Design by Room Kitchens

Successful Kitchen Cabinet Refacing Involves Hacking Your Way to No Gaps

“Put on some good music and you’re good to go.”
gray kitchen cabinets with white subway tile

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Just the phrase kitchen cabinet refacing sounds daunting, doesn’t it? But it’s really not, says aspiring interior designer Rachel Ortega, who recently tackled a kitchen renovation in her Albany, California, home, where she lives with her husband, 4-year-old daughter, and 3-year-old son. 

Their 2009 house came with a lot of pluses: a magical view of the redwoods, a functional open floor plan, and an overall modern feel. But the cherrywood floors and kitchen cabinets were a major eyesore. “All the pretty rugs and home decor could not cover up the sea of red,” says Rachel. 

dated cherry wood kitchen
Before the renovation. Courtesy of Rachel Ortega

After living with it as is for more than a decade, the Ortegas were financially ready to take on a renovation. The plan: Demolish everything, spare the appliances and layout, but replace the uppers with open shelves and the lowers with IKEA cabinet boxes and Semihandmade fronts. To save on costs, Rachel, her husband, and her brother-in-law installed the floors, floating shelves, and cupboards themselves. 

Here, she walks us through the step-by-step of how she transformed her cherry bomb of a kitchen into a modern, sophisticated space

How Much Kitchen Cabinet Refacing Costs

mother and son at kitchen peninsula
Photography by Josh Leung

According to Home Depot, if your existing cabinet boxes are salvageable, the average price for refacing a 200-square-foot kitchen is approximately $13,500. This estimate includes materials and labor, however, so if you take on the work yourself, put much of that money back in your pocket. The Ortegas spent just $1,500 on the IKEA cabinet bases and $2,134 on the Semihandmade cabinet fronts. 

Kitchen Cabinet Refacing 101

Step 1: Clear Out the Old—But Know When to Ask for Help

kitchen under construction with ladder
Courtesy of Rachel Ortega

While the thought of swinging a sledgehammer may sound therapeutic, gauge your comfort level and know-how before digging into the dirty work yourself. Since the task was out of her wheelhouse, Rachel hired a contractor to demo the original kitchen cabinets and floors throughout the first level and haul away the waste responsibly. Pro tip: HomeAdvisor can help you find a local service to do the same for your own project.

Step 2: Map Out Your Kitchen Cabinets

white subway tile backsplash and plaster oven hood
Photography by Josh Leung

Rachel used IKEA’s kitchen planner to plan the cabinet footprint, but she warns not to get too caught up in the small details. “Simply use it as space planning,” she says. (Floorplanner is another great resource for laying out your vision into 2-D and 3-D plans.) In real life, she taped out where she thought the new, longer peninsula should be to make sure it was a comfortable distance away from the wall—measure every detail, then measure again.

Because Rachel wanted open shelving, she mapped out in an Excel spreadsheet where the rest of her kitchen items—every single measuring cup and coffee mug—would get hidden away. “I listed each cabinet and drawer, and assigned what each one would potentially hold,” she says. Through this process, she quickly realized she needed more storage, so she added a floor-to-ceiling pantry around the corner of the kitchen. 

Step 3: Install the New Kitchen Cabinets

new kitchen mid-build
Courtesy of Rachel Ortega

Rachel, her husband, and her brother-in-law built the IKEA cabinets and Semihandmade fronts on their own in around four days, measuring and assembling in between family time and kids’ nap times. “It’s not as intimidating as one would think,” she says. Just give IKEA’s Kitchen Installation Guide a read-through before screwing anything together. 

Step 4: Reface the Kitchen Cabinet Doors

gray lower kitchen cabinet with half moon pull
Photography by Josh Leung

small kitchen appliances in lower cabinet
Photography by Josh Leung

Semihandmade doors are installed just like IKEA ones, first by placing the hinge in the corresponding hole and tightening it by pressing down on the tension bar. Attach the doors and adjust the screws on the hinge plate as needed.

“Watch YouTube tutorials, ask for help from people whom you know will be helpful, put on some good music, and you’re good to go,” says Rachel. In her case she followed along with Chris Loves Julia’s step-by-step IKEA and Semihandmade tutorial videos

Step 5: Add Side Panels and Toe Kicks

built-in dining bench next to kitchen
Photography by Josh Leung

The key to a custom look using Semihandmade fronts is their side panels (the sides of any exterior cabinet box) and toe kicks (that skirt the bottom of the cupboards), which you can order to match your chosen cabinet front color. All toe kicks from Semihandmade come 5 inches high and 93 inches long, so you’ll need to use a table saw (which the Ortegas happen to own, but you could also rent one) to cut them to your exact measurements. While Rachel found measuring and installing the extras the most challenging step, it was also the most rewarding: The panels serve the bonus purpose of hiding unwanted gaps. 

Step 6: Hack Your Way to No Gaps

dated cherry wood kitchen
Courtesy of Rachel Ortega

U-shaped kitchen with gray cabinets
Photography by Josh Leung

It was important to Rachel that her sink be directly under her kitchen window, but moving it over left an awkward sliver of space between the cabinet under the sink and the one to its right. Side panel to the rescue! First, she measured the empty space that needed filling. Then, using a table saw, she cut a Semihandmade side panel to fit exactly in between.

Next, she cut a piece of plywood (or you could use a 2-by-4) slightly smaller than the panel and attached it to the back using screws that are just long enough to secure the timber. From the inside of the adjacent cabinet, she secured the piece with another screw. To make it look intentional, she added a towel hook, perfect for drying dishes and hands. 

Inspired? Rachel hopes so. “There are endless resources out there that can help you achieve what you want with the budget you have,” she says. “And now, instead of living in a sea of cherry red cabinets, we live in an open, bright, inviting kitchen that is truly the heart of our home.”

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