Kitchen Cabinet Advice (And a Lot of It)

A few weeks ago, Rob asked for advice on what to do to his kitchen cabinets as he preps his home for sale. This is a topic on which the eZine faithful had a lot to say. – Editor

Refacing the doors was a popular piece of advice. – Editor

“I new doors and refaced the rest. Also replaced the old shelves with solid oak to match the doors.” – Lee Collings

“Our son recently redid our kitchen and mainly he just refaced the doors, simple but quick and less expensive than replacing.” – Chuck Simpson

“Refacing is the way to go unless boxes are in terrible condition. There are just too many sources now for doors, drawers and fronts that you can get your hands on in a matter of days. I think new faces will sell much better than refinished or painted faces, and will likely save you time, which I am sure you can use.” – Sam Zaydel

“I would go the route of changing the doors and cleaning the existing carcasses only. The appearance of the doors are really what a person takes note of. Good luck with selling your home.” –  Tony Prince

As was painting. – Editor

“Paint them. My wife, the eternal decorator, has looked at over 15 remodeled homes. The ones that didn’t make new cabinets had the old ones painted. Now, I had no desire to paint ours so we talked to two painting contractors about having it done. Not inexpensive; average $2400. But a whole lot less than all new ones.” – Phil Mitchell


“Our house is on the market and the kitchen is a really nice size, but the cabinets were here when we bought the place in 1998. They are probably circa 1970s, and they are cheap pressboard doors, etc. I’ve made repairs so they work OK, but, like you, it really needs a new kitchen. I have no idea what the new owners might like nor am I going to build something that they might tear out.
The realtors agreed with my choice, which was to just paint them. I did replace two fogged windows with new vinyl ones, repaired the old pre-formed Formica countertop and added a laminated wood-look wide flooring over the 35-year-old vinyl peel and stick tiles. It really looks good now.” – Dave Mason

“As you say, there are several ways to go. You want the house to make a good impression… it should look FRESH! But you don’t want to invest TOO much in a home for sale because: 1. It may not suit the new owners sense of style, a very personal thing. 2.The buyers may not like anything you do and may plan to rip it all out in a remodel of their own. Either way the money spent is wasted. I know it can be tough for a wood lover to cover up nice wood grain, but this is my best advice for your situation: If the cabinetry is solid and functions well, limit yourself to refinishing. Simple would be paint with a hand-wiped over-glaze. This can yield a very high-end look with a modest investment. Don’t be afraid of bold colors for the undercoat. (We used a color called Fancy Chair yellow with a dark glaze which looks great contrasted to a medium green painted built-in and two satin fruitwood stained cherry accent pieces and black soapstone counter tops. Ask a decorator or wife for coordinated color ideas.) Best wishes and good luck!” – Jon Johnson

“Wash, sand, prime, paint. Cabinets were dark oak and are now white. After 15 years, they still look good — with some occasional touchup painting.” – Herbert J. Hedstrom

“I spray painted. No brush or roller marks.” – Ron Sikorski

“I ‘upgraded’ our kitchen a couple of years ago. We had solid oak doors finished in the usual brown stain color that had been fitted in the ‘80s. I struggled to get to grips with having them painted, but eventually I had them stripped and spray painted in a cream color. End result: excellent. Should have done it years ago!” – David Squires

Of course, not everyone was happy with that option. – Editor

“Paint? Unless the current ones are already painted, or the species is just not your cup of tea, I just can’t find it in my heart to paint any wooden cabinet. I think that stripping the finish and then bleaching and staining, if you want to go lighter, or just more stain. Then follow up with a high quality finish of your choice. I like a light interior to cabinets so chalk or milk paint, followed by the finish of your choice. Just hope that any panels won’t delaminate during the process. New hardware can be just what is needed, but that’s the really easy way out.” – J. Eric Pennestri

There were also additional suggestions for cleanup. – Editor

“I have had good luck over the years with a solution of one part boiled linseed oil with two parts mineral spirits. Dip a #0000 steel wool pad in the solution and rub with the grain. Wipe off the excess with a clean rag. Helps restore the finish – the mineral spirits cuts through the grime and old finish and the linseed oil penetrates the wood. This may not work if they are finished in something like polyurethane. If all else fails, you can always paint, though I’ve been there, done that, and it’s not much fun!” – Frank Rabbio

