Home Improvement

10 Must Know Tips for Hiring A Kitchen Cabinet Professional

Kitchen nook refresh and reveal | The Chelsea Project | www.thechelseaproject.com

In the last few weeks, it seems I’ve had a gazillion questions about my kitchen redo.  Most people are trying to save money by refinishing their existing cabinets themselves, while others are looking to replace some, if not all, of their cabinets.  To answer these questions, I organized two different posts.  

The bar and the bar stools were converted to a table and chairs | The Chelsea Project | www.thechelseaproject.com
The first, which is in today’s mailer, explains what I learned during my kitchen upgrade process.  If you recall, I used a professional instead of doing the work myself.   Here, I explain why and provide a complete list of tips to help you navigate the process.  The second, which talks about installing furniture as kitchen cabinets, will post on Monday.

White chairs made from bar stools refreshed with chalk paint | The Chelsea Project | www.thechelseaproject.com

I don’t know about you, but I have a very hard time calling in the pros.  Because of this, my kitchen redo had been happening in stages.  Some of the work I completed myself and some has been done by a handyman.  But, once I reached the cabinet redo, I felt completely overwhelmed.

Black bar stools to white table chairs are lightened and brightened with creamy white chalk paint | The Chelsea Project | www.thechelseaproject.com

Maybe this is because I had builder’s grade melamine covered cabinets that, although they were very structurally sound, had places where the melamine was peeling away from the wood underneath.  I found that even though special heat units exist (they look like a hair blow dryer) to melt the remaining glue, the melamine still wouldn’t come off.  Then, I tried to glue it back on.  Two words.  Epic.  Fail.

And, with that, I reluctantly laid down my tools and picked up the phone.

Tip #1:  Know Your Pro

Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started contacting various kitchen pros.  But, over the course of talking to what seemed to be…at least 100 different companies….here is a summary of what I learned.

(1)  The Full Kitchen Remodelers made no bones about their intentions.  They would only look at my project if they could rip everything out and start over.  This included my new granite and tumbled tile.  I was quoted a bottom price of $30,000 for two small walls of cabinets…about 18 linear feet.  This did not include appliances, but did include the carpentry work.  I cannot tell you how fast I ran from these guys.  Let’s just say…it was a big ole’ Southern-sized gitty-up.

(2)  Then came the Kitchen Refacing Companies, who would replace the doors and drawer fronts, and attach a faux wood-grain sticky veneer to the frames for the low, low price of $15,000.  This didn’t include any carpentry or new appliances.  I was so shocked, I thought the saleswoman was going to have to slap me so that I’d breathe again.  This time, I cannot tell you how fast she was ushered out the door.  That’s right, another big ole’ Southern-sized gitty-up.

(3)  Next, I called a few builders with subspecialties in woodworking.  This was a disaster for several reasons, but I won’t mince words.  They simply didn’t provide details, timetables, quotes, or a level of professionalism I felt I could cope with during such an important process.  I asked one to provide a sample of his work.  Over a week later, some paint was smeared onto a piece of wood and set by my front door with a note saying my cabinets would look “something like this.”  Huuuuum.  No.  No they would not.

(4)  Now, weary and really getting worried, I made appointments with faux painters who specialize in kitchen cabinets.  IMG_1227This group was composed of big names in the business, but they all had one thing in common.  They brought in a photo book with a few very bad pics and made a pitch about how great they were based on these visuals.  When I asked for a sample board, they looked at me as if I were speaking Greek.

On one occasion, I asked if the price included building the hood and oven cabinet, and the woman said with nothing less than a wink and a nod….that she wouldn’t be able to tell me that price until AFTER the work was done.  Flag!  And, buh-bye.  IMG_1222

Ohhh, but before she left, she was delighted to let me know that she could tell me the up charges for the moldings and the $5.00 per piece to attach the new hardware.  She was seriously delighted and I’m seriously still shaking my head.

And, with that, this was really beginning to get scary.

