Re-Configuring Existing Cabinets

Five out of five doctors agree: tearing out and reassembling existing cabinets is just not worth it. September 23, 2006

We are about to begin a job where we need to reconfigure old cabinets. We will need to move the sink, oven, dishwasher, etc. to create a better layout for the customer. Usually we gut and bring in new cabinets (custom cabinet shop) but this homeowner doesn't want the added expense of “all new”. We are okay with doing the work and understand many of the pros and cons of this job, but we would appreciate any input from those of you who have done this kind of work before. Obviously, there will be pitfalls to avoid and preferred methods. We would like to hear about those prior to starting this job. The cabinets are plywood base/face frames and will be painted for the finish. Cabinets are built in all one run and we will need to remove and create face frames when we move the appliances. Any advice or preferred methods for doing this would be greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
If I'm reading your post correctly, you are going to remove the current cabinets - partially disassemble them, and then reassemble in a different configuration, while adding some new cabinetry? This is not something I would get involved with myself, as I would explain to the customer that the reworking of the existing cabinetry would be about equal to the cost of new cabinets. If you’re okay with the job just make sure you are charging enough to do it and make a profit. Be ready for the unforeseen problems with trying to remove, disassemble, and reinstall someone else's cabinetry. We all price our work differently, but I can't see it costing much less to do what I think you are describing, than to just start from scratch. But if you can do it and make money, go for it.

From contributor B:
Having done this a variety of ways, I can tell you contributor A is right about this. The only exception would be for older cabinets that were site-built (i.e. - no backs), and then it all depends on how they were built. That's the only way this scenario makes any sense. It'll cost you the same, as you are still fabricating the frames, and assembling the carcass and reinstalling them. From a cost perspective, the only thing different from new is that you are re-utilizing the old plywood (and accepting responsibility for how it is taken apart and put back together). And what happens when the old plywood splits or you do not have enough of the old to reconfigure it? As you can see, been there, done that, not worth it or the aggravation to save the customer what amounts to $100-$200 in plywood. If it was for one or two cabinets, it would be worth it to demonstrate your craftsmanship, which could lead to more business from them or their friends. But you could get the same benefit from explaining to the customer, from a craftsman’s perspective, the pitfalls of such an endeavor and that they are not really saving any substantial money.

From contributor C:
I agree. We have done this type of work in the past (in the lean, desperate years), and the only advice I can give you is to charge more than it would cost to replace everything with new. Of course, I realize that you may need this job and might be tempted to do it for less than you should. Been there - you have to do what you have to do. I am not in any way being condescending. I only want to point out that this type of project is fraught with time consuming pitfalls. Try to actually make a profit.

From contributor D:
Do not do this job any other way than time and materials. You will lose money if you don't. And you probably won't make much if you do. This is a cheap client being penny wise and dollar foolish. Walk – no, run, if you can. You most likely are not the first person to be offered this job.