Kitchen Renovations Can Be Expensive, But Your Cabinets Don’t Have to Be
Designers spill their secret sources.
Updated May 16, 2023 10:04 AM
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There’s no way around it: Kitchen renovations can be costly, and as much as we’d love a custom-designed set of cupboards, it’s simply not in the (credit) cards for some of us. The good news: There are some clever work-arounds you can do to come in under budget, like saving on inexpensive kitchen cabinets. And the better news? Affordable doesn’t mean having to sacrifice style or functionality.
We tapped nine designers to spill their inexpensive kitchen cabinet secrets that offer the best value, like their go-to materials and how to get a professional paint finish every time. A kitchen full of gorgeous, custom-ish cupboards has never felt so obtainable.
What’s the Average Cost of Kitchen Cabinets?
To be sure you’re getting the best possible deal, it helps to know what the going rate is for custom cabinetry. According to HomeAdvisor, most projects fall in the range of $4,000 to $13,000 for an average 10-by-10 kitchen. On the high end, you could be looking at a cool $24,000.
Aside from the type of material you choose, another budget-influencing point to consider is the kitchen layout. If you’re making any changes to your floor plan that require moving your oven, you’ll want to bring in a pro to relocate electrical, gas, and ventilation systems. The final touches such as paint or hardware also add to your bottom line. A single stain, for example, will cost less than a multistep finish or paint.
9 Inexpensive Kitchen Cabinet Ideas
Choose a Less Expensive Wood
“Kitchen cabinets can be a huge financial piece of the puzzle,” says Minneapolis-based designer Anne McDonald, who passed along some key advice when crunching numbers on your budget. “Wood type matters!” she stresses. “Natural-grade birch is one of the cheapest species and it’s domestic, so there’s no guilt that it’s being pulled out of the rain forest or shipped from Europe. It’s also very hard and durable, so it will stand the test of time.” Win-win.
Don’t Underestimate IKEA
Even high-end designers who generally work with custom cabinetry can’t deny the appeal of IKEA’s. Michelle Lisac, owner and principal designer of Michelle Lisac Interior Design, says, “Since they come in a wide range of colors, finishes, and affordable prices, it’s easy to configure a design that works well for your space.”
Upgrade IKEA Cabinets With Semi-Custom Fronts
Meagan Camp of New York City–based Meagan Camp Interiors suggests jazzing up your simple (sometimes too simple) IKEA kitchen cabinets with new fronts and pulls. “The brand is everyone’s go-to for budget kitchens,” says Camp. But there are some innovative companies making semi-custom door fronts that are stylish upgrades to what’s available at the famed Swedish retailer. “Superfront and Plykea are two we’ve used, and they’re surprisingly affordable,” she notes.
Choose a Full Overlay Design
Victoria Sass of Prospect Refuge Studio breaks down the three types of primary cabinet styles: partial overlay, full overlay, and inset. Partial overlay, meaning you can see part of the cabinet frame between the door fronts, looks dated and inexpensive, while inset requires the most skill and is, therefore, the most expensive. The Goldilocks of inexpensive kitchen cabinets is a full overlay design. The door fronts fully cover the cabinet framing. “It looks supertailored but requires less precision than inset, and so is less expensive,” says Sass.
Design Affordable Kitchen Cabinets Online
Marie Trohman and Ashley Drost, the designers behind Los Angeles–based Proem Studio, vouch for Barker Modern as a great option, even if you have to buy cabinets sight unseen. “It gives advice on what size to make a refrigerator opening, how to design the toe-kick, and where to use finished end panels,” Trohman says.
DIYer Erin François of François et Moi suggests that you give your existing kitchen cabinets a makeover. “Fresh paint and new hardware are cost-effective ways to breathe new life into your kitchen without tearing everything out,” she says. You’ll need patience and one particular tool for a professional look. “If you’re going this route, I highly recommend renting or investing in a paint sprayer for that professional cabinet-shop finish,” she adds.
Search for Secondhand
Designers often swear by vintage stores and flea markets for unearthing the best lighting and furniture finds, but what about cabinetry? British creative Caroline Briggs stumbled upon a nearly complete Victorian kitchen set for just under $2,000 at a charity shop—a fraction of what big-box and custom will cost you.
“I got my joiner to meet me there the next morning, and he was beside himself,” she remembers. “It sat in my friend’s outbuilding for two months while the construction was going on.” Her builders pieced it together in the renovated space, filling in the gaps with reclaimed timber.
Open It Up
Open shelving in place of upper cabinetry has been trending for a while thanks to its streamlined look and ample display space for all your vintage glassware. But it offers the best value by cutting costs in half. Wendy Lau’s wood shelves were only $200, with knotty pine beams from Home Depot and brackets from Etsy. On the other hand, a single standard cabinet will set you back about $150 on average.
Play With Plywood
Making brand-new cabinetry from scratch is a splurge—unless you’re using über-affordable (and on-trend) plywood. “We chose plywood because it was inexpensive, around $2,000, and it’s a pinky blond that I think is pretty,” says designer Megan Pflug of her upstate New York kitchen. The finished project looks anything but builder grade.