Replacing Kitchen Cabinets

When refinishing and refacing don't make sense, consider replacing your kitchen cabinets.


By: Melissa Webster

There comes a time when you stand in your cooking space and think to yourself, "I'm ready to replace these kitchen cabinets." Be warned, though: Replacing kitchen cabinets can be expensive and time-consuming.

A Kitchen With Personality

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Take a Closer Look

At first glance, Kristy Socarras Bigelow and Brian Bigelow’s Denver kitchen looks pretty classic—subway tiles, open shelves, oak floors. But a closer inspection reveals this room is far from ordinary. When the Bigelows started designing their kitchen, they contemplated a neutral palette. “I loved the idea of a clean and simple room, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy unless it had some spunk,” says Kristy.

Photo By: David A. Land

Unexpected Elements

There’s a breakfast nook with seat-to-ceiling tiles in graphic patterns, a nod to Kristy’s Cuban heritage. There’s an armoire painted aqua and bright yellow chairs. “What can I say? I’m from Miami—I can’t live without color!” says Kristy, who owns three trendy Cuban restaurants in Colorado.

Photo By: David A. Land

Family Meals in Style

Now the space has just the right ratio of splashy to subdued. Brian and Kristy with kids (from left) Leelé, 6, Mitchell, 10, and Giana, 4, love sitting around the breakfast table.

Photo By: David A. Land

Tiled Wall

A 32-inch-by-46-inch window is surrounded by a patchwork of 8-inch-square cement tiles from “I wanted it to look a little crazy but also have cohesive parts,” says Kristy. She figured out the design by laying the tiles on the floor first.

Photo By: David A. Land


Nothing can compete with those tiles, so the rest of the breakfast nook is neutral: a dark stained table from West Elm, a white banquette with silver vinyl seat cushions (try for a similar fabric), and a hammered metal pendant.

Photo By: David A. Land

Dark Cabinets

Kristy’s contractor built the oak cabinets and deep drawers that run around the room’s perimeter and serve as the base for the 4-foot-long island. They’re stained black with a distressed finish. The brushed nickel pulls are from Rocky Mountain Hardware.

Photo By: David A. Land

Floating Shelves

To keep the room feeling airy, Kristy hung 2-inch-thick shelves, stained black to match the cabinets, over glossy white subway tile. “I love how the open storage lets me put the stuff I collect on display,” she says. The shelves hold pottery, vintage glasses, and serving pieces.

Photo By: David A. Land

Sleek Peninsula and Multipurpose Art

“On most Sundays, we invite friends over for a casual dinner,” says Kristy. Guests sit at the granite-top peninsula on metal stools—leftovers from one of Kristy’s restaurants—while she plates food. The wood panel on the wall is actually one of the dining table’s two extra leaves. Kristy painted it yellow, and when it’s not being used to expand the table, she hangs it displays the kids’ art.

Photo By: David A. Land

Clock and Lights

Kristy found the graphic wall clock for about $100 at a local Denver store. “I bought it nearly 10 years ago, but people still ask me where it’s from,” she says. The understated lights are a pair of nautical-style fixtures—about $30 each from The Home Depot.

Photo By: David A. Land

Table and Chairs

The family eats dinner at the big oak table, which is from a local furniture shop. In the afternoon it doubles as a homework station. For an unexpected twist, Kristy mixed yellow metal chairs from Frontgate with traditional black cross-back ones.

Photo By: David A. Land


The gold-tone wire birdcage pendant—which has birds crafted with real feathers roosting in it!—is by Graham and Green. Kristy found it at a lighting shop in Paris. “It’s the cutest thing,” she says. “I smile every time I look at it.”

Photo By: David A. Land


Instead of adding more stained wood to the dining area, Kristy went with a cabinet done in weathered aqua paint that she uses for storage. Set in the corner, it holds dishes, wine glasses, the kids’ games, and a few extra wall tiles.

Photo By: David A. Land

When you've hit yourself in the face with that off-center cabinet door that refuses to close (for the last time, you swear!), or those metal cabinets that seemed like a good idea twenty years ago are now rusting through, or when the cabinets are simply falling apart because they weren't built well to begin with—replacing the kitchen cabinets is sometimes the best option for radically updating your kitchen to create an exciting new look that's both functional and structurally sound.

As opposed to painting or resurfacing, replacing your kitchen cabinets means a complete renovation that leaves your kitchen out of service for the better part of a week or two. So make sure you are fully committed to the cost and inconvenience. Once you're sure this is the route you want to take, get estimates from many home improvement sources. Independent contractors you know you can trust or who were referred to you by friends or family are a good resource. Big box home improvement centers are good too (assuming you consult with their full-time experts), and they can oftentimes be less expensive.

Personally, though, I prefer to work with a local small business, mainly because they're small enough to negotiate with you on the price while developing a plan that reflects your personal needs, but they're large enough to still be liable for anything that might go wrong. Unless you know without doubt you can trust your independent contractor completely, going that route is a risk I personally don't like to take. And the big box home improvement retailer lacks the personal touch I want from the people I hire to help make my house a home. These are just my own preferences though. You can get good, valuable service and results from all three of these options. It's really about knowing who you are and how you like to approach things.

Once you've consulted with and gotten estimates from many sources and have done your research with a solid idea about how you want your kitchen to look, the fun begins. When I say fun, I mean picking out the layout, design, color scheme, hardware and accessories. It's exciting and fun, but the choices can get overwhelming. Your home improvement experts will be an invaluable source in guiding you through this process. Whatever you do, though, don't let them talk you into something that doesn't feel right or that you don't like. Follow their advice, but absolutely trust your instincts. They'll lead you to a brand new kitchen that is a source of pride and joy in your home for many years.

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