How can I update my kitchen cabinets without painting? 5 alternatives

Quick (and beautiful) edits

kitchen cabinetry
(Image credit: Future)

Alongside an island, kitchen cabinets are arguably one of the most defining elements of the cooking space. They house tableware, appliances old and new, and they are simply the building blocks of a kitchen. 

Particularly if you have a large family, or a penchant for baking, you might have many cabinets to keep looking good.

So when your hunger for a new kitchen look surfaces, but you would rather avoid painting kitchen cabinets, is there really anything significant that you could do? Without necessarily calling in a handyman? Thankfully, there are a handful of clever ways to refresh kitchen cabinets without painting them:

How can I update my kitchen cabinets without painting?

Though kitchen cabinets are easy to paint, you might still be fond of their existing color or, simply be a little curious as to whether they could elevate your kitchen in a new, marvellous way. This is what experts recommend:

1. Change the hardware

Blue kitchen cabinets with white worktops and marble back splashes

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

There is one way to refresh the look of kitchen cabinets that stands out above all other options: 'Change out the hardware!' Exclaims Mimi Meacham, Owner + Principal Designer of Marian Louise Design.

A fine detail, but hardware is telling of many things: origin, style, and perhaps even upkeep. When it is time for a new look, choosing a different opening and finish can make a noticeable change to the feel of your kitchen. 'The cabinet hardware can either age or update your space,' continues Meacham.

Installing kitchen cabinet handles is quite easily done, with so many silhouettes and finishes to choose from at hardware stores, or online through Wayfair's cabinet hardware collection, or in the Home Depot's kitchen cabinet hardware section, you will be spoiled for choice – whether you have a contemporary or traditional kitchen style

In case you want more persuading, principal designer and founder of Victoria Holly Interiors wholeheartedly agrees: 'First and foremost, we recommend changing the hardware,' says Holly.

'Elevating the look and feel of the hardware will immediately make a kitchen look more custom.'

Gillian Gillies, of Gillian Gillies Interiors is also pro this method if you want to refresh them: 'If you do want to upgrade you can change out the hardware.'

Victoria Holly
Victoria Holly

Victoria Holly Interiors is led by experienced designer Victoria Holly, who boasts an impressive reputation in the field of interior design. With over a decade of experience, Victoria Holly is known for her artistic skill, meticulous attention to detail, and exceptional talent for curation.

Gillian Gillies headshot
Gillian Gillies

Since moving to Canada and opening her studio in 2004, Gillian Gillies Interiors has grown to become an award-winning and sought-after interior design firm. Gillian understands the power of creating a home for her clients and she knows that the right home with the correct design selections can greatly improve her client’s quality and outlook on life. She believes in frictionless living, and talks at length with her clients to get to know them and to understand their specific needs, wishes, and desires. Life can come with baggage and Gillian wants to ensure there’s a space for everything while also lightening the load we can all carry.

2. Swap out door fronts

A white open plan kitchen with wooden table, chairs and pendant light.

(Image credit: Future / Darren Chung)

Second to changing the hardware, Gillies suggests you could swap solid wood doors for glass, or vice-versa. Depending on the finish you would like to achieve, you could choose a more detailed design, a bevelled frame or one that is more linear – it will make quite the difference. 

This is actually one of our personal favorites for updating kitchen cabinets without replacing them, alongside using kitchen lighting and painting the rest of the room to enhance the look of existing cabinetry.

3. Reface cabinets

White kitchen with glazed doors on cabinetry, a marble topped kitchen island and pendant lighting.

(Image credit: Future)

Another slightly more significant DIY job compared to simply swapping out the hardware, Amy Youngblood of Amy Youngblood Interiors shares how many often go down the refacing route. 

'While most of our clients usually replace their cabinetry completely, one way to save money and time is to reface your cabinets. In other words, the shell of the cabinets remain intact but a new door style with color to match or complement the insides of the cabinets can work well.' 

This is ideal if you want an entirely new look. And for the cherry on top, Youngblood recommends layering this with our number one alternative to painting kitchen cabinets too: 'With that, go for all new hardware that’s more in style.'

4. Remove and replace some with open shelving

A blue and white open plan kitchen idea with skylights over the side return.

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

Open shelving is often a love or hate feature in homes, and especially in kitchens. Going half and half can make for a unique finish with more flexibility when it comes to mixing storage and display; it is worth considering if you want to edit your current kitchen cabinet look. 

'Consider replacing some upper cabinet doors with open shelves,' suggests Holly . 'This can create a more open and airy feel and give you the opportunity to display useful items.' 

Storing less beautiful but necessary kitchen items inside closed and opaque kitchen cabinets, and keeping a mix of decorative pieces like vases, with good-looking appliances and more items in sight will help your space feel curated, rather than cluttered. The key to the latter lies in keeping open kitchen shelving very well organized too.

Gillies is also an advocate for this, suggesting that if you have enough storage with some removed, you could even forgo replacing them to introduce another design feature in the space: 'If you have adequate storage, use the walls as a canvas for art or a sculpture. Sometimes less is more and freeing up some wall space can really transform a kitchen!'

5. Paint around them

An example of kitchen cabinet ideas showing a curved island with blue cabinets and a white worktop

(Image credit: Future / Alicia Taylor)

If you do not wish to paint your kitchen cabinets but think they need a little lift, could you edit the wall color in your kitchen instead? A white color scheme could enhance oak cabinetry, for example, while you could consider painting walls in a color that will complement much darker kitchen cabinets also.

With so many kitchen color ideas to choose from, if your cabinets are in fine working order and simply need a minor boost to help them pop, let them lead your inspiration.


How often should I update my kitchen cabinets?

Carefully chosen kitchen cabinets that are timeless and reflective of your home's natural bones, should not need updating more frequently than every 10 years or so.

'I usually use the 10 year rule,' says Youngblood. 'While trends are always changing, if you go with a fairly neutral and classic color palette you should be good for that timeframe.' 

Essentially, you only want to update kitchen cabinets if you must, and this is not a regular edit to make. 'I recommend updating the kitchen cabinets only if they are failing or non-functional and need a total revamp. Or if they are super detailed and aging the kitchen,' suggests Meacham. 

'Ornate trim details, red wood stain color, out of style hardware are all details that can age your kitchen cabinets.'

How should I pick kitchen cabinets that are timeless?

As content director of H&G, Lucy Searle put it in a piece on the most common, not to mention costly, kitchen design mistakes you are best off avoiding: 'While we're big proponents of kitchen trends, it's never a good idea to base your choice of kitchen design on what's fashionable.' Keep this in mind when choosing your cabinets for timeless appeal.

Gillies further encourages us to choose our kitchen cabinets with care, selecting a style that you love and that will complement your home. 'Your kitchen millwork is an investment purchase, something you can hopefully love and live with for many years, so pick a door style and color that resonates strongly with you and not just what you are being influenced by.

'Ensure your kitchen cabinets work with the rest of your home's aesthetic as this can be the top reason for replacing prior to them truly needing to be replaced.'

If painting, or even refinishing kitchen cabinets isn't for you, do not dispair as it is clear you have options. Complement a new kitchen cabinet look further with accent lighting, interesting kitchen rugs, and consider even changing out the artwork on display for a space that feels effortlessly styled, and looks up-to-the-minute. 

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including house tours, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and during a year abroad studying linguistics and history of art in Bologna, Italy she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille is always creating and spends her downtime painting, taking photos, traveling, and writing short stories.