Kitchen Cabinets: Reface or Replace?

If you are in the market for a kitchen remodel, you may be wondering what to do with your kitchen cabinets. There are so many options out there: you can completely replace your kitchen cabinets, re-face them, or re-surface them. What do those terms mean? What is the difference between each? How much do they cost?

Knowing which is the best option for your kitchen is the tricky part.

When I work with clients this is a common predicament. Mostly, clients are trying to mind their budget, but often they are genuinely confused about how to move forward. To clear up the confusion these are the three things I usually bring to table.


#1 Cabinet Anatomy

I like to start with a little bit of education. Starting with the structures that make up a cabinet is usually a good first step. The first myth I usually dispel is that cabinets are rarely made entirely of solid wood. The second myth is that you don’t want them to be made of solid wood! Lets take a look at the drawing below:

Anatomy of a Cabinet

 

The image on the left is the “box”. Think of the box as the skeleton or bones of your cabinets. Cabinet boxes are typically made of plywood, particle board, or MDF. This is a good thing! These composite wood materials withstand minor moisture changes better than solid wood, which will keep the box from warping. This is even more important in places with high humidity. The inside of the box is wrapped in a veneer or thin covering. Depending on the quality of the cabinet, that veneer can be a laminate or plastic veneer or it can be made of wood. Veneers also vary in thickness based on the quality of the cabinets. They can be a thin “sticker” type veneer or a several millimeters thick.

The image in the middle is the “face” of the cabinet. Cabinet faces are made of veneers. If you have wood cabinets, then your veneers will be made of the same wood and stained or painted to match. The veneers are the really important part of a re-facing job. I say that because the veneers that are part of your original cabinets were applied in a factory. The conditions in the factory are quite different than the conditions in your kitchen. Factories have a lot of environmental and quality control processes in place that ensure that the cabinets are free from defects. So, if you are thinking of refacing your cabinets, you have to consider that the veneers on the face of your cabinet may not adhere as well or may degrade more quickly over time because it wasn’t applied in a less controlled environment.

The image on the right illustrates the doors and the drawer. These are the most expensive parts of a cabinet. When refacing a cabinet, the doors will not be the doors fit to your cabinet in the factory. This may mean that the doors won’t fit as well or may not hang as well as the factory fit cabinets. Again, there are a lot of quality control measures in place in a factory that will not be in place when a local cabinet company comes into your home to do a re-face.


#2 What are your goals?

To really decide if you should re-face or replace your kitchen cabinets, ask yourself these questions:

Do I simply want to freshen up the look of my kitchen and make it look updated?

Are my cabinets giving me the storage I need?

Do I love the layout of my kitchen? Or do I need a more functional layout?

Do I want to move a wall to “open up the space”?

Contemporary Kitchen

If you find that you want or need a more open and functional kitchen or if you plan to move or remove any structure, you may be facing a major remodel. In that case replacing cabinets will be your best, and possibly only, option. However, if you are just looking for a shorter term cosmetic update, re-facing your kitchen cabinets might be the right option for you.


#3 The “B” Word: Budget

Obviously, budget plays a big role in what you can do with your cabinets and kitchen. If you have a small budget of $15,000 or less, unless you have a very small kitchen  you may not have the budget for a complete kitchen remodel. For a small kitchen you may also find that a major remodel isn’t even an option. You may want to focus on improving the cosmetics of the kitchen from the start. Re-facing cabinets costs around $90-125/linear foot of cabinets and new semi-custom cabinets start around $125/linear foot and go upwards of $300/linear foot depending on the finish, door style, and cabinet type. If you want painted or glazed wood cabinets with roll-out trays and deep drawers, you’re going to pay a premium price.

 

…And don’t forget to multiply that linear foot number by 2 if you want wall cabinets. So if you have 20 linear feet of wall space that you want to fill with base and wall cabinets, that include a pantry with roll out trays, deep drawers, a beautiful range hood, and a few wall cabinets with glass doors, you can expect to spend $12,000 to $20,000 on cabinets alone at most retailers.

Now, that you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, it’s time to start planning your kitchen remodel and budget! Make sure to check out my post on counter surfaces here and you can grab a great guide for sampling paint here.

Or if you’re still struggling with your ideal style or planning your next project you can schedule your Design Plan Consultation here.

 

How Much Should I Spend: Counter Surfaces

If you’ve been thinking about remodeling or updating your kitchen you’ve probably been wondering about counter tops…

What’s in? What’s too trendy?

What’s best?

How much will it cost? And how much should I spend?

Yeah, that last one kind of hangs heavy. You’ve probably worried that you’ll spend too much. Or that the style you want is too trendy and won’t last for years to come. Everyone worries they’ll make a mistake, choosing a surface they’ll later regret. Clients bring these concerns to me all the time.

Your counter is the workhorse of your kitchen and you’re likely going to spend thousands on a kitchen counter surface. You want something that will stand the test of time, but selecting counter surfaces is difficult and there’s no magic formula to getting it right. Here are my best tips on how to make the best selection for you and how to know what to spend.


Tip #1: Understand your needs 

All counter surfaces are priced by the square foot (sf). So, you can usually expect to spend more for your kitchen than your bathroom. Typically, natural stone surfaces are sold by the slab and are usually deep enough to cover two kitchen counter depths and most island depths. When you buy your stone surface from a stone dealer, you will usually have to pay for the full cost of the slab, including the part you don’t use. Depending on the stone you select, you might be able to cover 20-22 linear feet of counter space, which is probably just enough to cover the counter space of a 10′ x 10′ kitchen with no island. By today’s standards that is a small kitchen. If you have a large kitchen, particularly one with a large island, you will need multiple slabs of stone.

