Great New Kitchen Cabinets

- without breaking the bank

At the heart of most ugly kitchens are dated, not-so-functional cabinets just itching to look better than they do.

Likely the most drastic of facelifts for any kitchen, "new cabinets" can mean total replacement or simply replacing drawer and door face panels. On average, cabinets 10 years old or newer are a good candidate for refacing at just over half the cost of total replacement.

from cabinet to island

A popular trend in kitchen renovations, center islands are becoming a household staple in new and remodeled homes.

Homeowners can buy cabinets to complement an existing set or, when doing a replacement, use old cabinets with the same height and depth to create a center focal point.

With previously used cabinets, and those not intended for use in an island, special backing will need to be attached for storage purposes. And depending on cabinet quality and age, some used cabinets might not be candidates for being reincarnated as an island unit.

With cabinets in place, consider a contrasting look, such as tile or granite, for a work surface.

A minimum of a 36-inch walkway is required between the island and kitchen area but 42 is recommended.

A unique idea for an island, a four poster square table without cabinets below can become an island with special accessories to allow baskets, drawers and even pot racks below.

"It's really popular right now and it's a dramatic look," says Steve Reed. "It just looks like a table. You can paint a designer color to tie into the cabinets or paint a different color to contrast."

"In a reface, it depends on if they're keeping it the same and not changing a lot of the design of the kitchen," says Steve Reed of Abe's Custom Cabinets in Medford.

"If they start changing a bunch of stuff with the layout of the kitchen, or if the old ones are beat up real bad, it starts to get over the amount of just changing them out," he says.

While cabinets haven't changed drastically over the years, aside from trend-specific materials and colors, new cabinets have evolved on the inside with better-than-ever accessories such as pull-out spice racks, trash bag holders and built-in spinners.

When talking cabinets, pros will often bid for total replacement versus refacing to give homeowners a clear picture of each option. Depending on the condition of existing cabinets and the type of materials desired for the new look, refacing may or may not be a cost savings over replacement.

"We'll usually bid two ways — skinned versus build," says Brian Reed of Gary Smith Custom Cabinets.

"For us, we've never done one that has been less than 75 percent of what new cabinets would've cost. Obviously, the newer the existing cabinets are, the better. And smaller jobs are a fairly decent candidate for a reface," he says.

Expect new cabinets to start around $3,000 for a basic setup and go up — way up — based on size and desired features.

If your decision is to reface, then you might want to make desired changes by adding inserts, considering "invisible," or hidden hinges for a modern look and rethinking tired kitchen colors at the time of re-facing or replacing.

If a kitchen's overall color scheme is dark, Steve Reed recommends light maple or ash wood tone or light colored paint, to add contrast. For medium tones, a heavy grained hickory adds color while light toned kitchens do well with oak or alder stained wood.

For designer appeal, consider a custom two-tone look. For example, dark stained oak cabinets with a "picture frame" trim paint in green adds an instant custom look.

A nod to a diverse and global economy, cabinets today are hardly the oak and walnut from a generation ago. Think specialty woods and blends that are both visually striking as well as eco-friendly choices like bamboo, wheat board and recycled composites.

In more "dated" kitchens, consider sanding cabinet housings for a fresh paint job and replace old exterior hinges for modern, hidden hinging.

Inside the cabinets, interiors once coated in unsightly tack paper or unfinished wood can be decked out in a scratch-resistant surface or finished woodwork.

For small kitchens needing a lighter look, consider adding doors with glass fronts. Don't want to keep dishes tidy? Glass doors come in a range of designs and opacities.

Most relevant to the final look of an upgraded kitchen, shop for quality products and a skilled cabinet pro to do necessary work, Brian Reed says.

"I've gone out and looked at a lot of refacing jobs and it's not always done well," he says. "Anybody can reface, but what kind of finish are they putting on, what quality wood"¦ there are a lot of things to consider. Make sure things are done right and you weigh the options of going with new cabinets or refacing."

New and retrofitted cabinet jobs are far from the hollow boxes our grandmothers used. Done well, re-facing can add years of beauty and functionality to a tired kitchen.

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