Update Boring Builder's Cabinets

Give your kitchen a low-cost makeover that starts with upgrading your builder's cabinets.

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builder cabinet
Before: Bland Builder's Cabinets

    Cosmetic artistry does wonders for Hollywood stars and they pay a fortune for it. A builder's cabinet can also get the same kind of lift -- but on a moviegoer's budget. It's easy to use these nine easy design strategies; each one has the power to personalize a generic kitchen.

Swedish Country Classic

    About this facelift:

    -- Start your makeover by giving plain brown cabinets the look of free-standing furniture.

    -- White paint and chrome hardware refresh the cabinets' exteriors.

    -- An arched fascia (in the upper cabinet), and curved side brackets between the fascia and the countertop create the illusion of a formal hutch.

    -- A beaded-board backsplash enhances the look.

    -- Removing the valance above the sink, then adding simple red-and-white toile curtains, creates classic Swedish country style.

Upper Cabinet Details

    -- Glass replaces wood panels in the upper doors.

    -- Faux muntins were simply cut to fit on top of the glass and glued into the door frame.

    -- A red-painted interior provides a dramatic backdrop for dishware.

Cabinet Feet

    -- Bun feet (tucked into the toe-kick gap) complete the transformation.

    -- Taupe paint makes the toe-kick appear to recede behind the added feet, reinforcing the feeling that this is a freestanding hutch.

Arts and Crafts Style

    About this facelift:

    -- Oak cabinets gain artisan intrigue with stylized stenciling on center panels and new metal hardware.

    -- A faux support underneath the upper cabinet offers the strength of mission oak furniture.

    -- A tiled backsplash, natural-wood window blind, vintage-look faucet, and leaded-glass light add handcrafted appeal.

    -- Earthy-green paint on the walls offers a period-appropriate backdrop.

Stenciled Center Panel

    -- Celebrating handcrafted pieces is a hallmark of the early-20th-century Arts and Crafts Movement.

    -- Using stylized botanical shapes (such as this motif) suits the style.

Juicy Personality

    About this facelift:

    -- Juicy citrus paint and fabric colors liberate a once-brown kitchen.

    -- Instead of a valance, a shelf now provides space for colorful pottery.

    -- Removing upper cabinet doors offers additional display space.

    -- Below the sink (doors removed here, too), a fun curtain threaded onto a steel cable hides supplies.

    -- A new faucet, pendant light, and sleek hardware add to the modern personality.

    -- Pale green walls let the bolder cabinets pop.

    Tip: Using only a single row of tiles for the backsplash saves cash while it adds style.

Upper Cabinet Detail

    -- Start the painting process by remove doors, drawers, and hardware.

    -- Lightly sand and prime any cabinet surfaces that will be painted.

    -- Referring to the photos, paint some surfaces with gloss-finish orange latex paint. Let dry.

    -- Use painter's tape to mask off areas to be painted light orange. Paint with light orange gloss-finish latex paint; let dry.

    -- Apply two coats of water-base polyurethane, let dry. Attach hardware, rehang doors, and replace drawers.

Lower Cabinet Detail

    Tip: If young children or pets are part of the household, make sure the sink-cabinet contents are safe for them to access (i.e., no cleaning supplies).

Old-World Elegance

    About this facelift:

    -- Rich, multilayer stenciling and burnished-copper-look hardware disguise once-boring cabinets.

    -- Other changes include a tile backsplash with vintage-look edging, an elegant light above the sink, and a sleek faucet for contrast.

    -- Chocolate-painted walls highlight the distinctive stencil designs.

    Tip: Adding an island can be a low-cost way to increase storage and work space -- without investing in additional cabinets.

Stenciled-Door Details

    -- Gain old-world style with a combination of multilayered rope and tile stencils.

    -- Rustic copper-look hardware enhances the look of age.

Simply Scandinavian

    About this facelift:

    -- Inspired by blue-and-white Wedgwood dishes, this kitchen gets its impact from the repetition of simple detailing.