Then, I got a call-back from this one guy.  He was, I guess, the lucky one, because I had seen his work at a friend’s house.  And, I knew that she had called him in again and again for big projects.  So, even though he showed up without a sample board, he was less of a risk because I had my friend’s recommendation.

That night, he came over and we worked out a deal after he said something quite remarkable…

“I’ll take two of your doors with me tonight and make samples in the shop.  Then I will swing back by here and let you see them.  If you approve of the finish, one board will stay with the team working in the shop and the other board will stay on-site.  This way, both teams will move the finishing process in the same direction.”

Now, I ask you…doesn’t this sound like a pro to you?

Finally, I was able to exhale.  The long search was over.  I had found my man……so to speak.


As for keeping track of the information, I have two must-do tips for taking good interview notes.

Tip #2:  Compare Apples to Apples

One, realize that you can only really compare apples to apples.  This means interview full remodelers all the same way and using the same questions, the same for facers, and etc.  Each of these subdisciplines has a different approach to cabinet refinishing and sorting through the info is tough unless you presort in the interview process.  Then, at the end, when the decision is down to two or three, it is easier to compare across these disciplines.

Tip #3:  Put Everything in Writing

Two, put everything ….down to the tiniest detail… in writing.  See here (below), this was a left by the builder.


Sad, isn’t it?  But, I missed it for the punch list and he wouldn’t fix it later.  I got it thrown in on this redo.  Little things like this can get on the contract without extra charges, but it has to happen before the deal is done.

I always try to avoid signing a contract the night of the visit.  Hope you will consider this, too. Then, take the notes and walk through the kitchen.  Make more notes.  I’ll bet the farm that you find a few things missed on the first pass.  I actually walked the kitchen and made notes with questions before the interview.  Then, during the discussion, all I had to do was fill-in-the-blanks.  This was much easier for me and nothing was missed.

Tip #4:  Use Your Research and Notes when Writing the Contract

(1)  Doors and Drawer Fronts – Remove all doors and drawer fronts and take to the shop.  Remove plastic melamine.  Sand and seal (note with what product) the pressed wood underneath.  Then spray paint with two coats (full name of paint and color) and then sealed (full name of sealer).

Doors and drawer fronts will return to on-site on install day.  Final glazing (full brand name and color) will occur with the cabinet frames.

(2)  Hardware holes are left in tact on doors (my new hardware allowed this).  Hardware holes are filled-in and painted on all drawers.  New holes will be drilled on-site for different hardware (at no extra charge).


*Note – these are written specifically for my cabinets.  Try to have your new hardware before the refinishing process begins.

(3)  Cabinet Frames – Suggest to have photos of what you want and samples of molding, if possible.  Then make specific inclusions in the notes.

For example, from my contract:  7-inch stack molding to all cabinet tops, IMG_2519

one and 1/2-inch molding on the bottom of each upper cabinet frame,

1/2-inch picture frame molding to all 4 cabinet sides and under the table counter (7 boxes under the table counter).


*Note – Originally, my contract said 5 sets of molding boxes under the table counter and it looked awful.  I had totally misunderstood what this meant and how they were supposed to look.  I talked to the owner and he added two more at no charge.  What a stroke of luck.

Tip #5:  Make a Drawing


(4)  Custom-Made Hood – I included a crude drawing with the elements specified.  IMG_0078





Tip #6:  Listen and Consider

However, over the course of the build out, the little arch on the hood was removed to accommodate more molding.

This was suggested by the faux painter.  He has a good eye….  So glad I listened.  IMG_2531

(5)  Oven Cabinet Rebuild – Because the new microwave/oven combo was a different size, the module was modified to fit this unit and a drawer was added to the remaining space at the bottom.  The pro was also helpful with suggestions here.


(6)  Paint – Include specific brand, colors, and glaze specific brand and colors.  I listened to the pros and cons, then chose all oil-based products.

