How to Update Kitchen Cabinets on a Budget

When my husband and I decided to remodel our kitchen, we knew we would have to stay on a tight budget. We didn’t want to spend a fortune, but we did want to make a strong impact with our remodel. One of the biggest expenses of a kitchen remodel is typically the cabinets, so rather than ordering brand new custom cabinetry, we decided to update our kitchen cabinets, keeping us under budget!

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

Because our floor plan changed a bit, we did have to get a couple new cabinets, but we opted for builder-basic unfinished cabinets so we could fix them up to match the rest of our existing cabinetry.

HOW TO UPDATE KITCHEN CABINETS ON A BUDGET

Our original cabinets were not-so-lovely maple finish with very traditional hardware. Paired with the black & brown melamine countertops, it made for a very brown, dark kitchen. When I created my design plan, I wanted to stay as far away from brown as possible!

THE PLAN FOR THE KITCHEN CABINET UPDATES

To create my design plan, three things had to happen:

#1 – Create open shelving on the upper cabinets.

Now keep in mind, we’re on a budget. Demo costs money, as do shelves, so rather than ripping out perfectly good existing upper cabinets to install brand new shelving, we simply removed the doors and hardware, then cut out the middle piece where the cabinet doors used to come together.

#2 – Clean and paint the all cabinets.

You don’t realize how nasty your cabinets are until you start taking them apart. Y’all, I won’t judge. Go look up close and personal. Then grab some degreaser and Magic Erasers and scrub the crap out of those bad boys.

I’ll explain the painting process in a minute, but let me say this: I was scared to tackle this project because if I messed up, I’d have to fork out a bunch of money for new cabinets, but it was WAY easier than I anticipated. So if you’re scared to paint cabinets, I say just do it.

#3 – Install new cabinet hardware.

As small of a detail as it is, new cabinet hardware makes a huge difference in the finished look of updated cabinets. I searched Pinterest for inspiration before choosing a style I liked, then contacted D. Lawless Hardware to place my order.

CREATE OPEN SHELVING ON UPPER CABINETS

Like I said, demo costs money, so we opted to keep our existing cabinets and make faux open shelving instead. By simply removing the cabinet doors and hardware, we created the look we were going for.

Before we fully committed to open upper cabinets, we took the doors and hardware off and lived with it for about a week. I wanted to make sure the sight of my dishes wouldn’t bother me. My husband actually wanted to install glass front doors, but the thought of cleaning them constantly made me decide against that.

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

If you choose to do this yourself, be sure to also cut off the middle divider, fully opening the cabinets. This is the part that would sit between cabinet doors, but is just an eyesore when the doors are off. We also opted to remove the decorative piece along the top of the cabinets. It was too traditional for my taste.

CLEAN & PREP THE CABINETS

It’s very, very important for you to deep clean your cabinets before you paint them. Cooking, and just life in general, creates grease and dirt and grime that accumulates on your cabinet doors and drawer fronts, and if you simply paint over this, you’ll get a bad finish…plus it’s just plain gross.

Here’s what I used:

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

#1 – Start with a degreaser. Spray an old towel or washcloth liberally with degreaser, then scrub every part of the cabinets. Do this for all the doors, drawer fronts, and cabinets themselves.

#2 – Use a Magic Eraser for any tough spots that the degreaser doesn’t get.

#3 – Soak a clean washcloth or paper towel in warm water. Wipe the cabinets really well so you get any remnants of the degreaser off the wood. Then dry thoroughly.

After your cabinets are completely dry, grab some 220-grit sandpaper and lightly sand the cabinets, doors, and drawer fronts. The goal is NOT to sand off all the finish, but to simply rough up the surface so the primer will have something to adhere to.

The final step to the prep process is priming your cabinets. DO NOT SKIP PRIMER.

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

Thanks to my paint man Mike at my local Home Depot, I decided to go with Behr Multi-Surface Primer & Sealer. I chose semi-gloss paint for the cabinets (also at the recommendation of my paint man Mike), and this particular primer allows the paint to be just glossy enough, without being overly glossy.

SELECTING PAINT ROLLERS & BRUSHES

Let’s talk about paint brushes and rollers for a minute. They are not all created equal. Now, I know we’re on a budget here, but you do not want to skimp on cheap rollers & brushes.

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

When painting cabinets, you want to use both a small paint roller and a cut-in brush. The roller of choice is 4″ Premium One Coat for Smooth Surfaces with 1/4″ nap (Premium White Woven). And here’s a tip, straight from Paint Man Mike: Dampen your roller and wring it out before rolling in paint. Paint is water-based, so it naturally soaks into the roller. You’ll get better coverage if the roller is already damp >> more paint on the cabinets!

Now about the cut-in brush: Choose an angled brush no larger than 2″ in width. 1 1/2″ is preferred.I went with Wooster Pro 1 1/2″ angled brushes. And guess what? I have another tip from Paint Man Mike (he’s just a wealth of paint knowledge, isn’t he?)

