Paint gives your melamine cabinets a whole new look.

How to Update a Melamine Kitchen

by Daria Kelly Uhlig

Few cabinet styles date a kitchen like melamine -- that distinctive resin surface that's essentially plastic sheeting covering particleboard. Low cost and easy maintenance boosted melamine's popularity, particularly in contemporary-style homes, but its bland look leaves many homeowners wanting to update. If your budget prohibits replacing the cabinets altogether, give them new life with a makeover.

New Veneer

Reface your melamine cabinets to give them an entirely new look. Refacing entails replacing doors and drawer fronts and applying wood veneer over the fronts and sides of the cabinet frames. Self-adhering veneer strips make this a DIY project for individuals with moderate home-improvement experience. Purchase prefinished doors and drawer fronts if you'd rather not paint or stain.


Paint updates your melamine cabinets' appearance and leaves you with an easy-to-clean finish. The secret to protecting the paint against peeling and chipping is to roughen the surfaces by sanding away any shine, then apply a high-adhesive paint primer. You can use the primer on the drawers' and doors' wood trim and on the cabinet frames, too. Once your cabinet doors, drawers and frames are primed, paint them with an oil-based paint. Oil paint takes longer to dry, but it creates a smoother finish than latex, and it's easier to clean. High-gloss paint creates the hardest, most washable finish. Start with clean, grease-free cabinets for best results. Sand the cabinets with fine-grit sandpaper between coats, then allow the paint to cure for several days before replacing the doors and drawers or using any painted surfaces.

Hardware as Jewelry

Think of new knobs and drawer pulls as jewelry for your cabinets. By itself, hardware adds a punch of style to your bland melamine. As a finishing touch after painting, hardware is a custom touch that elevates a basic paint job to something special. And you can add it even if your your cabinets don't have knobs or drawer pulls. Although you can choose any style hardware you like, and use drawer pulls on cabinets and knobs on drawers, you'll get the most mileage out of pieces that complement your cabinets' style.

Project Tips

All three projects require that you remove your cabinet doors and drawers. Label each piece you'll rehang using painters tape so that you know where it goes. Store hinges, screws and other hardware you remove in a zip-seal bag. For projects that require measuring, such as refacing or adding hardware for which you'll drill new holes, measure carefully -- twice. Write down your measurements, preferably on a diagram showing each cabinet piece and its location. Staying organized is particularly important if you'll do the work over several days.

About the Author

Daria Kelly Uhlig began writing professionally for websites in 2008. She is a licensed real-estate agent who specializes in resort real estate rentals in Ocean City, Md. Her real estate, business and finance articles have appeared on a number of sites, including Motley Fool, The Nest and more. Uhlig holds an associate degree in communications from Centenary College.

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