How we got custom cabinets without the custom price tag

Ok, so lets talk kitchen cabinets. When it comes to remodeling a kitchen, it can come with quite the price tag and one of the main expenses is likely going to be the cabinets. When we first began the kitchen remodel, I wanted to try as hard as possible to use the original cabinets and simply paint them. I was pretty positive we would need more cabinets, since we were expanding our kitchen to make it double its size but, I wasn’t too worried about finding cabinets to match though, because they were builder grade, and a simple search on craigslist or the local habitat for humanity restore would turn up plenty (I started my research in advance). However, after closer examination, the cabinets weren’t in that great of shape, and to top it off, they weren’t easy to take apart…. have you ever taken down kitchen cabinets??? You just can’t seem to find every screw, they’re hidden in every nook and cranny! Anyhow, we decided that we would have to invest. This wasn’t a terrible thing, since we would be able to start from scratch as opposed to trying to reconfigure the existing.

Soffiting doesn't make it any easier.

Soffiting doesn’t make it any easier.

I wanted grey and white cabinets. I had my heart set. I started doing my research. I searching some local builder outlet type places, but they didn’t have quite what I was looking for, and the price tag was still higher than what we wanted to pay. Most of my inspiration came from Pinterest of course, check out my kitchen pinterest board. Lots to look at!! This one over at lizmarieblog was one of my favorite inspirations. Caveat: If we didn’t have budget constraints, our kitchen would actually look like these all my pins!!!

I finally decided to check out the “builder grade” cabinets at home depot. We use home depot often, not only do they always have what we need, they have always had great customer service (in my experience) and they offer 10% off military discount – can’t go wrong there! I found that you can buy a standard unfinished oak cabinet for a pretty reasonable price. You can also purchase their standard white cabinets for about the same price. SO, we went with it! Unfinished lower cabinets and white upper cabinets.  As I mentioned above, I wanted white and grey. I started researching how to paint cabinets. There are 10 bazillion posts out there for how to refinish/paint/chalk paint (the list goes on) cabinets. It’s actually quite overwhelming! I came across this blog post here, read through it several times, and felt confident she was sharing some good information that I could most certainly use. I referred back to her post several times, and am very thankful for it!

I went to Sherwin Williams and stared at the hundreds of paint chips for what felt like hours…I finally took about 10 different paint chips to the counter for opinions from the nice girl there. She was super helpful and talked me down to the perfect color. There are a lot of different shades of grey (50 to be exact! ha, no, there are more!) and their tone can completely change the “look” you are going for. I had a couple that had more of a “green” tone and some more on the “black” tone, and one with a “blue” tone. It’s funny, I didn’t even realize this until she pointed it out to me. Thank goodness she did! I went with the grey with the blue undertones, since one of our other colors in the kitchen is blue.

I started by removing ALL the hardware from the cabinets – drawer hardware and hinges. I decided to purchase a paint sprayer, thinking this would help save on time and just overall be “easier”. I started with a primer, since it was unfinished wood, I wanted to ensure the top coat had a good surface to adhere to. The texture of the spray bothered me. It reminded me of an orange peel, and I knew it wasn’t something I could live with. Fortunately, I had only sprayed 3 or 4 of the 15 (roughly) that needed to be done. I had to sand them back down (not completely, but enough for a smooth surface) and repaint, using a nice smooth roller like this one. I should also mention that sometimes these unfinished cabinets can come a little rough and may require a light sanding before you start painting to ensure you get a smooth surface. You can also sand in between coats of paint for an ultra smooth finish.

During the "painting" phase.

During the “painting” phase (please ignore the poooooor quality cell phone pictures).

The cabinet painting took about a month. This was me working on them maybe one or two times a week and weekends. I should also mention that I didn’t have enough surface space in the house to paint all the of drawer fronts and doors all at once, so this played into the amount of time that it ended up taking. It’s something you definitely need to be committed to though, and understand the amount of time that it actually takes. Let me just remind you all, that at this point, we did not have a kitchen AT ALL, and the rest of our downstairs was torn apart – unfinished floors, no furniture (2 lawn chairs and a TV count as no furniture!!). The remainder of our house was in total disarray due to the fact we had just moved in a month prior and had barely unpacked our clothing!

Our delightful "livingroom" the first month and a half in our house!

Our delightful “livingroom” the first month and a half in our house!

Once the cabinets were ready, we enlisted the help of my mother-in-laws boyfriend Mike, who is a super handy guy, and he and my wonderful husband took on the labor of installation. (We already had the layout configured thanks to Jay R, he assisted in the “architectural” design of our new kitchen and we are very thankful for him!!) There was a little sense of urgency since we had already scheduled the countertop template guy (I’m sure he has a much more professional sounding title..) and it was literally 2 days prior to us finishing! For those who may not know, when you purchase stone countertops and have them installed, they come and create a template of the entire countertop area, and need all the cabinets in the place prior to. So, we met our deadline thankfully and they were able to come and template. It’s hard to describe the excitement of nearing this phase after not having a kitchen for 2 months. I don’t have the words to describe it.

The countertops were installed about 2 weeks later – I was jumping up and down at work when my husband sent me the text of them in!! Mike came back over and helped out my hunny bear with hooking all the plumbing back up along with appliances. I had a kitchen sink again!!!!!!!! The amount of exclamation points do no justice for my excitement I had at this point! That just about sums it up! We put all the hardware back on, added drawer pulls to all the doors and drawers, and I added a few finishing touches to the paint. I also ended up adding crown molding to our top cabinet, but that can be discussed later (it brings back some painful memories!!).

The only thing I’m not crazy about with the cabinets is the standard hinges and drawer slides. They are very basic. You can’t add the soft close “click-in” hinges (which I had planned on doing), you actually have to totally upgrade the hinges, which is fine, we will eventually do that along with upgrading the drawer slides.

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I would like to add glass to these eventually..

I would like to add glass to these eventually..

Our Wonderful Kitchen

Overall, I am very happy with our choice of creating our own “custom” cabinets.

So, you’re probably wondering what the price tag was – in the end, with paint and hardware, we spent roughly $2000.00 on our kitchen cabinets.

Thanks for reading along! I hope my post might help sway you in the direction of re-finishing or creating your own custom cabinets. 🙂





  1. Mac Lover says:

    Using Semihandmade was probably the single best decision we made through our entire kitchen renovation process. The cost was radically lower than custom cabinetry but it still gave me the modern luxe look I wanted.

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