Cheap Kitchen Cabinets Don’t Need to Look Cheap, Too

Cheap Kitchen Cabinets Don’t Need to Look Cheap, Too

Five thousand dollars can disappear in the blink of an eye in a kitchen renovation, and that’s just for standard cupboards. Cheap kitchen cabinets are out there, but cutting costs doesn’t necessarily mean cutting quality. Plenty of options—big-box retailers, local mom-and-pop stores, floor models, or even building your own from scratch—can get the room looking great without your having to refinance the rest of the house, as long as you keep these things in mind.

Tips for Saving Money

Pass on fancy (read: pricey) custom-builds for what’s readily available.
If you’re building your own, use affordable materials like MDF board. 
You can upgrade the ones you’ve already got by simply updating the hardware and color.
Be a trailblazer and store certain things in freestanding cabinetry to reduce the size of your project.

Here’s where to start for cheap kitchen cabinets that look like a splurge.

Where to Buy Cheap Kitchen Cabinets
Courtesy of IKEABig-Box Retailers Offer Big Results

Here at Domino, we’re always advocating a trip to IKEA for some cost-effective home additions (and meatballs). Try sifting through the pages of results on Wayfair or Overstock, too, for deep discounts. Do flat-packing companies deliver quality that stands the test of time? Maybe. It will definitely save money in the process, though, by using mass-produced materials like MDF board. Plus you can preserve their life expectancy by quickly cleaning up any stains before they settle in too deep. 

Mom and Pop Know What They’re Talking About

In the age of Internet shopping and deliveries, don’t overlook the hardware store or showroom in town that can cut a deal on a style that’s overstocked or not selling. (Just because a certain wood grain or molding is passé doesn’t mean you can’t get it for cheap and paint it a trendy color.) If you don’t know which stores in your neighborhood may be open to taking offers, search kitchen cabinets on Yelp with your zip code. Local shop doesn’t sell cabinets? Ask if it has a source it would recommend. You can also check with the manager and make an offer on floor models that might be ready for an update. Don’t bother asking for a quote on the best-sellers, however; shops still need them to showcase the full look to customers!

Social Networks Are Hiding Secondhand Goods

Just because they’re new to you doesn’t mean they need to be new in general. People all over the Internet are trying to sell their kitchen cabinets for deep discounts—maybe they just renovated and have no use for them; maybe they’re ditching closed-storage life for the open shelving movement. Craigslist has plenty of options, as does Facebook Marketplace. Bartering is standard on these sites, so break out your negotiating skills. Keep in mind that most person-to-person sales will require picking up the products yourself, so factor in the cost of transportation.

How to Build New Cabinets on a Budget
Photography by Andie Diemer; Styling by Julia StevensMDF Board: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Wood!

If you own any IKEA furniture, you’re familiar with MDF board (sometimes called particleboard). Made of resin-bonded fibers, it comes in giant sheets and is available at hardware and supply stores, and is the most affordable—and easiest—material to use for DIY cupboards. You can also get different color finishes, from black to white, and even faux wood veneers. Screws, nails, and industrial adhesives all bind the slim boards together, and a table saw can cut through multiples at once for even measurements. If you’re willing to shell out a few extra dollars, plywood is also a lighter, less expensive wood to build with.

Sheet Metal Looks Chef Approved

Steel kitchen cabinets are easy to wipe clean, stand up to scratches, and make the room look as efficient as a restaurant. Depending on the size of each one, panels of sheet metal can run between $20 and $100, but there are other deals to be found through local scrap-metal sellers. Building them isn’t as simple as the hammer-and-nail approach, though. (Are you ready to solder frames together wearing a welding mask?) Factor in the cost of hiring a pro to build everything.

Wood Is Already Around Us

Reclaimed wood turns kitchens into conversation starters. The timber can be literally free if you’re the one taking it back, but it can also be sourced locally in your area from lumberyards and construction sites. 

How to Make the Most of What You’ve Got
Photography by Rosy AlexanderAdd New Hardware for Some Flash

One quick fix to spice up your current kitchen cabinets is to swap out the handles and knobs. Pick something with a bold contrast that will draw the eye away from the shabbier finish. New hardware can be inexpensive (some can be found as low as $10 on Amazon), and takes a drill and some patience to assemble.

Paint Them Yourself

A fresh coat of color is a cost-effective way to breathe new life into dated or scratched cupboards. Take the doors off their hinges and buy two gallons of whichever hue you prefer, typically around $40 per can. (Here are some ideas.) Because most cabinet models have a finish on them already, be sure to sand them beforehand and use the right paint and brushes, so you’re not stuck looking at streaks.

Get Unhinged

Already have cheap kitchen cabinets from IKEA? Custom makers offer alternative door fronts to the standard models, sized to fit the Swedish company’s measurements. Semihandmade has lots of Shaker-style color options, from juniper to desert gray, as does Kokeena. 

How to Forgo Cabinets Altogether
Photography by Heidi’s BridgeHang Everything Up

Rather than stacking awkwardly shaped pans in a cupboard, mount a pegboard behind a counter or a hanging system over the stove and hook everything there. A larger pot rack can also accommodate oversize cookware and even overhead lighting. 

Open Your Shelves Up

Don’t lie—we know you’ve been liking photos of open shelving on Instagram. If you can stay organized (and hide your not-so-pretty dishes elsewhere), ledges look great and require a fraction of the materials that traditional cabinets need. 

Use Freestanding Units Now and at the Next Place

Renters will understandably balk at the idea of renovating if they’re eventually going to move anyway. Investing in movable, stand-alone cabinets to house dishes and small appliances is the best option for such cases.


Our Winter Renovation issue is here! Subscribe now to step inside Leanne Ford’s latest project—her own historic Pennsylvania home. Plus discover our new rules of reno.

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