To Refinish Or Replace?


As a designer I often get asked about the pros and cons of painting and refurbishing an older kitchen vs. starting fresh with New Cabinetry .

In short, in my  experience, if you plan on staying in the home for more than a few years, you’re most likely best served by starting fresh and putting the budget into new cabinetry, counter tops and appliances.

Refinishing & Refurbishing Cabinetry is not as “cheap” as it sounds , and here’s why:

Sometimes a paint job is  a great option if you’re looking for a simple, quick cosmetic update … if the cabinets are in good shape and you like the lay out and overall design.

However this is not always the case.

Most kitchens have the builder bulkhead around the room so the kitchen cabinetry is shorter than it needs to be, and the storage features like drawers & corners tend not to be as functional as they could be. Also, the insides can be worn and dirty looking and the drawers could be old and rickety.

Other issues to consider? Maybe your kitchen is too small (you might want to take down a wall or open up the space), OR your kitchen needs new appliances, OR it doesn’t function properly and the layout needs to change , OR you want to update the counter top OR maybe it’s a combination of the above!

Then refinishing is really just a bandaid solution to a much bigger design dilemma  …

When working with older cabinets there are common issues that need to be considered.  Storage concerns can’t be properly addressed, as the design of the corners, and the amount of drawers in the design layout cannot easily be changed to best suit the space (there are too many fixed constraints when you are just doing a cosmetic update). Adding additional cabinetry is a possibility, but it often doesn’t marry seamlessly with old cabinetry in style, detail  or quality! Not to mention the hidden unknowns you can discover as you start to modify/rework existing cabinetry (it could literally start to fall apart on your contractor).

Another common issue we’ve seen in our experience, is when the counter top installer comes to measure, and they express concern for the structural stability of the old cabinetry. In some instances when this happens and the installers remove the tops, we’ve seen that the cabinets underneath are literally crumbling, meaning you’re spending money on an expensive new counter that your cabinetry might not be able to support. Now heaven forbid that after spending money on new counter tops, rework, repainting AND new appliances to make the existing layout and cabinets work, after its all said and done, what if you don’t love it, or it starts to looks shabby quickly… now you’ve just sunk good money!

So is it a good idea to repaint or refurbish? It depends on the goal, maybe yes maybe no…..

It depends on the type of cabinets you have (Solid Wood, MDF or Melamine) and whether it has been previously stained or painted; which never accepts a new paint finish perfectly because over time it will begin to peel and bubble. Additionally, a site-finish is never as perfect as a finish applied in a Proper Finishing Room that has the right ventilation to remove particles of dust from the air. If you’re particular about the quality of the finish , in our experience most clients are never happy with a Site Finished option as it can be gritty and have dust or particles imbedded in the finish making it rough and imperfect.  Whether it’s new Site Finished Cabinetry, or Refinished Existing Cabinetry, although it might be practical from a cost perspective in the short term to paint or refinish on site as a quick-fix, if this is your Dream Kitchen to enjoy for years to come, you are better off investing in New Cabinetry from the beginning. It will save you headache and disappointment down the road .

And after it’s all said and done, almost no one will warranty a refinished & reworked kitchen, which leaves you high and dry if the paint starts to peel or bubble , or the cabinetry begins to crumble under the weight of added drawers & new counters.  You can’t warranty the integrity of a bandaid solution riddled with future problems!

I think it is good for clients to take a long hard look at their long term intentions and make a list of goals to see if it is worth the risk of sinking good money into a short term fix. That way you can make the most informed decision for you and your home!

At the end of the day, for a client who wants to Do It Once & Do It Right, when renovating their Dream Kitchen, we would advise them to invest in quality cabinetry from the very beginning  –  even if that means waiting a little longer and saving up to get the Dream Kitchen you’ve been yearning for. It’s in your best interest not to cut corners on the fixed elements like Cabinetry, which can really set the tone of the Kitchen , and your entire home.

– Jack Creasy, Senior Designer