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A cheap kitchen makeover

The kitchen cabinets in the house we live in have seen better days. They were reasonably well-built, but 50 years of raising families–mine is the third family raised in this house–took their toll on them. A couple of years back we painted them, to cover the scars of the years. It was an improvement, but the color dated itself pretty quickly, and we didn’t use the highest-quality paint, so the finish wore fairly quickly.

This time, we repainted them white. We used an expensive Benjamin Moore Decorator White in semi-gloss, because it looks good, but also because we’ve found it to be durable in other projects. And you’d be surprised how many half-million-dollar houses have white-painted cabinets. I’m an estate sale junkie, so I’ve seen a lot of half-million-dollar houses over the years, and I would estimate 40% of them have simple, white cabinets in their kitchens. It’s a look that doesn’t date itself, and is cheap and easy to take care of. (As a point of reference, a modest three-bedroom ranch house in the same county costs around $125,000.)

I’ve also seen people do this to improve the appearance of a house prior to flipping it.

The first step is to apply a sander/deglosser to the cabinets to help the paint to adhere. Remove the doors to make it easier to reach everything. After following the instructions on the deglosser, prime the cabinets and doors (I recommend Kilz), wait the recommended dry time, and paint.

We also replaced all of the cabinet hardware. We re-used the hinges last time, but replaced the handles with oil-rubbed bronze handles. This time, we kept the handles, and I ordered matching oil-rubbed bronze hinges. On Amazon, they cost about 1/3 what they cost in the home improvement stores, and Amazon’s are nicer. The dark brown (nearly black) color and copper highlights contrast well with the white cabinets. Oil rubbed bronze is extremely trendy right now, and I have a feeling it may date itself, but it should always look good with white, for the same reason that electrical outlets and plates used to be dark brown.

Painting the cabinets white and the kitchen walls a dark, warm beige helped. Warm beige, white trim and/or cabinets, and the oil-rubbed bronze hardware combine for a classic look that goes well together, and keeps the kitchen from looking sterile like a hospital operating room. Real-estate investment pioneer William Nickerson recommended the beige-white-dark brown color scheme in his books, and it still works today.

If someone were to try to duplicate our project today, it would take a can of deglosser, about a gallon of primer, about a gallon of high quality paint, enough hardware to replace whatever worn-out hinges and handles might be there, and most likely some wood putty and/or wood glue for making minor repairs as you find problems. It’s probably about a $100-$120 project, depending on the size of the kitchen, which really isn’t bad. If I were looking to replace the cabinets, $120 wouldn’t get me very far, no matter where I was buying them from. And there’s much less labor involved in repainting cabinets than in taking existing cabinets down and replacing them. If you paint the whole kitchen, add another $30-$70 for a gallon or two of high-quality warm beige paint for the walls.

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