How would you update, but keep, kitchen cabinets?
May 2, 2016 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Your thoughts requested on what to do with solid but not beautiful cabinets.

I'm going to move into a new place in June, and we're updating the kitchen: take down wall between kitchen and dining, new floor, countertop, sink, range, etc. We don't have a very big budget so new cabinets aren't on the list. The ones we have are pretty solid wood, and my wife doesn't want to paint them or replace them. So I'm thinking new hardware -- exposed H hinges and pulls. We're also thinking of taking off the piece above the sink.

Any recommendations for easy changes to the doors? For new hardware? What could we do with the space above the cabinets?

posted by jlittlew to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely remove/replace the trim piece above the sink.

You can definitely get new doors for the them, but you might not be able to exactly match the finish on the boxes, and it can be pricey, depending. Since you can't replace or paint the entire cabinet, new hardware is pretty much all you can do. Unless you find hardware that exactly fits the same as the current hardware, you'll probably have to do a bit of filling/finishing the existing screw holes.

What would help a lot is replacing the backsplash tiles with something a little more tile or something like that, for instance. That would work to make the cabinets look a bit less old-school. A new countertop would also go a long way, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:36 AM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I prefer unpainted cabinets, but with that style of raised panel, doors I would really consider painting them white and updating the hardware slightly. (Don't go too contemporary or they'll look out of place.) It's hard to change the hardware on bare wood cabinets and not have obvious fill-holes. Paint hides this.
posted by supercres at 6:41 AM on May 2, 2016 [10 favorites]

Why can't they be painted? The biggest bang for the buck would be to clean, sand, prime and paint. Our cabinets were very similar, they were pickled pine, sort of a nowhere finish. A coat of paint made all the difference. It will be way brighter and look much larger.
posted by fixedgear at 6:46 AM on May 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

You said no paint, but you didn't say no refinishing. I would refinish the wood. I would do a dark cherry colour, but that's just my taste. I think that finish looks kind of mottled/weathered and just about anything more even would be better.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:54 AM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah, those would look way better with a new finish and new hardware.
posted by limeonaire at 6:55 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I actually think they're really attractive. Not too dark, not too full-grained. I personally prefer a more modern style, but these rally do look like beautiful wood. I went through a similar decision process after buying a house, and the things I considered were:
- replace hardware (hinges and knobs-- I actually like your knobs but the hinges are a little obvious and could be toned down a bit)
- paint (which you don't want to do, and I agree). It's hard to tell from the picture, but would stripping and restaining work if you wanted to change the color?
- remove the doors on the upper cabinets for a more modern style (which only works if you're confident the inside will look nice and not cluttered)
- replace the doors but leave the boxes (I've seen beautiful versions of this)
- or, what we did, replace the cabinets altogether with IKEA cabinets (our starter cabinets were older and less nice than yours)

I really love our kitchen, and what made the difference for me was deciding where to splurge. So we did cheap (but very highly rated on Consumer Reports) cabinets and left the existing floor, but splurged on new counters and a few really nice light fixtures. In other words, I wouldn't necessarily assume that "fix the cabinets" is the most cost-effective way to update the kitchen.

For the backsplash, I recently saw an article on painting a tile backsplash to make it look like a more modern sort of Mondrian splash. I'm not sure I'd have the patience for it, but it looked nice. And a relative recently took an old-style Formica counter and put on a thin granite (I think?) veneer, that I haven't seen in person, but other relatives have been raving about. So I think you have a lot of options. (I love the GardenWeb kitchen forum for a bottomless hole of kitchen inspiration. It's what I used when redesigning ours.)
posted by instamatic at 6:56 AM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

They actually don't look bad to me. I would sand and paint them white, personally, but if you are adamant that they can't be painted, here's what I'd do:

The single biggest impact thing that needs to happen is the trim piece above the sink needs to go. After that, you may find that just taking a couple of the doors off the uppers helps a lot with the heaviness... like the ones nearest the sink. So say you take a couple doors off, and put nice looking things in there; then you can either put lighting at the back of those shelves, which is easy and cheap and really brightens things up; or paint the back wall of them a light color (which ditto.)

I feel like the counter is the thing that would make the most difference from being updated.

