Kitchen Cabinet Refinish

The Heart of the Home

If the kitchen is truly the heart of a home, kitchen cabinets might be the closest thing to the heart’s chambers—the home of the atriums and ventricles that push the blood through our heart to keep it running. After all, don’t the cabinets hold all the stuff that makes a kitchen run?

Think about it: just like your heart is the hardest worker in your body, on duty 24/7, your cabinets are probably the hardest-working element of your kitchen (besides the cook, of course). We open and close those doors and drawers countless times a day, taking out or putting away plates, pots, utensils, dish towels, groceries, snacks and anything else our cabinets can possibly hold.

So it’s not surprising that cabinets, like our hearts, eventually tend to show some wear. And of course, styles change over time, which means that a kitchen that was built or remodeled in 2000 might not seem as appealing nearly 20 years later.

Once you decide to wake up a tired kitchen, you can of course always go through a complete remodel and gut everything clear down to the walls and sub-floor to get the kitchen of your dreams. But did you know that there’s an easier, less time-consuming and more cost-effective way to transform your kitchen from drab to delightful?

The Scenario

Refinishing your kitchen cabinets is an excellent way to help them look new again, at considerably less expense and in much less time than a full cabinet replacement would take.

Let’s look at a scenario in which a cabinet refinish could be the perfect choice to upgrade your kitchen.

Your family is growing fast, so you know you’ll most likely be selling your starter home within the next two or three years. To that end, you’ve been gradually working to make a few upgrades that will help enhance the value of your home. Your research has shown you that buyers want an updated kitchen—in fact, a “modern/updated kitchen” topped the list of ideal home features in a Consumer Reports survey of millennials.


Unfortunately, your kitchen feels anything but modern, thanks to your cabinets—a 1980s-vintage medium oak with outdated brass handles and drawer pulls. The cabinets are sturdy and work for the kitchen structurally, but frankly, they’re just plain ugly, and they make the entire kitchen seem gloomy and dingy—not exactly the best selling point, especially when most homebuyers don’t want to have to put a lot of work into the house they buy.

You’ve read that bright, airy, clean, white cabinets are the most popular cabinet style, so it makes sense they’d be a good selling point. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that you’ve always wanted them in your own kitchen, so you wonder if it would be worth it to pull the cabinets out and replace them with something more modern.

The trouble is, so far the bids you’ve received for replacing the old cabinets run into the tens of thousands of dollars. You don’t need to be an accountant to know there’s no way you’d recoup that cost. You also know you could paint the cabinets yourself, but frankly, you’d rather sleep on a bed of broken glass than spend hours and days and possibly even weeks disassembling, sanding, painting, finishing and reassembling.

Then a friend gives you the name of a local company that refinishes cabinets. They can give you the cabinets of your dreams without completely disrupting your kitchen, your friend tells you, by either painting your current bases, doors and drawer fronts your ideal color, or by matching up new, modern doors to the finish you select. It can be done in a fraction of the time a complete kitchen remodel would take, and best of all, it only runs around a third of the price of completely replacing your kitchen cabinets—a reasonable investment you’d be able to realize with no problem. Even better, you’d get to enjoy a couple years of a lighter, brighter kitchen yourself.

You’re intrigued, to say the least, so you contact a sales rep to learn more. Not only does he bring albums of before-and-after jobs his company has done that leave you drooling, he brings in an actual cabinet door so you can touch and feel the quality. And as he goes through your checklist with you, it’s getting harder to contain your excitement.

Less expensive? Check. A shorter timeframe? Check. Beautiful colors, finishes and door styles? Check, check and check! You have the solution to the ugly cabinet dilemma, and soon you’ll have a kitchen you’ll be proud to show off.

The Experience

So, what exactly is involved in a kitchen cabinet refresh? Here’s a very brief recap of what you can commonly expect. Please note that this is only an estimate; not all companies work the same way. Also, this only covers a typical kitchen cabinet refinish that includes doors and drawers. The timeline would need to be adjusted accordingly if other services like wall or window frame painting, countertops, flooring, etc. are included.

Before starting the project, your contractor will usually ask you to take care of a couple of things in the kitchen so the refinishers can do their work as efficiently as possible:

  • Remove items from cabinets, drawers, cabinet doors, countertops and any items above your cabinets.
  • Move your refrigerator to a location that allows access to the sides of the cabinets.

Once that’s done, the refinishers will do any measuring and light construction work that needs to be done—e.g., cabinet modifications or adding crown molding.

Then it’s onto the big show: the refinish. The timeline will generally shake out this way (day ranges shown are project days, and may not include weekends):

  1. Day 1: Cover floors, clean and sand cabinets, fill cracks and remove cabinet doors and drawers so they can go (usually offsite) to be finished, if you’re keeping the same doors.
  2. Days 2-4: Prime and top-coat cabinets and millwork. This is usually the only time you won’t have access to your kitchen, since these products can have a strong odor. Don’t worry, your refinishers will do their utmost to seal off your kitchen so the rest of your house isn’t affected.
  3. Days 5-6: Finish work on the cabinet bases, then clean up so you can access your kitchen once again.
  4. Days 7-20: Final clean up of the area. Around Day 16, give or take, the refinished cabinet doors and drawers will arrive at your home and be installed. If you’re having the cabinets glazed, the glazing will usually be done right there at your home.

There you have it—only a few days where you might be without access to your kitchen, and the entire process finished in less than three weeks.

The Results

Of course, any discussion of cabinet refinishing means more when someone who’s been through the process shares their experience. That’s why we asked Painterati customers Scott H and Connie C—who each went through a kitchen refinish in their own homes—to share their impressions, experiences and their feelings about the ultimate results.

Scott H, Rockford, MN

What made you decide to refinish your kitchen, rather than completely remodel it?

