

We found out that it was actually much easier than we thought! And the look on the face of our clients when they saw what we could do to their kitchen after only two weeks made it all worthwhile.

Refinishing old cabinets saved client costs – and the environment – for this dream kitchen in Burnaby.
Photo: Jon Milstein

That’s why today, we guide more homeowners through the process of realizing a full remodel of their dream kitchen or bathroom more often than we perform cabinet refinishing alone.

And the best part is, now that we have grown. We have an amazing team of people that I feel truly blessed to be able to work with. I constantly get compliments about how kind, professional, and caring our Cabinet Painting Vancouver team is… because they are! Saving client costs and entire forests with a team that truly cares is the most rewarding part of my job. A decade after that fateful scuba diving trip in Borneo, our great work with a great team has made made all of the trials and tribulations of figuring out how to reincarnate cabinets totally worth it.

The Cabinet Painting Vancouver Advantage  

From start to finish, our North Vancouver based company has you (and your fabulous new kitchen) covered.  


Only 4 days down time and 10 days to completion for a full kitchen reno


Full range of colour/counter/hardware/tile choices


Thousands in savings by not gutting your kitchen


Fully insured/WCB coverage


Full scheduling and trade coordination


Warranties for all services


The absolute highest quality low-VOC waterborne lacquer available on the market — specially imported from Europe and unmatched by North American products.

of cabinets saved from the landfill to date

Cabinet painting, new counters and updated backsplashes for a full kitchen makeover in under 10 days!