Looking for simple DIYs to make your kitchen look high end without spending too much? Here’s how to update kitchen cabinets on a budget.

I am all about a budget.

Especially in a kitchen.

Especially if there are ways to do things that look high end, but cost a FRACTION of what the high-end look costs.

When we moved into this house and remodeled this kitchen we had a budget. There were so many things that needed to be done. We needed new airconditioning and new windows and a new bathroom and the doors needed to be refinished and rooms needed to be painted.

Here’s the entire before and after tour of the house.

One thing that was challenging was kitchen cabinets.

I wanted these amazing kitchen cabinets that were extra tall and went up to the ceiling.


Except I didn’t know that extra tall meant extra expensive.

So here’s how we created them.

Here’s how we solved the problem.

And here’s how to update kitchen cabinets on a budget.

How To Update Kitchen Cabinets on a Budget

1. Measure the height of your cabinets

Here’s the before.

And let me walk you through the process to get to this place.

These are standard kitchen cabinets.

They actually came from another room in the house that we remodeled and we brought them in here and repurposed them for the kitchen.

Standard kitchen cabinets come in 30″ or 36″ or 40″. When you add them to the wall, the top of the cabinets sit at 84″ or 90″ off the ground. That explains why there’s always a space on top of the kitchen cabinets because the cabinets never go all the way to the ceilings.

Except in magazines.

And high-end kitchens.

But if you buy those custom kitchen cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling?

You can’t send your children to college.

2. How to update kitchen cabinets: Measure your ceiling height

These cabinets were 40″ tall and sit on the wall at 90″.

Our ceilings are 9 feet tall in the kitchen and the ceiling measures 108″.


These cabinets were never going to go all the way to the top of the ceiling.


Unless I came up with a brilliant idea that costs under $100 and makes your cabinets look like you spent thousands on them.

3. Add plywood to the top of the cabinets

All we did was add an 18″ piece of plywood to the top of the cabinets that extended all the way to the ceiling.

Install the cabinets first.

And then? Cut three pieces of plywood 18″ tall and the width of your cabinets and attach them in place.

how to update kitchen cabinets on a budget

4. Add crown molding to the top of the plywood

And then added crown molding to the ceiling to make them appear even more custom (and to hide the seams next to the ceiling).

This created the look of high-end cabinets for a fraction of the cost.


(total aside: don’t you love how there is always an except when I’m telling you about a project?)

Except there was a seam between the cabinet and the piece of plywood.

Most people wouldn’t notice it, but I’ve lived with it for two years and it drove me crazy. Look at the pictures and you’ll see it. It’s ever so slight, but in person it’s much more noticeable. Also, we needed to caulk the crown molding next to the ceiling because there were starting to be cracks.

You can see that in the pictures as well.

Part of the fun of living in a 110-year-old home.

how to update kitchen cabinets add molding

5. How to update kitchen cabinets: Add molding to hide the seam

The solution was obvious.

We needed a molding piece to hide the seam.

This molding came from Lowe’s in their specialty molding section.

how to update kitchen cabinets molding

My husband cut the molding to fit and cut the edges at an angle like this.

Next, we attached the molding next to the seam.

how to update kitchen cabinets top of cabinets

6. Cut edges to fit

Here’s the molding attached to where the seam was on the cabinet. The last step when figuring out how to update kitchen cabinets.

Then we caulked and primed the molding.

And painted it to match the cabinets.

And now?

how to update kitchen cabinets

The cabinets look like this.

And this.

And this.

I know it’s such a simple change, but the difference makes the cabinets look even more custom.

Just between us?

I’m thankful for a budget.

It helps you to think outside the box.

It helps you to get creative.

It helps you to remind yourself…

…that it doesn’t have to be expensive to be beautiful.

PS If you are looking for some more kitchen remodeling tips in addition to how to update kitchen cabinets?

You have come to the right place.

Here are some of my favorite ideas:

Want to know how to decorate your home for free?
Click here to get my FIVE BEST secrets.


  1. Image for Kim Valadez Kim Valadez

    I love this! We have a very small kitchen and need cabinets for food, cans etc. seems like having a plate rack may take up too much space versus stacking? Any ideas helpful. We wanted to keep our old cabinets but paint them. Do you have anything on your blog about that and having limited chipping? Thank you ! Kim

    1. Image for Kris Kris

      Kim, as a fellow small kitchen owner, I sympathize. I think a plate rack would take up too much real estate in your kitchen, although I have seen pictures of them added in the area above the sink in front of the window. Not sure I'd like that, personally, as an outside view is important to me. I would look up space saving strategies before you begin working on your kitchen. Kristen at thefrugalgirl.com repainted her kitchen cabinets a few years ago and details it and talks about how well it has held up. If it's possible with your cabinets, popping out the middle panel and adding a glass insert is an inexpensive move which gives a big impact. We did that where we store our dishes and I absolutely love it. Makes my kitchen look bigger. Karianne, thanks for sharing your secrets with us. Your kitchen is gorgeous and I love hearing about your hacks.