We had been spacing out home improvements and had focused on the kitchen cabinets/countertops next as it needed an update from the design choices of the year it was built, 2000—the height of golden oak being everywhere you looked. Because we had the floors done before the cabinets, it limited us to essentially ripping out and replacing the exact layout we currently had, to maintain the same edges where the flooring ended. At that point we figured it was best to keep the cabinets themselves since they weren't in bad shape, just in need of an appearance update.

Were you surprised by the original estimate?

Not particularly. We had assessed the options of thermo-foiling, veneering, and other methods, done by both ourselves and by a professional service. Between sourcing materials ourselves and the time investment it made sense to leave it to a professional service.

We may have been able to complete the job ourselves for half the cost, but we would probably still be working on it to this day three months later with no guarantee it would've turned out as great as Painterati’s job did for us.

At the start of the process, what were your expectations for the end result?

We wanted our kitchen to look like new again. We had settled on a specific style to lighten and modernize the color, and were aiming for a more smooth texture to the cabinets and doors. A clean white appearance is what we wanted.

Did your ideas and expectations change at all as you worked with the consultant?

A little, but they only increased when talking with him. He pointed out some very insightful additions that definitely elevated the idea we had started—as well as elevating our expectations. We were now convinced it would turn out like an entirely new look rather than covering up for the sake of updating.

Can you tell us a bit about the general experience of having the workers in your home?

It was a very enjoyable experience. Employees were kind and courteous to both me, my wife, and our home. They did not hesitate to ask any questions pertaining to work space or activity preference and were overall very pleasant.

Did the end result meet your expectations?

The results definitely embodied everything we were hoping for! The team was able to bring our ideas to life and build upon it with their knowledge and expertise to give us a final result that exceeded our expectations.

What advice would you give other homeowners who are thinking about refreshing their own kitchens?

There is an art to doing this that goes beyond a paint brush or a heat gun. Your kitchen is one of the few rooms that you, family, friends, and others will constantly see and spend time in, so treat it with the consideration it deserves.

If a remodel isn't ideal for any reason, refreshing is a fantastic option to get a brand-new look without costly replacement or downtime.

Connie C, Stillwater, MN

What made you decide to refinish your kitchen?

We built our home in 1991 when our kids were six months and two years old. We rolled with the house while our kids were young, and when time permitted, we finished . The last thing we had to do were the cabinets. The oak cabinets just looked so dated, especially with new countertops.

Why did you choose not to remodel?

We felt like there really wasn’t anything wrong with the cabinets and hated to tear them out just to put in essentially the same thing. We were happy with the layout of the kitchen and loved the backsplash and countertops. I love to cook and entertain, and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Were you surprised by the original estimate?

Not really. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but had hoped to keep it under $10,000.

At the start of the process, what were your expectations for the end result?

I was a little nervous and did not know what to expect. My husband went along with me on the project, despite the fact that he liked the oak and didn’t really see the datedness of it. What I hoped for was a cohesive, beautiful, modern-looking kitchen. That is exactly what I got.

Did your ideas and expectations change at all as you worked with the consultant?

The sales consultant came in, took a look around, took notes, asked questions, and came back with an estimate. I was impressed with his professionalism and knowledge. He followed up carefully until all decisions were made.

Then the design consultant came along. She blew me away. She walked in, looked around, absorbed the look we had going on and dug into her totes of colors. It was really fun. Together we picked out the cabinet color.

I had a wild mélange of colors in my house. She respected my weird style but made suggestions to bring it all together with the cabinet color.

She is my hero. :)

Did you feel we answered all your questions?

Thoroughly. I had a few questions along the way, and they were answered promptly. The original timeline was set back a bit due to over-scheduling, vacations, and other jobs running late, and I was kept informed all along the way.

What was your experience with the workers?

The workers were great. The kitchen was taped off and looked like a self-contained war zone, but the rest of the house stayed tidy and clean. They slipped in, did their work, cleaned up after themselves, and slipped back out. When I asked questions I received good answers. I was impressed with the attention to detail of all of the workers. There was no slop or mess.

Did the end result meet your expectations?

The end result exceeded my expectations. I just love it. I wish I’d done it years ago.

Advice for homeowners considering it?

My advice would be to go for it. It is a change of night and day at my house. I am delighted every time I walk into the kitchen.

Before: Connie’s kitchen cabinets in the original circa-1991 golden oak.

oak kitchen cabinets, kitchen cabinet refinish, painted cabinets, painter, paint, minneapolis

After: Connie’s cabinets refinished in Sherwin-Williams (SW) 7039, Virtual Taupe, against a backdrop of the new wall color, SW 7568, Neutral Ground.

Kitchen after cabinet refinish, painted kitchen cabinets, kitchen refinish, kitchen, paint, minneapolis painter, virtual taupe

When Connie, Scott and their spouses realized it was time to update their kitchen cabinets, they discovered the acceptable middle ground between yanking out cabinets that functioned well and living unhappily with cabinets they hated to look at each day. That willingness to investigate other options not only got them to love their kitchens again, but saved them money that can be used on other home upgrades in the future.

If you decide to go the route of refinishing your cabinets, just as you would with any home contractor ask for referrals from friends and family, and be sure to carefully vet your potential choices with the online home services directories you use and your local Better Business Bureau.

And get ready to love your kitchen again.

Painterati provides high-quality interior and exterior house painting, kitchen cabinet refinishing, cabinet door replacement, specialty finishes, ceiling updates, garage door refinishing and light construction services to homeowners who want their homes to be as modern, comfortable and dynamic as their lifestyles. They’ve recently added six new cabinet door styles to their already impressive selection. To learn more, contact us online, or call (612) 492-1888.


Back to blog

Would you like to talk to an expert about your project?