Don't forget to check Ikea when it's time to look for hardware. I just did my kitchen and the hardware I'd initially thought I wanted came to over $700! I found something very similar at Ikea and the cost was less than half.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:14 AM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I remodeled my kitchen a little over a year ago by replacing all the doors and drawer fronts (among a lot of other things). I did it myself with maple finish-grade plywood sheets, which I cut to size on a table saw. I stained them with an oak stain and coated with polyurethane, and updated the hardware. I also put a strip of veneer around the edges, which gives it a nice finished look. (I also built a pantry using the same wood for the doors.)

Here's a gallery of the whole project. As you can see, in my case I replaced the upper cabinets with shelves and reconfigured the whole layout. My cabinets are painted, but you can find a stain that complements your existing carcasses.
posted by The Deej at 7:20 AM on May 2, 2016

I'll just say this, check out this kitchen. You can do this very inexpensively with paint, Formica and subway tiles.

Okay, you can also lean into the cabinet design by going rustic (those cabinets will NEVER be modern).

Here is a beautiful example. The hardware should be oiled bronze. And you can update lighting fixtures and the sink, faucet and countertops.

Formica has come out with a new Reclaimed Wood line, that might look spectacular with your kitchen. I'd go for a darker wood look (when I say lean in, I LEAN IN!) You can order this from Home Depot or Lowes and it's a lot less expensive than natural stone and will wear beautifully. You want something very monochromatic because those cabinets have lots of movement. If you want a very inexpensive solution, the big box stores carry a pre cut black Formica that you can install yourself. I've done it, it's easy. I used a jigsaw to cut out the sink hole! (Buy a LOT of blades).

A farmhouse sink is a nice look and if you get it in a bisque color it will lighten things up a bit.

A thing I learned in renovating two houses, the labor is the same for cheap, builder grade materials or for materials you really love. The same. So go ahead and splurge on the materials.

It helped that I loved plain white subway tiles on the backsplash, but I didn't regret a day of installing site finished hardwood flooring in our kitchen to match the oak floors in the rest of the house

Here's a sideways picture of the kitchen we redid in our house. We added fingertip molding to flat solid wood doors and painted them white. (The original cabinets were colonial wood from the sixties.) You can see painted cabinets, hardwood floors, stone counter and subway tile backsplash. Just bragging a little bit.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:22 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does new hardware include hinges? I just finished helping on a kitchen redo that replaced cupboard hinges. My tips are that you should label every door and drawer that you remove, even if you know exactly where it belongs. You may need to plane or sand down the non-hinge side of a double door set if the hinges hold the doors a bit closer together. Even if it is only 1/16th of an inch, your doors will be 1/8 inch closer and may not close properly. We didn't have that issue with any single doors.
posted by soelo at 7:26 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you turn the doors inside out to get a more modern, plain front, and then replace the hinges and handles to get an updated look?
posted by carmicha at 8:12 AM on May 2, 2016

Response by poster: Wow -- this has so many more responses than I expected. This is really helpful and thanks everyone!

Backsplash is definitely on the list.

Recommendations for sources of better hardware -- hinges and pulls? Home Depot, Rejuv, Ikea or specialty places I haven't heard of?

Thanks again! I hope to post an "after" picture in July / August!
posted by jlittlew at 8:58 AM on May 2, 2016

