Home Hacks

Upgrade Your Tired, Old Kitchen Cabinets With This 5-Minute Trick

No "fresh coat of paint" required.

October 10, 2018

What can you do with just five minutes? Actually, way more than you think! Introducing Food52 in 5: your cheat sheet for speedy, delicious recipes, fun mini projects, and more.


I am a perennial renter, and given my habit of spending over saving, I probably always will be. So that means seriously renovating my kitchen is always out of the question. There are two problems with this: the kitchen is my favorite place to be in any apartment (aside from my bed, no contest there); and most of the kitchens I've been stuck with have been pretty outdated (laminate countertops and finicky appliances are pretty much a given).

The upside is that I've gotten really creative when making aesthetic upgrades, which, per every landlord I've ever had, cannot be permanent or damage what's already there. One of my favorite tricks for fancying up my kitchen(s) came from my mom, who is a true home and design pro. It's as quick and simple as it is effective: Change out the knobs or handles on the kitchen cabinets.

No matter how tired or dated your cabinets, a fresh set of hardware magically gives your kitchen new life. All you need to do is unscrew the old knobs or handles from the cabinet using a screwdriver or drill (just make sure to save it, so you can replace the original hardware when you move out), and then swap in the new batch. The whole process only takes about five minutes, depending on how many cabinets you're working with.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I always take the old hardware with me when choosing a new one - pay special attention to the base of the knob so that you don't damage the exitsting cabinet or drawer. Try to find something similar in size that will fit over the existing hole. You can always cut the screws (super simple with pliers or wire cutters, but wear protective eye glasses) or buy new ones, and don't over tighten! Another great idea is to use different knobs (or pulls) in a bathroom to identify his or hers. I also agree with the previous suggestion to replace older switch plates with newer ones! ”
— Sandy A.
Comment

When picking out hardware, I like to take the color of the cabinets and my own personal sense of style (an eclectic, colorful mix of vintage and industrial-looking pieces) into consideration.

If cabinets are white (like mine were in my first post-college apartment), pick complementary colors that tie into another room, like the living room or bedroom. Then mix and match a few different knobs that tie (they don't need to perfectly match!) into that color scheme. If my cabinets are just exposed wood or a specific color, I'll usually pick one neutral-toned knob or handle and use that throughout the kitchen for cohesion.

If your cabinets are a plain-old white color, consider mixing and matching colored glass knobs, like the ones shown here. Photo by Anthropologie

Not sure where to get a fun kitchen knob or handle? I usually like to shop Anthropologie (they have a big selection, and many in-store deals on these little guys), but you can find great options all over the internet, from Amazon to Wayfair. The beauty of cabinet hardware is there's not one right way to do it; the right way is your way! Here is a bit of hardware inspiration to get you started, depending on your style:

I should also mention that your kitchen cabinets aren't the only ones that can benefit from a quick hardware upgrade. I've changed out the hardware on my bathroom cabinets and even my Ikea furniture to give them a little style boost. No matter what you do, make sure to pick something you love—aka, something that makes the rented space feel just a little bit more like home.


Make These in Your Newly Upgraded Kitchen

Do you have a quick and easy kitchen upgrade? Share it with us in the comments below!

28 Comments

Jaye B. October 19, 2018
The threaded poles on the back of the knobs in the photo are very long and look like they'd protrude on the inside of a typical cabinet door. Is it easy to trim them so they are flush?
 
Smaug October 19, 2018
That's a somewhat odd design, but I believe they're actually long screws inserted through the front of the knob- at any rate, they're not difficult to cut off with a hacksaw, you'll probably have to clean the threads up some- a triangular file is good for this, but you can usually use the corner of a flat file in a pinch.
 
Smaug October 19, 2018
Of course they'll have to protrude enough to take a nut.
 
Jaye B. October 19, 2018
Thanks for the info! But with sawing off metal now it's more than a 5-minute project. :)
 
Sandy A. October 19, 2018
Very easy - wire cutters (or pliers) and goggles - YouTube is always a great source!
 
Smaug October 19, 2018
You might get away with snipping it with such a device, but it will deform the end of your screw and can cause problems- depends how tight your nut is. Also, pliers and wire cutters aren't made for anything harder than copper, and this will dull them. In the vast majority of cases the screw is separate and screw in from the inside of the drawer or door- it's well worth investing in the right size screws; certainly if you're replacing a whole kitchen full; any hardware store or lumber yard should have them. Measure the thickness of your doors and drawer fronts and they should know what you need.As for YouTube as a source- no, I'm not getting into that. In my day it was the Sunday supplement, which at least had an editor.
 
Jaye B. October 19, 2018
Smaug - Yes, all of the pulls & knobs on my furniture drawers and doors have screws on the backside. I do not have handles of any kind on my kitchen cabs, they have a recess on the underneath edge to rest a finger. I'm wondering if the threaded poles on the knobs in this photo un-screw so they can be replaced with right sized screws bought separately so it can be done properly as you describe. I've looked at kitchen cab handles at big box stores which come with separate screws, but they're all pretty boring design. This isn't an item I'd be keen on mail ordering.
 
