Refacing Existing Cabinets - What to Know


Periodically we are asked by clients about the possibility of refacing their existing cabinets. This is a complicated issue and not without its potential pitfalls. The issues that you may face are age of the existing cabinets, type of construction, settlement and hardware (drawer glides and hinges), limited selection of door styles and finishes and limited suppliers/installers in your area.

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Many older cabinets predate modern modular box construction and were a combination of wood and plywood cabinets built in place. Often these cabinets will have a wood face frame, generally a 1 ½” wide piece of dimensional lumber frequently referred to as a rail (horizontal piece) and a stile (vertical piece). This frames the opening of the cabinet box. More frequently than not the door panels and drawer fronts overlay this frame so they project out past the frame. In turn, the door hinges may be affixed to the inside of the box frame (the stile) or to its face (exposed hinges) and the drawer glides to a piece of ¾” wood fixed to the interior sides of the box. Adapting new door hinges and drawer glides to this existing structure can be challenging.

If the cabinets were not built in place but consist of some type of modular box construction (factory built) affixed to your walls they may be frameless or have rails and stiles as noted above. They will have been pre-drilled for the door and drawer hardware that you presently have. New doors and drawers may likely require a new hardware pattern to accept the new door and drawer faces.

Your existing cabinets and drawer boxes may be out of square because of age, settlement, earthquakes or overloading cabinets. Old drawers may be cracked or badly soiled or stained and in need of replacement. This presents the biggest challenge, that of sizing new door panels and drawer faces to accommodate those “pre-existing” conditions. If you want the newer “soft close” hinges and drawer glides this may or not be achievable.

Most manufacturers of today’s factory built cabinetry such as those that we offer will not provide drawer and door faces to reface your existing kitchen. They are not set up to deal with the irregularities, customization and installation. There are companies that deal exclusively in refacing cabinets. The result will be as good and as experienced as they are, the quality of the replacements and the condition of your existing cabinets. Also matching your old cabinet finish if that is your desire may not be realistic. Check online for a dealer in your area by googling “cabinet refacing” and check if they offer install services or can recommend someone.

The average cost of a cabinet today is about 30% attributable to the cabinet box itself and the other 70% is the hardware, drawer box, door and drawer faces. Unless you are trying to preserve existing countertops and back splash finishes or have an attachment to your old cabinets it generally makes much more sense from an economic standpoint to replace your aged cabinets than to reface them. With a cabinet of good quality, the cabinets today are cut with computer accuracy, the hardware is not only soft close but often adjustable. There are more finishes and door styles than you could imagine and you will have years of service from them. It is also an opportunity to reconfigure your kitchen and perhaps get rid of that annoyingly small pantry or lack of drawer space and introduce modern storage solutions resulting in a more functional work space for the way you cook and entertain.

By: Steve Hunter