When Rondi Jamison went hunting for high-quality cabinets for a kitchen renovation in her Bayville home, the $50,000 price tag gave her sticker shock.
Then Jamison found a solution. She searched Craigslist and found a set of used, high-end maple cabinets for $1,000 and a used microwave oven for $100 that a family wanted to get rid of as they expanded their kitchen, and drove to Princeton, New Jersey, to pick them up.
“Often, when people buy a new house, they gut the kitchen,” said Jamison, who works in sales for a global software company. “You can often buy the entire suite of cabinets, countertops and appliances” at much less than what they would cost to buy new, she said.
Jamison has joined a wave of recyclers who reconfigure discarded objects and give them new life, another option in the home renovation renaissance that got a boost during the pandemic as residents launched home improvement projects.
"It's a labor of love," Jamison said of her repurposing. "Logistically it's hard work because I rent a U-Haul, pick them up and haul them back to Long Island. But mostly it's just having the vision to see how they will fit in their new space and not being afraid to take things apart and put them back together. I find it's very much a creative process.
The average conventional kitchen remodel costs about $26,000, with smaller projects costing between $10,000 and $15,000, with the smallest jobs costing as little as $5,000, according to HomeAdvisor.com. Cabinets typically cost about one-third of that.
Kitchen and bath construction and renovation revenues are expected to grow by 19% for the second straight year in 2022, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
“Product shortages and labor issues aren’t going away soon,” the group said in a January report.
That could make used items even more attractive, turning kitchen reuse into a practical, affordable solution for residents in search of high quality at low costs.
What’s in store
On Long Island, recyclers can also tap Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk's ReStore in Ronkonkoma, one of the group's nonprofit sites that resells a wide range of donated used furniture, building supplies and entire kitchens. Proceeds support Habitat for Humanity's partnership with local families to repair and build affordable homes.
“They’ll be a lot lower-priced than brand-new kitchen cabinets,” said Ruth Lengefeld, manager of the Ronkonkoma site, the only one on Long Island. (There is one in Queens.) "They’re in good shape. And they don’t end up in the landfill.”
Lee Silberman, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk, said there’s such a huge demand for kitchen cabinets and appliances that they typically get snapped up in a day.
“The kitchens — for the most part, all of the cabinets — we receive are sold before we even get them off the loading dock,” Silberman said.
Sometimes the kitchens come with granite countertops and appliances including dishwasher and refrigerator.
“Someone can get $20,000 worth of cabinets for two or three grand," Silberman said. "The pricing is anywhere from 50% to 90% less than new cabinets. You can't beat it.”
Margreit McInnis of Levittown, who works in the financial industry, bought a high-quality set of painted wood cabinets there for $600 that, she said, likely would cost thousands of dollars new.
“It may be more than I needed, but the price was so good, I’d rather overbuy and have what I need,” she said. “They were the right color, quality and a style I liked. “
For her house with cabinets from New Jersey, Jamison bought new countertops from one store and appliances from The Home Depot.
Making the haul
Kitchen recyclers usually have to transport their purchases themselves. “I rented many a U-Haul for these projects,” Jamison said, noting that “dings and bumps can happen.”
McInnis went with a friend to the Ronkonkoma ReStore to pick up cabinets and both ended up buying other items.
“They had just gotten a donation of wicker outdoor furniture, which I bought,” she said, adding that her friend picked up an armoire. “I saved a tremendous amount of money by purchasing there.”
Amid COVID-19, it can be wise to clean furniture you bring into your home. And Jamison said residents may want to refinish, sand, paint or reconfigure cabinets.
Jamison has cut and used sections of cabinets. “I look at it as a big puzzle,” she said. “As long as you have enough pieces, you can make it work.”
Microwaves often fit specific cabinets, so Jamison said it can be wise to buy the cabinets with the microwaves, if possible.
“Stoves will wear well. You can usually clean them up,” she said. “I don’t tend to buy used refrigerators or dishwashers. They tend to not look good over time.”
In addition to Craigslist, Jamison uses AuctionNinja.com and Facebook Marketplace.
If you shop for cabinets online, you have to decide how far you’re willing to travel, putting the mileage into the search. Jamison often refines her Craigslist search by typing “kitchens sold by owner.”
“You will get a lot of ads by businesses selling cabinets,” she said of Craigslist. “I’m always looking for ones sold by owner.”
While it’s possible to get various pieces from one source, renovators often obtain different items from a combination of online and brick-and-mortar.
When Jamison bought a different house in Bayville last year, she renovated the kitchen with solid cherry cabinets she bought from a house in Greenwich, Connecticut that she found on Craigslist.
“Because these were a well-known designer, these were worth going to Connecticut,” she said of the Christopher Peacock cabinets she bought for $1,000 that would cost $40,000 or more new. “I know the quality brands. I know when I’m getting a bargain.”
She bought new appliances, a used stove hood for $10 from the ReStore and a new Kingston Brass kitchen faucet worth $1,200 for $100 from Facebook Marketplace.
She also bought a bathroom vanity with a marble top through Craigslist Long Island for $100 that she said is worth several thousand dollars. And she bought on AuctionNinja.com 15 doors complete with hinges and doorknobs from a house being demolished that Jamison said easily could sell for $250 each.
As she sees it, recycling lets her get the best quality, even if it takes a little more work, while saving money. She and the environment benefit and, most important, she gets a beautiful kitchen.
“The point of this is not to be cheap,” Jamison said. “I’m finding beautiful used cabinets and quality pieces that can make a house beautiful.”
Take it away
Habitat for Humanity's Ronkonkoma ReStore makes it easy for people to donate, sending workers to remove donated kitchens and haul them away.
“We partner with as many installers as we can," said Suffolk CEO Silberman. "A contractor pulls out the cabinets. We pick up the cabinets.”
When Christine Hall, a homemaker who lives in Fort Salonga, decided to redo her kitchen, her contractors urged her to donate the cabinets, an electric stovetop and dishwasher to the ReStore.
“They just needed to be washed and they could have a brand-new kitchen,” she said. “You've got to give back. You've got to help out.”
Vivien Soo, a retired Southold resident, also donated to the ReStore after a stove replacement blossomed into a full kitchen renovation. She said she felt good donating her maple cabinets. “I think it’s a very good thing and I believe in recycling,” she said.
Donors get a tax receipt, Silberman said, so they can deduct the value of what they’re donating. “Normally, contractors charge to dump cabinets into the landfill,” he said. “That cost goes away.”
Profits help defray the administrative costs of running Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk, Silberman said, “and go directly toward helping solve the affordable housing crisis on Long Island.”
— CLAUDE SOLNIK