Do-it-Yourself Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing Project

Home Stager with Simply Staging

When money is tight, but you're looking for a kitchen update, consider a Do-it-Yourself kitchen cabinet refinishing job.  Whether you're moving and need to update a kitchen before putting it on the market or staying put and just wanting to update your kitchen - updating cabinets is an excellent option for giving your kitchen a whole new look.  Hiring a professional is obviously also an option, but you can estimate an average of around $50-$75 per door and when you're on a budget this can really add-up fast even in the smallest of kitchens.  If you're not handy, then hiring someone is really the wiser option because doing it wrong yourself the first time will mean you'll have to do it all over again and as you're about to see it will cost you a lot of time and money. 

Refinish or Replace?  First of all, you need to ask yourself whether or not your cabinets are worth saving.  If you find that they're just old and no longer in style, but are in really good condition, then refinishing is a good option.  In fact, many of the older cabinets were built better than today's manufactured cabinets, so saving them is a worthwhile cause.

Cabinet Refinishing Options - There are two options to refinishing cabinets, paint or stain.  If you choose to stain, then finishing off your cabinets with a coat of polyurethane or lacquer is always recommended to protect the finish.

  • If your cabinets are already painted, then the recommendation is to paint them again either the same color or a new color.  For example, your cabinets are currently painted white, try painting them black to give your kitchen a nice dark, rich look.  Be careful though if you go black, make sure that there's plenty of light in your kitchen otherwise this option will darken up the space and make an already small, dark kitchen even darker. 
  • If your old cabinets are stained, then you can either paint or restain them a different color. 
  • The hardest and most time consuming thing to do is if your cabinets are painted and you want to stain them because then this would mean that you'd have to strip the paint first, sand and then stain.  This is a much more difficult job and is not a quick do-it-yourself project.

Step-by-Step Refinishing Process - The first step to refinishing cabinets is removing the cabinet doors.  Easy to do, but not so easy to put back on if you don't take the necessary steps.  Imagine taking off all of the doors and finding when its time to put them back on that they don't fit properly.  One of the easiest and most helpful tips you will learn from all of this is anytime you remove cabinet doors, you label them with masking tape to ensure that each one goes back in its proper place and in the same order that they came off.

Protect Your Kitchen - Cover-up counters, floors and appliances with drop cloths.  You're going to be making a big mess with cleaners and water so you'll want to protect the rest of the kitchen while you're working on your project.  When the project is completed, picking up your mess will be that much easier.

Cabinets Before UpdateGet your old cabinets as clean as possible.  Visit your local hardware store for wood cleaning products.  If you're cabinets have been around for a while, then there'll be a lot of oil build-up that'll need to be removed.  When using a cleaner, follow the package directions and allow yourself at least a day.  This step will require a lot of elbow grease to get the cabinets and doors as clean as possible.  After cleaning, you can start staining. 

Prep Your Cabinets if Painting.  If you're painting the cabinets, then you'll either need to sand or use a deglosser for the next step.  My recommendation would be to use the deglosser, it is so much easier and less messy than sanding.  The deglosser is found at your local hardware store, you brush it onto the cabinets and allow it to dry - that's it!  You're ready for the primer.  Of course, you can sand if you really want to, but be sure that the cabinets are really clean and dust free for your primer, otherwise it'll ruin your finish if they aren't.  Use a good primer for your base coat and let it dry, as soon as it's dry you can start painting.  All of these steps allow the paint to stick to the cabinet's surface.  It'll give your cabinets a more professional look and will prevent the finish from bubbling or peeling in the future.  Doing these steps guarantee a long-lasting finish. 

