From Dreary to Dreamy

If a total redo is out, try freshening up your kitchen with new cabinet facing, paint, or a bright backsplash.


New paint, updated cabinets, and a Mannington Mills' "Filigree" patterned floor can do wonders for a kitchen.

Courtesy of Mannington Mills

Sad. That’s a word we’ve been hearing a bunch lately from our tweeter in chief. It’s also an apropos description of many an older kitchen. Grimy linoleum, chipped tile, dated cabinets: It can all add up to an uninspiring space. Replacing all of those things is no small task, though. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars, months of upheaval, and mountains of dust. If that sounds unappealing, give some smaller updates a try. They’ll give your room a new lease on life, and protect your pocketbook—and sanity—too.

If it’s your cabinet style that makes you twitchy—say you pine for clean-lined Shaker doors, but yours feature old fashioned ogees—there’s no need for a full tear out. Hire a cabinet re-facer instead. The re-facer will leave the cabinet boxes in place, and replace the doors, hinges, and hardware. Add in a fresh coat of paint, and you’ll have a brand new look for a fraction of the price of a total redo. It’s an ideal choice, provided you’re happy with your kitchen’s layout.

If you like the cabinet style but not the finish, so much the better. Then all you need is the paint. One caveat here: Cabinets are notoriously difficult to paint well. Wood-toned ones will likely sport layers of varnish, which means they’ll require a thorough sanding before painting. It’s messy and potentially toxic work, so you’ll need to prepare accordingly. And even with good prep in place, getting a picture-perfect finish is no easy task. It’s much easier to accomplish using a sprayer rather than a roller or brush. Given that, you may want to hire the job out to a pro. While the work won’t be especially cheap, it’s still far less costly than replacement or re-facing. Repainting is always the surest way to brighten up your room on a budget.

Of course, chances are that your cabinets aren’t the only things making the space feel dated. So if funds allow, opt for a shiny new backsplash and countertops, too. Provided you go with inexpensive materials, like butcherblock and subway tile, the change doesn’t have to break the bank, and the payoff will be enormous.

Even with limited funds though, don’t rule out a new floor. (If you’ve gone to the trouble of refreshing your cabinets or countertops, that dated linoleum is going to look pretty shabby in comparison.) Yes, upscale options, like slate, Moroccan tile, and wood, may be out of reach. But their vinyl counterparts may not be. You can now find pretty, contemporary patterns that can give you a similar look for a fraction of the price, and they’ll be easy to care for too.

Cooking may not be everyone’s favorite chore, and a new kitchen won’t change that. But with these steps you can turn this room from dreary to dreamy, without a lot of cash or time. That’s something even the most reluctant cook will appreciate.


Sarah Coombs is an interior designer based in Alameda.


Published online on June 15, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.​