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How to: Paint or replace kitchen cabinets

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Q. We have a one-wall kitchen. The cabinets are showing their wear, and I am searching for someone to repaint them. Is repainting generally less expensive than refacing? Because our cabinets do not reach the ceiling, we are also exploring whether to add small, glass-fronted cabinets with interior lights above them, or, alternatively, to install molding to the ceiling. Would this work?

Washington

A. You have a variety of options. You didn’t give the dimensions of your wall, but to get some cost comparisons, let’s assume it’s 10 feet wide.

Painting is the least expensive option, as you suspect. Blue Door Painters (703-504-2000), which works throughout the Washington area, would charge around $500 to $600 to brush or roll latex paint over the cabinet exteriors, plus about $400 if you also wanted to paint the interiors. Including prep and follow-up work, such as removing and replacing the hardware, the total cost might be about $1,200, said owner Jeffrey Stein.

If you wanted a finish that looks and performs like it was applied in a factory, you could try a company such as Picasso Cabinet in Chantilly (703-378-1005). This company takes the drawer and door fronts to its shop, where the crew sands off the existing finish and sprays on multiple coats of lacquer-type paint. In your home, the company would also sand and paint the front edges of the cabinets and cover exposed ends with new plywood that’s painted to match. The price ranges between $100 to $150 per door, said Lea Im, the store manager. She estimated that a 10-foot stretch of cabinets might have 21 doors. So the total price would be $2,000 to $3,000.

Other options cost more, but perhaps not as much more as you might expect. Picasso would charge around $4,000 to $5,000 to reface the cabinets, which involves covering the surfaces with a thin layer of laminate. Or, if your main objection to the current cabinets is the door style, Picasso could install new ones made of solid maple for about $4,725. If you want new painted doors, you could get them in MDF (medium-density fiberboard) for about $3,000.

Picasso Cabinet also could install shallow cabinets above your existing ones or install crown molding above. But the more fiddling you do with the setup, the less you’ll save compared with starting over. “If it were me, I’d just get new cabinets,” Stein said. “Otherwise, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig.”

And what would new cabinets cost? Bob Kay, owner of Kitchen and Bath Factory in Arlington (703-522-7337), would charge $3,000 to $4,000 for 10 feet of new upper cabinets at 42 inches tall, the right height to extend to a ceiling that’s eight feet high. Removing the old cabinets and installing the new ones would add to the cost (perhaps a couple thousand dollars), but you’d wind up with exactly what you want.

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The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in November, such as checking smoke detectors.

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