Make Your Kitchen Cabinets Look Brand New Without Replacing Them

Updated: Mar. 22, 2024

Replacing outdated kitchen cabinets is expensive and time-consuming. These projects give your cabinets a lower-cost upgrade in a lot less time.

The cabinets are likely the first thing people notice when entering your kitchen, so it’s important to keep them updated and looking good. Luckily, that doesn’t have to mean total replacement. I’ve seen homeowners choose much cheaper and less time-consuming ways to refresh their kitchen cabinets.

Here are eight of those DIY options for updating kitchen cabinets.

Replace Hardware

Replacing outdated handles and hinges can dramatically change the look and style of your cabinets, with minimal work. Choose new handles and knobs that coordinate with updated finishes or add a welcome pop of color.

Hinge replacement is a favorite cabinet update of Jeff Shipwash, owner of Shipwash Contracting. He recommends replacing old hinges with soft close-style hinges, a project that takes less than a day. It involves a lot of unscrewing and re-screwing, but depending on your new hardware can cost less than $100 for an average kitchen.

Replacing outdated handles and knobs can cost even less, unless you choose high-end hardware. This is one of the best low-budget kitchen cabinet upgrades you can make.

Complete Refinish

Refinishing, re-staining or painting kitchen cabinets can give them a new look without total replacement. For refinishing kitchen cabinets, Shipwash says, “The key is to do it slow, and do it right. Refinishing cabinets is not a difficult job, but it does require some tedious work in order to get a great finish.”

You’ll need a drill, wood filler or putty, a palm sander, paint sprayer and plastic drop cloths, as well as your stain or paint.

Whether you’re staining or painting the cabinets, start by removing all the cabinet doors, drawers and hardware. Then Shipwash recommends making any necessary repairs to the cabinets, like covering scratches or chips with wood filler. Use the palm sander to remove any buildup and achieve a smooth finish.

Thoroughly vacuum any dust and clean all the cabinet components. Shipwash recommends using a high-quality paint sprayer and covering surrounding areas in plastic. This project should take two to four days and cost $100 to $500, depending on materials.

Wallpaper the Interior

If you have glass cabinet doors, adding patterned wallpaper to the interior gives a pop of color to your kitchen without much work or mess. We’d recommend peel-and-stick wallpaper for this because it’s easy to install and removable, a great option for rental properties. You’ll need scissors, a tape measure, X-Acto knife and plastic wallpaper smoother.

First, take out the removable shelves and measure the interior spaces. Cut wallpaper to size, leaving an extra inch or two for trimming. Pay attention to the pattern and match the edges accordingly. Use a wallpaper spreader to ensure a smooth finish and prevent air bubbles. Press gently so you don’t stretch the paper.

Price per roll for peel-and-stick wallpaper varies from $10 to $100, depending on the quality and manufacturer.

Convert Wood Doors to Glass

Changing your wood cabinet doors to glass can make a small kitchen feel less cramped. Plus it lets you showcase your favorite dishes and glassware.

You can order the glass panels from a hardware store. You’ll also need a router, drill, clamps, scrap plywood, glass clips and utility knife.

After removing the doors, create a guide with clamps and plywood and use the router to cut out the center panel of the door. Then lay the glass in place and secure it with glass clips.

If you own a router, the entire project should cost around $25 per door. A router and bit will add another $100 to $200. Give yourself a full day to complete this task.

Add Lighting

Shipwash says adding lighting underneath your existing cabinetry gives it an upscale appearance. And since it doesn’t require any electrical work, it’s easy to DIY. We’ve used LED strips like these with great success. Simply plug them into an existing outlet and attach the lights to the bottom of your cabinets with adhesive or clip mounts.

Measure your cabinets so you purchase the right length. And be sure there’s an outlet nearby to plug in your lights, unless you choose a battery-powered option. In an average kitchen it should cost less than $100.

If you’re confident enough to hard-wire lights yourself, this handy guide can explain how it’s done.

Switch to Open Shelving

With a few modifications, you can transform upper cabinets into open shelving, allowing easy access and modern style to your kitchen. Start by switching a few cabinets, and add more if you decide you like it. You’ll need a pull saw to create flat, smooth cuts; sandpaper; wood putty; a drill; and your choice of paint or wallpaper for the interiors.

First, remove the existing doors and hinges. Use the pull saw to remove the center stile. Sand and putty any screw holes and rough edges. Then cover the interior however you like — paint, wallpaper, be creative!.

This project can take a day or a weekend, depending on how many cabinets you’re converting. The cost is low, especially if you have all of the necessary tools .

Add Crown Molding

If your kitchen cabinets stop abruptly above the doors, the addition of crown molding can give them a new, more elegant look. You’ll need a finish nailer, 18-gauge brad nails, a miter saw, wood filler, trim caulk, wood glue and the crown molding itself.

Measure around the tops of your cabinets to determine how many feet of molding you need. Choose crown molding that blends in best in your kitchen.

Use a miter saw to cut the corners and the finish nailer to secure the molding in place. Plug the nail holes with wood filler and corners with trim caulk, allow them to dry, then paint or stain. Crown molding can cost $1 to $40 per linear foot depending on the material, with prices varying greatly by region.

Reface Cabinets

Refacing your kitchen cabinets is yet another way to dramatically update them. This involves keeping the cabinet boxes, covering the exterior surfaces with a self-sticking wood veneer and replacing the doors and draw fronts to match. This is a big project, but if you’re up for the challenge, refacing results in cabinets that look like new.

Besides the veneer, new doors and drawer fronts, you’ll need a laminate splitter, paper cutter, veneer roller and a sanding sponge.

First, clean the cabinets with denatured alcohol and sand them just enough to create a scuff for the veneer to attach. With a laminate splitter, cut the veneer into strips. Then use the paper cutter to trim those strips to the proper length.

Next, apply the veneer to the cabinet frames, pressing it into place with the roller. Hang the new doors and install the drawer faces according to their instructions. Depending on the number of cabinets you are refacing and the quality of door and drawer fronts and veneer you choose, this project can cost around $6,000 for an average size kitchen.