How To: Finding the right match for worn laminate cabinets

October 5, 2011

Q. About 20 years ago we remodeled our kitchen, and we still like the design and the layout very much. The cabinet doors are white laminate. The laminate is coming off on the doors of the lower cabinets under the sink because the fiberboard underneath has become soft. I know that you can have the whole kitchen refaced, but I am more interested in a repair of just those doors. Where do you get matching laminate, and who would do such work?

Bethesda

A. A cabinet shop should be able to replicate the doors and reface them with white laminate fairly easily. The challenge is to find a shop that will take on a job this small. So call around before you start driving.

One shop that does take on small jobs is Zen Cabinetry in Rockville (202-498-0608 or 301-217-0880). Assuming your doors are each around 18 inches wide, the manager, Frank Wang, said the job would total around $190.

If that’s too steep for your budget, you might want to see if you can find suitable doors at stores that specialize in used building materials. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Gathersburg (301-947-3304; www.ReStoreMoCo.org) often has similar doors in stock, for $3 to $5 a door. The main problem with using a salvaged door might be the holes for the screws on the handles. If you can’t find an exact match, you might decide you can live with just touching up a couple of patched screw holes with white paint.

Be sure to take one of your doors with you wherever you seek help so that you can compare the white color of new or salvaged laminate to what’s on your doors now. “White” is an umbrella of colors, and regardless of the exact shade you started with, the color may have yellowed slightly over time.

Q. In my house, most of the walls and doors (plus hinges) were painted white by the previous owner. I would like to repaint some of the rooms a different color, doors included, but would like the hinges to be their original metal color. I don’t want to replace the hinges. Should I strip the paint or paint a new color over the white?

Manassas Park

A. Strip the paint. If you paint over hinges repeatedly, the buildup will eventually keep the hinges from fully closing. Plus, hinges with a lot of paint look like someone took shortcuts.

You can usually free a door from its frame by first tapping or sliding up on the hinge pins. If that doesn’t work, open the door, wedge supports underneath, then unscrew the hinges. If paint clogs screw heads, first clean out the slots with a utility knife or a chisel, or dab on a little paint remover with a cheap artist’s brush.

To strip the hardware, try a technique that Brad Kittel, owner of Discovery Architectural Antiques in Gonzales, Tex., shared with readers of This Old House magazine: Put the hardware in an old crockpot, add water plus one-fourth cup of dishwashing detergent, and simmer overnight. Use tongs to remove the pieces. A toothbrush helps loosen paint that doesn’t fall off on its own. (If you don’t have a crockpot ready to retire from kitchen duty, you can buy a new one for about $20. Of course, don’t cook food in it after it’s stripped paint.)

Chemical stripping is also an option. Work outside, and be sure to wear goggles and gloves.

Neither stripping technique damages solid brass. If the hinges are steel (a magnet sticks to these), any plating may come off with the paint. In that case, you can have the hardware replated, which is fairly expensive, or spray-paint the hinges black or a metal color. Whatever the solution, they’ll look clean and crisp — much better than if they are slathered with multiple layers of trim paint.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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