Resurfacing Kitchen Cabinets

Resurfacing kitchen cabinets gives your kitchen a much-needed facelift without the hassles of a complete remodel.


Resurfacing kitchen cabinets, also called refacing, essentially means giving your existing cabinets a facelift that transforms their look, style and texture without the hassle, cost and mess of gutting and replacing them.

Kitchen Cabinets: Should Your 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.

You have three choices when resurfacing your kitchen cabinets, so you'll need to decide which one is the right fit for your needs. Resurfacing means to lay laminate, rigid thermofoils (RTFs) or wood veneers over the existing cabinet boxes, and it often looks so natural that it's difficult for the average person to tell it isn't the same solid wood all the way through. In a matter of days you can say goodbye to that grease-stained oak from the '50s and say hello to the glossy contemporary of maple or the regal dignity of cherry.

In most instances, the doors, drawer faces and side panels will need to be replaced, but the existing cabinet boxes can remain intact. If you choose to keep the hardware (handles, hinges, etc.) it will need to be cleaned thoroughly, though replacing it might be more fun and is often relatively inexpensive. Any home improvement store will have a large variety to choose from. Installation for your resurfacing project can be included with the cost of materials, but it is also a good DIY project any home improvement buff would enjoy.

Laminate is a great choice for an easy fix to brighten up the look of your kitchen cabinets. It is hard and durable, and it comes in many solid design choices. It works best for boxy, simple cabinet designs. You can buy laminate in sheets already coated with self-stick adhesive, which is slightly more expensive, but also much more convenient and easier. You can also apply the adhesive separately.

Rigid thermofoils (RTFs) are more malleable than laminates, so they easily cover more intricate designs such as cathedral doors and arches. RTFs don't have as many choices in the solid colors as the laminates do, but the wood grains look much more realistic.

Wood veneers are the most realistic-looking resurfacing option, because the material is actual, real wood. This allows you to stick with all-wood cabinets while transforming your cabinets to a completely different wood type. These can also be bought with the adhesive already applied to the back, or you can apply the adhesive yourself.

Sometimes nails will have to be applied to the old finish to reinforce the veneers, and you will have to cut and measure with all three options, leaving room for overlap. Trim the edges, very, very carefully and viola: You've got a whole new look.

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