Maribeth’s kitchen points to another excellent idea for retro styled kitchen cabinets: Have your kitchen cabinets built out of MDF, then paint them.
I’ve actually mentioned this idea before, and it’s listed as a way to go with bathroom vanities, but I’ve never done a full blown post about it for everyone considering kitchen cabinets.
All about painted MDF kitchen cabinets:
- Resists moisture: MDF is the acronym for Medium Density Fiberboard. I think that means wood particles and glue all melded together really solidly. Don’t be put off. The stuff is heavier than wood, and the beauty part in particular, is that it resists moisture. I have MDF cabinets in my bathroom for that reason. UPDATE: See Robert’s comment below with more thoughts on this material. Do your own research to make the choice that is right for you…
- You can paint MDF slab doors: You can paint MDF slab doors — but you cannot paint all-wood slab doors. Real wood, when it is pieced together, expands and contracts when exposed to moisture or humidity. The paint chips/cracks along the joints. MDF, on the other hand, is manufactured in big pieces, 4’x8′ pieces, if I’m not mistaken, so it can be cut to size — even pantry doors — then painted any color. I’m telling you, you will not know it’s not wood.
- Versatile: As you can see from Maribeth’s photos, a slab style door is very vintage, yet also very classic — you can dress it up either way.
- Specs for an authentic retro door: Vintage steel kitchen cabinets all have slab doors with what is called a “radius” edge, and the doors are installed as “full overlay” — that is, you don’t see any of the cabinetry behind the doors or drawers. This set up – full overlay – also gives you the biggest drawers.
- Virgin adhesion: There’s more: You can paint these guys any color, and since you’re going straight onto a virgin MDF surface, you should get great adhesion.
- Retro and custom touches: Under the sink cabinet, carve those horizontal ventilation slats… paint your cabinets a glossy color…and install retro or vintage pulls…
and people won’t know they aren’t metal. Add a cookbook shelf. Build in a desk. If you get the right cabinetmaker, he or she can craft these things. It’s flat wood – you can do anything. Scour all my vintage galleries and posts for ideas.
- Affordable: As Maribeth points out, these cabinets can be built very affordably. She had her entire kitchen and laundry room done for $6,000, including painting. And she has A LOT of cabinets. But note, before I found my metal cabinets, I had my kitchen also specked out for MDF cabinets. I bet I had as many cabinets as Maribeth, and the store wanted $14,000, and painting was not included. So, shop around, recognizing of course, that getting a quality, reliable craftsmen is another story altogether…
- Be conscious of cabinet construction, too: The construction of the cabinets (what you don’t see) also matters. When we were shopping, I bought an online subscription to Consumer Reports to get their tips. Tips I still remember are: Dovetailed drawers. Slides and glides matter. And so does the thickness of the “box”. Thicker plywood is better. As Maribeth pointed out, she originally was just going to repaint her old cabinets. But when they took off the countertop, the boxes were in such bad shape, they were not worth saving. That was the state of my 70s cabinets, too. The boxes were, like, one step above cardboard…the doors were basically falling off them within 30 years. Even if you don’t think you are going to be in your house 30 years, I think it is wise to save up and pay for better constructed boxes up front. It’s probably better for the environment and for your house karma, too.