Author: Mandi Johnson,Before/After,D.I.Y. Project,Epic Projects (Advanced),Home Decor,Kitchen,

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen design  Hi, guys! It's Mandi with another installment of our kitchen renovation series.

When we first moved into our house, I would just stare at the wasted, open space above our cabinets and scream (inside my head), "WHY?!" The extensions on the sides of the cupboards that went all the way to the ceiling didn't make any sense and gave the appearance of the cupboards being unfinished. Perhaps they were unfinished. Who knows? So from day one I had been considering how we could change up our cabinet arrangement without getting new cupboards.

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designAfter mulling over my inspiration kitchens, I knew I liked the idea of open shelving, but definitely knew better than doing our whole kitchen that way. (Hello, stained Tupperware and Minnie Mouse sippy cups!) I need hidden storage in my life. So a great idea occurred to me—Why not chop down the cabinets, move them up to the ceiling, and throw in some open shelving in the newly freed wall space? Seemed easy enough, and honestly, it wasn't that difficult of a job! (Unlike organizing our junk drawer—ayayayay!)

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designThe worst part of the cabinet reconfiguring project was living with the entire contents of our cabinets spread throughout our house in boxes. You never realize how much stuff fits inside of kitchen cupboards until those contents become displaced! Since this part of the deal was shared with the work involved in refinishing the cabinets, it didn't seem like as big of a pain.

Removing the Cupboards

To get started, we invited some burly friends over to take down the cabinets. Boy, were they heavy! We weren't even sure how they were mounted onto the walls, so that was a bit stressful. Turns out they had been nailed directly into the wall, with the nails being driven diagonally through the wood of the cupboards. We were a little worried we'd accidentally bust up the cupboards while prying them off the wall with a crowbar. But thankfully they remained intact! Whew!

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designYou can see our ugly hood vent above and maybe understand why I was keen on getting rid of it. We actually removed the hood before taking down the cupboards, then my Dad climbed into the attic and pulled the vent through the ceiling. He graciously offered to climb up there again soon to install a new ceiling-mount fan to replace this old guy.

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designCutting Down the Cabinets

Once the cupboards were down, we took them outside to cut them down to the desired size. To do this, we used a circular Skil saw, which is a great tool for this particular job because of the long metal edge along the blade that is easy to guide along an edge to cut a really straight line. You could use a clean-cutting blade on a jigsaw too, but it's so much easier to keep a circular saw perpendicular to the cutting surface.

We taped the area to be cut with duct tape to help prevent splintering. Then we clamped down a straight edge (we used a scrap piece of wood) to guide the blade, making sure that it was spaced the same distance as the distance between the saw's blade and the metal edge of the saw. This kitchen renovation was the first time I used a circular saw by myself (for cutting down the shelves when I didn't want to drive to my dad's house yet again to use his table saw), and I'll tell ya right now—I'm putting one of these on my Christmas list. What a handy tool to have for the budding woodworker/renovator!

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designAfter the cabinet was cut in half, we were able to pry the bottom part of the cabinet away and remove the nails. Then I filled the rough, cut edge of the cabinet with my favorite wood filler and sanded down the area to make it nice and smooth. It felt, as they say, smoother than a baby's bottom, though it took some patience, two coats of wood filler, and some heavy sanding before and after the second coat of wood filler. Make sure you don't apply the wood filler too thick, or it will take a long time to set up and might crumble when you sand it down.

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designBuilding the Shelves

I used poplar wood to create shelves to mix in with the new cabinetry arrangement. I selected poplar because it's harder than pine or the "whitewood" that you find at places like Lowe's and Home Depot. It doesn't stain nicely, but it sure takes paint well. I used a variety of plank widths (10" planks for the lower shelves, 8" plank for the upper shelf) and attached 1x2s to the front with wood glue, clamps, and a few finishing nails. The 1x2 edge piece gave the shelves a bulkier appearance, elevating the look of a standard board without a lot of work or money. The edge also exists to hide my under-cabinet lights which will be mounted under the shelves, as well as the Ikea brackets. I did have to slice a bit of the top and front edge of the Ikea brackets, though, so they would fit nicely underneath the shelves.