“Don’t do anything. Chances are you won’t do what the new owner wants to see in their kitchen and you would be wasting your money.  Maximum, clean them up with mineral spirits and 0000 steel wool if they look dirty.” – David Sellinger

“While I’m “semi-retired” now, when I was running a business, I did kitchen cabinet refinishing and refurbishing regularly. Refinishing is no fun as you have to do the carcasses in situ. It takes a day to strip, a day to dry, a day to sand and stain, and however many days you need to apply top coats. The whole time, your cabinets are sitting there without doors and drawer fronts.  Sometimes, I think I really spent more time getting back and forth and on setup / cleanup than productive work. Not so much a problem if you are at your own home, except the hairy eyeball from your significant other.

“Refurbishing went much faster. I could do a normal kitchen in a day, and McMansions or add-on baths/bars running into a second day. The basic process was:
–    Remove pulls and knobs.
–    Clean/de-grease. Dawn and water gets most of it. If there’s waxy residue, a rinse with naphtha following.
–    Touch up nicks and dings. I do burn-in repairs, so that is my choice.
–    Generally there’s a couple of areas — like near dishwasher, silverware drawer, most frequently used upper or lower cabinets, doors below sink, that need some TLC. Aerosol lacquers, maybe tinted toners, takes care of most of that.
–    Worn edges get sanded if needed, and colored with touchup markers.
–     Everything gets an application of padding lacquer.
–    Reinstall the knobs/pulls.
–    – Get paid & leave.”  – Keith Mealy

“Rob, I am mildly surprised that you have painted cabinets, but then I haven’t been in your abode.  My thoughts on freshening up kitchens/baths are: scrape, sand, stain, paint, in your case, all exposed face frames, ends and interiors for a real jam-up job. Getting edges of doors, face frames and shelves square does wonders for their appearance. This whole idea hangs on the perceived value of your real estate. There is no way possible to recover cost of casework in average value real estate, but in high-end homes, it can be done if time permits. We are full into the spring real estate rush, so maybe just spruce the joint up a wee bit and call it good. I’m not an agent, but I was a subcontractor for most of my life and it is the little things that sell a house. I see no reason to spend, spend, spend but make sure it is clean and everything works as it should.” – Gregory Thacker

And some did suggest refacing the cabinets. – Editor

“I do furniture and cabinet repair for a living now as a Furniture Medic franchisee. Before that I had painted, rebuilt and installed cabinets in previous homes of mine as a cabinetmaker. Building ready-to-assemble cabinets were my biggest bang for the buck. If your cabinets are in great shape, you can reface them for about half the cost of new; less than that if you do the work yourself.  There is also no countertop or plumbing work when you reface.  This is a great option when granite countertops are in place. Otherwise, I would go for new cabinets.” –  Gary Muto

“Your question came at a time where I just addressed the same situation. I had a customer that was in the same situation with the same issues. He initially wanted to reface the entire kitchen. I suggested starting with just all new doors and drawer fronts since 98 percent of what you see is the doors and drawer fronts. The doors that were currently there were less than desirable to start. After replacing all the doors and drawer fronts, he was amazed at the transformation. It did look like a completely different kitchen.” – Ed Burns

In particular, some shared their own kitchen remodeling stories – whether they were sprucing up for a house sale, or upgrading for their own benefit. – Editor

“I went through a replace/remodel of kitchen cabinets 20-plus years ago. At that time, the cost to replace the cabinets was $3,500, not including the countertop, installation or flooring in the kitchen. I decided on doing a remodel myself. The kitchen was fairly small, so there wasn’t any better way to rearrange the cabinets. I found something new at that time: iron-on, self-stick veneer. $120 covered the cost of the veneer (20 years ago).” –  John Schelby


“We constructed a new home in northern California.  My wife and I did all the mill work, over 3,000 feet of trim, and painted inside and out. We also constructed a 1,500 square foot shop and built all of the cabinets for shop and the house. We built a total of 65 cherry and birch cabinets, 112 panel cabinet doors, 82 drawers all hard rock maple with dovetail joints, 13 fold-out under sink doors.  We still need to build a few more for the shop and house.  Shop cabinets are made with birch, all cabinet carcasses are made with prefinished 3/4″ maple and shop with 3/4″ prefinished birch.   Attached are a few photos of our work.”- Carl Junker

