This is a fairly easy and by comparison very, very cheap way to get a built-in custom cabinetry look for your refrigerator. The method is versatile and allows you to use your imagination in constructing a molding style to match the rest of your cabinetry. The only tool you really need is some kind of miter saw for making straight and 45 degree cuts. The rest relies on readily available lumber and molding pieces. oh yeah, and possibly a jigsaw for cutting some hardboard to rough size. we used a top freezer model fridge because they are the simplest and supposedly the most energy efficient configuration, though i expect this could be done with other refrigerator configurations. we also only paneled the doors, since the fridge sits in a custom alcove, but the body of the fridge could also be paneled to match. in choosing a fridge to panel it's best to find one that has square edged doors, rather than rounded, and the thinner the door the better, since the applied mouldings make the door thicker. ours is a 20 cu. ft. whirlpool model from lowes.
Step 1: Preparation, Sides and Frames 1
first you need to sand down the glossy painted finish on the leatherette metal door covering in order to insure a good bond. urethane-based construction adhesive (like liquid nails) is used to secure wood to the metal and will most likely outlast the life of the fridge itself. One of the tricks of this method is to use the thin (1/4" i believe) "hobby" lumber that they have in cubby holes in the lumber section of the home improvement stores to cover the top and sides of the doors. I found that the 2" strips, which are 1.5" nominal, are just the right width for our doors. otherwise a table saw may be needed to trim down larger width strips to fit. The frames for our style of paneling are made using 1X2 lumber, but other widths could be used or simpler colonial casings could be substituted.
Step 2: Top, Sides, and Frames 2
start with the top door -its smaller and easier, and if you make a mistake the freezer door isn't used as much anyway. the thin pieces for the top and sides go on first. there's no piece on the bottom of the freezer door, since there isn't enough clearance between the doors to accommodate paneling on both. no one will ever notice. the side pieces are cut to end flush with the bottom of the door. where the top and side pieces meet they simply butt up to one another. as you can see in the picture, the top piece also gets cut at an angle to butt up to the door hinge. the side piece on the right in the picture also has to be trimmed down to slide under the hinge when the door swings out. when gluing, use 1X pieces held against the front of the door as a guide to insure the thin pieces are flush with the front surface. by the way, as i discovered, the door is not likely to be as flat or square as you might expect. Use tape to hold the wood in place till the glue sets up.
Step 3: Finishing Frames, Field
the hard part is done. glue the frames to the front of the door as shown. to fill in the field of the frame and cover the leatherette surface I opted to use hardboard - it's cheap, smooth, stable, holds wood glue, and most importantly can be gotten in a very thin sheet so it won't make the moldings inside the frames stick out proud of the frame surface. use a jigsaw to cut the hardboard to rough size - it doesn't have to be perfect since the edges will be covered. glue the hardboard on with urethane adhesive and smooth it out with a wood block.
Step 4: Picture Frames
to finish out the inside of the frames i like to use base cap molding. you can use normal wood glue at this point. you can leave the field inside the frames empty for a flat panel look, or you could even glue in another flat piece of hardboard or plywood for a raised-panel look. i like to use flat panel-moldings to add picture frames. when its all painted this adds a bit of trompe-l'oel effect to make the surface look deeper than it is. paint with one coat of primer, sand lightly to cut down the grain, then top coat. i like to use benjamin moore decorator's white in semi gloss for all my cabinetry and trim.
here are views of the side of the door, where the side pieces meet the front, and the inside of the door where the trim ends. there will be a crack between the trim and the door on the inside. just fill it with caulk and give it a coat of paint to make it less noticeable.
Step 6: Bottom Door
the bottom door is done the same way as the top, except here we encounter the trickiest and least elegant part of the project. there is a flange on the bottom of the freezer door hinge. when the freezer door is opened the flange swings out, and allowance must be made for it in the trim on the fridge door. the best way to figure out how to make the necessary cuts is simply to hold the pieces involved in place and observe the path of the flange as the freezer door is opened. the wood can be trimmed with chisel, a rotary tool, or freehand on the miter saw (be very careful!).
enjoy your beautiful fridge and the thousands of dollars you saved!