After the wood glue had set up, I cut down the long planks with their new front edge, using a circular saw in the same way we cut down the cabinet above. Cutting them after attaching the front edge made for perfectly smooth edges for each shelf.

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designHow to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designI sanded down the shelves with 120 grit sandpaper after filling in any gaps or dents with wood filler, then painted them with the same process as the doors, drawers, and cupboards—prime, wet sand, prime some more, paint, paint some more, allow to cure on wax paper for one week before using.

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designHanging the Shelves

After the cupboards and backsplash were in place (more on the backsplash later!), we hung the shelves. I used these Ikea brackets which I had trimmed down to fit perfectly underneath the shelves, nestled tightly against the front lip I had attached to the boards before painting them. We didn't space the brackets with the wall studs (because the brackets wouldn't match up with the studs and still look nicely spaced), so we had to use heavy-duty bolts secured into drywall anchors (like I did here). On the brick wall, we used Tapcon screws. To put up the Ikea brackets, you just slip the metal bracket hanger over the screws or bolts, then secure with a screw through the face of the bracket and cover with those little button hole covers.

Note: The Ikea brackets are a barely off-white color, so I wet sanded those and painted them the same color as our shelves.

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designTrimming the Cabinets

When we put the cabinets back on the wall, we put them all the way up against the ceiling, but we were still left with a little gap between the cupboards and the ceiling. To hide the gap on the sides where the cabinets met the wall, I used white caulk. But the gap along the ceiling was a bit wider, so we used 3/4" quarter round to cover it up with a nice, finished look. We cut the angles of the trim pieces with a miter saw (similarly to how I did in this framing post) and only goofed up on a couple of cuts. It's easy to get confused when cutting angles, even if you are confident that you're doing it right! I recommend practicing first on smaller scrap pieces before you ruin a long piece by cutting it exactly to size, but with the angle in the wrong position.

We used an air nailer to drive in nails every 12" or so along the quarter round. You could also use a hammer and nail, but be careful not to dent a soft wood with the hammer! After the trim pieces were up, I painted them with a coat of the cabinet paint to make sure the whites matched and also to fill in the tiny gaps between the quarter round and the cupboard face.

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designObviously, we still have a bit of work to do in here, like mounting the under-shelf, lightsand patching the hole in the ceiling where the vent was and install a new vent a little farther out from the wall. We opted for a ceiling-mounted vent like you'd see in a bathroom, rather than one attached to a hood. The narrow shelf above where the stove will be is so high and close to the wall that vapors and smoke shouldn't be a problem. If things on the stove happen to get really crazy one day, I can wipe down any smoke stains easily thanks to the semi-gloss paint job on the shelves.

How to reconfigure your existing cabinets for a fresh looking kitchen designMoving the cabinets all the way up to the ceiling took advantage of previously wasted space and gave me much needed storage for rarely used items, like serveware and holiday dishes. Adding a shelf below and beside the cabinets gave me the old storage space I'm used to but with the opportunity to put my prettier dishes on display—a chance for decorating that I was aching for! I love the mix of open shelving and cupboard space, because let's be real, my clashing dishes would make my kitchen crazy chaotic if everything was out in the open.

I can't even believe how fresh and open my kitchen feels now, and we added more storage instead of taking any away! The reconfiguration alongside the white paint job has given us such a dramatic change, it was certainly worth the elbow grease! -Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Spring of the Signature Collection.


Thanks for commenting! Comments are moderated (everything constructive is approved), so they may take a bit to appear. We reply to comments daily, so please check back!


Check out our new product line,
Photoshop Actions and E-Courses!

Back to Top