“Since you’re selling your home, I would recommend a simple Shaker style door replacement and paint the cabinets. A kitchen upgrade like that will A) have greater visual appeal and B) enable you to recapture your investment in materials.  Don’t know what type of countertops you have or what condition they’re in, but the newer laminate materials are inexpensive and will add additional appeal.  Regardless of what you decide to do, time will probably be the deciding factor, depending on how fast you want out.” – Gil Hebert


“In 2003, I had the idea of redoing my kitchen. But the house wasn’t fancy enough nor in the price range to do a full remodel, nor would I have gotten my money back when I sold it in 2005. I was tired of the white all over look.  So I decided to get some oak and did 10 doors in tongue-and-groove with decorative pieces where I wanted to draw attention. So I created my own little assembly line of one girl and tested my patience to do 10 of the same thing. Once finished, I went to a glass store and got the rainwater glass installed (it hides a bit of the clutter in some cupboards). The cost for the wood was $80. The cost for the glass was $320. Bear in mind that was 2003. They are unique and I was matching the chair rail and the dining room set.

“One couple who visited the house when it was up for sale, asked if the white doors could be put back on and I refused.  They didn’t put in an offer.  But based on how they were dressed, I could tell that they had no style to speak of.  Oh well!  I’m not one for the neutral look. Now in 2015, not sure what I’d do.  Just buying the doors is still an expensive venture Good luck!” – Rachelle


“I also had a ‘vintage’ kitchen that needed some work.  My wife painted all the base cabinets, and I made some simple Shaker style doors and drawers to replace the outdated ones and painted them to match the cabinets. Fairly inexpensive and they look great. We hand painted this time, but I recently bought a Fuji paint system and will spray going forward. It’s quick and gives a much better finish.” – Tim Petersen

Some added some special touches. – Editor

“We did exactly what you describe. We had dated white melamine; it looked like the ‘before’ in Home Depot advertising. I bought undersized black cherry at bargain price and made all-new raised panel doors.  Then I bought cherry veneer and glued it to the outside using heat-activated glue-like contact cement. I even reused the original European hinges. My big expense was granite transformations (least expensive way to go) for the countertops. Very important to upgrade countertops. I also added lights under the upper cabinets and new tile backsplash. Sold in two days at two thousand below asking. It was a fun project and worth every dime.” – Dino Dottori

“I have had three new kitchens in the past 15 years, and in each case, my choice of cabinet fronts has gone out of fashion as the installer has walked out the door. One thing which has been timeless, however, is putting a drawer in the toe space for use as a “pet feeding center.” This is used to provide a dining space for the cat(s) of the moment, while allowing for instant sequestration of the little luxuries if the family terrier sneaks in. A built-in mousetrap is a good idea, though…” Graeme Coles

“I left the same doors on them, only on a couple I made the doors into split door faces and put Blum drawer glides under inserted drawers so that you could utilize the rest of the space at the back of the cabinets. On most of the cabinets, I put drawers behind the doors and left the doors intact. It was simple, but made the cabinets really functional.” – Jerry Lucas

Including some interesting wood sourcing. – Editor


“I like building furniture out of old wood, barn wood, wooden crates, etc. I have found that John Deere have great crates and have used them to redo my kitchen.” – Garry Hanson

And some readers had a few additional things to say about home sales, and kitchen remodels. – Editor

“As with everything, it depends. When I sold my house, the return on investment just wasn’t there to justify any improvements to the cabinets themselves. They were in good shape, just not in the newest style. For me, it made more sense to put money into new countertops, backsplash, and stainless steel appliances and leave the cabinets alone. I invested $5K and saw a return of $12K. Not bad. Now if I could figure out how to get that same return on my 401K!”  – Pam Malam

“The kitchen we bought when we moved to Texas isn’t nearly as nice, although it is larger footage-wise, but my level of energy to rebuild another kitchen is nowhere near where it needs to be to think about starting such a project even though now I know how to really do the job and be efficient about it. This would be kitchen #3 for me; the thought of living out of paper plates and using the bathroom sink to do dishes just doesn’t appeal to me anymore.” –  Steve Tibbetts

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