Reface or Replace? Your Guide to Updating Cabinets with Soffits

If you’re renovating your kitchen, dealing with soffits above the cabinets can be a challenge. Soffits are those boxed-in spaces that extend down from the ceiling to cover the gap over your upper cabinets. Often concealing important infrastructure like ductwork, soffits can limit your design options. You essentially have two main choices when updating kitchens with soffits: refacing the existing cabinets or doing a full replacement. Let’s look at the pros, cons and factors to consider when deciding whether to reface or replace cabinets with soffits.

Both options allow you to upgrade the aesthetic of your kitchen cabinets. But they vary greatly in terms of cost, construction process and customization opportunities. Understanding the differences will help you make the right decision for your specific needs and budget.

kitchen cabinets with soffit

Pros and Cons of Refacing Kitchen Cabinets

What is Refacing?

Refacing kitchen cabinets involves replacing the visible exterior portions – the doors, drawer fronts, and hardware – while retaining the existing cabinet boxes and interior structure. It provides a cosmetic upgrade that makes your old cabinets look completely new again.

Refacing doesn’t require fully removing and replacing your cabinets. The construction process is focused on upgrading the outward appearance by installing new, stylish doors and surfaces over the existing framework.

Benefits of Refacing

There are several advantages to choosing refacing over full replacement:

  • Lower cost – preserving existing boxes is 50% less than installing all custom new cabinets
  • Faster installation – 1 to 2 weeks versus 4+ weeks for full replacement
  • Retain current footprint – keeps your existing kitchen layout
  • Wide style selection – choose new door fronts from many options
  • Less renovation mess – minimal demolition needed

The lower price point, quicker turnaround, and ability to keep your current cabinet configuration makes refacing an appealing option for many homeowners. You still get an updated, customized look that transforms the vibe of your kitchen.

Downsides of Refacing

There are also a few potential drawbacks to keep in mind with refacing:

  • Limited to existing cabinet dimensions – can’t resize or reconfigure
  • Fewer color and finish options than new cabinetry
  • Door hinges may need to be updated as well
  • Old boxes won’t be as sturdy and durable as new construction
  • Won’t resolve structural damage or defects

The existing cabinet boxes stay in place, so you can’t make major changes to the size or layout. Refacing also won’t fix significant damage issues like mold or pests. The quality of your finished kitchen is still dependent on the condition of the underlying framework.

Pros and Cons of Replacing Kitchen Cabinets

What is Full Replacement?

In contrast to refacing, full cabinet replacement removes your old cabinets entirely and installs brand new cabinetry instead. This allows for a complete transformation of your kitchen’s footprint and storage.

With full replacement, outdated cabinetry is demolished and hauled away. Custom new cabinets are then built and installed in your preferred size, layout and choice of materials and finishes.

Benefits of Replacing

Here are some of the biggest benefits of total replacement:

  • Fully customize footprint and layout
  • Higher quality new cabinet construction
  • Ability to modify storage organization
  • Access to more cabinet styles, stains, and colors
  • Resolve any structural or water damage
  • Generally increases resale value more than refacing

Unlike refacing, replacing allows you to completely reimagine your kitchen organization. You can resize cabinets, reconfigure the layout, add features like pull-out shelves, and select premium materials and finishes.

Downsides of Replacing

The downside is that replacement is a much bigger undertaking:

  • Higher cost for purchasing all new cabinets
  • Longer renovation timeline for install
  • Greater demolition and construction mess
  • Potential plumbing or electrical relocation
  • Existing layout may be ideal for your needs

You’ll need to account for a higher budget and longer renovation process. Make sure the existing footprint doesn’t already work perfectly before undergoing full custom replacement.

Key Factors to Consider

When deciding between refacing and replacing kitchen cabinets, start by considering these key factors:

Condition of Existing Cabinets

Assess the current state of your cabinet boxes, doors, and interior fittings. Are the underlying structures still sturdy or do they have damage? Refacing can only provide an aesthetic fix whereas replacement may be better for an overhaul of old, dysfunctional cabinets.


What renovation budget do you have available? Refacing costs roughly 50% less than full replacements. However, replacement may be a smarter long-term investment in your home’s value.

Kitchen Layout

Do you need or want to change the existing footprint and arrangement? If so, replacement allows full customization. Refacing maintains the current layout.


Replacing means access to virtually unlimited cabinet styles and finishes. Refacing limits materials since new doors must match old boxes.


Replacement takes 4 weeks or longer. Refacing can usually be completed in 1 to 2 weeks. Factor in the duration of your kitchen being unusable.

Return on Investment

Generally speaking, full replacement recoups more money in resale value. But carefully evaluate the costs versus benefits for your specific scenario.

Analyzing these factors will guide you to the best decision for your kitchen and budget. You may even opt for a combination approach – replacing some sections while refacing others.

Creative Solutions for Kitchens with Soffits

If removing the soffit entirely isn’t feasible, there are creative design solutions to help maximize your kitchen’s potential:

Add Storage Inside Soffits

Incorporate shelves, cabinets, racks or other storage inside the soffit cavity. This instantly adds usable space while disguising the soffit.

Under Cabinet Lighting

Installing LED strip lighting underneath the upper cabinets and inside soffits vastly brightens up the kitchen. It can make a dark soffit space feel bright and open.

Paint Color Matching

Select a wall paint that seamlessly blends with the color of the soffits. Visually blending them into the walls minimizes the abrupt ceiling transition.

Decorative Beams and Brackets

Add architectural details like crown molding or decorative corbels at the soffit edges. This calls attention to the detail instead of the boxed-in appearance.

Range Hood Focal Points

Drawing the eye upward, an imposing range hood provides a bold focal point. Flanking it with glass cabinets keeps the space visually open.

Open Shelving

Skip upper cabinets entirely and install floating shelves. This keeps the space airy while still offering storage and display space.

With some clever solutions, soffits don’t have to hamper kitchen design. You can disguise or even highlight them as an architectural detail.

When planning a kitchen update, deciding between refacing and replacing comes down to budget, desired changes, and your needs. Refacing offers an affordable cosmetic refresh while replacing enables customization. Factor in the condition of your cabinets, your layout, timeline and budget to make the best choice.

Often you don’t have to fully remove soffits to achieve your dream kitchen. With creative solutions like built-in storage, open shelving and decorative lighting, you can work around the existing soffits while still giving your kitchen a stylish, updated look.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *