80s Melamine Cabinet Makeover

HAVE YOU SEEN this kitchen before? Oh what’s that? You had this same kitchen some 30 odd years ago? Is it bringing back distant memories? Consider yourself lucky that those memories are distant because this here, this is my reality, or at least it was my reality up until a few short weeks ago. Now I know some people long for the 80s but this builder, melamine-cabinet-with-oak-trim kitchen is not a welcomed throw-back. It had to go and it had to go on a budget.

DIY 80s kitchen cabinet makeover

I consider myself blessed to be able to walk into a room and see it’s potential. It’s something I know my real estate agent was thankful for too. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say this kitchen was the reason I bought the place (c’mon let’s be real here), after seeing so many places (old and new) I was actually thankful to have a run down kitchen that warranted a makeover. 

I’m pretty particular when it comes to design but I’m also relatively practical (though my mom might disagree). I wouldn’t have been able to live (okay I would have survived but not happily) with a kitchen not done to my liking but I also wouldn’t have been able to justify ripping out brand new granite counter tops just because I didn’t like the colour. #firstworldproblems.

This kitchen – in all it’s 80s glory – at the very least – had true potential.

It didn’t take long for me to dream up a vision. White, black and gold, with warm wood accents (shocker), open-style shelving and subway tile for days.

My plan was to do a mini, DIY makeover on a dime that would last me a few years and then I’d invest in a real renovation once I was able to save some money.

The simplest way I figured I could update the look was by changing the cabinet doors. After taking a few measurements and visiting both Ikea and Home Depot I learned this wasn’t really an option because my cabinets weren’t standard sizes. Go figure.

A visit back to the proverbial drawing board and I had a new solution. It was a bit unconventional but I thought it just might work. With the help of my parents (thank-freaking-God) we got started on converting these old doors into cute and modern shaker style cabinets.

DIY-Shaker-Cabinets Via LITTLE LESSY

[*Before you take the doors off the cabinets be sure to label which door corresponds to which cabinet. You do not want to skip this step. You’ll have a nightmare on your hands later if you do.]

I bought a piece of 1/8″ plywood and had the lovely folks at Home Depot cut it into 2″ strips. Here’s the thing you should know about me and why I could have never done this project without my parents. I’m terrible at measuring and I’m terrible at math. BUSTED. I can do the vision and the logistics but trying to make sense of how much plywood I’d need would have lead to a mental breakdown. Mom, Dad – I love you!

We brought the strips of wood home as well as a rented mitre saw and got to it. The important part was making sure that the trim overhung the old oak in order to hide it.


I should probably mention – in case any of you reading this are planning on using this as a reference for your own project – that we did a lot of measuring and re-measuring and aligning. We placed cabinets that were going to be hung beside each other, side-by-side, so we could make sure the trim was aligned properly and made visual adjustments when necessary. Every so often we also hung the doors back up to ensure it was all coming together the way we wanted. It was a long and finicky process but it was totally worth it in the end.


I glued the trim down with “No-More-Nails” and secured it with a few finishing nails which I sunk below the surface. Then I filled the holes and the cracks with wood putty to get a seamless and smooth finish.

Painting Cabinets

Then it was time to paint! We primed first (God I hate priming) and then rolled on a coat of paint. [Editors note: For some reason I thought I wanted the finish to be matte. It was a mistake (against my mother’s better judgement) and I regret it. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be adding another coat with an eggshell finish.]


I wasn’t going to replace the countertops so it got a mini facelift of its own. I sanded it down and the top part got a coat of American Walnut stain and the bottom part got painted white to blend in with the new doors.

DIY Shaker Cabinet Makerover

I’ve been told that getting the doors back onto the cabinets was a bit of a pain-in-the-ass. I can’t really comment on it because I may or may not have locked my parents inside while I disappeared to work for 10 hours. I know. Daughter of the year award. I came home that night and all the doors were magically hung! You need parents like mine. For real.

This is a good time for a small anecdote. My mom didn’t tell my dad that the sole purpose of this 10-day trip was to help me rip up my kitchen and fix it. My poor father packed his hiking boots, his cycling gear and his golf clubs ’cause he thought he was coming to chillax. Sorry, pops – not this time! He was a serious trooper though.

[inside tip: your sander will be your best friend during the project. We had to bevel the edges of some of the doors so that they could open and close properly.]


And there you have it! That how I saved my kitchen from the 80s without replacing the doors. And yes from the inside (back of the doors) it does look a little weird, but it’s something I’m more than willing to tolerate.

I’ve got a post coming up next on hardware and be sure to keep checking back as I continue to reveal my kitchen renovation here on the blog!


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