There's no reason not to experiment with color on your distressed cabinets. Tans, whites and creams are always a safe bet, but a light French gray is a new neutral. Grays can be cold on occasion, but distressing them so the wood peeks through warms them right up.
After sanding, we did not use primer — we just applied 2 to 3 coats of bright white paint. We did this so we could go crazy with the distressing (mostly done by hand). We wanted a lot of that beautiful old wood to show through. Finally, we applied Fiddes wax (clear) to make sure they could withstand some good wear and tear.