DIY Kitchen Cabinets: Avoid Common Mistakes with a DIY Kitchen Cupboards Install

Home shows make it look easy, but it's easier to mess up a cabinet install

Credit: iStockphoto / kourafas5

DIY kitchen cabinets can be tricky to install, so opt for high quality to ensure longevity

DIY kitchen renovations have become a huge industry and a national obsession. New kitchen cabinetry will generally add value to your home, but only if the project actually goes well

The truth is that home improvement projects, especially kitchen cabinetry, are tricky work. You might be inspired by gorgeously staged magazine photos, impeccable kitchen showrooms, and even those TV shows that claim anyone can conquer DIY kitchen cupboards in a weekend. You’ve seen Martha, Debbie and Candace tackle a job with nary a hair out of place – so how hard can it be, right?

Actually, DIY kitchen cabinets are probably one of the more challenging projects to take on, since they require so much pre-planning and near-flawless installation. This type of a kitchen makeover is fraught with potential pitfalls, so arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible to ensure you end up with a beautiful, cost-effective and functional kitchen.

7 Common Mistakes to Avoid During a DIY Kitchen Cabinet Renovation

1. Under-budgeting. Figure out how much you can afford, as this will determine what kind of a kitchen renovation it will be.

If you want to spend less, you could simply resurface your cabinets. This means leaving the original cabinet boxes in place and buying new doors and hardware. Or, if budget permits, you could replace everything, which means you can change the layout as well. Ideally, you should aim to buy the best quality products for the level of project you attempt, rather than buy inferior products for the sake of a more advanced project.

With a cheap-quality product, you run the risk of buying cabinetry that isn’t durable and will wear out quickly; will arrive with uneven colouring or staining; and will probably be slightly warped or uneven so doors and drawers don’t line up or don’t open and close properly. This will drive you insane. Guaranteed.

Be sure to choose a cabinet style you won’t get tired of looking at. Image: Flickr / The-Lane-Team

2. Underestimating Time. Estimate how long you think the kitchen remodelling will take you, then add 50%.

Unless you have a team of skilled helpers or are a trained professional yourself, DIY cabinet projects are finicky creatures that can’t be rushed. It will take you a lot of time to prep the area even before you open the packets of cabinetry.

And don’t even think about starting to hang anything without a really good level. Don’t rely on other existing “lines” to anchor your sense of what’s straight. Ceilings, counters and backsplashes can often vary up to ½ inch from one end of a room to another. Unevenly hung cabinet boxes/doors will also eventually drive you to rip everything out within a year, so it’s best to take your time and get it done right the first time.

3. Lack of Help. “DIY” does not mean “do it all by yourself.”

So ask your mechanically inclined friends and family to help out, because when it comes time to hold a cabinet box, mount it, level it and then secure it, it’ll definitely take more than just you. Even if you’re only installing new cabinet fronts, a few extra pairs of hands are a blessing when you’re trying to fine-tune those finicky hinges.

4. Fashion over Function. If it were just about storing things, we’d use milk crates. But we expect more functionality from our cupboards, so when you’re ready to pick your product, consider these functionality details:

  • Door fronts – Do you ever wonder why there are 18 products that look alike but vary drastically in price? While door fronts may look the same, the way they perform can differ drastically. Make sure you take samples of your top few picks and test them for fingerprints, watermarks, food splatters, and how easily they scratch and dent. Some can be shockingly difficult to clean, leaving ghost fingerprints no matter how hard you scrub. Can you live with that?
  • Hardware – If you choose knobs or pulls, make sure they’re easy to grasp even if your hands are wet or greasy or dexterity-challenged. If you decide on handles, ensure everyone in your household will be able to reach through them, including big man hands. If not, you’ll be scrubbing knuckle marks for the rest of your days.

Ensure the cabinets you choose match the style in the rest of your place. Image: Flickr / CharlesCabinets

5. Misjudging Layout. Whether you’re replacing cupboard doors or replacing the entire cabinetry, there are layout issues to consider.

Check that there aren’t any opening conflicts – doors opening into fridges or stoves, etc. In corners, depending on how you place your handles/pulls and how tight space is, you could have an issue with doors and drawers not opening fully or scratching the sides as you extend them.

6. Forgetting to Buy Spare Parts. Once you’ve decided on what to buy, buy some more. Plan for things to break, fall apart, or just go missing.

Soft-close hardware, especially the cheaper ones, are notorious for flying apart and since they’re all different, unless you want to buy all new sets to fit your hinges, make sure you have a few replacement parts on hand.

Same for handles/pulls and any other items that get a lot of use or have moveable parts. Products at the retail level are constantly changing so you don’t want to get caught searching eBay for that elusive part that’s been replaced by the manufacturer.

7. Mismatching Styles. Be careful that the cabinets you choose match the style of the rest of your decor.

For example, chunky country farmhouse cupboards aren’t going to mesh well if you live in a small condo. And going too sleek and modern in a heritage home won’t do you any favours. Make sure whatever you pick flows cohesively with everything else you already have to ensure you get the most out of your efforts and investment.

Good kitchen cabinets should last at least 15 years, so pick a style with longevity. And avoid overly trendy styles, as you’ll most definitely grow tired of them long before the cabinets wear out.

Learn how to create an Italian-style kitchen and get tips from a realtor on renovating a condo kitchen.