Thursday, February 8, 2007

A New Look for an Old Kitchen

Welcome to this week’s edition of Tool Box Thursday. This week I’m going to cover some options for upgrading your kitchen’s look, for the fraction of the cost of a full remodel. Also, this week I’ve included some great web resources that I use on a regular basis.


In today’s world, the Kitchen has become the most popular room in the house. It’s also the room that is most often remodeled and upgraded. A home’s value is often closely associated with the kitchen; its look, the appliances, floor coverings and overall “feel.”

Fully remodeling a kitchen is a large undertaking. The cost associated with a full kitchen remodel can be in the ten of thousands of dollars. But there are some options that will provide an entirely new look at a fraction of the cost.

Many DIY shows cover cost saving kitchen upgrades. Below I have put together some tried and true methods that not only change the feel and appearance of a kitchen, but actually add to a home’s value.

By making some relatively inexpensive cosmetic changes you can put your money into better appliance upgrades. Believe it or not the biggest portion of a kitchen remodeling budget is sucked up by the cabinets and the counter tops. Often the appliances are secondary. Stoves, refrigerators, sinks, faucets and dishwashers get used everyday. More attention and resources should go into these items rather than a $100 a square foot granite counter. That’s just my opinion. High quality, energy efficient appliances, not only make the kitchen fun and easy to use, they can save you money; whereas, new cabinets and counters only cost money. If they don’t happen to be the taste of a prospective buyer they haven’t added any value. New quality appliances only add value.

The suggestions below involve using your existing kitchen layout and cabinets. Customers often tell me they want to replace all the cabinets… perfectly good quality boxes. Often they don’t have the resources to change the layout (a very expensive option), they just crave a new look. Here are my suggestions:


Older wood cabinets are actually better quality than many new “home center” bargain cabinets. But, often they appear dated, dark, and dingy. Most of you have heard or seen ads for cabinet re-facing companies. While this is definitely an option, with a little time and effort you can achieve similar results yourself.

Consider replacing the doors and drawer fronts, hinges and door hardware.

For a fraction of the cost of a new cabinet (and without the mess), doors can be changed very easily. I use two companies, Cabinet Door Shop and Cabinet Door Depot. They manufacture new doors to your specifications. They have many, many styles to choose from, and these are high quality doors.

By changing door styles you can also change a cabinet from a storage unit to a display unit by using glass doors. Adding some inexpensive low voltage lighting inside these cabinets makes the content pop! Having some glass shelves cut at a local glass supply place adds a touch of elegance.

I suggest refinishing or painting the actual cabinet boxes yourself. When painting a cabinet that’s been previously stained you’ll have to do some sanding to rough up the surface, then apply a high quality primer, before your finish coats. Make sure to fill any holes and scratches prior to applying the primer.

I use a company called Rockler for all my hinges, knobs, and pulls. They have everything you’ll need to change a cabinet’s hardware.

A note about painting the doors; I don’t recommend you do this yourself. The doors take a tremendous amount of abuse. While it may look easy on TV to prime and paint a cabinet door, I have found that over time the finish will start to show signs of wear relatively quickly. A kitchen is a very harsh environment; steam, moisture, constant opening and closing take its toll on a door. My suggestion is that you look in the yellow pages under “Spray Finishers” or “Spray Finishing.” You can take your doors to them and have a professional finish put on that will last a lifetime; sometimes this finish is better than automotive standards. They will match any color or stain you want and apply layers of clear sealant that will protect the doors.

Counter Tops:

While granite, solid surface, and natural stone counter tops are all the rage, I prefer a good old high pressure laminate. Why? High pressure laminate counter tops are still the least expensive choice, and with today’s color and finish choices they rival the look of materials costing much more. They’re durable, easy to clean and require no maintenance. Remember, all natural stone surfaces require sealing annually.

Laminate counters can be changed when you want a new look. If you invest $5000 in granite counter and you decide 5 years later you’re not happy with the look anymore, you will probably not be in a rush to swap out the counter. But a $600 counter that’s given you the same five years of service can be easily swapped out in a weekend… and you can do it yourself with some basic knowledge and tools.

“But prospective buyers want granite.”

People want the granite look; granite and natural stone counter tops convey a feeling of luxury. But they really are not practical. They require periodic maintenance and a large investment. I’ve actually installed a granite look laminate counter top in a $2 million home in the Hamptons, to rave reviews from the homeowner, Realtor, and prospective buyers.

