Kitchens can be updated without a costly total redo

No matter how big the house, the kitchen usually becomes the magnet for daily living and entertaining. It’s also the room that gets the most wear and tear, and as a result is apt to look its age sooner than rest of the home. Yet revamping an outdated or worn-out kitchen can be costly; reworking even a moderately-sized space can run well over $25,000, and much of that expense involves the cabinetry.

One way to achieve that just-built look quickly, and often for less money, is to have cabinets refaced or refinished. That option puts the latest colors and finishes on existing doors and drawer fronts — which in some cases may be in better shape than new ones.

“Some oak cabinets built in the 1980s were very well made, with thicker material than most builders use nowadays,” said Wes Busby, design manager of Granite Transformations, an Atlanta company specializing in remodeling kitchens and baths. “Once we do a refacing something like that, you end up with a higher-end product than new, cheaper cabinets.”

Refacing involves removing the doors, drawer panels and moldings and adding new fronts. The work can also include more cabinetry, crown moldings, niche spaces (over the refrigerator) and wine racks.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Busby. “Owners can pick any door or drawer style. The process is completely customizable.”

In addition to being a faster remodeling process, refacing gives homeowners the use of their kitchens while the work is going on. “They don’t even need to empty the cabinets,” said Busby. “And they’ll still have a functional sink, countertops and refrigerator.”

Another streamlined option is refinishing, putting a new stain, paint or style on existing cabinetry. Atlanta Kitchen Refinishers offers different finishes (antique, distressed, country French), paint colors and a variety of stain options. Among the most popular choices are dark hues (espresso) and grays. Other options include adding hidden (inside) hinges and new hardware.

“A refinish can make an old set of cabinets look brand new,” said the company’s Terry Anderson. “It’s a great option for people who aren’t happy with their cabinets. I’ve worked with people whose cabinets are only a year or two old as well as ones that are 20. It’s a cheaper alternative to tearing all the cabinets out.”

While it’s hard to put a price tag on a refinishing project, there are some guidelines that will give homeowners a hint at how much they’ll be spending. The first, said Anderson, is the number of doors and drawers. “An average kitchen will have about 25 to 30 doors and eight to 15 drawers,” he said. “The second variable is the finish itself; some are easier to do than others. And the third factor is any extras: hidden hinges, slow-close drawers and knobs and handles. After the customers pick everything out, I can put a price on it.”

Jenna Hill, owner of Marietta-based Creative Cabinets, agreed that refinishing is a great way to give kitchens a new style without the cost of replacing them completely.

“It’s perfect if your cabinets are in good shape and you just want to change the color or finish,” she said. “A normal kitchen may cost between $3,000 and $5,000 to refinish, while replacing everything might run above $25,000.”

Hill works with a range of stains and paints designed specifically for cabinet wood. “If you don’t use materials specifically for cabinets, some finishes will peel or chip,” she said. “And it’s not just as easy as coming in and painting. Cabinets need to be primed and top-coated as well. They need to be prepared to take a lot of wear and tear.”

Shaker style and frameless doors can be reworked into the mix, then updated with the popular neutral shades, said Hill.

“I’m using a ton of light gray and white for cabinets, but it’s not that bright white of years past,” she said. “People want more of an ivory that blends well with the grays. Stains are trending toward the dark browns and walnuts. Those yellow and orange shades that a lot of people have are going out the door.”