Would you buy a new house simply because your front door isn’t working well? What about purchasing a new car just because your existing car has peeling paint? Probably not. But, sometimes, that’s how people look at a kitchen upgrade. Even though the kitchen cabinets fit well in the space and have quality interiors, they might be outdated or have doors or faces in poor condition. But you can save a lot of money in your kitchen remodel if you consider the option of kitchen cabinet refacing; in fact, the savings can be about 50% of what it would cost to replace your cabinetry altogether. (Other budget-friendly options, of course, include finding used kitchen cabinets and cheap kitchen cabinets.)
What is Kitchen Cabinet Refacing?
Kitchen cabinet refacing is what gives your kitchen a surface, almost cosmetic, upgrade. It’s like putting “new clothes” on your kitchen cabinetry, or even a new skin. (Interesting fact: Some industry pros actually refer to the veneer as the “skin,” and the cabinet box itself is the “carcass.”) Kitchen cabinet refacing is done with, and even made possible because of, wood veneer.
Wood veneer is essentially a very thin slice of hardwood that is placed over other less expensive wood products, such as plywood, or even cosmetically damaged cabinets. Most popular hardwoods, including ash, birch, hickory, mahogany, maple, oak, walnut, and more are available as veneers.
Kitchen Cabinet Refacing Process
So, what, exactly, are you signing up for with kitchen cabinet refacing? Just how extensive is the process itself? Essentially, there are three primary steps in kitchen cabinet refacing, which the surfacing people will take your kitchen cabinets through: (1) Removing and replacing drawers and doors. (2) Skinning the remaining cabinet boxes. (3) Updating hardware and accessories (perhaps optional). We’ll take a closer look at this process below:
1. Removing and replacing drawers and doors.
Before any real change can be made and your kitchen cabinets, they need to be removed. This includes not only the faces of your kitchen cupboards, but also your drawer fronts. Once removed, these will be replaced with the new version, in whatever color/style/material that you have chosen. The drawers themselves will stay intact; only the face will be removed and replaced.
2. Skinning the remaining cabinet boxes.
The old cabinet drawers and doors have been removed and replaced, but the new faces aren’t going to be installed right back onto the old cabinet boxes without a little facelift on those first. This will help to update the look of the entire kitchen cabinet, as well as hide those cosmetic blemishes or damage.
- The front sides of the cabinet boxes are going to be given new “skins” themselves with a veneering of either wood or RTF (melamine-based stuff).
- The sides of the cabinet boxes are going to be skinned with either laminate or wood veneer.
- Note: In general, older kitchen cabinets that are in good working order tend to be stronger and sturdier than even new kitchen cabinets, so refacing these cabinets is an excellent choice.
3. Updating hardware and accessories.
This step may or may not be optional, depending on (a) your preferences and tastes, and/or (b) the compatibility of your new faces with the old hardware or accessories. Assuming the old hardware won’t work with the refaced kitchen cabinets, then new hardware such as handles, knobs, or pulls will be installed, along with new hinges. Other optional add-ons might include things such as countertops, moldings/trim, glass, custom drawer pull-outs, etc.
As a general rule, the kitchen cabinet refacing process takes about three days. Of course, this depends on the size of your kitchen, the number and complexity of your kitchen cabinetry, etc. But it’s a good guideline for an average work schedule. The first day will involve Step 1 and part of Step 2 of the Kitchen Cabinet Refacing Process. The second day will likely involve a continuation of Step 2, with more veneering. The third day generally involves finishing up Step 2 and moving onto Step 3 and making final adjustments. Add-ons will increase this timeline, of course.
Pros & Cons of Kitchen Cabinet Refacing
For many people wanting a fresh look to their tired, old kitchen, kitchen cabinet refacing offers a lot of appealing advantages. There are some drawbacks to consider, too, though…as is the case with anything related to home upgrades. Let’s take a look at both the pros and cons of kitchen cabinet refacing.
Pros of Kitchen Cabinet Refacing
Kitchen cabinet refacing is environmentally friendly. Anytime you can minimize waste to the landfill, you are doing our planet a favor, and this is what happens with kitchen cabinet refacing. Because you’re keeping most of the cabinets and only replacing the cabinet doors (“faces”), you are infusing your kitchen with a new look and style with much less quantity of trash to the landfills. Especially when that potential trash often involves chemical-containing MDF. In addition, fewer trees are needed for the creation of new cabinet boxes. So you’re going green on both sides of this equation, both input and output.
Kitchen cabinet refacing is less expensive than (about 50% the cost of) whole-cabinet replacement. This one is common sense, really. You are keeping the bulk of the cabinetry in place and only swapping out a small portion of the old for a dramatic new look. This is quite a bang for the buck. The only other way you could cheaply get such a dramatic change in your kitchen is if you painted the faces, but this is not always the best option, based upon your ability to paint the cabinets correctly and also the condition and style of the cupboard faces to begin with. Kitchen cabinet refacing isn’t free, of course – it’ll still cost you, but only about half as much as new cabinets.
Kitchen cabinet refacing brings in customized style while keeping layout intact. If you love the layout of your kitchen, kitchen cabinet resurfacing is an even better option for you! It’s ideal for those who love their kitchen’s footprint but need to switch out the overall look and feel. We don’t really see what’s happening inside kitchen cabinets; what we mostly judge the proverbial “book” by is the cover, or in this case, the cabinet faces. So when these are fresh and new and style-appropriate to the space, the entire kitchen feels fresh and new and stylish.
When done correctly, kitchen cabinet refacing will last many years. Wood veneer is actually a high quality product for a fraction of the cost of straight hardwood. While there is such a thing as peeling wood veneer, this generally only happens when it was installed incorrectly. In fact, veneering is a historical technique, used for hundreds of years to achieve an expensive look for less cost.
Cons of Kitchen Cabinet Refacing
Kitchen cabinet refacing won’t work if cabinet boxes are structurally unsound. Just because this is a cost-effective way to upgrade your kitchen cabinetry doesn’t mean it will work in all cases. If the cabinet boxes are broken or significantly damaged, refacing simply won’t work.
Kitchen cabinet refacing can’t really be DIY-ed. You could probably perform the drawer and door face removals, and even replacing. But you really need an experienced professional to do the veneering, because it’s a highly specialized skill that requires extensive practice to master. Of course, you could DIY stuff like beadboard as a cover for larger sections of lower cabinet backs (e.g., on an island or peninsula), as was done in this kitchen makeover.
Kitchen cabinet refacing doesn’t replace old cabinet boxes. Sure, they might still work fine and will look great with a refaced upgrade. But the truth is that your cabinets will still be old, with the same kinds of quirks that come with 20-, 30-, even 50-year-old homes. Not only that, but the insides of the cabinet boxes don’t get any kind of facelift at all. If you want them freshened up, for example, you’re going to need to probably paint them yourself.
Kitchen cabinet refacing still produces waste. There are still the old cabinet faces that need to be taken care of, along with any veneer excess that isn’t used. In addition, the surfacing people may or may not take care of the trash incurred, so you’ll want to make sure you’re on the same page about cleanup before you start.
Is Kitchen Cabinet Refacing Right For You ?
Ultimately, taking into account the process and the pros and cons of kitchen cabinet refacing, the ideal candidate for this upgrade is someone who likes the existing layout of their kitchen already, who wants a new style in their kitchen, who needs a relatively quick unobtrusive remodel schedule, and who wants to be less harmful to the environment. If these conditions ring true to you, you might want to seriously consider kitchen cabinet refacing for your home.