Tip #7:  (If possible) Include Furniture Install in the Contract

(7)  Earlier, I had removed two big sections of cabinets and included the installation of one of the furniture pieces that would be replacing the cabinets in the cabinet redo contract.  Since this portion of the redo didn’t involve painting, I’ll write another post about using furniture as cabinets a little later.


But, for now, let’s wrap up the painting process.

Tip #8:  Take a Vacay

This work took two business weeks to complete.  However, much of the time was spent building the hood and the oven cabinet.  The cabinets dried in a few days, but required 30 days for a full cure.  So, I left the cabinet doors open and left town for a week.

Tip #9:  Use Carefulness when Cleaning

I clean them with a damp cloth and then wipe dry behind it.  Sometimes a bit of detergent is needed, just make sure to rinse it away.

Tip #10:  And Enjoy Your Durable Finish

One year later and the cabinets still look like they did on the day the fellas finished.

This was definitely a project for the pros.  And, remember you heard it here, because you surely won’t hear me say it often.  But, knowing when you need help is as much a part of the DIY process as the actual hands-on activity.  And, I believe with all my heart that, in this case, it was time for the pros.

Kitchen Cabinet Redo with Eat-In Area

Best of luck with your kitchen redo………..

And, please…..don’t forget to PIN……

10 Must Know Tips for Hiring a Kitchen Cabinet Professional









  • Reply 1915house March 13, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    Your kitchen is absolutely gorgeous, Susie! I loved having a little peek into it… It turned out so beautifully.

    • Reply theChelseaProject March 14, 2016 at 7:35 am

      Thanks, Sarah. I’m trying to get the middle section completed as fast as I can. Seems like this redo has been going on forever. LOL>

  • Reply 10 Must Know Tips Before Installing Furniture in the Kitchen – The Chelsea Project March 15, 2016 at 9:29 am

    […] Just to tell you, I left all of the central kitchen cabinets in place and had a professional crew do the custom millwork and refinish.  The furniture pieces that were installed are away from the food preparation and water areas.   Both are used only for dish storage.  If you want to catch a peek at the kitchen cabinet rebuild by the pros, click here for the details.   […]

  • Reply paintedbykaylapayne April 3, 2016 at 9:22 am

    I couldn’t love this post more! What an ordeal for you! Your finished result looks great!

    • Reply theChelseaProject April 3, 2016 at 9:37 am

      Oh Lawdy!! Yes, but I learned some good lessons. And..my cabinets are now the bomb diggity. I’m refreshing some of the kitchen decor now. Will post an update soon. Thanks for stopping by. I love having you visit. 🙂

  • Reply Florence June 30, 2016 at 9:15 am

    A detailed post and I read every bit of it even though I’m not in the market for new cabinets. I had no idea they were so expensive (referring to the $30,000 quote you got). Your new ones look lovely. Applaud you for getting everything in writing too. Naive me thinks workers are going to do what they say and stand behind their work, but suddenly they are very hard to find when the job is “done.” This is a great idea for a post.

    • Reply theChelseaProject June 30, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      Thanks so much, Florence. It was such an ordeal, I am pleased to share what I learned with others to help them sort out the info with fewer headaches. 🙂

  • Reply Debbie April 24, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Great information and lovely cabinets! I also went through this in different stages. We were prepared to spend $30k for new cabinets and counter back about 12 years ago. I spent hours with these people picking everything, they knew our budget and came back with something around $100k, cough-cough-choke! So we ended up with new appliances and a new countertop period. About a year ago I went at it again. This time I ended up hiring a cabinet painter. He did the sample and I hated to glaze and decided to go clean with my look. Still loving it today! I have an appointment today with someone because our island cooktop (no longer made and no one makes one that large) is dying and it will require a new countertop…ugh~ but I am going to make the best of it and select a different top and paint the island a different color! Thanks for sharing Chelsea at Favorite 5s.

    • Reply theChelseaProject April 24, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      Hi Debbie and thanks! Oh my! You have really had an ordeal getting your kitchen refreshed. So sorry! I hope you will share it with us after the island is all spiffed up.

    Thanks so much for your comment!

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