Upgrade, Repair, and Reconfigure Your Kitchen Cabinets

Laura NewcomerHome Renovation

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New cabinets are a major investment. In fact, data suggests fresh cabinetry can eat up nearly 50 percent of the cost for a total kitchen makeover. If you can avoid replacing your kitchen cabinets, you can save some serious dough—and free up cash for other home renovation projects.

If that sounds easier said than done, it’s time to change the way you think about your current cabinetry. With a little imagination (and some elbow grease), there are countless ways to repair, refurbish, reconfigure, and otherwise upgrade your kitchen cabinets so they continue to suit you as your functional needs and aesthetic preferences evolve. Then of course there are times it makes more sense to go ahead and start fresh. Here are nine stellar ideas, plus signs that it’s time to fully replace your cabinets.

Make Repairs

Cabinets can become damaged in a variety of ways, from termites to moisture exposure and plain-old wear and tear. But these damages don’t have to be a death sentence. If the damage isn’t extensive, it might be possible to repair the cabinet(s) in question. If you know your way around a toolbox, you may be able to complete the repairs yourself. Otherwise, consult a professional to determine whether repairs are in order.

Replace Hardware

Sometimes cabinets look outdated simply because they sport hardware from the 1970s. In fact, one of the easiest ways to upgrade your cabinets is to invest in modern hinges, pulls, or knobs. Before you give up on your cabinets, consider some new hardware. It’s a cost-effective way to make a big difference.

Add Under-cabinet Lighting

Installing lighting underneath your cabinets can transform them from “meh” to “wow” by creating a warm glow throughout your kitchen and illuminating your workspace. It greatly enhances the functionality of your kitchen by making it easier to see while you prep meals or rummage around in cupboards. Install dimmable under-cabinet lighting to create the feel of a customized space.

Install roll-out shelving and other organizational systems

It’s possible to enhance the functionality of your kitchen without replacing or reconfiguring the cabinets. Simply add roll-out shelving to your bottom cabinets or install other organizational tools in the form of hooks, magnetic spice holders, and more. With just a few DIY upgrades, you can transform your kitchen into a highly functional space.

Add crown molding or other trim

When you’re unhappy with your cabinets, it’s easy to blame them for all your aesthetic woes. But sometimes it’s the details around your cabinets that make all the difference. Adding crown molding, scribe molding, toe-kick trim, or other trim around your cabinets can make the whole kitchen appear more finished and customized.

Paint the cabinets

You know how changing out of jeans and into fancy cocktail party clothes can make you feel like you’ve transformed into a different person? The same thing happens when you give your cabinets a costume change in the form of a new coat of paint. Experimenting with different colors can transform the look and feel of your cabinets. Just make sure to match the paint to your kitchen’s appliances, flooring, countertops, and other accents.

Reface the cabinets

The idea behind refacing is to make cosmetic changes to the visible parts of the cabinets. This process can take several forms, from painting the fronts of the cabinets to installing a veneer over the cabinet fronts or replacing the cabinet doors but leaving the cabinet boxes intact.

Add glass fronts to cabinet doors

Are your cabinet doors too far gone to repaint, reface, or repair? No problem. You can still keep the cabinets mostly intact (and spare yourself the cost of replacing them completely) by removing the doors and swapping in glass fronts. It’s a modern, fresh, and clean option—and if you choose clear glass, it’ll inspire you to keep the cabinets’ contents organized!

Reconfigure the layout

Moving your existing cabinets around can help you achieve a whole new look. Popular reconfiguration ideas include adding smaller cabinets above the larger ones, re-hanging upper cabinets so they’re flush with the ceiling, removing cabinet doors and converting the cabinets into open shelving, or re-hanging the uppers at a higher height to add shelving underneath. In all cases, the goal is to maximize both appearance and function.  

When It’s Time to Replace Your Cabinets

Plenty of options lie between you and a total cabinet replacement. But sometimes, it really is time to throw in the towel and invest in a new set of cabinets. Here are some tell-tale signs that your cabinetry needs to be replaced:

  • It costs just as much (or more) to repair as it does to upgrade. In this case, you might be better off investing in new cabinets, since they may last longer than the repaired versions.
  • You want to revamp the entire kitchen layout. While it’s possible to reconfigure the layout of your existing cabinets, you’ll likely be limited in your design. If your goal is a complete kitchen overhaul, it might be necessary to invest in new cabinetry.
  • The existing cabinets are damaged beyond repair. Examples include water or mold, or cabinet walls that have become soft or too worn to mount new hardware.
  • The existing cabinets are poor quality. It’s probably not worth throwing money at cabinets that weren’t built to stand the test of time. If your cabinets are likely to fall apart again in a year or two, you could be better off skipping the repairs and heading straight for a higher-quality set of cabinets.

Not sure if your cabinets need to be replaced? Consult an expert before you make any repairs or knock them down.

Sometimes, there’s simply no way around the fact that it’s time to replace your kitchen cabinets. But in many cases, a few simple upgrades can transform even the most outdated cabinets from drab to chic.

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Kristen Seymour
About the Author
Laura Newcomer
Laura Newcomer is a writer, editor, and educator with multiple years of experience working in the environmental and personal wellness space. Formerly Senior Editor at the health site Greatist, Laura now lives and works in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been published on Washington Post, TIME Healthland, Greatist, DailyBurn, Lifehacker, and Business Insider, among others. She has taught environmental education to students of all ages in both Pennsylvania and Maine, and prioritizes living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle. She’s a big proponent of creating self-sustaining communities and accessiblehealthy food systems that care for both people and the earth. An avid outdoorswoman, she can often be found hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and tending to her garden.
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