Asked on Nov 24, 2015

How to update built in formica furniture

Sara Covelli
by Sara Covelli
Hi everyone! I recently moved and have found myself with extremely outdated formica built in furniture. There are several pieces and they consume the whole room. I am on a budget and cannot afford to rip all the furniture out, however I am looking to seriously renovate these terrible formica cabinets. I have read online about being able to paint over formica, but with the ridges (seen on the third picture) I am not sure that it would be possible. The ridges are not just on the cabinets themselves, but on the in between spaces as well. My bedroom is stuck in the 90's and I would like to bring it into this time period!! Any and all suggestions would be appreciated.
Here is the tallest (most obvious piece that needs a facelift) piece in the room. It goes from the floor nearly to the ceiling.
These drawers wrap along the full side of the bedroom.
Here is an up close look at the cabinet and the ridges
  20 answers
  • Valerie Valerie on Nov 25, 2015
    You can definitely paint it. I would use a brush (and patience!) rather than using a roller. Updating the handles would also make a great impact. Here is a link to a post where someone painted a formica top - in my experience it is always best to follow the advice of someone who has done something similar!
  • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Nov 25, 2015
    Depending on your style you can research using chalk paint on the furniture which will give it a different appearance and change out the hardware.
  • Poppy Poppy on Nov 25, 2015
    Rustoleum kitchen cabinet refinishing kit, realy easy to use, VERY effective, lots of colours to choose from AND it is low odour, easy clean up: brushes wash out with dish soap and water.
  • LD LD on Nov 25, 2015
    Update the handles, you could use a filler to fill in the ridges, and then either paint, decoupage or even wallpaper depending on the look you want to achieve.
  • Rachel Draper Rachel Draper on Nov 25, 2015
    I would remove the handles and fill the holes, then remount them straight. What were they thinking??? Good luck, can't wait to see the after!
  • Danielle Danielle on Nov 25, 2015
    I totally sympathize with the "trapped in the 90's" vibe going on in that room, but I will say that is an AMAZING amount of storage that totally deserves to be worked with. If you hate the grooves (which I think I would) maybe consider filling them with bondo, which will stick to absolutely everything, sand it down smooth then paint, decoupage, whatever you like. Pull all those handles off (but save them for other projects), and replace with something more your style. You can make these amazing, I know it!
    • Kathy Meador Wells Kathy Meador Wells on Nov 25, 2015
      @Danielle I was going to say fill in the grooves also. I did this with paneling on back of cabinets and painted. Looked great after I finished. New handles will make a big difference also. If you don't want to take the time to fill in the grooves, you can buy thin veneer to glue on the fronts and sides. Might be easier if you do the second suggestion.
  • B. Enne B. Enne on Nov 25, 2015
    The orientation of the hardware is what ages this the most. As others have said, change the hardware and paint. You could also add flat trim if you like a more traditional style.
  • 512181 512181 on Nov 25, 2015
    I also think that you have an amazing amount of storage and that the built-ins look like nice quality. The handles are strange on the angle, but they are following the grooves. I would say paint the walls the same color. (take a door to paint store to be color matched) Then the units may seem to disappear. Painting cabinets would be a big job and I am not sure you would like the look. I would say find a fabric with a diagonal print for a duvet cover to be folded on bed. Rest of bed could be light colored solid luxury linens. Just go with a subdued contemporary look. You could change handles, but even that can add up to too many dollars. Eventually when you have the money, you might take the cabinets out and reuse them for storage in another part of the house or garage.
    • See 4 previous
    • B. Enne B. Enne on Nov 26, 2015
      @Lynda davis It is easy to do...sometimes I have trouble distinguishing the subtle highlighted poster's reply.
  • Joy Joy on Nov 25, 2015
    I have Formica counter tops that have become stained. Can this method be used on them. I would think several coats of poly would be needed then.
  • Sandra Stromstedt Sandra Stromstedt on Nov 25, 2015
    You can paint them, but first you must lightly sand them then put on a good quality primer. As for the handles, I would eleminate them all together then I would cover the doors with some of the paintable wallpaper (it is meant to cover bad areas) and would cover over the grooves you don't like. The wallpaper is easy to hang and holds up well as I have covered walls with it fifteen years ago and it is still beautiful. I would then pick new knobs or handles that are more contempoary. If you google paintable wallpaper you will be amazed at the patterns available. It usually runs about $11.00-12.00 dollars per roll.
  • Rena Noele Rena Noele on Nov 25, 2015
    Not sure if you're willing to tackle this, but if you "bondo'd" to fill in the grooves, you could use a nice wood grained laminate on top of the current "cluster event." Or if you wanted to replace the doors, just do the bondo treatment to the cabinet base?
  • Rebecca Eckman Farrell Rebecca Eckman Farrell on Nov 25, 2015
    Hmm...that is a tough one. Those grooves are what does you in. I don't think whatever you choose to do will be an easy job. This will take some commitment either way. Painting is possible, the bonds would work too, or the wallpaper. I thought maybe some spray adhesive and a fabric that you really like but you will still have to tediously push it into those grooves. Maybe use an angled wooden stick(like from a manicure kit) to stick it into the grooves. Have you looked into the cost of replacing or refacing the doors from a cabinet supply place? That maybe cheaper than buying new furniture. Either way, good luck and patience to you! Post pics of your finished product. I would love to see what you decide.
  • Danna Danna on Nov 25, 2015
    I found a product at Home Depot called Gripper by Glidden, its a primer and sealer. I was told to paint it onto my laminate cabinets, then to paint over it. hope this helps
  • Renata Renata on Nov 25, 2015
    I don't understand why u can't spray paint them? Spray paint would get in the grooves. I would also update the hardware. Or, If you like the leather look use mod podge and brown paper bags torn into pieces. Some people stain it after completely dry. Then a can of the lacquer spray is only about $3 at WalMart. Very inexpensive way to redo things. But time consuming.
  • Linda Johnson Linda Johnson on Nov 26, 2015
    I don't like the handles at an angle. Taking off the handles and filling the holes and update the hardware. (That and making it so the handles go straight up and down will make a huge difference.) Painting will make a difference, too. You could use something like "aqua stone" and give it a whole new textured finish - before painting.
  • Charro Charro on Nov 28, 2015
    You could cover it with paintable wallpaper. This example has a bead board look. Cover it, paint the wallpaper and change the hardware.
  • H H on Nov 29, 2015
    I bet you can turn the cupboard doors inside out so they are just plain flat on the outside. Then you could fill in the door handle holes and paint and stencil the cupboard doors any way you like. Actually the hippish commercial style suggests to me spray painting the cupboard doors and cabinetry in a deep metallic paint and changing the handles to vertical industrial steel ones. Work with the grooves rather than fight it?
  • Cher Kalil Cher Kalil on Nov 29, 2015
    I agree with "H" ^. I bet the backsides of the doors are flat. I'd flip them around and remount them. Fill the old hardware holes and paint them in a color that's pleasing to you. Cabinet handles can be expensive if you need several. If you can afford the dozen or so you need that would be great. Maybe you can find an inexpensive handle you can paint to upgrade to something you like? Maybe check Pinterest for ideas to upgrade the dated plastic handles with a fabric or paper wrap or something suitable to your decor? You surely have a project ahead of you. Slow and steady will get the job done! Good luck!!!
  • UpState UpState on Dec 01, 2015
    Adorn with bumper-stickers from all the placed you've traveled to (or want to go to). Great conversation piece.