How I updated a 32 year old kitchen without replacing the cabinets

It’s been a while since I have written a before and after post but today I have a good one for you. I recently completed a kitchen make over for a lovely couple who had a challenging request. They wanted a fresh looking updated kitchen but they did not want to replace the cabinets or the appliances. When I went to see their kitchen for the first time it was indeed dated. They had designed the kitchen themselves 32 years ago when they first purchased the home. 

The kitchen was quite large and nice and bright but the white laminated cabinets, white laminate counter tops and white 4″ x 4″ back splash tiles made it feel cold and somewhat hospital like. The only color in the room were the dated red metal blinds.

Before photo dated kitchen white laminate cabinets white tile


What my client’s loved about their kitchen was the layout. They are both passionate cooks and initially designed the kitchen around their cooking and entertaining needs which they said has not really changed. Although the cabinets were old they were solid wood and of high quality and in surprisingly good shape. Their insistence to keep the cabinets was somewhat related to budget but even more of a factor was that they did not want the dust and disruption of ripping out what they felt were perfectly good cabinets. The appliances were also staying because they were less than two years old (except for the cook top and trash compactor).

BEFORE photo of dated kitchen with white laminate cabinets and counter tops


They did request a smaller tv in the kitchen because they like to watch cooking shows while they cook but their old boxy tv ate up too much space and was an unsightly black hole.

Before photo of dated white kitchen with TV in cabinets


The one area that didn’t function for them was this desk tucked into a small wall at the back of the kitchen. The deep overhanging laminate counter top became a clutter gathering zone and the clients never used it as a desk. What they did need was a recycling center as you can see by the newspapers and bags collected on the stools. Also, the cabinets below were so shallow and it was such a hassle getting into them that they were essentially useless.

BEFORE photo of non functioning desk in dated kitchen


So, my clients asked me to come up with a plan that would allow them to keep the cabinets and appliances, find a spot for a smaller TV, and create a recycling center where the desk currently was. Also on the wish list was: new counter tops, new flooring, new back splash, hardware, sink, faucet, an induction cook top and a wine cooler to replace the trash compactor.

Here is the new updated kitchen.

Gray subway tile back splash white cabinets , open shelves in kitchen

AFTER Emily O’Brien Photography

To give the kitchen a little more visual interest and to break up three full walls of cabinets we removed the upper cabinets on the sink wall and used budget friendly subway tiles on the entire wall. Two sturdy open shelves hold their everyday dishes and new blue and tan roman shades pick up the colors in the adjoining sun room.

white cabinets, open shelving, subway tiles, cork floor white kitchen

AFTER-Emily O’Brien Photography

Now I know it’s hard to believe these are the same cabinets but they are. My contractor kept all the cabinet boxes but replaced the existing laminate doors and drawers with new shaker style wood doors and drawers. On the sides of the cabinets that were exposed he applied a thin sheet of plywood over the laminate and it was painted to match.

The floor decision actually ended up being the most challenging. The homeowners were on totally opposite pages about what they wanted. One wanted tile, the other wanted wood and neither wanted vinyl. After weeks of weighing multiple options we ended up choosing a solid warm gray colored cork. The floor has the appearance of a wood floor but is soft and there are no worries about water spills. It was easy to install as it came in planks that snapped together just like engineered wood floors. Both clients got what they wanted. 

The new induction cook top is Bosch .

gray subway tiles, open shelving, Beale pull down faucet, quartz counter tops


The faucet is the new Beale pull down touchless faucet by American Standard.  We chose Top Knobs for the hardware and the new counter tops are Silestone Blanco Orion quartz.  Quartz was a great option because my clients loved the look of marble counters but wanted something that would wear like iron. We also eliminated the curved counters and corner cabinets and squared it off for a cleaner and more modern look.

