Cabinets are one of the first things about a kitchen to catch the eye due to their height and the fact that they cover so much wall space. They’re usually top on the list of semi-costly kitchen renovations, because they do get scuffed up from regular wear and tear and because everyone has personal preferences about color -- especially as it offsets the countertops and floors.
While redoing the cabinets is one of the key components of a kitchen remodel, it can mean a few different things. It doesn't always mean you’re going to tear out the old and put in brand new ones, however. And it’s not a project to attempt doing one Sunday after a quick trip to a home goods store.
Different types of cabinet materials
Not all wooden cabinets are created equal -- and in fact, not all of them are created of pure wood. While certainly, wood is the most common look, many less-expensive cabinet options have the "box" part fashioned of engineered wood-based material, such as particleboard, MDF (medium-density fiberboard), or plywood. Often, only the front veneers are made of real wood.
Less-common cabinet materials include stainless steel and plastic laminate.
Refinish vs. reface?
While these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they're two different renovation processes. Refinishing is the process of removing the old paint or stain, sanding, and applying new stain or fresh paint to the cabinets. Refacing is the more complicated process of replacing the doors and sometimes the drawers as well.
The price differential is substantial, though, and another big consideration for pricing is whether the boxes are made of solid wood or engineered wood.
If you’re going to refinish, here’s an expert tip to make the look really pop:
"To create a fresh look, cabinetry hardware can be added or replaced," says Laura Britt of Britt Design Group. "We are using high-contrast colors with hardware, such as black hardware on white cabinets."
When to reface vs. when to replace?
"In order to salvage existing cabinetry, the boxes/carcasses must be in good enough shape to be refinished. If the boxes are too dented or scratched, it will be difficult to resurface and salvage them," advises Britt. "However, if they are smooth enough to be reused as is or sanded and painted, then the cabinets can be refaced."
Since refacing itself can cost thousands, it makes no sense to waste the labor and materials only to wind up buying new cabinets when the dented/beat-up old boxes can’t hold up.
Is this a good project to DIY?
The short answer is no. If you’re not an experienced hands-on carpenter or handyman, any attempts to refinish or reface cabinetry can take weeks. Also, the job might not turn out right. Either process requires a lot of work -- like removing drawers and hardware, sanding and dusting -- and it’s not something you want to screw up the first couple times and improve by repetition, because nothing can be in the cabinets during the project.
"When you’re halfway through painting your kitchen cabinets," says Laurie March of HGTV, "you get to a place that feels like the end will never come."
As HGTV’s "The House Counselor," March specializes in helping people get through their home renovation projects, and while this particular job can range from a few thousand dollars to upward of $25,000, she does think a professional is better suited to handle it.
Classic-wood look or trendy color?
While most people go with a natural wood look or a simple white, you certainly can experiment with colorful cabinetry -- maybe just the lower half if you don’t want to commit to the entire kitchen. Bear in mind that while off-white or greige have their moments of trendiness, they tend to look aged and worn to people who don’t recognize that you were intentionally going for a “warm murky neutral” hue.
And be cautious with strong colors. "People have really visceral responses to red, yellow, orange and purple," says Laurie March. If you want to go with a vibrant color, March recommends blue.
Budgeting for a kitchen cabinet upgrade
- Cost to refinish: $1,858–$2,832 is the average range, according to ImproveNet.
- Cost to reface: $5,069–$7,196 is the average range, according to ImproveNet.
- Cost for new cabinetry: The three factors to price out are materials, stock vs. custom, and cost of labor. According to HomeGuide, stock cabinets such as American Woodmark from Home Depot cost in the range of $3,200–$8,500, while custom cabinets usually are in the range of $12,500–$18,100.
Will upgraded kitchen cabinets increase your home’s resale value?
The consensus is that yes, kitchen makeovers usually boost the resale value of a home, recouping typically between 80–100% of the project cost. And the cabinetry is one of the most important components to upgrade, because of both the visibility and the frequency of use. However, because all-new cabinetry is so expensive, definitely try to get by with refacing or, better yet, refinishing if possible.
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