Replacing Kitchen Cabinet Doors

Replacing your kitchen cabinet doors can breathe new life into an outdated kitchen.
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By: Melissa Webster

Whether it's because they've deteriorated or you've simply outgrown them and want a fresh new style, replacing kitchen cabinet doors can make a dramatic difference in your kitchen, giving it a lift that makes everything seem new.

Kitchen Cabinets: Should You Replace or Reface?

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Decisions, Decisions

Whether you're planning a simple kitchen spruce-up or a complete overhaul, deciding what to do about your cabinets is one of the biggest decisions you'll make. New cabinets can take up nearly 50 percent of your total kitchen renovation budget, and functional cabinets can mean the difference between a kitchen that works and one that doesn't. But what if you can't afford to buy all-new cabinets with the latest storage features and styles? Read on for our tips.

Three Ways to Reface

Many homeowners today are saving money by refacing rather than completely replacing their existing kitchen cabinets. There are three primary ways to reface cabinets: 1. Refinish or paint existing cabinet and drawer fronts. 2. Install new wood or laminate veneer over existing cabinet and drawer fronts. 3. Install completely new cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

From: Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri

The Finishing Touch

Deciding which of these three options you choose comes down to budget. However you decide to reface your cabinets, complete the look with all new hardware. Pulls and knobs contribute a lot to your kitchen's style, swapping them out can take your kitchen from traditional to modern.

Beautiful Inside and Out

When refacing the cabinets, consider freshening up the interiors too. They can be sanded, painted or veneered for a completely new look. Adding handy functionality, like pull-out drawers and rotating shelves, is another great option.

Refacing Saves Money and Stress

Fans of refacing say this mini-makeover can give a kitchen a whole new look at a much lower cost than installing all-new cabinets. "Cabinet refacing can save up to 50 percent compared to the cost of replacing," says Cheryl Catalano, owner of Kitchen Solvers, a cabinet refacing franchise in Napierville, Illinois.

From: Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri

Refacing is a Time Saver Too

Cabinet refacing is also a much less involved process than removing old cabinets and installing new ones. "Refacing is an ideal option for many people because of its convenience," says Cheryl. "The process doesn't require removal of the appliances, so the kitchen stays functional while the work is being done."

From: Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri

Consider Quality

Even with the potential cost-savings, however, refacing isn't right for every kitchen remodel. Before making the decision to reface, rather than replace, homeowners need to consider a number of factors, starting with the "bones" of their current kitchen cabinets. "If they are not high-quality cabinets to begin with, it usually makes more sense to replace the entire piece," says Deborah Ramos, an interior designer in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Construction Counts

Lorey Cavanaugh of Kitchen and Bath Design Consultants in Hartford, Conn., agrees. "The old adage about not throwing good money after bad comes into play here," Lorey says. Thoroughly inspect the interiors of your existing cabinets for any signs of water damage from plumbing, excessive wear and tear or faulty construction.

Consider Your Kitchen's Age

Knowing when your kitchen cabinets were originally constructed is another consideration. "Don't spend money to refront products that are truly worn out." Says Gary Reynolds, a cabinet craftsman in North Carolina, "Cabinets built prior to the 1980s were generally built of better materials than newer ones. Back then, 3/4-inch plywood was actually 3/4-inches thick and particle board was used for floor underlayment," explains Gary, who handles both refacing and new cabinet construction.

Another Option: Open Shelving

Another alternative for homeowners with older cabinets in good condition is to remove the doors altogether and convert their existing cabinets to open shelving. Interior shelves can be removed or reconfigured inside the existing cabinet frames for a thoroughly modern and updated look. "With conversion to open shelving there is an opportunity to refinish interiors in another color from the exterior or add beadboard backs," Lorey says.

Know When to Start From Scratch

However, even if your original cabinets are solidly built and in good condition, refacing or converting to open shelving may not be the best option if your current cabinet design or layout isn't efficient or functional. If the cabinets you have now aren't deep enough to hold your saucepans or tall enough to accommodate your cookie trays, replacing them completely may be the better option. "If a homeowner is looking for major design or layout changes, those can be better achieved by starting over," says Gary Reynolds.

New Meets Old

What about a mix-and-match option, where some existing cabinets are rehabbed while others are completely replaced? Experts say this is a practical and cost-saving option many homeowners overlook. "We often leave original glass upper cabinet doors and replace just the base cabinets to improve functionality," says Lorey.

Once you've made the decision to replace your kitchen cabinet doors, you'll need to decide on what kind of doors you want. Your options include custom doors, semi-custom, stock or ready-to-assemble (RTA), and whether or not you want wood, veneer or laminate. Custom doors are designed by you and built to your specifications. Semi-custom are exactly what they imply and have some prefab elements and some custom elements. Stock are established designs you buy and install, and ready-to-assemble doors require some DIY skills.

Replacing the doors involves taking off the existing doors, face frames and hardware while keeping the cabinet boxes where they are, and putting on new doors and face frames with the same hardware or new hardware. New hardware can also make a dramatic difference, so that's something to consider for an updated look.

You'll want to make sure the doors match the cabinet boxes. This can be accomplished with paint, staining or refacing the boxes for a more streamlined, consistent look. Once you've decided on how you will update your kitchen cabinet doors, you will need to decide on the style. Some options for the style can be flat panel, which are doors with a flat center panel and a raised frame. Another style that's popular is raised panel cabinet doors, which have a raised center panel surrounded by a contour. A slab cabinet door is usually preferred in contemporary designs and is a smooth, flat slab with no contours, panels or accents. Accent doors are generally just for decoration and not functionality and are not used as the design style for all the cabinets in the kitchen. Accent doors can be louvered, glass, mullion, chalkboard and sheet metal; they serve well for reinforcing an existing design style and adding a little flair to your kitchen.

Another option for replacing your kitchen cabinets is to remove cabinet doors altogether for an open shelving design embellished with decorative brackets and molding.

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