Remember, styles and tastes change over time. That beautiful black slab of $10,000 granite may actually detract from a home’s value in the future.

Two top providers of high pressure laminate counter tops are Wilsonart® and Formica®.
Both companies often have sample chips at all the large home center chains. Also, a larger sample piece can be ordered. Something I would definitely suggest doing, once you’ve narrowed your choices down to two or three. These samples are usually 12”x12” and provide a better representation of the actual product. The samples a cost a few dollars but are worth it. Also, laminate counters can have many different options in edge detailing and back splashes.

“But, I really need granite for cooking and baking.”

I suggest that you use some granite or stone tiles in a section to create a workspace or accent area. A popular use of granite and stone tile is on an island or peninsular section. You get real granite or stone, at a fraction of the cost and you can do it yourself.


One of the best ways to improve a kitchen’s look and feel is by installing a new floor. I suggest either the popular laminate flooring products like Pergo® ,DuPont®, Wilsonart® or vinyl goods, whether tile or sheet goods. I do not recommend ceramic or stone tile on kitchen floors. They may look great but definitely have some disadvantages.

Ceramic and stone floors are very hard; hard to stand on, hard when something’s dropped on them and they’re cold. Unless you have radiant floor heating under them, these floors are extremely cold in the winter months. Also, these floors usually have “grout” joints. While these joints can be sealed to prevent staining, the sealant wears off over time and the joints become dirty and an eyesore.

I suggest installing floors that are seamless. Kitchen floors get wet. They get washed, mopped, spilled on, etc. The floor should not have any grooves, joints, or seams that could produce a failure in the future. The new laminate floors lock together to provide tight joints; sheet vinyl is seamless by its very nature. With a little instruction and some basic tools, laminate floors can be installed easily. These floors also have the advantage of either having foam backing or are installed over a thin foam sheet. This makes the floor extremely quiet and soft to walk on. Laminate floors are a great choice when under floor radiant heat is used. They’re very stable in nature and can withstand the changes in temperature quite well.

Some Final Thoughts and Links:

Create a budget with high end, good quality, energy saving appliances at the top of the list. Then decide what you can do to freshen up the look of the existing cabinets, counters and floors. You’ll always get your money back for the appliance investment, but not always for your choice in finishes.

With some hard work and creativity, a $5,000 investment can look like a $25,000 remodel. Trust me, I know, I’ve done it!

The Kitchen Faucet should be one of your biggest investments in a kitchen.
It gets used more than any other item!

There are a million web sites out there offering tips and information for do-it-yourselfers. I’ve narrowed it down to some great comprehensive sites that offer “real” advice and instruction. I use these sites often.

For Plumbing Advice, Issues, and Problems:

For DIY Advice and Information:


Angel said...

ahhhhh refreshing my memory. I will be selling all that stuff and designing kitchens (like I used to) and rooms. Great post!

I believe form follows function and storage should be placed as you use the kitchen. If you choose to remodel a kitchen completely don't get confused by all the bells and whistles, just think of how you use your kitchen.

Oh god, you have me talking about design. LOL. You are always so thorough with your posts, with links and all! Excellent.

Mike said...

Wilsonart. Good stuff. Headquartered and some of their stuff is made right up the road.

I've had cousins working there for years.

They have some good looking product, though we still have the same harvest gold counter tops that this house might have been built around.

Amanda said...

So, which one of those pics is your kitchen ;)

Some great tips!

Long Island Dad said...

Angel: I agree completely. "Bells and Whistles" only if you have the money, and then only as an after thought. Good luck back in the "real" world. LOL!

Mike: Yeah, Wilsonart... my favorite! Great color selection, Great product!

Amanda: Sorry, none are mine. While I'm very neat... the kitchen isn't usually up for pictures... if you know what I mean ;)

Terri said...

excellent tips; getting ready to take this project on with my hubby. Its a doozy. I'm going right now to check out some of your links. Thanks.

Cabinet Doors said...

Good Post! Very informative, glad that you are going to continue writing things like this!

Anonymous said...

Great job, love the blog. If you ever do one like that again you can try for your doors, the ordering system is a little more refined.

cabinet doors online said...

Leader in finished cabinet doors and drawer fronts, unfinished cabinet doors and drawer fronts, dovetail drawer boxes and cabinet door refacing materials. Buy cabinet doors and drawer boxes online.

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