How to update old built-in wardrobes

If you've had built-ins in your bedroom for many years they've no doubt served you well, but perhaps they've become outdated, cluttered and could do with a bit of a spruce-up.

Built-ins or fitted wardrobes are a must in any functional modern home, but when you fall out of love with them what do you do? Perhaps you've bought a new home with built-ins that don't quite complement your bedroom furniture. Do you keep them and try to get used to them? Have them removed and replaced by professionals? Or renovate them yourself?

These days built-in robes are a major feature and asset of a bedroom, so their design and appearance need to be considered carefully. If you decide to give your old robes another chance, which is a more cost-effective solution, here are some ways to makeover your robes.

Door refresh

Fashions and styles change, but if your bedroom and its built-in wardrobes are no longer in vogue, or they're looking tired or too dark for the room, that's no reason to replace them entirely when there are so many ways to resurrect them yourself.

Mirror, mirror on the door

There are quite a few options to dress up melamine or chipboard cupboard doors that are typically manufactured with a laminate coating, which is, let's face it, downright boring. To add some interest, you could have mirrors installed on your doors to maximise natural light and improve the functionality of your built-in robes. You could do this job yourself or have an expert do it in a day, since it's a fairly simple project.

All the trimmings

Change the appearance and up the style stakes of your old doors with some decorative trim or panelling. There are a few different ways to add panels, trim or moulding, and you'll find plenty of examples of some fantastic moulding and trim at your local hardware store. An on-trend update worth considering is shaker style cabinets. Get the look by placing strips of pine moulding around the edges of your existing doors, rather than removing and replacing the whole unit.

Grab a paintbrush

Paint is another budget-friendly way to make your cupboards look new again. If it's shabby chic you're after, or a more sleek and modern look, paint is the answer for your built-ins. Paint can transform your doors, and it not only makes them look great but it can change the feel of the entire room. It's a far cheaper alternative than going to the cost and inconvenience of organising a measure and quote, ordering, buying and installing a whole new unit.

We recommend buying scentless paint formulated especially for interiors, so the smell doesn't affect members of the household sleeping in the bedroom. Also, choose a paint that doesn't chip or peel easily and has great adhesive qualities so it will last. Make sure you prepare the surfaces and the room (sand and dust if required), and carefully cover the floor and furniture to protect them from paint splashes. Once the paint is dry add a special touch with some fabulous new door handles.

Professional fixes

These days more and more people are opting to have their built-ins revived with custom-made options to suit their individual needs and space. So (if your budget allows!) you don't have to accept exactly what you see on the showroom floor. The interior of your built-ins can be changed to suit whatever is necessary to make your life less chaotic. So your mornings can run smoothly and you don't have to search clogged up drawers or shelves for that item of clothing you want to wear.

When taking the custom route think about whether you need more shelves and drawers, or if you want extra hanging space or additional storage high up for seasonal items. These kinds of decisions are important to guide your cabinet maker in the design process. Next, you'll need to settle on the external design and the materials you want to use.

Free up space

If you need more space in a small bedroom and your existing doors are hinged and swing out, then sliding doors are a good makeover idea because they save the floor space required for the old doors to open. You can add uber contemporary custom made panels of frosted, mirrored or clear glass, or even ultra-sleek glossy perspex styles, to breath new life into your old built-ins.

If it's extra storage opportunities and dual functionality you're after in the bedroom, discuss with your cabinet maker the possibility of leaving some extra exposed shelving for extra storage, a bookshelf or a small study nook as an extension of your new built-in robes. That way you'll have a spot to display your treasures, neatly tuck things out of the way and an extra space for the kids to quietly study. It's a win-win.

Material choices

The materials used on both the exterior and interior of modern built-in wardrobes are always evolving due to changing fashion, designs, creativity and efficiency. The standard built-in materials have stayed more or less the same over the years, i.e. melamine doors and framed mirrors.

When having your old built-ins replaced, be sure to choose top quality materials and a modern production process to guarantee that what you get is exactly what you envisioned. It's only quality materials that will serve you well for years. For a homely and warm look, you can't go past solid timber which will last for eons.

Research the latest robe material options on interior design blogs, home magazines and home decor inspiration sites (like Pinterest) to decide on the best material to achieve the look you desire. Materials worth considering include:

Varnished wood (oak, teak or maple)




Timber veneer

Coloured laminate