How to Make Kitchen Cabinets Look New Again

In 2002, my husband and I purchased a ‘starter house.’ It was a square bungalow, built in 1938, and added to three times over the years. We got the house for a very low price, knowing that we had a lot of fixing up to do, to get it back to its cute 1930s-era look. One of the first things we did was gut the kitchen. We replaced the paneling with drywall, took down the cheap ceiling tiles and drywalled the ceiling, and ripped up the carpet (yes, carpet in the kitchen – what were they thinking?), and restored the gorgeous original hardwood floors. We also added new appliances.

Our final touch was new cabinetry and counter tops. However, home remodeling is expensive, and being young and newly married, we were running low on funds by the time we got to the cabinets. We decided to refinish our existing 1950s-era wood cabinets ourselves, and save a lot of money in the process. The end result was a beautiful designer kitchen, and a lot of pride in a job well done.

There are several ways to bring life to old kitchen cabinets. One method is to add new facing over the top of the existing doors. This can be as expensive as new cabinetry. In our case, we decided to just strip the wood and refinish it. First, you’ll need to strip the old paint or varnish from your cabinets. We took the doors off and put them in the garage, to make the job easier. You can use a good varnish remover or paint remover from your local home improvement store to strip the finish off the doors and cabinets. We skipped the chemicals, and bought lots of sandpaper. We sanded the finish off by hand, both on the cabinets, and the fronts and backs of the cabinet doors.

After you get the finish removed, you’ll need to prep the surfaces for your new finish. Since we sanded the old finish off, we were ready to paint. If you use a chemical paint or varnish remover, you’ll need to sand the surface of your cabinets and doors, so the new finish will be easy to apply, and will bond to the surface.

Once your surfaces are prepped, you can begin applying your new finish. We decided to paint our cabinets with a bright, beautiful white paint. We applied a coat of the paint to the surfaces, and let it dry for 48 hours, then we lightly buffed the first coat of paint with sandpaper. We then added a second coat of paint, and gave it another 48 hours to dry. Then, we lightly sanded, and added a coat of urethane, both to protect the paint, and make it shiny and glossy.

After being stripped and refinished, our cabinets looked great. However, don’t forget new hardware. We tossed the old, ugly brass hinges and handles, and bought new, shiny brushed nickel hardware for an updated look. Then we dropped by our local hardware store, and ordered bright blue counter tops to fit our cabinets. Once those were installed, we were finished.

Our total cost for a 25 foot long, 3.5 foot wide u-shaped counter top and lower cabinets and corresponding upper cabinets was almost $1000 once all was said and done. Compare that to the kitchens you see on HGTV, most of which cost in excess of $20,000, and we got a great deal. Just a little elbow work and perseverance, and we had a kitchen that we were very proud of. In fact, that beautiful kitchen was the selling point of the house when we sold it in 2006. We made around a $40,000 profit. And we helped the environment by reusing what we had, instead of tossing it in a landfill and opting for new cabinets. Enjoy your kitchen remodeling!