From Spotlight: The 37 Best Home Projects for Great Payback

Updating Kitchen Cabinets for Under $175 Is Easy. Here’s How.

No need to break the bank to get brand-new-looking cabinets.

Colorful cabinet knobs for a home kitchen
Image: Arryn Vogan

Updating your kitchen cabinets couldn't be easier with these inexpensive cosmetic miracles.

#1 Handsome Hardware

Blue gray kitchen cabinets with gold bamboo-style pulls

Knobs and pulls are kitchen jewelry that can upgrade kitchen cabinets. Note that cabinet hardware can get very fancy and expensive — costing $30 and up for a single ornate knob. But you’ll get a huge bang for a few bucks by buying 10-packs of simple, contemporary hardware at big box stores for about $20 (that’s $2 a knob!).

To save time and money, replace one-hole hardware with one-hole upgrades; two-hole with two-hole. That way, you won’t need to drill or patch.

#2 Updating Kitchen Cabinets With Paint

Nothing works better and more quickly for updating kitchen cabinets on a budget as fresh coat of paint. 

Painting cabinets yourself is cost-effective: a few gallons of paint, sandpaper, cleaner. But the process is time-intensive. You can paint most cabinet surfaces, but proper prep is key. For laminate and melamine finishes, be sure to rough up the surface with 150-grit sandpaper and apply a good bonding primer before topping it off with the color of your choice.

How to Upgrade Kitchen Cabinets with Paint:

  • Lighter-colored paints will make your kitchen seem bigger.
  • Don’t skip on prep. Thoroughly clean cabinet doors and boxes to remove grease and dried-on gunk; fill holes or nicks with wood putty; then sand.
  • Sand each coat of paint so your final coat will look perfect.
  • Lay doors flat to paint and wait until each side is completely dry before painting the other side. It will take more time, but you'll avoid ugly drip marks.

#3 Add Molding to Make Cabinets Seem Custom

Crown molding adds a touch of class to the tops of tired cabinets for less than you’d expect. Three-inch, primed composite crown molding costs as little as $24 for eight feet. 

It’s easiest to add molding when you’re repainting cabinets; that way you’ll get a perfect match. 

If you order matching wood molding from your cabinet’s manufacturer, be prepared for a color difference between new molding and older cabinets. Natural wood cabinets (especially cherry) will darken with age.

#4 Change the Cabinet Insets to Glass

White kitchen cabinets with glass insert
Image: The Cross Decor, Design | Janis Nicolay, Photography

Change the glass insert in a cabinet door and you change the look and feel of your kitchen.

"Decorative glass takes stock cabinets and gives them a custom look,” says Anthony Longo, who sells glass panels from his business in Belmar, N.J. 

Not all cabinet doors are candidates for a changeover, however. You’ll need the kind of door with a removable panel. Check the backs of your doors to see if the center panel can be taken out.

Types of glass inserts are limitless — contemporary, bubbles, raindrops on water, antique. The cost begins at about $150 and increases depending on the glass you choose.  

#5 Add Task Lighting

Once, the only way to shed light on kitchen tasks was by hard-wiring under-cabinet lights — an expensive and messy task. But you can add lighting under and inside cabinets with battery powered, peel-and-stick LED lights.

Of course, battery-run lights are not as bright as their hard-wired cousins. But at about $7 each, you can afford to buy several and scatter them around. LED light bulbs last for thousands of hours of use.

Housing And Real Estate Expert Lisa Kaplan-Gordon
Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Lisa Kaplan Gordon is an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who contributes to real estate and home improvement sites. In her spare time (yeah, right!), she gardens, manages three dogs, and plots to get her 21-year-old out of her basement.