A Real Estate Agent’s Ingenious Tip for Making Outdated Cabinets Look Sleek

published Oct 4, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
A kitchen sink with a beautiful pattern tiled backsplash with a chrome faucet, black granite countertops, and surrounded by blue and wood cabinets
Credit: Joseph Hendrickson for shutterstock

“Did you guys know it could cost like $20,000 to replace kitchen cabinets?” my friend, who’s in the middle of renovating a century-old home, said to our group chat.

Our group agreed kitchen cabinet upgrades fall into the adulthood category of “things you didn’t know were so dang expensive,” along with replacing lost key fobs, closing costs on a home, and refrigerator condensers. Another one of my friends chimed in, reminding us that she saved money (albeit not time) when she painted her condo’s walnut cabinets white. It was a DIY job that took several days and lots of drying time between coats. (There’s a reason why real estate agents say painting cabinets is not a great idea when you’re preparing to put your home on the market).

Still, kitchen cabinets play a major role in your kitchen’s look and feel. And if you want to make your outdated cabinets look sleek, small upgrades can go a long way, says Mike Fabbri, a licensed real estate salesperson at The Agency. His suggestion: Look beyond the cabinets to the backsplashes — and use something like marble, granite, or tiles to make a statement. 

In particular, Fabbri says, Delft tiles are making a big comeback. The centuries-old blue-and-white Dutch tiles often illustrate flora, fauna, and farmlands. But a new generation of artists are giving the tin-glazed tiles cheeky updates. They can pair beautifully with traditional cabinets, he says. 

“They are classic tiles that tell a story with a fun, yet traditional pattern,” Fabbri says. “They’ve made a big comeback as many homeowners look to weave in traditional artisan moments in their homes.” 

Credit: Macrovector for shutterstock

Installing a backsplash will likely be an easier task than repainting all of your cabinets. 

“Many people have seen someone on social media who painted their aging cabinets themselves and thought, ‘It doesn’t look hard,’ and gave it a shot, only to realize partway through the process that it’s a fairly tedious task with many important steps that can’t be skipped,” says Melissa Zimbelman, a Realtor and property manager in Nevada.

The project can include a lot of prep work, sanding, stripping, staining, sealing, and more. An overlooked speck of dust, she points out, can cause an imperfection that’s tough to fix. Plus, not every type of cabinet is prime for painting.

But, Zimbelman says, there are some worthy project variations, like replacing the cabinet doors and drawers only with newly manufactured ones, while keeping the existing cabinet boxes. Another option is removing some of the cabinets and going with an “open shelving” look, she says.

Nicole Beauchamp, a senior global real estate advisor and a licensed associate real estate broker with Engel & Völkers in New York City, says her best advice to clients is to consider replacing the hardware. Swap the handles and hinges with something more modern. Sometimes, she says, it’s best to work with what you’ve got.