Kitchen renovations on a budget: painted cabinets, why that counter probably needs to go and what you need to know for a successful {and good looking} budget refresh

Painting kitchen cabinets has become the go-to quick {and cheap} fix for a dated kitchen. No matter what your kitchen looks like, just paint those cabinets white and ~ voila! ~ you can say the space is updated, and won’t everyone just be racing over?

Maybe… not.

Here are two kitchen renovations. Both painted existing cabinets, one stopped there, and the other made some additional updates.

kitchen cabs repainted.jpg

Personally I think the space on the right looks far better than the one on the left {and so should everyone else who isn’t blind}. The short cheap squatty ‘backsplash’, the stark contrast between the black counter and the ‘too white’ white cabinets, the same old not awesome hardware on the left. Come on people. Not doing anything would have probably been better.

It might be a surprise to hear, but white cabinets are not the end all and be all answer for the ‘right’ or ‘best’ kitchen cabinet color. And they definitely aren’t a miracle cure for an outdated kitchen. Yes, white kitchens are really really popular right now {still}, but design doesn’t happen in a bubble, and if you are painting your kitchen cabinets, you should consider all of the other finishes in the space, as one change usually causes a ripple affect through the entire space.

Also, if you are just going for a cheap quick fix to add more value to your space, this might not be the best strategy, especially if you don’t want to make any other changes. You know that saying ‘it’s like putting lipstick on a pig’? A quick coat of paint isn’t going to hide anything if your kitchen is just worn out and in desperate need of an overhaul. Cheap standard cabinets, old counters… sometimes a space needs overall updating, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t waste the time or money on a cosmetic band-aid that will not be well received by buyers, or save them any money when they know they’ll have to come in and do the full renovation themselves. A cheap and poorly executed renovation could add just enough ‘value’ {and by value I mostly mean the seller has spent actual money that they want back} to make the space not worth it for rehabbers, and not exciting to buyers who don’t want to do any reno kitchens.jpgWhen I see kitchens like the these, I actually get excited because it’s a space that’s just waiting for a makeover! Seriously, the counters here are the first things that have to go, painting the cabinets alone will never be enough to really refresh these spaces.

But, if you are open to potentially changing some other elements of the space, painting cabinets can be a really great way to update your kitchen on a budget. It can help salvage cabinets that might look outdated in the finish department but are good quality overall, and it keeps materials from being thrown into a landfill unnecessarily, which is always a bonus. My last renovation where we salvaged the cabinets basically cut the project cost in half, and allowed the owners to spend more money on some other improvements in the space. Win!

If the layout of the kitchen works, the cabinets are good quality, and the cabinet fronts are a style that will look current when painted, then it might make more sense to keep them than to replace with all new cabinets. Why spend money if you don’t have to? Save it for other things like a great new counter or an amazing light fixture to really make everything stand out. Other options are replacing just the cabinet door fronts, and you can also change out standard hardware for soft close hardware {yep, it’s just the hardware that makes those magical doors close softly and quietly, and boy does it make a difference!}.

painted cabs example.jpg

If you are updating your space by painting the cabinets, the counters probably look a little sad and outdated too. Replacing counters goes a long way toward making the entire space look updated, and some counters are really hard to work with if you are trying to paint cabinets to update a space {see my helpful pics above for some prime examples}. Like those tan and black speckled granite doozies from the 90’s?! Oof. No thanks. Just take those out and start over {for everyone’s sake ~ please}. Personally I think this is money well spent. If you want to see some great before and afters of a kitchen where we kept and painted the cabinets but changed the counters, click here.

Before you even touch the cabinets with paint, make sure you have any new hardware selected {not all hardware is installed the same way, so you have to have the new ones picked out so that the old holes can be filled and new ones made before the paint is applied, the same goes for other fixtures like the sink faucet}. Hardware is actually the one thing in your kitchen you literally physically touch many times every day, so this is one element that definitely needs to look great. Even though it might literally be a small element of the kitchen, when hardware looks amazing it takes the space to the next level, and when it looks bad, it’s so distracting and unfortunate looking and can deflate the whole space… and then you end up talking about why someone would pick such awful hardware for like twenty minutes and then you’ve lost that time of your life forever… but I digress.

And last but definitely not least is backsplash tile. A kitchen with no backsplash tile feels naked to me. And the walls just don’t hold up well, all that cooking and splattering… ick. In my opinion it’s not really a negotiable element of a kitchen. Yes, there was a long while where developers just put in that squatty four inch ‘backsplash’ and bare walls above that, and we can thank them for teaching us all, yet again, what not to do.

backsplash tile.jpg

Whether you go classic or a little more fun and colorful, just make sure the style that you choose complements the overall feel of the space. The backsplash can also be a highlight of the space, everything works together and should complement each other, which is why you probably can’t successfully just paint the cabinets and call it a day…

Are you thinking about taking on a kitchen or bath renovation? What are you most excited about and what are you most nervous or unsure about? You might be able to update your space with less work and cost that you originally thought, send me a note if you have any questions at all about an upcoming renovation or even just a project that’s still on your wish list of things to do!

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