Renovating for family is always a tricky business. It’s easy to get a client that’s sought you out to take your advice seriously—after all, it’s your advice and opinion that they’ve hired you for. It’s harder to get yor Mom to see you as a professional. I’m glad that I’ll always be my Mother’s little girl—but after all those years of school she helped to pay for, and all the years of work experience—it still took some convincing to get her to let me paint over her dark navy walls and darker brown cabinets. It’s step one in our planned kitchen renovation—the ultimate goal, a new looking kitchen for under $750. So far, we’re well on track!
Kitchens are one of the most expensive rooms in the house to renovate, and before you start it’s important to keep your goals and your budget in mind. Because we’re taking on the entire house at once, we didn’t want to put all our money in the kitchen. At least not yet! Instead, we’ve chosen to give the space a spruce, and are making the smartest decisions we can.
Though the house is an early-eighties build, the cabinets themselves were in good shape—at least on the inside. Real wood from front to back, we decided that the frames didn’t need to be replaced. However, there was a gap like a missing tooth, between the dishwasher and the fridge. So we knew we’d need at least one base cabinet.
Having decided to leave the frames intact, we still had a big decision to make: whether to refurbish the existing fronts, or to replace them entirely. No bones about it, refurbishing cabinet fronts is a big job! But because of the non standard openings in some areas, and to give us more money to spend on flooring and new counters, we decided we’d be up for the challenge.
Refurbishing cabinet fronts isn’t always a huge job. If your fronts are in good condition and just need a coat of paint, we recommend taking them t be professionally sprayed. It’s well worth the money to not have to deal with the mess.
Ours however had been badly abused, one in three was severely cracked or damage, and many had oil stains. We knew that this meant that we’d be working on each and every door, so decided to do the whole job ourselves. Here are eight steps to refurbishing and painting cabinet fronts:
Taking off your existing cabinet fronts is the obvious first step. But before you get started make sure you have a container for the old hardware, the appropriate tools, and enough space to set down the removed fronts. It’s a good idea to have more than one pair of hands, so that one person can hold the door while the other removes the hinges. We always start with the wall/frame hinges first. A tip: using a manual screwdriver does increase your labour, but decreases stripped screws, and over-bored holes. We recommend it unless you’re a pro! Alternately, use your drill carefully and at low speed.
2) Physical Repair:
Repairing cracked fronts is usually a straightforward proposition. Check to see if you the broken pieces line up. If they aren’t it’s usually possible to carve out a few stray grains of wood so that they’ll once more align. Use a good quality carpenter’s glue, and wood-clamps, and you’ll likely be able to make your old fronts as good as new.
Gaps left after repairs, extra holes from old hardware, and gouges can all be filled with wood-filler. First make sure the area is rough, if not, sand it. Then, spread woodfiller over the vacant space like you would drywall putty. Let a little extra stick out as it will contract while drying.
Once the wood-filler and glue are dry, it’s time to scrape away excess and sand your cabinet fronts lightly. To be honest, an all over sand will always give you the best result, but isn’t always necessary. If your cabinet fronts are unsealed wood, or reall wood with old varnish, you’re probably OK to prime after sanding any repairs or fills. Of course, if you’re staining wood cabinets, you’ll want to strip the existing coating, then sand!
Unless you are only varnishing or staining wood cabinets, it’s always a good idea to prime the surface first. In fact, it’s an absollute must! Most paint, and even some primers, will not cover oil stains—which there are sure to be in any kitchen! Make sure that you choose a primer that can block out oil-stains, and look out for one rated or designed for use on furniture and cabinets. We used a product from Zinsser, and were pleased with the result.
Prime both sides, and all edges of your cabinet fronts, and the frames you are painting. Usually one coat will do the trick, but after the first, check and make sure that you’ve got good coverage!
Our favourite part! We love that moment where you open the can of paint, and then see the colour on the surface you’re painting for the first time. Always check a patch on the inside of a door to make sure you’re pleased with the colour! If you have any hesitation, get back to the paint-store and get a re-tint, because otherwise all your effort will be for naught!
In terms of paint, select something suited for the task. There are paints specifically designed for cabinets, but any scrubbable paint rated for the kitchen should be OK. The important part is to make sure to give your cabinets time to cure before scrubbing them, and to be a little extra-careful with them at first. It takes about a month for the paint on a cabinet to really cure and become hard and durable. Traditionally, cabinets are painted with a gloss—these paints tend to be harder than eggshell or matte finishes. We used a hard-wearing Para product, because we love the quality of their paint. Cabinets aren’t a place to save the $5 by selecting a non-premium brand of paint.
7) Attaching Hardware:
When it comes to hardware, the choices are huge! For this particular kitchen, we went with a simple and inexpensive brushed chrome look that won’t date easily. We’re going for a country-kitchen feel to the end result, so didn’t want anything to fussy, or too contemporary. This was a good match for our budget, and it’s a tip we often share with our clients. If you want cheap, think country. Either a Martha Stewart or a Julia Child look is easy to acheive on a budget if you shop smart!
Knobs and handles generally include their own screws, but if you have thick wood fronts—particularly on drawers, be sure to pick up longer ones for those areas. Typically, knobs and handles attach with a #8 size (for North Americans and North American products). While you’re at the hardware store, also consider picking up a template to make even positioning simple! In this redo, we used all existing holes, though looking at them afterward we wished we’d filled them all and started from scratch (all crooked and uneven knobs are due to the original driller, honest!). Always drill pilot holes for any screw that you are putting into either a cabinet front or frame—old wood loves nothing more than to crack!
It’s easy to remember the knobs and handles, but also evaluate your hinges.
If you’re using the same fronts, it’s often wise to use the same style of hinge, as moving from an exterior hinge to an interior one may require not only additional filling, but installing additional mullions in your frame. But if you’re hinges are old, consider recycling them as scrap metal, and purchasing new ones. Many of the old hinges in this kitchen were sprung or in poor condition, so we purchased a bulk-pack of a similar style in chrome from our local hardware store. Having cabinet doors that actually close makes our Mom happy.
8 ) Rehanging:
Once everything is ready it’s time to rehang your cabinets. Just be careful with the newly applied paint, even if it’s dry to the touch, it won’t be super tough at first.
After we put up the repainted fronts, we we’re off to IKEA for an additional base cabinet to fill in our gap. If you’re on a budget and need a single cabinet, we definitely endorse IKEA as the place to go. This cabinet cost us only $60, including feet and hinges. Our tip: before buying any interior fittings or fronts, look in As-Is, where there is ALWAYS a pile of returns. We considered building an exactly matching front for the other cabinets, but when we found something similar at IKEA, heaved a sigh of relief.
Now that this first step is done, we’re eager to make a move on the next—replacing the floor and kickplates, the countertops, and installing a stone backsplash. We’ve selected a hard-wearing engineered wood product that will go throughough the first floor to tie the space together, and will be using mostly butcher-block to replace the existing laminate counter-tops. We’ll of course update with photos as things progress.
We know things will tone down with more natural wood and stone surfaces. But in the meantime, what do you think? Is it too bright? Any questions?