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Replace or Reface? Let’s Solve Your Cabinet Conundrum

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated August 23, 2021
Refaced cabinets in kitchen.

Photo: Maria Rueger / Moment / Getty Images

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Let’s face it: the wrong cabinets can really cramp your kitchen’s style. Still, whether they’re dated or just not your preferred look, it would be a (costly) shame to tear down perfectly good cabinets. Kitchen cabinet refacing provides a way to change up the look without a complete replacement, which could save major cash. Provided you’re happy with the bare bones and layout, this project could transform your kitchen for less—but it’s not your only alternative.

What Is Cabinet Refacing?

Cabinet refacing involves replacing the “skin” of the cabinet while keeping its interior structure. This typically consists of changing out the doors and drawer fronts, followed by replacing the kitchen cabinet hardware (e.g. door handles and drawer pulls). Then, all exterior surfaces get covered with either laminate or wood veneers to match.

Cabinet refacing involves replacing the “skin” of the cabinet while keeping its interior structure. This typically means changing out the doors and drawer fronts, followed by swapping out the kitchen cabinet hardwar (aka, the handles and pulls that add functional bling). Then, all exterior surfaces get covered with either laminate or wood veneers to match.

Kitchen cabinet refacing is a good option if:

  • Your cabinets are in good condition inside and out

  • You like the look and function of your existing cabinets

  • The doors are a bit dated, but a new kitchen cabinet door style with updated hardware would make a big difference

  • You like the existing layout of your kitchen, including the space, flow, appliance locations, and cabinet size

Things to Think About Refacing or Replacing Kitchen Cabinets

Saving money is an attractive perk, but that doesn’t always mean cabinet refacing is the best investment. A local cabinet refacing contractor can help navigate your options and provide a cost estimate for your budgeting. In the meantime, here are some points to consider when deciding what will work for your setup.

Durability

Is the structure of your existing cabinets solid, or do they sag under a full stack of plates? If you have doubts about the overall condition of your cabinetry, cabinet refacing is probably not going to serve you well. You might be happy for a little while, but when that pesky shelf falls again, you’ll probably wish you’d sprung for the replacement.

Cabinet Layout

If you always bonk your cereal cabinet when reaching for a pan, or you don’t have enough room for your fabulous coffee mug collection, cabinet refacing won’t address these annoyances. For more storage space and better functionality, you’re better off choosing the total replacement.

However, if you’ve perfected the workflow of your existing layout and would like to maintain your kitchen’s overall design, refacing your cabinets is worth considering.

Time

Refacing your cabinets usually takes a few days at most, while replacing them altogether calls for more time and labor. This equates not only to extra costs, but extra time without your kitchen as well. But on the plus side, it’s the perfect excuse to order takeout on repeat.

Appearance

Cabinet refacing is more limited in style choices than what you’d get with a replacement (you’re retaining your existing cabinets, after all). Meanwhile, you can purchase new cabinets in a cornucopia of styles, finishes, and colors. Many selections are available in both stock and custom offerings. If funds and time aren’t factors, you may want to go all-in on an all-new kitchen that’s uniquely you.

Cost

Kitchen cabinet refacing is generally cheaper than a full replacement, but costs can add up. For example, if you have your eye on higher-priced hardware, your project cost might be comparable to a full replacement. If that’s the case, and you have the extra time to spare, contact a cabinet installer near you for an estimate so you can compare costs.

Is It Cheaper to Reface or Replace Cabinets?

Cabinet refacing costs around 30% to 50% less than replacing custom or semi-custom cabinets. If your existing cabinets weren’t expensive, or if they have structural issues, then you’ll be better off with a complete replacement.

Can I Reface My Kitchen Cabinets Myself?

Cabinets with new pulls

Photo: irina88w /iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

 If you’re comfortable making precise cuts and using basic tools, DIY-ing your kitchen cabinet refacing project is definitely doable. But if you’re the kind of person who never cuts the right amount of wrapping paper, you may want to take a hard pass here.

Are There Other Alternatives to Refacing or Replacing?

If it’s all about aesthetics, you can punch up your cabinets’ looks short of a major overhaul. You can refinish your kitchen cabinets instead of refacing if all exterior surfaces are in good shape (doors and drawer fronts included). 

There are also other DIY kitchen cabinet upgrade ideas that can change up your kitchen’s look for even less. For example, the cost to install new cabinet hardware is typically far less than refacing, but can still make a big impact. Refinishing can also yield beautiful results—with the right planning and prepping, of course.

The cost to stain your cabinets or paint them will run you a lot less than refacing, but your options depend on your current cabinets. Some materials aren’t good candidates for staining, such as the medium-density fiberboard (MDF) used in many solid-color cabinets. On the other hand, oak cabinets aren’t likely to accept a solid color without showing the grain. A local cabinet painter or cabinet refinishing contractor near you can help determine what would work best.

Is It Worth It to Reface Kitchen Cabinets?

Classic answer: It depends. Salvaging your existing cabinetry might save money, but all-new cabinetry might be a better value for some kitchens. Cabinet doors and drawers are the most expensive part of the remodel, so it might be worth it to opt for the new ones. It’s wise to compare it to the cost of installing new cabinets before you make your decision. That said, deciding whether kitchen cabinet refacing is worthwhile really depends. How do you feel about the current state of your kitchen? After all, you can’t slap on a new skin and fix the underlying issues. If the cabinets are in great shape, refacing could be worth it. Still, it’s wise to compare it to the cost of installing new cabinets before you make your decision.

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