Repurposing Cabinets Repurposing Cabinets

The basement apartment is done, (Yay! because we’re living in it while the main house is being renovated) There weren’t enough cabinets in the apartment previously, and they weren’t in very good condition…

Details on repurposing cabinets successfully…

The ‘Before’: Repurposing Cabinets

The basement apartment was built back in the 70’s and didn’t appear to be updated much since then… just lived in. The cabinets were so-so quality, pretty dirty, musty smelling and there weren’t enough of them for the new kitchen space anyway.

I had planned to remove the wall between the kitchen and living area. With that wall gone, it would give the kitchen more light and more space so that the new kitchen layout could be a bit more user-friendly… We also wanted to add a dishwasher. So I guess that’s the 1st tip to repurposing cabinets:

Be prepared to ‘Cut your Losses’!

That being said, we were unable to repurpose the cabinets from the existing basement apartment, so out the old cabinets went to the curb with a ‘FREE’ sign. (this is actually a picture of the other side of the basement’s kitchen cabinets, (yes, there were 2 apartments in the basement! but you get the gist!) Repurposing Cabinets

The cabinets lasted for a few minutes before a passerby noticed them and they were gone. I love to be able to help in repurposing cabinets that way. Better than just getting trashed. Maybe someone has a tiny kitchen, or garage or something they’ll use them in… or even totally repurpose and make them into a piece of furniture… who knows? I’m just glad they were happy to take them and use them.

This is a post on repurposing cabinets, and repurposing we did… and no not just by giving the old ones away… haha that would have been a funny trick to play on you though…

Here are the kitchen cabinets we did use to repurpose: Repurposing Cabinets

This was the kitchen in the main house before we gutted it. This plan of repurposing cabinets from the main kitchen worked in part because the cabinets were separate units, joined at the seams. If they were custom cabinets all made as one continuous long run, with no seams, it’s a bit trickier to try to revamp the layout like how we did.

These cabinets were in pretty good condition… except

they had a slight odor of cigarette smoke. My very sensitive nose is sort of crazy keen to that foul odor. Sorry if you smoke, but it really doesn’t smell good. Just the faintest fragment of that smell makes me nauseous!

The only way I know to successfully combat cigarette smoke odor is with BIN primer. The one that is shellac based. Repurposing Cabinets

Since the cabinets were taken out of the kitchen, I set up tarps in the backyard and bought literally cases of spray BIN primer. I sprayed inside, outside, top bottom, every square inch and crack and crevice with BIN. It worked! There is absolutely not a trace of that nasty odor now. (and trust me, my nose is crazy good at smelling and obsessing about that particular smell)

After priming them I painted the cabinets with 2 coats of paint…

HaHa I wish!!!

I actually winded up painting them with 5 coats! Yikes!!! I sprayed them with enamel paint, but some of the cans of paint were bad and it left a rough finish, so I had to sand them all down and repaint, this time with a brush. I used Chalk paint and finished with a clear coat over that) It was a fiasco, but turned out well in the end… So frustrating when products are bad and mess up your project. (here’s the full post on that)

The process of repainting the cabinets took me so long it was ridiculous!! I did it last fall… which was a very rainy fall. That meant that I was constantly moving those cabinets in and out of the garage trying to have enough time between rains showers to get some more done. Looking back, once they were BIN primed, I would have just left the rest of the painting until they were installed, since I did it with a brush anyway.

Meanwhile back in the basement apartment… Repurposing Cabinets

Everything was gutted out of the basement apartment…

It smelled dank and we were glad to see each layer go. (to get rid of all the dank odor, I finally realized there was old fiberglass insulation that had absorbed the smell sitting on the concrete block. As I worked removing that I found a NASTY surprise… (if you missed that post, you can check it out here!)

After the mechanics were addressed, new sheetrock went up. It’s always a great point in the project when the sheetrock goes up, right?!  It finally starts feeling like ‘construction’ instead of ‘destruction’. 🙂 Repurposing Cabinets

I’m so fortunate to have a contractor that is willing and happy to be creative!

To try to repurpose cabinets with someone that was crabby about it, (let alone renovate a whole house!) would really be a pain because it is a little more work than just installing new cabinets that are the perfect size. That is where the balance comes in too… one needs to be sure it’s worth the extra work to repurpose… there’s a fine line of trying too hard to make something work and it just taking too much time, energy and money to make it work… I’m always trying to balance things when doing a renovation.

To figure out the cabinet layout,

we took (and re-took) measurements of the main house cabinets to see what would fit where in our new layout. All the while applying some basic kitchen design rules.