Brush Tip: Choose a brush with a copper band, rather than silver. Silver banded brushes have cardboard under the silver, and cardboard soaks up paint & water, then disintegrates. Copper banded brushes have plastic under the copper, which won’t disintegrate when wet, thereby lasting a long, long time and washing out much cleaner.

I’ll thank Paint Man Mike for ya.

PAINTING THE CABINETS

Now for the fun part (she says sarcastically). Here’s the reality: While painting cabinets is NOT difficult at all, it IS time-consuming. You have to go slow, do multiple coats, allow plenty of drying time…and that doesn’t include prepping your surface.

So here’s how you do it:

#1 – Grab a bunch of Frog Tape and carefully tape off all of your surfaces – the countertops, the walls, the floors…anywhere that comes in contact with your cabinets.

#2 – Remove all hardware. If you’re going to be changing out your hardware, fill all holes with painter’s puddy, then smooth out the puddy with your finger.

#3 – Prime all surfaces – the cabinets themselves, the doors and drawer fronts. Allow to dry for a few hours or overnight.

#4 – Paint, paint, paint. For my cabinets, I chose Behr Premium Plus Ultra Paint & Primer In One in semi-gloss. (Lower cabinet color – naval. Upper cabinets and wall color – bakery box).

Like I said, this is a time-consuming process. For best results, I recommend taking your time as you paint, creating smooth, even strokes with the roller or paint brush. I also recommend allowing amply dry time between coats.

A few things I learned during this process:

  • New, unfinished cabinets required three coats of paint, whereas existing cabinets only required two coats.
  • The finish looks more professional if your brush strokes align with the direction of the wood grain.
  • When painting the cabinet doors and drawer fronts, clear out your garage and spread out. You’ll have to take a couple days to finish these, with all the different coats of primer and paint, so set up a spot where your paint job won’t be disturbed until it’s time to reinstall these doors.
  • Wrap up your brushes and rollers in plastic grocery bags and stick them in the fridge between coats. The paint stays wet on the brushes, and saves you tons of time rinsing each time.
  • Remember to pull the Frog Tape off after your final coat of paint is partially dry but not completely dry. You’ll have a smoother line, and less chance of the paint peeling off with the tape.

INSTALLING NEW CABINET HARDWARE

New cabinet hardware can really change the look of a kitchen. I worked with D. Lawless Hardware for my new kitchen hardware, and they graciously gifted me the cabinet pulls and handles to complete this project.

When selecting your new hardware, you need to consider a few things:

  • The style of your kitchen
  • Any existing features, like your faucet, light fixtures, etc.
  • The color palette of your kitchen
  • And of course, your personal taste

Our newly remodeled kitchen is less traditional than it was before. We got rid of the brown and black, and brought in whites, grays, and navy blue, with a lot of clean lines. Our new faucet is brushed nickel, so I chose brushed nickel cabinet hardware. As for the specific pieces, I mixed and matched two styles:

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

For my cabinet doors, I chose the Steel Bar Pull, and for my drawers, I chose the Satin Nickel Cup Pull. The cup pulls are just enough of a nod to my farmhouse style, while the bar pulls are the perfect touch of contemporary to tie it all together.

Installing the hardware was by far the most difficult part of our kitchen remodel. I had spent hours upon hours sanding, priming, painting, and painting, and painting these cabinets, so we had to be very accurate when installing the new hardware.

Initially I tried to create templates to use, but ultimately decided to buy a cabinet hardware template on our next trip to Home Depot. It saved both my sanity and my paint job.

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

The template we purchased acted as a guide to help us measure the width between screw holes, but we still had to do a little configuring based on the size of each individual drawer front. I came up with the genius idea to put a piece of Frog Tape on the front of each drawer, roughly in the center. Then, we measured and marked off the horizontal and vertical center on the strip of tape, rather than on my freshly painted cabinets.

After marking off the center, we placed the template on the tape and marked our screw holes. It worked like a charm!

We actually opted to put the drawers in place first, so we could drill the holes without having to support the drawer. It was also easier to visually insure we aligned the new hardware exactly straight on each drawer in the row.

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

The template helped us with the top hole of each cabinet door, but because our steel handles were so long, I again used my reliable Frog Tape. I placed a strip on the back of the handle, along the screw holes, and used a pencil to poke through the tape where the holes should be.

We then used the template we bought to mark the location of the top hole, then placed my tape template in place to mark the location of the second hole. I’m a genius sometimes…

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

I think the two styles of hardware perfectly compliment one another, and really add that extra “WOW” factor to our kitchen remodel. The hardware is like the jewelry you add to an already beautiful outfit – the perfect finishing touch.

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

We still have some finishing touches to put in our kitchen before I’m ready to show you the big reveal, so stay tuned for that!

Be sure to visit D. Lawless Hardware for affordable, and beautiful hardware for your kitchen, bathroom, or anywhere in your home! Connect with D. Lawless Hardware on social media, too!

D. Lawless on Social:  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Pinterest  |  Instagram

You can drastically update your existing kitchen cabinets on a budget, with just a few small changes and some manual labor. Here's how!

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