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

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.

"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.