    -- The stencil technique includes the valance above the sink for wallpaperlike effect.

    -- A one-row-high tile backsplash, brushed-silver hardware and faucet, and a white-glass pendant light let stenciled designs take center stage.

    -- Light yellow paint on the walls adds a warm contrast to cool blue cabinetry.

Lower Cabinet Details

    -- Swedish style merges practicality with whimsical elements such as stenciling.

    -- Graceful brushed-silver hardware coordinates with the stencil patterns without screaming for attention.

Country Charm

    About this facelift:

    -- Adding a beaded-board backsplash, an arched fascia, and bun feet gives generic cabinets the look of a free-standing hutch.

    -- To update the surfaces, prime -- then paint -- all the cabinets (ivory for the "hutch," black for the sink cabinet). (See next slide for additional project details.)

    -- Bronze cabinet hardware and a brushed-nickel faucet enhance the heirloom character.

    -- A simple calico valance and sepia-tone floral wallpaper add the warmth of age.

Lower Cabinet Details

    -- Painting the sink cabinets black helps create the illusion that the ivory-painted "hutch" is a separate piece of furniture.

    -- Add the look of age by sanding the paint for a distressed look, then finishing with dark brown stain.

    -- Wipe off most of the stain, leaving it in the crevices.

    -- Top with three coats of water-base polyurethane.

Upper Cabinet Details

    -- Replacing door center panels with glass inserts and faux muntins gives cabinets the look of a vintage hutch.

    -- Painting the cabinet interiors black creates a dramatic backdrop for favorite dishes.

Beaded-Board Backsplash

    -- Beaded-board paneling adds instant character.

    -- Adding a brown stain, then wiping most of it off, enhances the aged look.

Contemporary Image

    About this facelift:

    -- Coats of primer and white latex paint clean up dated cabinets. Two coats of semigloss water-base polyurethane add durability.

    -- A white field-tile backsplash pops with colored tiles added to the mix.

    -- Removing upper cabinet doors provides a sleek display area for dishes.

    -- Replacing the valance with a shelf and pendant light enhances the design.

    -- Brushed-chrome cabinet hardware and faucet complete the streamlined makeover.

Base Cabinet Detail

    -- Replacing sink-cabinet doors with a white curtain softens the look.

    -- A steel cable and clip-on rings make the curtain easy to install.

    Tip: If young children or pets are part of the household, make sure the cabinet contents are safe for them to access (i.e., no cleaning supplies).

Mix and Match

    About this facelift:

    -- Sanding and priming prepares the tired oak cabinets for painting.

    -- Paint the upper cabinets taupe and the lower cabinets red, with contrasting colors used for accents (see next two slides).

    -- Continue the color pairing with the woven shade and toile wallpaper.

    -- A chrome gooseneck faucet suits the vintage-look setting.

Base Cabinet Details

    -- Taupe paint, dry-brushed over the red door frame's beads, adds vintage character.

    -- Painting slim red stripes about 3 inches apart creates the look of tongue-and-groove paneling.

    -- Sturdy wooden knobs are painted to match: red for lower cabinet doors, taupe for uppers.

Upper Cabinet Details

    -- Red paint, dry-brushed over the upper door frame's beads, provides depth and aged appeal.

    Tip: The secret to dry brushing is to use short random strokes with as little paint on the brush as possible.

Color on the Go

    About this facelift:

    -- Bright multicolor cabinet doors and drawer fronts add vibrant personality to the formerly all-brown space.

    -- Removing cabinet doors above and below the counter creates display space for packaged foods and baskets.

    -- A sleek chrome faucet and long chrome hardware follow the style direction set by the stripes.

Upper Cabinet Details

    -- Blue, green, mustard, vanilla, and brown stripes sizzle against the red background.

    -- Soft lime-green walls allow the mostly red cabinets to pop.

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