Making old cabinets look like new at a fraction of the price

Kelly Plunkett, of Monroe, owns 2nd Chance Restoration LLC, a cabinet refinishing business. At right, she updated cabinets in white.

MONROE, CT — Homeowners unhappy with the color and condition of their old kitchen cabinets may balk at the price of buying new ones. The average price of installing custom cabinets can range from $20,000 to $50,000, depending on the size and layout of your kitchen, according to Kelly Plunkett, of Monroe, owner of 2nd Chance Restoration LLC.

But this doesn’t mean you’re stuck with your old ones. Many opt for a less expensive option, refinishing and painting their old cabinets for a fresh new look.

“It usually costs three-to-five times the amount of what I charge to refinish,” Plunkett said of the difference between refinishing cabinets and buying new ones.

Plunkett said there are also other costs associated with ripping out old cabinets and installing new ones.

“A 25 door, eight drawer kitchen, by the time you rip out old cabinets, put in new ones, fix the floor, get a new sink and countertop, pay a plumber — every little thing about that renovation gets added to the bill, verses me coming in and refinishing your doors and painting the frames, bases and drawers.”

“The three options are: take a class and do it yourself, have us come in and do the work, and the third option, if they really hate their doors and drawer fronts — there are dated styles — we can replace their doors, as well,” Plunkett said. “I have 50 different styles.”

For the latter option, Plunkett works with Timber Lane Finish Solutions, based in Mansfield, Ohio, to order pre-finished cabinet doors and drawer fronts. “This probably costs about 30 percent more than just having me refinish,” she said.

For some projects, Plunkett replaced doors on existing cabinets to match new cabinetry. “No one will ever know not all of it is new cabinetry,” she said.

Some clients also take the opportunity to install new hardware, such as handles, during a project. “I sometimes upsell clients to replace old hinges with soft-close hinges,” Plunkett said. “Now you get a whole new lifetime for those hinges.”

The process

Years ago, when Plunkett lost her corporate job in human resources, she stopped by Stratford Habitat Restore to get a desk to do her job search.

“I found this mid-century orange oak table that fit all the right dimensions I needed — except it was ugly,” she recalled. “I threw her in the back of the SUV and brought her home. I spent days sanding her down, staining her and painstakingly painting, stenciling and glazing.”

“I was so proud of all my hard work and happily posted it on my personal Facebook page to show my friends,” Plunkett said. “Three people tried to buy it off me. Then the first request came in for me to refinish a desk for a friend, and then a second, and then a third. It snowballed from there and we’ve done over 25 desks alone the last few years.”

She volunteered for a furniture donation center for six months, providing a training ground for painting, staining and sanding old furniture. “I was learning and playing around without having to buy pieces I had to turn around and sell,” Plunkett said.

Plunkett went back to the corporate sector, while doing restoration work on the side.

“A year or so later, someone said, ‘do you paint bathroom cabinets?’ I thought, ‘that’s weird. Why would I do that?'” she said. “Then I thought, ‘wait, that’s the same steps: clean, sand, prime and paint.”

Plunkett was later surprised to be asked to do someone’s kitchen, but applied the same process. Demand increased enough for her to found 2nd Chance Restoration and run the business full time. Plunkett said she’s had a six month waiting list over the past eight years.

Picking colors

During the nearly 10 years 2nd Chance Restoration has been in business, Plunkett said there is one thing she’s heard most from clients.

“‘I love my cabinets. They’re in excellent condition, really good product, really good wood. I just don’t like the color.’ That’s what most of my clients say,” Plunkett said. “They’re torn.”

When Plunkett is hired, she said, “I will go in and paint their bases and frames — I’m just not using paint. I use pigmented polyurethane. I spray it on. The sky’s the limit on the color, but I bring in 15 samples of colors I’ve seen and applied, so I know how it looks. I know what the undertones are.”

If clients still struggle over what colors to choose, Plunkett has a half dozen decorators she can refer them to.

Before painting the bases and frames, she takes the doors down and drawer fronts off, then brings it all to her home studio to clean, sand, prime and paint. A job typically takes one week from start to finish.

Do it yourself

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Plunkett hosted a Cabinet Facelift Bootcamp in her home studio four times a year, teaching people how to do their own projects.

“No other cabinet refinisher does that,” she said. “I love DIY, so I’m all for empowering people to figure out how to do stuff the right away. They are cleaning, sanding and priming a cabinet door and they get a workbook to take home.”

Plunkett said the classes sometimes resulted in new business. “Some would say, ‘this is a lot of work. Can I hire you?'” she said, adding other students have reduced the cost of a project by doing some of the work themselves.

She also shares tips on the 2nd Chance Restoration Facebook page.

“I take time to educate people on what works and doesn’t work,” Plunkett said. “Ten years ago, refinishing furniture was not as big as it is now. Now everybody has the DIY bug, to do it themselves and try to sell it.”

For related articles, visit The Sun’s Home section.

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