  2. Image for Jean Jean

    Love the look and I have a technical question...when you say “we” do you mean your husband 😘 Thank goodness for creative minds and skilled husbands 👏 I enjoy every one of your posts!

  3. Image for Sue at Blu Sue at Blu

    Hey gorgeous friend! You beat me to this post! We are working on our kitchen right now! But that phase will probably be a later upgrade. So stoked that we had the same idea!! Miss you!

  4. Image for PC PC

    I saw an old house in GA where the areas above the cabinet could be accessed to store seldom used dishes and the door was almost invisible. I have also been in a old house where the tops were glassed in and served as display space.

  5. Image for Jenn Jenn

    So smart! I love your thoughts on being forced to think outside the box! I feel the same, I think even if I had a huge budget, I would still enjoy looking for a deal, and making something out of nothing! Have a great rest of your week!

  6. Image for Graham Graham

    I too wanted tall cabinets, but there was a soffit in the way (not that I could have afforded them anyway) The soffit left me with a space half the depth of my cabinets. I asked my contractor to extend the frame as high as he could and get doors to make shallow cabinets on top. Shallow though they may be, they are great for storage- think paper towels, plastic containers, little used spices or appliances. It’s the same idea as what you did, but with doors. Great minds?

  7. Image for Maria Maria

    Small change = BIG IMPACT! If only everyone could read this post before buying the extra tall extra expensive cabinets. This is definitely a hack to be shared:)

    1. Image for KariAnne Wood KariAnne Wood

      Heather, We added a 1" x 1" behind the plywood to attach it to something and then nailed it in! I need to add this to the post! Happy day! karianne

      1. Image for Susann Susann

        Yes, PLEASE, KariAnne!!! Please add a detailed description of how you attached the solid plywood boards. I’m thinking you probably didn’t snap the project at that stage of installation, but if you did, please share. Soooooo LOVE this brilliant tip of yours!!!

  8. Image for Marlene Stephenson Marlene Stephenson

    You are so smart and sensible, always coming up with the best ideas. Do you dream ideas while asleep? Have a great rest of the week and dream on.

  9. Image for Kris Kris

    Forgot to mention ... If you have 8 foot high ceilings, you can have cabinets that go all the way up. Personally I'm slightly envious of your high ceilings but that was one time when lower ones came in handy.

  10. Image for Jo Jo

    I have recently bought a house that was built in 1890... with 12 foot ceilings. You have just solved my wish for "high-end" looking cabinets. Bless you!!!!!! Love this.

  11. Image for Leslie Watkins Leslie Watkins

    Great solution. I used a similar trick with molding and then painted the soffit the same color as the cabinets to give the allusion they continued. So much an improvement!! I so love your kitchen.❤️

  12. Image for Liz Liz

    Looks so great!! I am thinking of painting my kitchen cabinets. I’m working up to it ;) But also want to add to the top. I don’t like the space at the top at all!! Thanks for the inspiration!!

  13. Image for Pat Russell Pat Russell

    Great plan. I have been considering it also but hate for that extra space to not be useful. Here is an idea to make your fix look even more high end. Cut some molding to mimick your two doors below each section. Apply it to plywood and paint it also. Then would look like two smaller doors...but ones without glass.

  14. Image for sue sue

    KariAnne, Your post just popped up in my inbox. I see 20 comments before mine, and I haven't even read your post yet...no matter what you have to say and share, I just really needed to have your joy today. So, thank you! Here in CNY, we have sun, maybe 60 degrees, and I put wire "flower boxes" on my chain link fence yard gates. Then I filled them with pretty faux flowers and wired it all down so nothing blows away. This hides the view through the gates into my yard, looks good and gave me a boost ,lol. We have enough grass to need mowing, so later!

  15. Image for Claudia A. Claudia A.

    https://www.bhg.com/home-improvement/molding-trim/installation-how-to/basic-guide-to-working-with-molding/?slide=slide_4d325e99-3cd2-4651-b6e0-f884eaf582fc#slide_4d325e99-3cd2-4651-b6e0-f884eaf582fc Was planning to you use this type of bullnose or will use a half round because our trim is really simple.

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