Refinishing Cabinets - advice, how to and recommendations

PipdogOctober 2, 2013

We just purchased a home with an original kitchen from 1957. The style of the home is a mid century modern post and beam home. Some updates have been made to the kitchen -- tile counters were installed in the late 70s and new appliances were brought in in the 80s but it is mostly original.

We've decided to keep the kitchen cabinets. They are solid wood. But they need refinished. They are the original honey/danish color and there are some areas that are scratched and damaged. The drawers also need adjusted and some cabinets have moisture and sunlight damage. We are also replacing the double ovens next to the fridge, installing a range under the hood and want to add another cabinet door there for a pantry space.

Has anyone refinished cabinets with a darker stain? (I did a search but didn't see any similar posts). Is the refinishing done on site or do they take the cabinets out of the home? Any words of wisdom or advice? Our goal is to maintain the architectural and design integrity of the MCM style, yet update this kitchen so that it is functional for our family.

Here's the current kitchen:

I'm interested in the cabinets having a color/tone like this

or this

or this

Would it be possible to replicate a grain in the above inspiration photos with a skilled refinisher? Any thoughts, comments, suggestions are welcome.

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Some have used gel stains to refinish their cabinets. I took one of our old kitchen cabinets and am using gel stain to refinish it for use in our laundry room. You just sand with fine grit sandpaper and then rub on and wipe off the stain. So far, I have the doors and drawer fronts done. The cabinet itself is next then I plan on doing a spray on clear coat to finish it off. The gel stain is rather forgiving compared to regular stain. So far, I am liking the results.

You might want to give it a try yourself. Test by taking off a drawer front and stain the back side (that which is covered by the drawer box).

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 4:24PM
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I'm not so sure those are original. Slab doors were popular at the time the house was built, but they were usually partial overlay with exposed hinges. Those look 80's vintage. However, if you choose to keep them, the cabinets deserve much better treatment than gel staining. They deserve to have someone who is expert deal with the stripping. The problem with veneer cabinets and changing the color is the thickness of the veneer. If it's thick enough, and you have someone who knows what they are doing, you can do it. If it's thin, and you've unknowingly hired a hack, then they can sand right through the veneer and you'll need an expert to repair that if possible.

I'd suggest that you contact local cabinet shops and ask if they have a finisher on staff that might tackle this work. Or a local fine furniture store and ask about who the best "furniture medic" might be.

I'm glad to see you want to keep them. I will caution you that it's likely to be a pretty expensive enterprise to do so. Probably just as much as replacing them with all new custom. If you did choose replacement, you'd be able to tweak your layout better and for sure get the grainier wood that you prefer. I would never let go of those appliance garage doors though, no matter if you donated the originals or not.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 4:36PM
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I am not sure about refinishing - but I can't believe you left that beautiful kitchen you did!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 5:44PM
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live_wire, thanks for the info. Our agent confirmed that these are the original cabs -- we bought it from the second owner. The hinges are on the outside at the top of the cabinets (they are small and kind of hard to see). I made some calls to some cabinet refinishing companies today to get some estimates. I fear you may be right about cost in terms of refinishing vs. new custom cabinets. That vintage breadbox panel is very cool, so it's going to get re-purposed into some art which we will use elsewhere in the house.

jillies01, we'll miss our kitchen. But this house is in a better location, and we're excited to start the whole process over again!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 8:39PM
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robo (z6a)

That kitchen is hot!

For a slight refinish with character you could TRY Howard's Restor-A-Finish. It would leave the dings but make everything look more cohesive. You could even try their walnut shade, but it wouldn't walnut up those cabs. But it might take down the honey a shade.

I realize that won't solve your problems with the damaged cabs however.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 9:35PM
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That is a neat kitchen! I love it's sleekness. Those cabinet hinges from a distance appear similar to those on our now gone 1973 St. Charles cabinets (minimal round metal seen from outside). I can't seem to find the bookmark of similar hinges.

Just wanted to congratulate you on your new purchase. I'm sure it will turn out great. GL.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 9:48PM
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Fori is not pleased

Those are hideous. Awful. Rip them out gently and let me know when I can pick them up. :P

If you simply must keep them, and of course you must, perhaps consult with a local custom cabinet maker. You might need to replace a few of the mangled bits and if you can get a good cabinet guy on board from the start, it'll help with the matching of the final finish.

I love a good orangey wood in a fifties kitchen, so I'd be happy with the color they are, but I also don't think your preferred colors are a stretch. Like you're after a vintage retro walnut rather than a vintaged aged shellac. It'll look good.

Of course I wouldn't know where to begin. I would assume doors would be done in the shop somewhere but the boxes will have to be done on site.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 9:50PM
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No advice from me but that is an awesome kitchen! Very cool.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2013 at 10:42PM
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thanks, deedles, fori, robotropolis, and SparklingWater. Along with the kitchen, we're going to refinish this vintage vanity in the bath (cabinets match what is in the kitchen) with a little richer tone (and add new counter and replace the old tile one):

    Bookmark   October 3, 2013 at 12:19PM
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