KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's easy to get kitchen cabinet envy when you see the latest models, with their shiny car-lacquer exteriors and hidden hinges. It's no wonder painting cabinets or replacing the fronts is all the rage.
But it's what's behind the doors that matters most. This is where we store food, cookware, utensils and more. If you really want to get jealous, open drawers and doors of new cabinets with their fancy-pants slide-out pantries and dish racks.
"The problem with older cabinets is that they look like black holes inside," said Krista Williamson, owner of K2 Workshops in Overland Park, Kan., which offers home-improvement classes. "No one wants to crawl through a dungeon."
Simple modifications, such as adding sliding shelves and rolling pullout drawers, can give existing cabinets new life, Williamson said. Upgrading what you have can save thousands of dollars in replacement costs. She demonstrated the theory on a decades-old cabinet from Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, a non-profit retailer that sells used building materials. (The Habitat ReStore in Lexington is at 451 Southland Drive. Habitat in Lexington will host a "back lot yard sale" from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at its offices, 1260 Industry Road.)
"This base cabinet had an upper shelf that just came out halfway," Williamson said. "It was for storing small appliances like a mixer and a blender. But the cabinet was kind of useless, because you still had to get down on your hands and knees. And a fourth of the storage space wasn't being used."
So Williamson removed the worthless shelf. She measured the width and depth of the cabinet interior and had a new shelf and reinforcements made with ¾-inch plywood, cut at a home-improvement warehouse. She secured it with silicone. She found Rev-a-Shelf wooden and metal pullouts from Lowe's that would fit inside.
"It's important to have the right measurements," she said. The pullouts should be a half-inch less wide than your doors on either side. Sometimes they have to be specially ordered.
In less than an hour, Williamson installed glides and turned the cabinet into a more useful one, with pullouts that can be used for stacks of dishes or pots and pans. She prefers wooden drawers ("they're more furniture-like"), but metal ones can be more economical and space-efficient.
"Just be sure to get the sturdier metal ones," Williamson said. "They're not all created equally."
Before investing in any products, take the time to clean and organize your kitchen cabinets. Kristi Pelzel, owner of the Organization People, categorizes everything into zones: spices, linens, foil and wrap. Consider it an opportunity to pare down.
"People usually have way too many glasses," Pelzel said. "Donate the ones you don't use. They shouldn't be crammed inside. Leave breathing-room space between them."
The same goes for containers for leftovers (limit two per person). And Pelzel suggests storing occasional pieces elsewhere, especially in a space-crunched kitchen.
"Put the turkey platter and the silver you use once a year in a box marked 'Thanksgiving,'" Pelzel said. "They don't need to take up precious real estate in the kitchen."
Pelzel advocates using what you have for storage before buying more stuff. She likes using clear baggies because they're space-efficient, and you can easily see what's inside. They're good for storing coupons, for example.
Kitchen cabinet organization systems have become popular. Materials include white polymer, brushed aluminum wire with chrome plating, birch and maple hardwoods, bamboo and rattan basket drawers. One of the most recent additions to kitchen organizational materials is clear glass for a more modern look, but it comes with a higher price tag.
One of the main things people struggle with is spice storage, said Geri Higgins, owner of Portfolio Kitchen & Home, a kitchen showroom in Kansas City. There are door-mount systems and drawer inserts, which can be good as long as they're not placed above the cooktop, where the humidity will shorten the useful life of spices.
Higgins separates the spices by sweet and savory, then she arranges them alphabetically. A little Martha? Perhaps, but she has a lot of spices. She wishes she could go even further in organizing them.
"They need an app for spice expiration by bar code," Higgins said. "They have wine-storage apps and new technology for expired food in the refrigerator, so why not for spices, too?"