Silestone Blanco Orion

This is what I came up with for the TV. We replaced that origional open box with a full length new door which added extra hidden storage and the TV is now mounted on the side cabinet and can be flipped out or pushed flat as desired.

white cabinets, roman shade, tv in kitchen, white refrigerator

To fix that non functioning desk area, we replaced the existing shallow cabinets with brand new deep cabinets that house smooth gliding, pull out recycling bins. These are the only cabinets that are new.

white kitchen cabinets quartz counter tops


They now use that area as the coffee station with recycling below. We also replaced the flat trim with something more traditional and truer to the style of the house. 

Here is the before one more time


and the after


Once again the before:


And the after:


I want to go on record and say I would not recommend keeping thirty year old cabinets when doing a kitchen make over but in this particular case it worked and my client’s have absolutely no regrets. The final addition will be a new 15″ wine cooler just to the right of the sink where the trash compactor is now. They don’t plan to make the purchase until this Summer though and I didn’t want to wait that long to get photos.

Lastly, I know the limitations of my iPhone so a huge thanks to architectural photographer Emily O’Brien for the AFTER photos.

Please let me know in the comments below what you think.


53 Responses to How I updated a 32 year old kitchen without replacing the cabinets
  1. Lori Fischer Reply

    Wow! Just wow! So beautifully done, Linda!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you so much Lori. It was a great client as well.

  2. Darla Powell Reply

    Excellent job. Refacing cabinets is a great option when the originals are in great shape but just…ugh. Love it.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Darla! I was initially against keeping the cabinets but it worked out beautifully in the end.

  3. Allyson Paris Reply

    Thanks, Linda, I love a good before and after! The photos are fabulous. I can appreciate that you accommodated your client’s wishes without compromising great design. Kudos!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Allyson!

  4. Pauline Haran Reply

    absolutely gorgeous makeover. Once again, your talent amazes me.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you Pauline. How is your kitchen update going?

  5. Susan Besser Reply

    Great transformation. Looks fresh & inviting.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you Susan, that was the goal so I grately appreciate your comment.

  6. Pamela Copeman Reply

    Well done and an interesting point of view for those who are budget conscious ~ xo

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Pamela. Sometimes you just have to honor your client’s request and work within the limitations given. In this case it all worked out in the end.

  7. Kristen Reply

    That looks phenomenal! Well done Linda. This kitchen sings. Way to overcome obstacles and really add some life back to this old kitchen.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Kristen. I wish I could have done this in my kitchen but the cabinets are not worth saving.

  8. Jeri Reply

    That’s the stuff dreams are made of! Really great work! And lovely photography. How long did the project take? What are they doing for trash receptacle once the compactor is history?

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Jeri, the project took about 8 weeks start to finish. It was a tight timeline but we did it! As far as the trash, they have a trash basket under the sink. They still use the trash compactor though so even though they want the wine cooler they are a little hesitant to give it up. It’s on it’s last legs though which I why the think by Summer they will make the change to the cooler.

  9. Carla Aston Reply

    Well done, Linda! It looks so up to date now! Love the backsplash and the new doors on the cabinetry. I do this kind of thing all the time, work with existing and modify to look new. It’s a challenge and only for the highly skilled. 🙂 Way to go!!!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Carla. Yes, I agree, you have to have a very skilled woodworker on board. The existing cabinets were so custom that not one single door or drawer was the same measurement. I will be honest and tell you I had more than one sleepless night worrying about the outcome.

  10. Angela Taylor Reply

    Wonderful and fresh transformation, you did a great job Linda.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you so much Angela. I greatly appreciate the comment.

  11. Merit Reply


    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you Merit! I hope you are doing great. When will you be back in the States for a visit?

  12. Andrea Brooks Reply

    Fantastic job, Linda!!! I know your clients must be over the moon with the results!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you so very much Andrea! I greatly appreciate your kind words.

  13. Nancy Flynn Reply

    It’s wonderful. We’re the cabinet boxes painted also?

