Hot Topics: Updating a 1970s Kitchen on a Budget

Retro kitchen cabinets.

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Original Post: Updating a 1970's Kitchen on a Budget?

Brian 1900 Member

I have terrible, old, cheap, plain light brown kitchen cabinets and cheap, white old fashioned "stick-on" type countertops in the kitchen (in, of course, a typical 10x10 configuration). Is there any way to upgrade these without spending into the multiple $1000's? What about painting the cheap cabinets and putting on new countertops?

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

Here is a guide for painting cabinets: The Ideal Cabinet Repaint. Improper prep or the wrong primer will result in a less than satisfactory finish.

Handyone Forum Topic Moderator

painting a cabinet

Paint and a new countertop would be the least expensive. Paint would be especially appropriate if you're happy with the doors and drawer fronts.

Here's a link to a cabinet paint:
Rust-Oleum Transformations Dark Color Cabinet Kit (9-Piece)-258240 - The Home Depot

I've seen this paint quite a bit lately on cabinets and it looks very nice. Anyone can get a professional-looking finish. I work on a lot of customer's homes where they only want a new top.

I would recommend you paint the cabinets and spend about $2500 or less on a nice solid surface or quartz counter with undermount sink.

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

Those look like birch cabinets—real popular back in the '70s. If you want to keep the wood look, you could either strip the finish and stain them darker or apply a tinted poly like Minwax's PolyShades after sanding lightly. Otherwise, sand, apply an oil-based primer, and two coats of your choice of cabinet paint.

Handyone Forum Topic Moderator

The base cabinets would look good with just new paint, quality doors and drawer fronts, plus whatever upgrades you want to make to drawer slides and hinges. Even just painting the bases would look good, in my opinion. The uppers need to be modified. I've torn out and installed many kitchens and can't understand why there's a 6 - 9" rail above the upper doors. I like traditional face frame cabinets the best. You see mostly door and only about a 1" reveal on the face frame.

stickshift Group Moderator

selection of cabinet doors

I would certainly at least price some new doors. It used to be that one would soffit in the space above the top cabinets with drywall—looks like someone did the same to yours with wood. I would see if that could be removed to open the space without creating a ton of work to the remaining cabinets.

Brian1900 Member

Thanks for all the ideas guys! Could I put in new countertops?

So, maybe new doors or trim? I don't understand all this stuff, it's all new to me and this is my first house.

Handyone Forum Topic Moderator

A new counter would be the best investment, even if you do nothing to the cabinets.

New doors would improve the look greatly, especially if you can enlarge the door opening height on all the upper cabinets before measuring for new doors.

A paint grade door would cost about $70.00 for a 18" x 36," so you will spend over $1K in doors and drawer fronts, but the kitchen will look new.

You can also find cheaper doors. For paint-grade, all you really need is solid raised panel MDF that was cut on a CNC router.

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