The signature kitchen cabinet look through most of the 1970s featured darkly stained wooden cabinets, although they did lighten up a bit by the end of the decade. The color schemes of 1970s kitchens were wood paired with avocado green, rusts and yellows. It may have been trendy then, but decades later, the dark wood feels outdated. The best way to quickly and cheaply redo 1970s kitchen cabinets if they are still in good working condition is to refinish them with a lick of paint. It will instantly update the look of your entire kitchen.
Remove the handles from the cabinets with a screwdriver. If your cabinets don't have handles -- a popular trend in the 1970s -- now is a good time to consider installing some. Remove the doors of the cabinets as well, keeping all hardware in a safe location for reassembly later.
Tape off the walls around the cabinets and put drop cloths over the counters. Paint is hard to remove from Formica brand surfacing, which was the counter material of choice in the 1970s.
Clean the cabinets inside and out with detergent while wearing rubber gloves and a protective mask. Use a nylon scourer. There are potentially years of grease and grime to clean off the cabinets, so clean them well. Any dirt left on can compromise the quality of the refinishing work.
Clean the cabinets inside and out with deglosser. This will cut through any residue of grease and grime the detergent didn't deal with and help prepare the cabinets for their long-overdue redo.
Fill cracks, dents and scratches with wood putty, scraping over the putty with the putty knife so that it is flat. Leave the putty to dry then sand the cabinets inside and out with 150-grit sandpaper and wipe over with a tack cloth.
Apply a coat of oil-based primer to the cabinets with a paintbrush or roller. Go with the grain of the wood and use even strokes of the brush. If using a paint roller, don't press too hard on it as it can cause bubbles in the primer.
Leave the primer to dry for the amount of time stipulated on the primer can label, then lightly sand the cabinets with 220-grit sandpaper then wipe over with a tack cloth and apply a coat of oil-based paint.
Leave the paint to dry before lightly sanding again, wiping over with a tack cloth and applying the final coat of paint. All the sanding between coats helps achieve a satin-smooth finish on the cabinets. Leave the cabinets to dry for 48 hours before reattaching the handles (or adding new handles with a modern look) and rehanging the cabinet doors.