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DIY Easy Kitchen Makeover

Why tear out your kitchen when you can give your cabinets a facelift?
By Kurt Anderson
Published: October 7, 2011
Photo by Jean Russ
BEFORE – When Jean & Frank Russ bought their log cabin, they knew the kitchen needed some cosmetic surgery – in the form of new cabinet doors and drawer faces.
Photo by Jean Russ
Forget stainless steel refrigerators, granite countertops or fancy interior decorating. When it comes to putting a face on a cabin’s kitchen, the cabinets are front and center. And unattractive cabinets can throw an entire cabin’s décor off balance.
    When Jean and Frank Russ purchased their log cabin on Minnesota’s St. Louis River, they wasted little time updating and revamping their idyllic home, inside and out. While the kitchen cabinets were definitely on the to-do list, the considerable time and expense of a replacement just didn’t mesh with their plans at the time.  
    Instead of buying new cabinets, the couple opted for a facelift, changing out the old cabinet doors with custom-built replacements. With the addition of some painting and sanding, they were able to transform their kitchen at less than half the cost of a full-scale replacement. They also avoided some of the hassles required for a total change-out. Those complications often include rerouting electrical wiring or replacing appliances, but can even include making large-scale and expensive modifications to furnace or range vents.

The Process
Jean and Frank precisely measured their cabinet door and drawer widths, lengths and thicknesses and provided the details to a cabinet refacing dealer they found through Showplace Renew ( The couple then chose the cabinet face style, picked out hickory as the wood type because it matched their kitchen, and chose the glass they wanted.
AFTER – For the wood species that would replace their painted cabinets, Jean & Frank picked hickory because it matched the rustic feel of their log home.
Photo by Jean Russ
Photo by Jean Russ
When the cabinet faces arrived, they were already sanded, stained and finished. Jean and Frank retained the original drawer boxes and shelving, but felt that the framing needed a bit of a sprucing up to match the beautiful new cabinet faces.
    Since the previous owners had taken an “additive approach” toward maintaining the frames, Frank and Jean were forced to remove two layers of latex paint.  
    The paint layers were removed by sanding, with a lot of elbow grease and a few lessons learned along the way. Due to copious amounts of dust created during sanding, the cabin kitchen was a little less than tidy by project’s end. Add in the inhalation risks, and Frank also decided that a face mask with a filter cartridge would be a good way to prevent breathing in any particulates. (Note: This is especially important when dealing with older, lead-based paint, which can be unhealthy, especially for young children.)
    “If we had to do it again,” Jean said, “we would take the frames down and do the sanding and repainting outside.”
    Working through the dust issue, the couple eventually had their frames back to the base material. Since the wood was structurally sound but not of a high-quality wood grain, they skipped staining and instead applied a latex primer, followed by a Rustoleum American Heritage black satin paint. The fresh paint created a simple yet elegant contrasting background for the new cabinet doors. Besides, many interior decorators will tell you every room needs some black.
    For hardware, Frank and Jean discarded the original hinges, since the new doors came with new hidden hinges, and they bought and installed new knobs. New holes were drilled through the cabinet faces, using a good-quality bit and drilling from front-to-back of the cabinet face, reducing the amount of splintering that occurred.   
    After the cabinet and drawer faces were completed, Jean and Frank added a final touch: a new light to accentuate the enhanced beauty of their retrofitted kitchen. (Scroll down for a gallery of more before-and-after photos.) 

Kurt Anderson is a writer and dedicated snackster who is no stranger to investigating kitchen cabinets.

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Courtesy Jean & Frank Russ

Before shot of kitchen-cabinet makeover. Considering the two layers of distressed latex paint painstakingly applied in a harlequin pattern, the previous cabin owners must have been the shabby-chic type. But Jean and Frank Russ wanted a more traditional cabin look, so they gave their cabinets a makeover.

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