Before and after pictures of a kitchen renovation

When a Bucktown man decided to renovate his kitchen, he asked pros at Hudson Home to give the existing cabinetry a new look instead of replacing it. A few coats of taupe lacquer turned the cabinets into storage that suits the homeowner’s minimalist aesthetic.

A: Instead of buying and installing brand-new cabinetry—a process that can be both expensive and invasive—consider refacing. If what’s behind the doors is well made and in good shape, this is an excellent option. It’s about a third of the cost of and greener than building from scratch, and fresh paint or new doors can work wonders.

If your cabinet fronts have a nice shape but the finish is passé, consider revamping with a professional paint job. When Steve Bruss, principal of the design/build firm Hudson Home (2825 N. Southport Ave., 773-907-5500,, was hired to update a client’s contemporary Bucktown house, he found the existing kitchen cabinetry dated in color, stain, and finish, he says. Stained rusty red and topped with a clear glossy finish, the wood cabinets were stuck in the early ’90s. But the high-end Snaidero cabinets (worth, Bruss estimated, about $75,000) were in mint condition.

To bring them into the 21st century, Bruss turned to a Hudson Home staffer who specializes in custom painting. (Tip: Unless you’re an experienced painter, it’s best to hire a pro. Clumps of dust or brush marks can ruin cabinets in a hurry.) He refinished the cabinets with several coats of taupe lacquer. Since the doors were hardware-free, there was no need to get new knobs. The result? Sleek modern storage that suits the homeowner’s minimalist aesthetic. Savings were considerable, and the extra cash went toward upgrades such as new limestone countertops and streamlined light fixtures.

If your style is more casual, Ted Harris (319 N. Albany Ave., 773-332-1001) can freshen your cupboards in a different way. He has been refurbishing furniture and cabinetry for 15 years and specializes in that salvaged, vintage look that’s so popular right now. “I paint the cabinets, then hand-sand and distress them to look weathered,” he says. Harris has applied his antiquing method to wood, metal, and even laminate cabinets. He can tackle hardware, too. Harris charges $100 an hour; most of his refacing projects fall in the $3,000-to-$5,000 range.

If the shape of your millwork is unattractive or if you prefer unpainted cabinets, either ask a cabinetmaker about veneer or commission or buy new doors. Chicago-based contractor Josh Hines (318 W. Grand Ave., 773-440-3161, custom-builds cabinet doors and drawer fronts. He says the demand for refacing has been higher than usual: “With today’s economy, people want to retrofit what they’ve got, not blow it out and start from scratch.” For a simple plywood panel, he charges about $100 per door. Flourishes like trim, inlays, or exotic wood are more expensive. Hines works mostly with melamine and wood, but for glass doors, Creative Wood Concepts (1680 N. Ada St., 773-384-9960) can oblige.

If you have standard-size cabinets, you may be able to buy new ready-made doors. Ikea (1800 E. McConnor Pkwy., Schaumburg, 847-969-9700, offers doors à la carte—browse options composed of wood and melamine—with prices starting at $48 per door. Or check with your cabinet manufacturer to see if they sell doors separately. Wood-Mode (Smart Rooms, Merchandise Mart, 312-644-4446, is one such company; it sells new doors for its cabinets in a range of styles.

To finish off the new look (or give old cabinets the quickest possible update), add new knobs and pulls. Anthropologie (1120 N. State St., 312-255-1848, stocks pretty hardware, and Clark & Barlow (353 W. Grand Ave., 312-726-3010, has a huge selection. If you have a historic home with original decorative hardware, Al Bar Wilmette Platers (127 Green Bay Rd., Wilmette, 866-823-8404, can restore and replicate knobs and pulls.