Unless you live life on the edge and go for all open shelving, you’re probably working with some cabinets in your kitchen. They’re sometimes sleek and gorgeous, sometimes clunky and oddly placed, but they’re altogether an incredibly functional part of a home—which is probably why they’ve been around for so long.
Kitchen renos are notoriously expensive and time-consuming, and they require a lot of decision-making, so it’s helpful to take the DIY route wherever possible. You might not think that cabinets are something you can compromise on, but you’d be surprised what a little hardware and a couple coats of paint can do.
Below, find a series of DIY kitchen cabinet ideas—from super-beginner to full-on carpenter—all with major payoff.
Now, now, I know what you’re thinking: Changing out hardware on cabinets isn’t really DIYing them, or changing them at all, for that matter. But trust me, you’d be shocked what a difference swapping hardware makes on kitchen cabinets. I recently changed the handles on my maple-veneered kitchen cabinets from a more modern nickel handle to a traditional brass…and it made a world of difference. Now, instead of looking a little cheap and mismatched, I find that the cabinets look really intentional.
There are a slew of hardware options, from ornate and delicate to hypermodern, from brass to black—it’s worth doing some digging and making a relatively small investment in your kitchen.
Above: my own kitchen cabinet hardware swap. To the left is before (totally fine) and to the right is exactly what I'd pictured for the space. Warm brass really makes the maple shine.
2. Cover With Vinyl:
Hello, renters! Vinyl is kind of the catchall material for temporary improvements, whether it’s wallpaper, contact paper, or floor tile. I’ve seen some pretty jaw-dropping transformations on rental kitchen cabinets by covering them with colored vinyl to mimic the look of painted cabinets, but be warned: This is a tedious process. It requires a lot of patience, measuring, and cutting, so be sure to budget a good chunk of DIY time. It also works best on cabinets with flat fronts or with limited detail (like shaker-style doors). But if the sight of your cabinets gives you agita and you’re down for a rental project, this is certainly a worthwhile investment.
Above: Instagrammer @TulipsfortheTable covered her NYC rental kitchen cabinets with robin's egg blue vinyl, completely transforming the space. She also added some vinyl diamonds to the backsplash for a little extra detail. Swipe for the before.
3. Install Semi-Custom Doors:
If you’re not in the market for replacing your cabinets entirely, you can just replace the doors for a custom look. There are plenty of ways you can do this, by either adding wood trim or pre-cut overlays to existing doors (there’s a company called My Overlays that makes custom designs for IKEA furniture that you can glue or nail to the fronts), or you can take the old doors off completely and replace them. Another amazing outfit, called Plykea, makes custom fronts, worktops, and shelving for IKEA cabinetry—cutting down on building costs and employing sustainable birch plywood.
Above: Cookbook author Meera Sodha's London kitchen underwent a total reno, featuring these gorgeous birch plywood cabinet doors that custom-fit budget-friendly IKEA cabinets.
Paint: the miracle product. If I had a nickel for every item in my home I’d given a couple coats of paint for a huge transformation…I’d have 25 cents. Rich! But seriously, painting your cabinets is the quickest way to basically an entire kitchen makeover. Because they take up so much real estate in the kitchen, giving them a facelift in the form of paint has the ability to completely change the look and feel of the space. It’s time-consuming, but it’s not difficult—anyone can do it. If you’re ready to take on the task, here’s an in-depth tutorial on how to paint kitchen cabinets, particularly if you don’t have (or don’t want to rent) a paint sprayer.
Depending on the starting condition of your cabinets, this method can be more or less time-consuming than painting. If your cabinets are painted, you’ll need to fully strip and sand them before refinishing, which can be a messy and smelly operation, best done outdoors. If your cabinets are finished wood, it will be easier to sand off the existing finish to re-stain or finish. This is a great option for cabinets that have yellowed with age, which often happens with polyurethane finishes. There are several different ways to offset a yellow or orange undertone, such as bleaching the wood, whitewashing, or using a gray-tinted stain.
Feeling ambitious? Build your own! A few years ago I would have balked at the idea of building my own cabinets, but with the right tools, YouTube videos, and a bit of patience…anything is possible. After all, cabinets are basically just big wooden boxes, and you know how to make a box, right? Some of my favorite tutorials here, here, and here.
When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.
See what other Food52 readers are saying.