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Hi Nancy, the insides weren’t touched. The exposed sides of the original cabinets were laminate so they were covered with thin sheets of plywood that were painted to match.

  14. Sandi Piasecki Reply

    Absolutely love the update! Great use of space and color. Wish it was in my house!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you Sandi. I wish it was mine too!

  15. Alana Reply

    Beautiful Linda! We need you. Call or text me.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Great Alana! I’d love to help you out. Our house goes on the market Thursday so this week is crazy busy. I’ll connect with you next week.

  16. Mariann Reply

    Really great job, Linda. I am impressed. Love the way you styled it !

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you so much Mariann. Looking at the photos I might have made a few changes but we are always are worst critics aren’t we?

  17. Laurel Bern Reply

    Wow Linda! That is gorgeous! Love the tile and how fresh it all looks. And I love the fabric for the Roman shades too! Perfect.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Wow! Thank you Laurel for such a nice compliment! It was a great client and a fun project.

  18. Deborah Main Reply

    WOWZA!!! I absolutely love before & after photos! But my goodness what an absolutely stunning transformation you created Linda!! It is remarkable how beautiful their kitchen looks still in all white. The choices in tile, flooring and that touch of blue give such an added freshness. Congratulations!!! And using the same cabinets worked out beautifully because of your incredible talent and vision. Fantastic job Linda!!! I hope your clients are in love with it!! 💙

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you so much Deborah! It is a dramatic difference but the big ticket expenses like the lay out, and cabinets didn’t change. That allowed my clients to stay within budget and get their refreshed kitchen. Everyone is very happy.

  19. Debbie Reply

    Wow, what a difference taking out that run of uppers and replacing with open shelves made! Great make over. I’ve not done a job with cabinet door refacing. I’d love to hear more details about that process if you ever need blog material ideas.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Debbie! The process was pretty straight forward. My contractor simply removed all the doors and drawers and his finish carpenter made all new ones to the exact same size. He even used the existing hinges because they were in good working order.

  20. Anne Reply

    Great job Linda! Everything looks so fresh and updated. My favorite thing to do with desks in kitchens is to turn them into breakfast stations, just like you did. Desks in kitchens are always clutter collectors. I hope your snow is melting!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Anne. I agree, no one uses those awkward desk areas in kitchens but it seems like every kitchen had one in the 90’s. Snow is quickly melting because we have had down pouring rain for three days in a row!

  21. Susie Feia Reply

    Great job Linda! A perfect example showing that even if a homeowner is only modifying and refreshing an existing room, using an experienced designer helps them get the details right to create a stunning transformation!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Susie. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to comment, especially since I know what your current schedule looks like!

  22. Hannah Dee Reply

    So all the doors and drawer faces were custom? amazing it worked out to be in budget! Looks really fabu!!!!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Yes, Hannah, all custom. The actual savings by not ripping out and replacing with all new custom cabs was close to $18,000.

  23. Cheryle Joyce Reply

    Great job! Beautiful new kitchen. I also love the open shelf idea and the tv solution works great, too. Do you add any soft closing features with the new doors and drawer fronts?

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Cheryl! No soft closing mechanisms were added. Only the fronts were swapped out, nothing internal was touched.

  24. Kelly Bernier Reply

    Beautiful Linda! What a great job. I’m sure the clients were so thrilled!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Kelly. My clients are very happy with their new kitchen. How you are doing well!

  25. Darlene Allen Reply

    Looks absolutely stunning! It’s like a new baby!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Ha! I like that Darlene. It is like a new baby although the labor was not 9 months 😀

  26. Nancy Knettell Reply

    Wonderful transformation. I love the color brought by the window treatment. The overall look is much more inviting.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Nancy, It was a challenging project but it all worked out beautifully.

  27. Barbi Williams Reply

    What a terrific redo! Love the new window treatments and your solution for the tv and recycle is spot on. I’m sure they’re thrilled. Great design!!

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