To answer your update: I've found great hardware at my local Habitat for Humanity Restore. Through extensive googling, I also discovered a very small, local shop that sells hardware. They have a clearance section that is a goldmine of great drawer pulls, door knobs and light fixtures. Maybe you could get lucky with a similar place in your area? Contractors and real estate agents may have advice on that tip.
In response to your post, sure, the trend would be to paint the cabinets white or do a two-tone look. Maybe re-finish them in a dark stain. But that's not what you asked, and I really don't think it's necessary. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the photo. I think those cabinets are actually pretty great! And I'm a modern design lover, typing this from my faux Eames chair. I was expecting some 1990's golden oak Home Depot beauties, but I think the prior home owner actually picked a nice, albeit unique, look. And I even like the wood trim above the cabinets. White cabinets might be a good idea if the room was dark, but you have a good window in there too, so I think that's another notch in the "don't paint" category.
I think your main starting point should be: What does the rest of the house look like? (Especially when you select flooring - what will correspond with the surrounding rooms' flooring? I think replacing that vinyl floor is going to be a big game changer. And whoa, could there be hardwoods under it?) Next, what style do you like? Your wife sounds like she perhaps likes classic, more colonial looks? If you're a modern fan, then you could combine the two styles with the "rustic urban farmhouse" look that is in style. Keep the cabinet finish, add a sleek tile floor and counter. Maybe marble counters (or quartz that looks like marble) with pops of black wrought iron on the hardware? An industrial pendant above the sink. A new sink would make a huge difference, too. Just a bigger, "sunk-in" stainless steel sink would be fine.
I know it's tempting to "gut everything" and re-model when you buy a house, but it can be ultimately more cost-effective and less stressful to go in stages. First Stage: Spray paint the hinges black or oil-rubbed bronze. Add matching black or bronze knobs (polished brass is perhaps more "in," but I don't think that would work on the cabinet finish). Paint the walls, remove flooring if you can. Change the lighting. If you do all that, you're going to have a very, very different kitchen. Next, take some time to consider backsplash and counters. Replace them in the second stage. White subway tile and a lighter quartz counter is going to be pretty timeless, imho.
I don't know your life right now, and perhaps now is the best time for you to get it all done. But if you can take the time to wait, I think you'll save money and make decisions you are more confident with.
Oh and about the trim above the sink: yeah, take that down pronto. But as a vintage/old home lover, I ask that you try to remove it one piece. And then label it and stash it in the basement or attic. Another home buyer may really like that kind of "original period" detail.
Congratulations on the new house! Would love to see follow-up photos.
posted by areaperson at 9:21 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh YEAH, absolutely label your doors!

Weirdly, Overstock has a great selection of really interesting fixtures. Especially powder room sinks. I've been SO HAPPY with things I've ordered from them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:33 AM on May 2, 2016

One thing that you might investigate and that would cut back a little on the "sea of wood" look with minimal effort is to see whether you can take out the wood soffit board above the cabinets, or only paint the soffit, which would be a ton less work than painting all the cabinets themselves.
posted by drlith at 9:53 AM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Restoration Hardware has really nice, uh, hardware.

If it's in the budget, replacing just the doors with glass fronts would also update quite a lot.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:18 AM on May 2, 2016

I think the cabinets look fine, but the floor, countertops and back splash are not flattering to the cabinetry. I recommend you try to Photoshop in changes to the floor and back splash, plus new hardware, and see if you can flesh out something you like better.

If you search online (try the phrase "knobs $1 each"), it is possible to find inexpensive hardware. The selection will be limited, and this may not be relevant to your needs. But hardware X however many doors can really add up. If you have a limited budget, getting inexpensive but still attractive hardware can free money up for upgrading the flooring or whatever.

Keep in mind that it is generally better to match the existing hole pattern and/or add a backplate to hide any gauges to the wood or whatever from the previous hardware. In other words, if the pulls are 3", look for 3" pulls or possibly 4" pulls plus back-plates. You probably do not want to go from pulls with two holes to knobs because it will involve filling in a hole and the odds are poor it will look good.
posted by Michele in California at 10:37 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sorry, but I *love* those cabinets! I just redid the hardware in my kitchen with pieces from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. They were copper and a dollar each. Made a huge difference and was way cheaper than any hardware I found at the big box stores.
posted by PJMoore at 10:40 AM on May 2, 2016

We redid our kitchen a year or so ago. I'm with a number of people here -- I think the cabinets are very interesting, very sort of cubist, so don't paint them. You could change out the hardware but I'd be inclined to just change the pulls. If you choose a black counter (to go with the appliances), then you get stainless pulls. Or crystal, for a little sparkle. The backsplash is where you can get a pop of color (say, barn red) or do embossed tin for visual interest. You could also take the center panel out of a few doors (especially bottom ones) and replace it with fine chicken wire. Take that panel out over the sink and put a charming pendant light there, maybe something a little funky (pierced tin?). I suppose a farmhouse sink would be okay but you don't have a ton of counter space, so I'd keep the sink you have and replace the faucet with a new one that changes from regular to a sprayer. Let's see it when you're done.
posted by MovableBookLady at 2:25 PM on May 2, 2016

I'm in the process of redoing my cabinets with General Finish Java gel stain. I'm going very dark, but the only prep is good cleaning and light sanding. Google that stain and you'll find lots of diy blogs about it.
posted by wwartorff at 5:56 PM on May 2, 2016

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