Budget Kitchen Renovation: Upgrade Builder Grade Island with Moulding and Stain

The budget kitchen remodel has begun... sort of.  We'll call this a mini-kick off since most of the work won't really begin for a couple of months.  However, I do want to share with you how we have started making plans for upgrading our builder basic golden oak cabinets using some cheap and simple methods.

Here's a before shot of our kitchen (and island).  Essentially it is exactly what you would expect to see in a home built in the early 90's.

Note the island.  It is predominantly made from wood veneer and has absolutely no architectural detail or shape.  It's also really beat up, worn and dirty looking.  What I am going to show you is how to take your worn old island from that... to this:

Let me show you one more shot as a close up of the island cabinets.... gross right?  See how dirty they are?

Here are the supplies we used to achieve these results.

1 3/8"" PVC lattice in clearwood
2 1/4"" PVC base moulding in clearwood
hacksaw (or other tool to cut wood)
construction adhesive
painter's tape
General Finishes Antique Walnut Gel Stain
Rustoleum's Carrington stain
foam brush

Hint: If you're going to replace your hardware and need to drill new holes, I recommend filling any old holes or drilling new ones before you refinish the cabinet.  We had to do this for our new drawer pulls.

First, Little Man helped me tear off all of the quarter round from the base of the island.  I also cut the toe kick so that it was flush with the side of the cabinet.

Then use the 1 3/8" lattice to create a square frame around the outside of each side of the island.  I used  construction adhesive and painter's tape to adhere the pieces of moulding to the island.  Then cut and adhere the baseboard moulding around the base of the island.  

Once everything is dry, remove the tape.  This is what you should end up with.   I also used white paintable caulk to fill in any big gaps - which is easily covered by the gel stain (a perk of using opaque gel stain).

For the veneered sides, I just wiped them down and lightly sanded the surface.  For the wood frames, drawer fronts and doors, I sanded them first with 60 grit sandpaper, then 120 grit.

Before Sanding
After Sanding
 Now it's time to apply your first coat of stain (click here for our more comprehensive staining tutorial).  Apply the gel stain using a foam brush.  Don't worry if it looks streaky... this all evens out with the next coat.  Just make sure you get even coverage.  I used General Finishes Gel Stain in Antique Walnut.

Once it's dried, now you can apply your stain.  I used a foam brush for this as well.  The stain is Rustoleum's Carrington.  Apply an even coat and try to avoid over brushing and creating streak marks. You can always go back to touch those spots up later.

Once you've achieved a finish you're happy with, apply two coats of finish (we used polyacrylic).  Then reapply the hardware.

Voila! Here's your final product!


  1. We just moved into a little brick home and we love the rustic feel - other than the kitchen that really needs some modern updates. The island you did looks great!

    1. Thank you! We really like the results too and can't wait to refinish the rest of the cabinets!

  2. Did you do the inside of the cabinet as well? We are looking to do the same with some bathroom cabinets. Love the color!

    1. Thanks! I do plan to do the backside of the doors, but not the inside of the cabinets. If I was going to have glass door fronts where you could see the insides then I would consider it. However, there's no reason why you couldn't also stain the insides. The gel stain sticks to the non-wood surfaces really well!


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