3 Reasons Your Kitchen Cabinets Look Dated — And How to Fix Them (No Pro Required!)

published Jul 3, 2024
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Brown wood cabinetry before kitchen transformation.

Dated kitchen cabinets are a design challenge that renters and first-time homeowners know all too well. And let’s face it, we’ve all had a kitchen like this. The countertops are solid (just trendy enough), the appliances are new (or newish), and the flooring is just fine (nothing a rug can’t fix), but the cabinets are woefully out of date. 

If replacing your existing cabinets isn’t an option because you’re a renter or on a tight budget, keep scrolling. We tapped design-minded DIYers who all have firsthand experience updating dated kitchen cabinets of their own. Below, they break down some of the most common things that make kitchen cabinets look dated — and how to fix them.

Your Cabinets Still Have Their Original Finish

When DIYer Carrie Waller (Dream Green DIY) moved into her 1960s ranch-style home, her kitchen had a lot of charming details — but the color of the cabinets certainly wasn’t one of them. “The original kitchen cabinets were still in place and covered in a splotchy dark gel stain,” Waller says. “Not only did the old stain make this already dark room look like a cavern, but the dark stain also succeeded in masking the quaint Parisian-style trim detail that was on the cabinet fronts.”

How to fix it: If you’re facing a similar design challenge in your kitchen, Waller advises choosing a new finish (think: a wood stain or a paint color) and stocking up on sandpaper. “We sanded the old stain off and painted the cabinets cream (Clare Paint’s No Filter),” Waller says. “The new light color brought out the best features of our mid-century cabinets and helped give the room a brighter, more modern look,” she adds. “Now, instead of seeing ‘old’ when entering our kitchen, I think it reads as ‘charming.’”

Your Cabinets Have Old-Fashioned Trim

In DIYer Trisha Sprouse’s vintage kitchen, a scallop-edged, wood cabinet valance above the sink was one of the elements she knew would have to go. “Valances were used in earlier kitchen designs to give cabinetry a cohesive look and to hide the empty wall area or soffit above the sink, but they’re not really used in modern kitchens anymore,” Sprouse explains.

How to fix it: “While [valances] can lend a bit of a charming cottage look to your kitchen, if you’re craving a more modern vibe, you have a few options,” Sprouse explains. Her three top picks: 

  1. Remove it completely by cutting it out with a jigsaw and sanding and patching the rough edges.
  2. Cut off just the decorative edge and leave a straight edge for a cleaner, modern look.
  3. Cover it up with a faux wood beam.

When updating her own kitchen, Sprouse opted for option No. 3. “This method avoids any kind of demo or power tools, it feels more modern, and it’s an affordable, reversible solution (also making it renter-friendly),” she says. “It was as simple as cutting a thin piece of balsa wood to the same dimensions as the wood valance, staining it to give it a white oak look, and attaching it with adhesive mounting strips.”

You’re Fighting Against Your Kitchen’s Overall Style

A hard truth: Sometimes there’s not a lot you can do if you’re living in a space with dated kitchen cabinets — especially if you’re a renter. “In my rental kitchen, I didn’t have much control over the cherry-stained wood finish nor could I do much to change it,” notes Arlyn Hernandez, a home and lifestyle writer. “Instead of working against something I didn’t love, I figured out how to work with it instead.”

How to fix it: Embrace what you can control. “There’s always so much talk about updating cabinets, but most of the time, the design elements around the cabinets hold the most weight visually in terms of dating the space,” Hernandez says. “You would be surprised how much better cabinets you weren’t in love with can look with a new backsplash, some new hardware, and, if budget allows, even a new countertop.”

In her own kitchen, Hernandez went all out with renter-friendly solutions. “New matte gold hardware, a peel-and-stick backsplash that matched the counters to create a more modern look, and even window treatments in a soft linen can detract from dated cabinetry and maybe even make them look charming (at least that’s what I was going for!),” she explains.