On the flip side, bathrooms require much less counter surface than a kitchen. A double vanity will usually take about 1/2 slab of stone. Bathrooms are great rooms to use remnants. Remember the part of that slab you didn’t use? Well, the stone vendors resell those as remnants. The advantage of a remnant is that they are sold at a bargain. The disadvantage is that your selection is limited to someone else’s leftovers. However, I have purchased some really nice pieces of quartz about $45/sf including install. It’s always worth a look!

Holes, edges, radius, and corners are the other two factors to consider when budgeting for your countertops. The more holes you put in the countertop, the more the fabrication will cost. The same goes for softer corners and more corners, the number and type of sinks, and the detail in the edge profile. If you want two undermount farmhouse sinks with 5 holes for the faucet, sprayer, and a soap well, your fabrication costs just went up by several hundred dollars. If you have a u-shaped kitchen with a batwing island, all those corners will cost you. Right now “eased” edges are popular, but ogee and bullnose variations edges can add several dollars per linear foot to the cost of a counter surface. It takes the fabricators and installers extra time to create all of these details.

Not a cheap counter fabrication! It has 4 holes, it’s undermounted, and it has rounded curves in the back!

 

It’s important to keep these “extra” costs in mind as you are pricing counter surfaces. The dollar-per-square-foot price is only for the slab. When you take into account the style of the room and the overall look you want to achieve in the space, you have to consider the dollar mount the little details that add up to big style will cost you.


Tip #2: Know the Products

Right now the hottest tickets in town are marble and quartz. Unfortunately, they’re also the priciest tickets. At the lower end marble can be as inexpensive as $50/sf and on the upper end $100-$250/sf. However, the $50/sf isn’t going to be the beautiful Carrara and Calacatta marble your seeing in the magazines and on sites like Houzz.

Quartz is roughly the same price with the upper end around $115-$120/sf, but dollar for dollar, quartz is probably one of the highest quality counter surfaces on the market. So much bang for your buck. It’s strong, it’s durable, and it holds it’s finish for many years, so it’s also low maintenance.

Less fashionable these days is granite. Granite is the reason people hesitate when selecting counter surface these days. Ten to twenty years ago, granite was the thing. People chose colorful, high-movement, bold granite and paid a pretty penny for it! Now they’re ready for something different and left feeling like they made a bad choice, but the math on that feeling doesn’t necessarily work out. If you have a large kitchen, you may have spent $5000 on a counter 20 years ago; that’s $250/year and less than $1/day! Not too shabby for the workhorse of the kitchen.

Still popular with builders and homeowners this gray and white granite is pretty classic.

 

This type of high movement, high color contrast granite is not as popular in today’s market.

 

The good news for people who still love granite is that granite is less expensive. And really, what’s not to love, it’s strong and it’s beautiful. I’ve seen number up to $200/sf for granite, but for the most common patterns, you’re going to see prices ranging from $45-80/sf for just the slab.

Solid surface counters, like Corian and Staron, have also faded in popularity since they first came to popularity over 30 years ago, but they are durable and budget friendly. I personally prefer solid surface in the bathroom or laundry room area, but they work well in the kitchen. On average, they range in price from $40-80/sf for materials only.

Solid surface: affordable, durable, versatile

 

Good old Formica, it’s still around… as are other brands of laminate, like Wilson Art. Used less in residential settings, laminate is a very affordable option, particularly if you want a homogenous, sleek, contemporary look. Laminate counters are usually a wood composite, such as particle board or MDF, with a thin piece of plastic on top. It’s not as durable as other options, but it also costs a fraction of what the other options do. Laminate costs about $40/sf for materials and installation.


Tip #3: Don’t Lose Your Marbles

Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself, “If quartz and marble have a similar cost, why would anyone ever get faux-marble quartz when real marble is far superior?”

Is this the real thing?

 

Or is it this one?

 

It’s an excellent question, especially for people who want marble in the kitchen.

One that I usually counter with another question: “Do you plan on using your kitchen to cook?” Quite often, the answer is yes. This is where the education begins.

Marble is a very delicate, very porous stone. You know how they ask you not to touch the marble statues in a museum because the oils and acids in our skin will erode the marble? Yeah, the same goes for kitchen counter tops. Except, it’s not just our hands that touch the marble in the kitchen, it’s food acids, like citrus and vinegar. These foods will actually degrade the surface of the marble.

So, think of marble as a high maintenance diva. You’ll pay a lot up front and it will require more upkeep to keep it happy.

Quartz, on the other hand, is very strong and holds its polish. You can almost commit no sins when it comes to quartz. The faux-marble quartz options are really beautiful and really long lasting. If you want the look of marble in a kitchen, you really can’t go wrong with quartz.

But if you absolutely must have marble, and I can’t say I blame you for that, try it in the bathroom. It’s a much more forgiving environment.


Bonus Tip:

In the end, make sure you get something you like! You want the easiest way to predict if you’ll make a mistake or have any regrets? If you find yourself making too many compromises, then you’re probably heading in a bad direction. Don’t compromise what you like for something you think might be a safer bet, save money on the extras – the holes, curves, and edges. If you’re going to spend thousands, at least in the end you will have had something beautiful that you really loved!