13 Ways to Upgrade Your Builder-Grade Cabinets Without Replacing Them

13 Ways to Upgrade Basic Builder Grade Cabinets

Are you wanting to upgrade your builder-grade kitchen? The good news is you have so many options to upgrade your kitchen without ripping out all of your cabinets. Here are thirteen ways to make a generic stock, builder-grade kitchen reflect your personality.    

1. Paint Your Builder Grade Cabinets

I know you've heard this one before, but there's a reason... painting is the most transformative and cost effective way to change your builder-grade cabinets. Most of these types of cabinets are MDF covered in wood or laminate veneer, so you're not destroying beautiful woodwork. Here's my easy five step process for updating kitchen cabinets of this type:

My trick to painting builder-grade cabinets in five easy steps:

1. Clean Cabinets with TSP cleaner.

2. Wipe the cabinets down with a deglosser. The deglosser takes off the shine and gloss of your cabinets so you don't have to sand.

3. Prime the cabinets with a bonding primer and allow to dry the recommended time. Bonding primer hardens and adheres during drying making any surface ready to paint without sanding.

4. Paint your Cabinets with cabinet-grade paint such as Benjamin Moore Advance or Sherwin Williams Pro Classic with a mohair roller.

5. Allow allotted time for drying, change out your roller each coat and re-coat as many times needed!


2. Add cabinets on top of the existing cabinets.

Builder-grade cabinets often are installed with space above the cabinets like in Elisha's Kitchen above. Adding smaller cabinets above each existing cabinet to fill the space and make your kitchen look more custom. If you are painting, this is an easier endeavor because the finish does not have to match. If your local big box home improvement store doesn't have your cabinet style ask around to find out who the built the homes in your neighborhood. You can also look on the back of drawers for an idea. Check your local building supply store to see if they have the cabinet style on file. Depending on how many cabinets you have, this fix can be a little expensive but compared to buying all new kitchen cabinets to make a custom kitchen it might be a great value. 

Make sure you check out all the details of Elisha's stunning builder basic kitchen before and upgrade over on her blog, Pneumatic Addict.

If you can't find the door style (or don't like the door style) then you can install (or build) boxes for open storage like the inspiration photo above.


3. Re-hang your cabinets higher and add shelving underneath.

Adding more cabinets can be a little expensive. If you are handy, take down your cabinets and re-install them higher. Anne Turner Carroll from Southern Living not only raised their kitchen cabinets but added more storage by installing a floating shelf underneath. I cannot find the original post from Urban Grace but click here to see the before pictures.

4. Install New Hardware

Often, these builder grade cabinets don't originally come with hardware. Adding or replacing hardware is an easy way to make a dated kitchen look new.

5. Add a backsplash

A nice crisp white backsplash is a "timeless" and inexpensive way to dress up your builder grade cabinets. I love how Cassity from Remodelaholic used dark grout for a little more interest. It really helped give her kitchen a little more of a custom vibe.

13 Ways to Upgrade Builder Basic Cabinets

6. Paint your kitchen walls a dark neutral color.

Can't paint your oak builder cabinets.... or someone in your family doesn't want to? Try a dark color in your kitchen such as black, navy, or dark (almost black) grey. In the picture above the dark walls help distract my eye from focusing on the "orangey" cabinets while also toning the color of the cabinets down. It's an unexpected, yet all three of those colors can bring the best out of the color of the oak and keeps them from being the only focal point in the kitchen. Just imagine if the above homeowners/renters could add a white backsplash with dark grout or...

I love Cassity's bright kitchen but imagine if she added black or navy paint paired with her stylish dark grouted backsplash...


      Ways to Upgrade Builder Basic Cabinets


13 Ways to Upgrade Builder Basic Cabinets


Not convinced? Look at these black walled interiors... my favorite thing about them is how the "wood tones" look with the black walls. A dark bold color might make you actually like your oak cabinets. [Left Photo: Homeedit; Right Photo: Gravity Home

7. Take the doors off your upper cabinets.

Create instant open shelving by removing your upper cabinet doors. You can easily add color by adding some wallpaper or contact paper on the back wall of the cabinet.

8. Take all your upper cabinets down and replace them with all open shelving

Open shelving is stylish and inexpensive. Take down all your uppers and replace them with open shelving. This kitchen proves that you can keep existing soffits that are often above kitchen cabinets. Paint them the same color as the wall and they will fade away into the background.

9. Upgrade your countertops

The above inspiration photo shows how light colored countertops such as a light gray or marble looked countertops can look great with oak or wood-toned kitchen cabinets. Don't forget that laminate countertops have some pretty amazing options such as this marble option from Formica.

Black countertops can also look nice with oak colored or wood-toned kitchen cabinets.

10. Add glass fronts to your kitchen doors.

Glass front cabinets are very custom and HGTV gives this simple tutorial on how to make it happen in your kitchen.

If you have too much kitchen stuff you need to hide for glass doors to work, consider covering the glass with privacy film like this from Wallpaper for Windows.

11. Replace your kitchen doors.

It is actually not crazy hard or crazy expensive to replace your kitchen cabinet doors. If you don't like the look of your doors but like your kitchen layout order unfinished MDF doors from a company like this one. The will make your doors to fit exactly the size of your cabinet.

13 Ways
      to Upgrade Builder Basic Cabinets

13 Ways to Upgrade Builder Basic Cabinets


13 Ways to Upgrade Builder Basic Cabinets


This is most cost effective if you chose to paint your kitchen cabinets because you can order the MDF versions. I actually have done this in a kitchen. For a little less than $1000 we had changed builder basic kitchen cabinets into a more custom look with shaker doors. The people at KitchenCabinetDoors.com gave us great tips at measuring and getting them right. We painted them gray and they looked amazing!

12. Add interior fittings to your cabinets.

Let's be honest, sometimes builder grade cabinets look just fine from the outside. I am seeing more builder homes in my area be built with white stock cabinets or prettier wood versions other than "orangey" oak. (Thank you builders for these choices) Sometimes all that is lacking in these cabinets is function. Add some much needed interior fittings and you will start to love using your cabinets.

13. Add Molding

If you are painting your cabinets adding molding can help your builder grade cabinets have a little bit more presence. Check out how Sarah from Yellow Cape Cod added molding to her builder grade kitchen seen above.

13 Ways to Upgrade Builder
    Basic Cabinets
Pin It: 13 Ways to Upgrade Builder Basic Cabinets


Hopefully you now feel empowered with ideas to make your kitchen more custom? Maybe you can even use these photos as examples to help a hesitant partner finally grab a paint brush. 

No budget to make large changes? Check out this peel-n-stick temporary "fake" subway tile backsplash DIY.

Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

View/Add Comments


(2000 character limit)