  1. It’s important to create a fairly good work triangle, with the 3 points of that triangle being the sink, stove, and refrigerator. Ideally, you have a total of 21′ between them combined. (assuming it’s a 1 cook kitchen… more cooks need more space)
  2. Next, it’s best if you can have at least 12″ of countertop flanking the stove, and 18″-24″ of countertop flanking the sink.
  3. I also prefer to place the fridge closest to the dining area, as that will be accessed from diners as well as cooks.

Once those main objectives were met as best as they could be given our space the rest could be worked out with the actual pieces we had. Like incorporating the lazy susan type pullout in the corner and using the tall pantry for a dividing wall between the fridge and living room. Repurposing Cabinets

Once the sheetrock was up, taped and mudded…

Our contractor installed the lower cabinets, dishwasher, sink, and countertops. (as you can see there was a bit of humidity I was battling… with dueling dehumidifiers!)

I’m glad to say soon after this picture was taken we had a Mitsubishi Mini Split system installed in the basement apartment. It takes care of dehumidifying, cooling and heating. Takes up less counter space too! ha ha ha

In between the base cabinets and uppers being installed, the contractor installed the flooring.

I took advantage of the upper cabinets not being installed yet,

once I was done priming and painting the walls, I went ahead and installed the beadboard. Actually, it’s textured wallpaper… so easy to install and very believable! (here’s a ‘how to’ post I wrote when I installed it in the cottage in Maine) Repurposing Cabinets

The upper cabinets were hung… with a few additions.

We didn’t quite have the right sizes of existing cabinets for the left of the sink, but that actually worked out totally OK…

Our contractor constructed the open cabinets and shelving from scratch. Repurposing Cabinets

I love having a few open shelves in the kitchen, this turned out to be just the perfect amount too.

The apartment has been done and we’ve moved in a couple months ago.

So far I am so pleased with this vinyl flooring!

(you can read more details on installing this flooring here) I think the key is to get the right product, some brands don’t seem to be very good… and to install it according to the directions. Repurposing Cabinets

It’s so durable, can take the water spills no problem, and looks great! In fact, I’ve already bought more to use in the other half of the basement as well as our newly constructed main floor mudroom!

The finishing element we had to get done before we could move in was the surface mounted suspended ceiling,

which my husband and I tackled. (feel free to read more on that little project here and see what I learned from it) Repurposing Cabinets

A little more cabinet detail…

The open upper cabinet hangs to the left of the sink, just before the hallway: Repurposing Cabinets

It works great for keeping coffee supplies on because the coffee maker sits right below it. Repurposing Cabinets

There wasn’t a cabinet in the old kitchen above the microwave, (they had dropped soffits in the kitchen instead) So for the kitchen in the basement apartment our contractor installed this open shelf:

This actually works great to keep pots and pans on and gave the microwave something to be mounted to.

The other spot we needed a cabinet but didn’t have the right size was the base to the left of the sink. Again, the contractor built this open shelf unit: Repurposing Cabinets

It works fantastic for canisters and a basket of potatoes below.

It’s hard in pictures to show the difference… obviously, taking out the wall that divided the kitchen from the main room was huge… (you can see a little more detail about that here) and really difficult to show in a photo, but being able to expand the kitchen giving space for the fridge to move down and allow the stove to have countertop on both sides of it was huge! Repurposing Cabinets

Right now, though… Our kitchen in this basement apartment looks a little different: Repurposing Cabinets

I had to tape plastic sheeting across the entire suspended ceiling! As the upstairs is being worked on, the vibrations (and main floor removal) were causing the ceiling tile to drop little tiny particles, coating everything in the apartment.

Here you can see more kitchen renovation ideas:

Thanks so much for stopping by! Please feel free to follow and share this blog with your friends, as well as on Facebook, Pinterest, Flipboard, Bloglovin, YouTube and now Instagram!  I appreciate you reading along.

This post is linked at these other following sites: Between Naps on the Porch, Skip to my Lou, Refresh Restyle, DIY Show Off, The Scoop, A Stroll Thru Life, Savvy Southern Style, Little Bits of Home, DIY Dreamer, My Repurposed Life

Reader Interactions


  1. Rose says

    It looks great! I love the white finish and the cut out cabinets. I repainted very old wood cabinets in our fixer upper. I didn’t prime- used a semi gloss sage green color and it looked great until we took down the ceiling. There’s chips everywhere so I’ll be repainting them in the spring. Good luck! Thanks for sharing your progress

    • Liz says

      Thanks Rose! Oh no… I’ve done the no priming with great disappointment route before. Good luck with your fix this spring. 🙂

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