Published on June 1, 2020

As much as we love a custom-fitted cupboard or shimmering brass drawers, there’s a lot you can do with affordable kitchen cabinets. After all, the best renovations don’t require breaking the bank—but they do call for some clever maneuvering. And maybe a couple hours to spare perusing Etsy and Craigslist

Think beyond paint: There’s a world of secondhand scores and innovative ideas out there that can make even the most basic of options feel expensive, and we tapped a few of our favorite designers and DIY pros to prove it. Whether you want an entirely new space or are just in the market to make a couple key swaps, here are their tips for shrinking the final bill.

blue kitchen cabinets with big round knobsPin It
Courtesy of Space Exploration Design

Replace the Doors (and Only the Doors)

Instead of ripping the whole cabinet out, simply swap out the fronts. “You can purchase unfinished panels and paint them yourself to save money,” explains Sarah Gibson. Pick an inexpensive material like ply or MDF, as opposed to something solid wood (according to Gibson, this can get you a 30 to 40 percent discount). Though if you do want the real thing, opt for oak instead of walnut or cherry to save a few pennies. For a turnkey option, Dee Murphy’s go-to is Semihandmade—she recommends the revamped Shaker style ones. 

Go the Flat-Pack Route

We’re talking IKEA. Get inventive with the layout, choosing an L-shape instead of a U-shape; Geneva Vanderzeil says the open floor plan will make any space feel instantly more expensive. 

Once you have the IKEA units installed, recruit a few pots of paint to take them to the next level. Murphy suggests painting the uppers a different color than the lowers; a darker hue on the base cabinets will ground the room. Finally, splash out on the hardware. Etsy and eBay are great for finding truly one-of-a-kind pieces at attainable price points—just be sure to get specific with your keyword searches to score the best deals.

white kitchen with antique wooden sinkPin It
Photography by Dee Murphy

Scour Flea Markets

“Switch out one area of cabinets for a vintage piece that makes sense, like something with a glass door to see your prettiest items,” offers Murphy. An accent hutch or sink unit will instantly command attention—Vanderzeil is also partial to going the antique route for islands and workbenches. If you can’t find a standalone piece you like, look around for doors that you can have cut and fabricated to size at a local hardware store. “You might as well put in something really old and cool if you can’t add new cabinetry,” continues Murphy. Sift through your roster of online databases (Vanderzeil likes Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist) or support local secondhand stores via Instagram to find your perfect match. 

Don’t Be Scared of Going a Bit Unorthodox

To add texture to existing glass cupboards, hit up Home Depot or Lowe’s for a metal mesh-like sheet: Simply remove the translucent fronts and swap in the netted version. You’ll still get to display your ceramic dinnerware collection, but with an extra bit of old-world charm. “Paired with modern hardware, it would be such a great update,” says Murphy. 

Strip Down the Storage

Rather than replacing your upper cupboards, opt instead for floating shelves to open up a tiny kitchen. Per Gibson, the trickiest part is patching and sanding the wall that the units were installed on, but with a little bit of elbow grease, it’s feasible even for the most novice of DIYers. As long as you carefully take them down, Gibson says you can sell them secondhand to fund future renovations—for example, your one-day dream space.

See more ideas for your kitchen cabinet makeovers:
Can You Paint Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding Them?
7 European Kitchen Cabinet Ideas to Turn Your Home Into a Perma-Vacation
That Empty Space Above Your Cabinets Is Actually Prime Real Estate

Discussion