Don't forget the hardware.  Remove all the hardware and clean those too, usually soaking them in hot soapy water is all it takes to get the grime off, a little scrub with a soft brush will usually do the trick for those hard to reach areas.  Better yet, if you're going through the trouble of updating your cabinets, why not get some new hardware while you're at it.  Buy hardware with updated finishes to give your cabinets a completely new updated look.  You'll be amazed at how new your cabinets will look just by adding the hardware, be careful though, some hardware can be very expensive and will quickly add-up.  Its best to go mid-range so that the hardware doesn't look out of place, remember the rest of your kitchen isn't getting a facelift so you'll need to consider when too much is too much when choosing hardware.Refinished Cabinets

Final Finishing Touches - To really make your updated cabinets look custom, try adding some molding to the top of the cabinets.  For another custom look, try adding some molding to the face of the doors.  Get ideas from one of your favorite custom kitchens, look at the cabinets and see if you can add pieces that will replicate your dream kitchen.  If you don't own a saw or even if you did you wouldn't know how to use it, then get your local large chain hardware store to cut the pieces for you.

You don't need to be a licensed contractor to refinish your old cabinets.  With proper planning, some good old fashioned elbow grease, maybe even a little help and a few weekends (or more), you can get an updated kitchen at a fraction of the cost to replacing them.  You'll be amazed with the results and you get to have bragging rights when guests come over and comment on your beautiful cabinets. 

Simply Staging has been offering Home Staging Solutions for both the "Vacant" and the "Not So Vacant" homes in El Dorado County and The Greater Sacramento area for more than 4 years.  For your proposal, give us a call at (530) 417-1337 and see what it takes to get your home "Sell Ready".

Posted by

Emma Vargas, ASP

Simply Staging has been offering Home Staging Solutions for both the "Vacant" and the "Not So Vacant" homes in El Dorado County and The Greater Sacramento area for more than 4 years.  For your proposal, give us a call at (530) 417-1337 and see what it takes to get your home "Sell Ready".


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standing by iron railingGood article Emma, and also a $$ saver in the current economy.

Other options I have tried:  in an all white kitchen in a lovely country home, I tried two different ideas.  One, I brought in a faux painter to antique the doors, give them a yellow colour and paint floral designs on some of the lower doors.

ideas for kitchen cupboardsThe flowers painted were favourites of the owners: yellow antiquing added warmth to the formerly boring cabinets.  I also removed doors off of a longer unit which held the plates and put a strip of lace on the edge of the top shelf.  The best part was that when the property sold, the new owner loved the artwork and the open cupboards and did not want to change anything.  Oh, and another idea is to add a plate rack for platters.  In this case the wine cabinet was re-designed as the wine had another home.

Mar 13, 2009 09:44 AM #1
Jane Sheldon Home Staging Professional San Francisco East Bay Homes
First Impression Home Staging - Walnut Creek, CA

Good article. Much appreciated. Thanks.

Mar 13, 2009 11:21 AM #2
Cindy Bryant
Redesign Etc. Home Staging - Houston, TX
"Houston Home Staging Pros"

You make it sound easy.  I had mine painted years ago.  I would love the have them redone.

Mar 15, 2009 02:51 PM #3
Emma Vargas
Simply Staging - Cameron Park, CA
Simply Staging

Sharon-  Wowee!  Good ideas.  I was wondering though if the antiquing and flowers on the doors would be too taste specific, but it sounds like it worked for your house.  I have one now that I'm working on and might even consider going a little more country since it is in the country.  Thanks for the idea.

Jane - You are very welcome.

Cindy-  It is easy, it's just a matter of having the time, the confidence that you can do it and maybe a little practice.   Thanks for reading my post. 

Mar 15, 2009 07:49 PM #4
Carol Heap
Hometown Real Estate Group, Inc. & Hometown Stagers - Flowery Branch, GA

Emma, have you ever come across laminated cabinets that need to be redone?  If so, how did you handle it?  What's the process?

Mar 17, 2009 11:02 AM #5
Emma Vargas
Simply Staging - Cameron Park, CA
Simply Staging

Hi Carol-  I have not personally worked with laminate cabinets, but I believe the best way to deal with laminate is to just have the outer veneer replaced with something more updated.  I found an article in "HomeGuide123" that goes through some of your options, replace or add molding to enhance.

I hope this helps and good luck with your project.


Mar 17, 2009 11:34 AM #6
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Emma Vargas

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