Creative ways to update old plywood cabinet doors & hinges?

lcehNovember 7, 2008

We have painted plywood cabinet doors in our 1961 kitchen. The doors are structurally fine, and none of them appear to be standard sizes, so I'd rather prettify the ones we have rather than shell out the $$ for new doors. What's the most creative solution you've seen for updating plain plywood doors to make them look a little less boring and a bit more cottage-y? I've seen molding applied to the outside to give them a sort of relief effect, and I've wondered if I can do anything with stencils.... If anyone has photos of creative -- and cheap -- solutions please post! I'm also wondering if I can replace the 1/8" offset surface mount hinges with concealed ones, or is this so much trouble that DH would be pulling his hair out...?

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Lceh, hope someone responds about the hinges. I'm curious about that too.

There is a paintable wallpaper from Wall Doctor that looks like beadboard. Perhaps you could wall paper the doors and then apply the trim to the outside to give them the look of beadboard doors. You could then either paint them white or paint them cream and glaze them.

There is information on this website about how to DIY glaze your cabinets. I learned to do it from my neice who does it for decorators and homebuilders.

The first thing I did was carefully study what other glazed cabinets and pieces of furniture looked like. How the glaze stayed in the grooves, etc. How it looked on the flat surfaces. I even took pictures so I would have a reference.

My neice told me for a cream surface to buy light walnut stain, preferably water based, and to get LOADS of old rags, and more LOADS of old rags, and cheap foam brushes. She said it is best to take the doors off and lay them flat, but the hinges on mine had been painted over so that was impossible. I was doing a bathroom vanity that butted up to the wall on each side, so I masked off the wall. I also put down plastic beneath my work area, and some rags on top of the plastic to catch any drips.

Then working on a door at a time, I brushed on the stain and wiped it off. Go slowly. Wipe off more than you think you need to. You can always put on more. Check your doors against each other for consistency.

My neice told me to finish with a coat of varnish/polyurethane/something, but I'm lazy and didn't do it. The vanity is now 4 years old and to me it still looks the same as when I finished.

Having told you how I did it, I would nevertheless recommend that your do a search of this site and find out how to do it right!

Also, you might ask if anyone has ever used the Wall Doctor paintable beadboard paper and what their experience was.

Here is a link that might be useful: Paintable Beadboard Wallpaper source

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 5:02PM
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What a fun project, lceh! Do you have any pictures that you can post? I'm sure you could do a lot with paint and molding.

Can't wait to see!


    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 5:02PM
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Fori is not pleased

I think exchanging your hinges for the same type (and hold pattern) but more cottage style would be better. Concealed hinges aren't all that cottagey and it wouldn't be a fun project! Use the effort where it'll make a big difference, and that's the door treatment.

That said, I don't have ideas for the door treatment. I did live in a cottage-ish house once with painted cabinets that were slabs with molding tacked on--not as a later modification; they were just made that way. It was really kinda charming. I wouldn't try the curvy bits, but a simple square/rectagle of thin halfround molding seems do-able.

What kind of profile to your doors? are they square? Lipped? Roundy? OK, I want pictures!

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 5:33PM
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Thanks for the great suggestions! Here are photos of the cabinets as they are now (note the dark hinges over the stovetop -- my husband stripped them and found 1960s faux-Colonial copper, ugh. The rest are painted.)

I like the idea of replacing the hinges with some Hoosier-cabinet type surface mount hinges. I also like the applied molding idea, but that means waiting for DH to get around to it, whereas I could do the stencilling myself....

Interesting idea re: the beadboard wallpaper and the glazing!

Do you all think this small kitchen could handle one color on the lower cabinets and another on the upper, or is that too much?


    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 4:25PM
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I think I'd apply some 1/4" MDF "frames" around the edge to get a shaker look. You'd have a sheet of 14" MDF cut to 2" "stiles and rails" by a home center and then you can use a plain old chop saw or miter saw or even a circular saw with a straight edge jig to cut the strips to size to nail to the doors. A dab of glue, and a couple of staples, some wood filler, and a bit of paint, and you've definately got a "cottage" look. This is VERY DIYable, even for the inexperienced, and very cheap. Maybe $50 in materials. A plain electric staple gun and a saw of some type is all you need. Buy a couple of slabs of pre cut plywood to practise on if you're unsure of your skill level, but there is no need to wait on anyone else to begin this project. YOU can do it!

