Update Your Kitchen Cabinets
Update Your Kitchen Cabinets

by Ron Geraci

If just looking at your outdated kitchen cabinets makes you groan, know that there are plenty of ways to liven them up.

Your first, biggest choice is whether to reface or replace.

Once you've made that decision, it's time to choose a style, materials, finishes, hardware &ellipse; and the list goes on. But don't worry -- the below tips will help you navigate the sea of cabinetry choices.

Go Green

Taking the eco-friendly reno route is a big priority for a growing number of homeowners, and there are a number of green options available.

Narrow the field by making your decisions based on environmental impact. For example, refinishing your existing cabinets with a low-VOC paint or varnish and adding eco-friendly knobs and pulls would be gentlest to the Earth.

Can't save your existing frames or doors?

Look for used cabinets that someone else chucked during a remodel; they'll often be in good shape. Find used pieces by checking online classifieds and calling some contractors and condo managers. Pay it forward by donating anything useable from your old cabinetry. Much of it is probably salvageable for someone else in need.

If you must buy new cabinets, opt for reclaimed wood if it's in your budget. Ask kitchen contractors for tips on local sources. Your next best choice is to use Forest Stewardship Council-certified plywood with a wood veneer. FSC-certified wood has been harvested using sustainable methods. This option also uses fewer natural resources than hardwood.

Veneered plywood will likely be your least expensive choice in buying new. Want hardwood? Highly renewable bamboo or lyptus are green favorites, though they can be pricey. The next step down, ecologically, is a long-lasting, durable hardwood like maple or oak. Only go with FSC-certified wood.

In general, you want to avoid particleboard, pressboard and fiberboard, which typically use formaldehyde as a binder. Same goes for synthetic materials, laminate and PVC. However, composite materials that have green features, such as wheat board, are being developed all the time. Look for FSC certification and/or the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) seal.

Finally, opt for a local cabinet provider, as shipping earth-friendly cabinets across the country isn't very green. Try the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Green Cabinet Source for sources. And always buy cabinets that can be easily refaced later down the road.

Modern Makeover

Updating your kitchen cabinets is a good way to bring your kitchen into the 21st century. For the most modern look, consider getting stock (as is) or semi-custom (slightly modified) cabinets that sport a full overlay, which means the edges of cabinet doors and drawer covers are very close together so you can't see much of the cabinet frame between them. Contemporary-styled pulls will also add a modern touch.

For a super sleek space, go frameless so the edges of the cabinet doors and drawer covers are flush with the frame edges. How about a more radical idea? Consider going with glass door panels -- or no cabinet doors at all -- for an open-storage feel.

When it comes to current color trends, extremes are in. Opt for a very dark wood or white composite materials.

Functional Fixes

With so many style options, it's easy to become a little fixated on aesthetics, but don't forget to think about functionality. The way kitchen cabinets function can be just as outdated as the way they look. Devote some of your remodeling budget to creating organizational amenities and labor-saving features such as: Lazy Susans, pullout shelves, deep drawers for pots and pans, appliance-hiding panels, special drawers for food-storage wrap (foil and plastic), hanging hooks and more.

Small luxuries like smooth drawer rollers, soft-close systems (to prevent slamming) and European cabinet hinges (to allow full opening) can make your cooking and cleaning experience much easier.


Ron Geraci is a writer living in New York. In 2006, he built his own workbench, which doubles as a writing desk. It has six legs and can theoretically support 1320 pounds, though he's only personally tested it for about half of that load. From that desk, Ron has penned several books and contributed to many publications including Men's Health, WeightWatchers.com and AARP.

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