Before and After: Fresh Doors Give This Kitchen’s Dated Wood Cabinets a Whole New Look

published Nov 11, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
RVs and Mobile
Project Type
Skill Level
Rental Friendly

Wooden kitchen cabinets, especially orange-y oak ones, can be controversial. Some people replace them entirely, some people paint over them, and some people find a way to make them look chic on their own. DIYer Jill Carter (@timeonourhandsblog) calls the cabinets that once graced her mobile home’s kitchen “neon orange.” 

“I knew I wanted to change the cabinets as soon as I saw them, but I think that feeling really set in when I had to face the cabinets first thing every morning when I woke up and walked into the kitchen to get my breakfast,” Jill says. “The doors had detailed trim around the edges to make them look like a raised panel cabinet door. They caught every speck of dirt and dust on and in their crevices and curves. They were difficult to clean and keep clean.”

Jill says she thought about painting the cabinets, but she did like the look of some wood cabinetry — just not in the shade she had. She ultimately settled on a more natural, warm-looking wooden finish. And best yet, she used the framework of the old cabinets for the new look.

Credit: Jill Carter
Credit: Jill Carter

Sanding down the existing doors was the first step.

Jill had previously built some simple pieces of furniture out of hardwood plywood, so she had the necessary DIY skills to take on her kitchen cabinets. After thorough research on how to add veneers to cabinets, the project began with removing the old doors, cleaning the existing cabinets, and sanding them down with 120-grit sandpaper to ensure the faux wood would stick firmly in place.

Credit: Jill Carter
Credit: Jill Carter

Veneer sheets give the cabinets a contemporary look.

Jill landed on lighter oak-toned veneer sheets to cover up the cabinet casings. This involved measuring, cutting, and smoothly covering the units. “The veneer I bought came with adhesive already on it,” Jill explains. “So, all I had to do was cut a piece larger than the area I was covering, peel back a corner of the protective backing, and carefully place it on the cabinet making sure the cabinet was fully covered.”

If you’re giving your cabinets a similar makeover, Jill recommends starting at the bottom. “Doing the lower cabinets first meant they weren’t as visible as the upper cabinets if they didn’t turn out perfect,” she explains. 

She also recommends breaking the project up into cabinet sections so you’ll still be able to function in your kitchen — and she did her best for this project. “I decided to start with the smallest run of lower cabinets in the kitchen,” she says. “Starting with the smallest run meant I would get it done faster and feel like I was making progress.”

She did have one slight snafu, though. “The hardest part was when I was working on the section of the kitchen with the sink and dishwasher,” Jill explains. “I decided to replace the countertop and kitchen sink at the same time. And the dishwasher sprung a leak when we moved it out of its spot to veneer the edges near it. So, we were using the bathroom sink and bathtub as our kitchen sink for a little while to do dishes.”

Credit: Jill Carter
Credit: Jill Carter

 Plywood doors offer sleek, flat fronts. 

After the leak was resolved and the cabinet bodies were covered, Suzy moved on to the doors. After applying the veneer and plywood edge banding, she trimmed and sanded down the cabinet edges and then added flat panel doors she cut from plywood. She sealed the doors with a layer of polyurethane protective finish

The end result? A set of natural-looking, fresh cabinets that bring the kitchen up to date. Materials-wise, it cost Jill about $235 to veneer the cabinet frames and $550 to make flat panel doors out of hardwood plywood, and her kitchen is about 200 square feet.  

“Considering how much you would have to spend to get new, modern, flat panel, red oak cabinets for a kitchen, I would say that refacing kitchen cabinets with veneer and building new cabinet doors is budget-friendly,” she says. “It feels really good to know that I was able to make my cabinets look the way I wanted.”

Credit: Jill Carter

New countertops also add to the modern vibe.

Of course, the contemporary kitchen wouldn’t be complete without the new quiet-close hinges (one of Jill’s hidden favorite parts of the after), matte black pulls for an even more modern look on the cabinetry, and a couple of upgrades in addition to the cabinets.

Jill went with a white picket tile for her backsplash and a faux-marble laminate countertop, which both help to brighten the room. She also replaced the sink and faucet. 

Her favorite things about her new kitchen? “No more orange!” she says. That, and “modern clean lines that can easily be wiped down and kept clean,” and a “natural, warm, wood look.” Here are five more kitchens that make natural wood look high-end, if you like the look.