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 5:38PM
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Do as livewire says. Our old cabs were almost identical to yours when we 1st moved here. I did mine on my own using pine molding, but using mdf would probably work better. I just glued mine on with the caulk that comes in the little squeeze tube at home depot (make sure you buy the paintable). Buy yourself a little mitre box and saw - probably $10. Ours lasted for years until we could afford new cabs.

My favorite kitchen ever was in mag that had cabs just like yours and the bottom was painted barn red and the top cream coloured. It looked amazing. The owner was a renter and couldn't do new, but didnt need to - it was beautiful.

Slap some wood Ikea counter tops on there and you're set.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 6:20PM
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It depends on how handy you are. Even if you're not, hiring someone would cost a relatively small amount compared to the different look you'd get. IMO!

I've done the following, and it wasn't hard. I was SOMEWHAT handy. I took overlay doors and drawers on an old dresser and either sawed them down so they became inset. I think I used a circular saw, but cutting them to size on a table saw would be much better. Before doing this, you have to make sure the drawer cabinet is deep enough, because the drawers will sit more deeply in their boxes once they're not overlay. If you're going to attach thin strips of wood or MDF to create a frame look on the drawers, again, that will make the drawer deeper still. Measure the inside of the cabinet.

I think changing the hinges will look nicer, also IMO! But unless you have some experience doing this it can be a pain. Hiring someone here would be good, and not terribly expensive.

I like the idea of keeping what you have and just changing it. You have a nice set of cabinets, why replace them?!

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 6:32PM
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live_wire_oak and budge1, I really like this idea but I'm wondering how I can put the Shaker-style frames on with the surface-mounted hinges in the way. If I put on new hinges I think they'll probably also have to be surface-mounted. How would you configure the applied molding to avoid covering up the hinge "flap" on the door?

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 8:57PM
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Forgot to mention we had the big hinges too (only ours were huge black things). My dh took them off and installed another type that while not totally hidden like the new European ones, have the part that screws into the cab on the inside of the door and cab - only the pin part of the hinge is showing. We got them at home depot. My dh did this when we first moved in - at the time screwing in a light bulb on his own was considered a major home repair project (boy, have we come along way) so I'm betting you or your dh could do it easily. Just use a bit of wood putty to fill in the holes on the cab, sand and paint - the holes in the door will be covered by the mdf moulding.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 9:16PM
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budge1, I think I'm out of luck with that type of hinge, alas, because the doors are partially inset. I'm wondering what type of offset surface mounted hinge wouldn't look too "busy" with the molding....

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 10:16PM
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I don't know if you have one near you lceh, but here at our ReStore (Habitat for Humanity store), there are literally 1000's of "new to you", and new doors, hinges, trims, and a multitude of paints if you have the time and energy to sift through them! You might try there, or some place similar. Good luck! Our similar, yet far worse shape cabinets are awaiting a wrecking ball, or bar in their near future, but I'd certainly try and see what you can do with what you have!

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 11:03PM
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I think this type of hinge might work.

Here is a link that might be useful: 3/8'' partial inset hinge

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 11:59PM
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I have old plywood cabinets with the partial inset hinges that ci lantro suggests:

These cabinets were white with giant, rusted metal strap hinges - really horrible! Now I really like them, and feel really bad about replacing them. Modern cabinets will not have the charm of these simple slab doors.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2008 at 10:27AM
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maureeninmd, did you replace the hinges yourselves? Was it fairly straightforward, or did you have to make any adjustments to the doors (cutting, etc.) to make them work? I'm excited about the possibility!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2008 at 11:23AM
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Your photos intrigued me so I did some Googling on stencils. Here's some links I found, so I hope you find them helpful. I think you could turn your kitchen into a beautiful example of stenciled cabs with some time and effort:


HGTV has lots of articles on stenciling which can be applied to cabinets:

How-to article, no photos:

Stencil design ideas:

An outstanding old home with magnificent stencils and a full set of photos and articles:

Dover Publications has a long list of stencil pattern books for inspiration. Their website isnÂt very good  hereÂs a search for "stencils", but remember to click on the "more results" button on the bottom to continue reading the full list of what they have available:

    Bookmark   November 10, 2008 at 12:26PM
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We proudly replaced the hardware ourselves. (LOL, we are not very handy.) I can't remember exactly why, but the doors didn't shut right with the new hinges. We had to sand down the bottom inside "lip" of the doors (the part the fits into the cabinet frame). It took a while, but was simple enough to do.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2008 at 1:39PM
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I know this is a SUPER old thread, but I ran across it during a search and I fell in love with that light fixture!

lceh, if you're still on here, is it original?
Anyone else seen anything similar anywhere?

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 3:19PM
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