There’s no way around it: Kitchen renovations can be costly, and as much as we’d love a custom-designed set of cupboards, it’s simply not in the (credit) cards for some of us. The good news is, there are some clever work-arounds available in order to cut costs and come in under budget, like saving on inexpensive kitchen cabinets. But cheap doesn’t have to mean dated and nonfunctional.
We tapped 10 designers to spill their cost-effective kitchen cabinet secrets, like the best materials to use and how to get a professional paint finish every time. Having a kitchen full of gorgeous, custom-ish, inexpensive kitchen cabinets has never felt so obtainable.
Choose a Less Expensive Wood
“Kitchen cabinets can be a huge financial piece of the puzzle,” says Minneapolis-based designer Anne McDonald, who passed along a key piece of advice when crunching numbers on your kitchen budget. “Wood type matters!” she stresses. “One of my go-tos is natural-grade birch; it’s one of the cheapest wood species and domestic, so there’s no guilt that it’s being pulled out of the rain forest or shipped from Europe. It’s also very hard and durable, so it will stand the test of time.” Win-win!
Don’t Underestimate IKEA
Even high-end designers who generally work with custom cabinetry can’t deny the appeal of IKEA cabinets. Michelle Lisac, owner and principal designer of Michelle Lisac Interior Design, says, “Since they come in a wide range of colors, finishes, and affordable prices, it’s easy to configure a design that works well for your space.”
Upgrade IKEA Cabinets With Semi-Custom Fronts
Meagan Camp of New York City–based Meagan Camp Interiors suggests jazzing up your simple (sometimes too simple) IKEA kitchen cabinets with new fronts and pulls. “IKEA is everyone’s go-to for budget kitchens,” says Camp. But there are some innovative companies making semi-custom door fronts that are stylish upgrades to what’s available at the famed Swedish retailer. “Superfront and Plykea have been two we’ve used, and they’re surprisingly affordable,” she notes.
Choose a Full Overlay Design
Victoria Sass of Prospect Refuge Studio breaks down the three types of primary cabinet styles: partial overlay, full overlay, and inset. Partial overlay, meaning you can see part of the cabinet frame between the door fronts, looks dated and inexpensive, while inset requires the most skill and is, therefore, the most expensive.
The Goldilocks of kitchen cabinets is a full overlay design. The door fronts fully cover the cabinet framing. “It looks supertailored but requires less precision than inset, and so is less expensive,” says Sass.
Design Affordable Kitchen Cabinets Online
Marie Trohman and Ashley Drost, the designers behind Los Angeles–based Proem Studio, vouch for Barker Modern as a great option, even if you have to buy cabinets sight unseen. “It gives advice on what size to make a refrigerator opening, how to design the toe kick, and where to use finished end panels,” Trohman says.
DIYer Erin François of François et Moi suggests that you give your existing kitchen cabinets a makeover. “Fresh paint and new hardware are cost-effective ways to breathe new life into your kitchen without tearing everything out,” she says. You’ll need both patience and one particular tool for a professional look. “If you’re going this route, I highly recommend renting or investing in a paint sprayer for that professional cabinet-shop finish,” she adds.
Search for Secondhand
Designers often swear by vintage stores and flea markets for unearthing the best lighting and furniture finds, but what about cabinetry? British creative Caroline Briggs stumbled upon a nearly complete Victorian kitchen set for just under $2,000 at a charity shop—a fraction of what big box and custom will cost you.
“I got my joiner to meet me there the next morning, and he was beside himself,” she remembers. “It sat in my friend’s outbuilding for two months while the construction was going on.” Her builders pieced it together in the renovated space, filling in the gaps with reclaimed timber.
Open It Up
Open shelving in place of upper cabinetry is all the rage thanks to its streamlined look and ample display space for all of your vintage glassware. But it also cuts cabinet costs in half. Wendy Lau’s wood shelves were only $200, with knotty pine beams from Home Depot and brackets from Etsy. A single standard cabinet, on the other hand, will set you back about $150 on average.
Play With Plywood
Making brand-new cabinetry from scratch sounds like a splurge—unless you’re using trendy (and über-affordable) plywood. “We chose plywood because it was inexpensive, around $2,000,” says designer Megan Pflug of her upstate New York kitchen, “and it’s a pink-y blond that I think is pretty.” The finished project looks anything but builder grade.