Before and After: A 2001 Kitchen Gets a Luxe, Modern Redo — Without Scrapping the Cabinets

published May 29, 2022
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About this before & after
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Before: full view of wooden kitchen cabinets

Apartment Therapy has seen kitchen redos that keep warm wooden cabinetry from the early aughts and make them look new again, but for the most part, the trend in kitchen renovations is to paint those cabinets a green, gray, navy, or somewhere in between. (And if you were curious, here’s why those shades make for such great cabinet colors.)

While working from home, homeowner Daniel Precel decided he’d like to get in on the cabinet change-up and bring his 2001 kitchen into the 2020s. “I remember looking around, my gaze fixed on the kitchen, and thinking to myself that, yes, I’m going to paint this,” he says.

“The cabinets were orange-brown [and] the country-style backsplash made the kitchen look even older, and the countertops were a very dark and uninviting granite,” Daniel says of the kitchen before. “Add the fact that there’s only one (double) window in the entire space, and the whole experience of being in the kitchen was drab.”

But there were some things Daniel liked about the kitchen, too: For instance, its size and its layout were functional for the most part. Because the kitchen wouldn’t need any demo or plumbing work, Daniel decided to take on some of the work himself.

“One main tenet which I’ve always lived by, is ‘go big or go home,'” he says. “The work consisted of two main efforts: one, painting all cabinets, doors and drawer fronts, which I did myself, and two, replacing the countertops, backsplash, sink and faucet, which we outsourced to a professional team and was completed when the cabinetry was about half done.”

Daniel divided the kitchen into sections and worked on the cabinets in chunks at a time. “Sure, we had cabinets without doors for weeks at a time and the project ended up stretching for months, but the only time we couldn’t use the kitchen at all was only for a couple of days when the surfaces were being installed. That’s it,” he says.

He started by removing removing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts and detaching the hardware. Then he cleaned each surface with degreaser, sanded with 180-grit sponges, vacuumed, wiped them clean, and then sprayed them with a coat of primer. Once the surface was sanded, he used a tack cloth to remove remaining dirt and dust.

Daniel says he cannot stress enough how important it is to properly prepare all surfaces: “No paint in the world will hide untreated surface imperfections, so the better your prep, the better the end result will be,” he says

In his case, prepping the drawers also involved sealing the center holes where the old knobs once were and drilling new ones for horizontal pulls. With the surfaces smooth, Daniel primed the cabinets; once that cured, he sanded again with 220-grit sanding sponges, and then primed and sanded again until everything was smooth enough for a top coat.

“All doors and drawer fronts were primed and painted with a spray gun, one side at a time, while cabinets that stayed on the wall were primed and painted using foam rollers and soft nylon brushes,” Daniel explains. He selected Farrow & Ball’s Railings for the paint color, which he describes on Instagram as a “gorgeous almost-black blue” that “really plays well together with the burnished brass knobs.” The shade gives the old cabinets a whole new look.

“If we did a gut reno we’d go with flat fronts — not even Shaker — [but] we decided to keep the original panel doors and absolutely love how the dark blue color and the beautiful knurled knobs and pulls give the kitchen a kind of 19th-century British Industrial Revolution vibe,” he says.

Once the new paint was cured, Daniel re-assembled all doors and drawer fronts, upgrading them with soft-close hinges and rails in the process. One of his takeaways from the project is that splurging for the right tools and luxury finishes is sometimes worth it, so long as you put time into researching the right products and into getting the DIY details right.

“Do — or get — the best you can with what you have,” Daniel says. “On the purchasing side, that meant not settling for the cheapest spray gun, buying and using tons of sanding material and a very high quality paint, and being OK with investing in a beautiful countertop or extra gorgeous knobs and pulls with all the money saved on the rest.”

Daniel and his wife hired pros to install white eased-edge countertops and a picket mosaic backsplash, which cost about $12,000 of the $16,000 budget. Daniel says the expense was worth it as the large white surfaces “give a clean, modern contrast that makes the entire space feel brighter.” The pros also installed a new sink and faucet.

Finishing details like new barstools, new pendant lights, and minimalistic wooden decor throughout pull it all together. “Everything is so much more inviting, and we hang out in the kitchen most of the time now,” he says.

If Daniel could do anything differently, he would paint the cabinets in the summer instead of the winter. “To be able to properly spray in the garage in the winter I had to use several heaters, which inflated the electricity bill quite a bit,” he says. In the future, he plans to add a new vent to the kitchen, paint the window frames black, and possibly update the appliances. And with the success of this project, he’s sure to produce even more stunning results.