Smaug October 20, 2018
They look like they might be removable, but the replacements aren't going to be standard screws- the heads are going to have to be compatible with the design- probably some sort of slotless brass- and replacements may be very difficult to find.
 
Kirbee N. October 18, 2018
My new favorite super renter-friendly upgrades are the vinyl rugs and carpet tiles “rugs” available. I’m itching to rip out the carpet under my kitchen table (we bought our house from retirees who put in SHAGGY CREAM CARPET). We don’t have the budget for all new floors yet, so I’m now pondering painting subfloor and using a vinyl floor rug as a temp fix. Those vinyl rugs are looking super cute now. 🙌🏼
 
Author Comment
Erin A. October 19, 2018
That is such a great idea, Kirbee! I'm so into our vinyl mats because they're durable and come in some really cool designs. I've currently got this Mediterranean-style one on my wish list https://food52.com/shop/products/4544-mediterranean-vinyl-mats
 
lynnk October 18, 2018
I'm so sad that I can't buy from, or support anything Anthropologie because of the social values of the owner
 
TDan October 18, 2018
I never knew that the owner of UO and Anthropologie was vocal with their political and social views. I’m surprised I missed that. May I ask what their opinions are?
 
lynnk October 19, 2018
Check out Richard Hayne
 
Jonny October 18, 2018
In my new old home years ago I had wood cabinets from Amish county Indiana. They were a bit weary looking but were structurally solid. I painted them a soft white and used molding on the create and square on each of the doors and replace the knobs with simple nickel ones from HD. I Used beadboard painted to match my cabinets as my backsplash. Total cost of this was probably under $500 with the most expensive items being the paint and moulding. I did this 13 years ago and just now the paint is starting to show signs of wear. <br /><br />In my previous home I had sturdy but weary worn oak cabinets with what I later learned were copper hinges. Those cabinets were stripped of the old finish and stain red. The copper hinges & pulls retained. It was a great makeover for a starter home. That entire project topped out at $500 as well. The oven and cooktop were much more expensive.
 
amy October 18, 2018
Sure, the screwing in takes five minutes, but let's be real: there is the measuring and shopping and choosing and ordering or buying before the five-minute swapping takes place. Let's not resort to false headlines.
 
Smaug October 18, 2018
Well, yeah,but this is America- shopping is recreation. Anyway, compared to a process that starts with a bunch of guys coming in and ripping out hunks of wall with claw hammers, not a particularly onerous procedure.
 
Misfitwife October 19, 2018
I really wouldn't count the shopping and selecting...that's the fun part anyway and this is a really easy yet visually impactful project.
 
TDan October 18, 2018
Great ideas! I’ll keep this in mind as I’m doing updates to my kitchen as well!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. October 19, 2018
Keep us posted on how it goes!
 
Lizzz October 14, 2018
This is a great easy way to dress up and personalize cabinets or boring furniture! Smaller knobs can also be used to make necklace hangers on a wooden tray or your own beat-up dresser or even rustic shelves.<br />You can use fancy buttons to up-cycle cheap clothes or resale items with damaged buttons, or even that expensive but dull suit jacket or nice cardigan that came with boring buttons. I keep a button box supplied with impulse button buys from the fabric store and go to it whenever I buy something that needs cool buttons. Feel free to mix them up, too on the same garment.
 
Sandy A. October 12, 2018
So true about making an instant yet inexpensive way to update a so so cabinet, or furniture piece. I always take the old hardware with me when choosing a new one - pay special attention to the base of the knob so that you don't damage the exitsting cabinet or drawer. Try to find something similar in size that will fit over the existing hole. You can always cut the screws (super simple with pliers or wire cutters, but wear protective eye glasses) or buy new ones, and don't over tighten! Another great idea is to use different knobs (or pulls) in a bathroom to identify his or hers. I also agree with the previous suggestion to replace older switch plates with newer ones!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. October 15, 2018
Great ideas as always, mom! <3
 
Sandy A. October 15, 2018
😊
 
Noreen F. October 10, 2018
Five minutes sounds a bit optimistic for the mechanically-challenged like myself. Me plus a screwdriver is always bad news.
 
Merrill S. October 10, 2018
I was thinking the same thing about myself! ;)
 
Smaug October 10, 2018
If you own the place, a popular upgrade is to install new cabinet doors; in most cases that's mostly what shows, and it's much cheaper and easier than replacing the cabinets; there are contractors who make a specialty of this. Another quick and easy way to brighten up a dismal room is to change the electrical switchplates, , surprising what a difference it can make. It should be noted, however, that you replacement knobs or switchplates will leave marks when replaced; they may indent a bit, and over time the color will become different on the wall or door where it is covered. Also, the attachments have to be compatible on replacement knobs/pulls; they may require either one or two screws, and the two screw types are not all the same spacing. You also may encounter knobs attached with woodscrews rather than machine screws, but that's pretty unusual nowadays.
 
Merrill S. October 10, 2018
Love this! Etsy is also a great resource for antique/special knobs -- I got some cute hand painted ones with sea creatures on them for my kids' bathroom.
 
Author Comment
Erin A. October 10, 2018
Sounds so cute! Etsy is the best. Thanks for the tip, Merrill!