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.

 

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