Before and After: These 5 Redos Transform Dated Wood Kitchens — Without Refinishing the Cabinets

published May 18, 2023
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Credit: Keisha Burley

One great way to save money on a kitchen renovation is to keep one (or more) big items in the space. (And if you need proof, check out these eight inspiring kitchen redos that kept the big stuff — like appliances, counters, and cabinets — intact.)

For example, contemporary light fixtures and a brand-new backsplash might make a kitchen’s old countertops look a little fresher when you look at the big picture. Another bonus? Holding on to some of the big stuff, like existing appliances, might give you a little extra room in your budget to make another change that seemed out of reach (hello, new floors).

Keeping your old cabinets is an especially great way to save money, but there’s one issue: Old cabinets can look very, very overwhelmingly dated in a kitchen, especially orange-y brown oak ones. Yes, there’s always paint, but then, there’s a second issue: If you rent (or if you just don’t have the space or the bandwidth to empty everything out of your cabinets or lay down a tarp in your kitchen), paint isn’t possible. But that doesn’t mean you’re completely out of luck. 

If you want to make your old wood cabinets look fresh, these five kitchen redos show you how it’s done. Read on for DIY ideas for how to work with golden-brown, orange-toned, or light oak kitchen cabinets.

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New Counters and Thrifted Finds (Starting at $1) Make This Eclectic Kitchen Sing

In this kitchen redo, a boho beaded light fixture, reupholstered seating, new black granite countertops, and thrifted finds turned a dated kitchen into a contemporary eclectic one — and not only that, but they help to make the cabinets feel like more of a fit. Homeowner Jamala Wallace (@vivalavintageforyourhome) says she “HATED HATED HATED” the “ugly blue ‘80s Formica before,” but she did love the custom cabinets. One thing’s for sure: Because they’re color complements, the blue of the counters definitely enhanced the orange undertones in the cabinets, making them read a bit brassier. By replacing the counters with something more neutral and using lots of black and white decor, the entire space feels more neutral.

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Early Aughts Cabinets Have Staying Power in This $2,000 Kitchen Redo

Although Jessica Preteroti (@nestbyjess) removed her upper kitchen cabinetry in favor of open shelving, a statement-making backsplash, and a new hood for her oven, she did keep the lower cabinets and the island from her 2000s kitchen. “The kitchen had great bones,” Jessica says. “The cabinets were in fantastic condition.” With a few DIYs totaling $2,000, like the aforementioned tiling, shelving, and hood, plus pouring concrete counters, adding bold black pendant lights and new bar stools, it looks a little more industrial-chic than its beige and blah beginnings.

Credit: Keisha Burley
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This $8,000 Kitchen Redo Kept the Cabinets But Lost the Dark and Dated Vibes

Another win for 2000s cabinets, bold black pendants, and a swirled marble backsplash, this $8,000 kitchen redo by Keisha Burley also works with its existing cabinets from 2007. The white marble countertops were the biggest difference-maker in this redo, Keisha notes. “I love the waterfall edge,” she says. (And there’s a waterfall edge in the redo above, as well! The answer to making dated cabinetry look contemporary just might be to go maximalist and modern with this silhouette.) Keisha also says cutting down the bar top so the whole counter was a consistent height also helped the kitchen ditch its dated feel.

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A $600 Rental Kitchen Redo Leans into Its 1960s Cabinets’ MCM Vibes

As a renter, Taylor Jordan didn’t want to put a ton of money or demo into his kitchen redo, but he did want it to be stylish. He decided to embrace the vintage vibes of the 1963 cabinets, in part because he wasn’t allowed to remove them — nor could he change his appliances or countertops — but also because he didn’t mind the way they looked. “I really liked the original cabinets, so I let them dictate the types of colors I would use: cool darker tones to complement the light, warm wood tones,” Taylor explains. Thanks to a deep green mod-patterned peel-and-stick floor covering, black peel-and-stick subway tiles, and new dark pulls for his cabinets, his kitchen now feels a little more “Mad Men” than “Malcolm in the Middle,” and it all cost less than $600. 

Credit: Geraldine Campbell
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A $1,500 Project Proves IKEA Cabinets and Rental Cabinets Can Coexist

Apartment Therapy contributor Geraldine Campbell’s kitchen redo proves yet another important point: Just because you add some new cabinetry doesn’t mean you have to add all new cabinetry. In her $1,500, storage-adding kitchen project, she blends IKEA SEKTIONS with her oaky rental cabinets, and the end result is (another!) black, white, and oak winner. “The final touch was adding knobs and pulls (to match the new knobs and pulls) to the old cabinets to try to tie everything together,” Geraldine says.