They say the kitchen is the heart of the home, but your culinary space has probably seen better days. Whether your house’s appliances are so old they’re practically antiques or you just don’t find yourself loving the previous owner’s design choices, chances are high you’re eager to do a kitchen remodel. After all, they’re often among the most desired changes to a home. The only problem? They’re also among the priciest. According to Remodeling magazine’s 2019 “Cost vs. Value” report, a mid-range kitchen remodel costs $66,196, on average, while a high-end upgrade costs an average of $131,510.
But fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank—or even knock down a single wall—to get the kitchen of your dreams. We asked top industry experts for the best ways to completely change your kitchen without going broke. Soon, you’ll love the space you’re cooking in!
While investing in a new fridge, stove, and dishwasher can easily set you back thousands, as well as requiring some serious installation time, you can upgrade that same space for a fraction of the cost by swapping out smaller appliances, like toasters, microwaves, or blenders. “Small details can make a huge difference in a room,” says New York-based interior designer Diana Weinstein. She recommends unique appliances, like Smeg’s iconic colorful line of retro-inspired wares, to “add a pop of color to your countertop.”
Though having wall-to-wall carpeting in your kitchen may be a nightmarish situation for many neatniks, Weinstein suggests adding a runner to spruce up the space. Not only will this create a new focal point in the room, but doing so can also help take some of the focus off of those dinged-up or outdated floors until you’re ready to swap them out.
If you have a kitchen island or breakfast bar, swapping out seating is an easy way to transform the space—and one that doesn’t require a construction crew. “Switching up the seating at your island with new stools or chairs will make the space look updated—and since you will likely need four to five chairs, it’s not a huge investment!” says Weinstein.
That table that’s been in front of your kitchen window for the past decade? Move it to the center of the room, or put it in the corner for an instant revamp of your space. “Simply moving things around, including your seating area, can change the feel the room,” says Keith Melanson, a project manager at RenosGroup, a home renovation company.
The ceiling is one of the most often overlooked areas in any room—but adding something to it is an easy way to completely change the feel of your kitchen in no time. “Adding wallpaper to your ceiling is a simple way to add color, pattern, or texture to your kitchen,” says Weinstein. For those who like the look of pressed tin ceilings, numerous companies now even offer metallic wallpaper that mimics the appearance of metal tile, but without the difficult installation process.
While tearing down and replacing your kitchen cabinets is an undeniably large—and costly—proposition, there are easy ways to change the feel of the whole space without turning it into a construction zone for weeks. “If you want to change the look of your kitchen but also wish to avoid spending a fortune, a great way to do so is by either replacing your cabinet doors or by simply repainting them,” says Melanson.
With a small investment of money and time, you can make your kitchen feel like a brand-new room by swapping out your hardware. “In the past I’ve gone from brass hardware on my cabinets, and ended up spray painting all the hardware a dark stainless steel color for under $50 dollars,” says Brett Elron, owner and lead interior designer at Barter Design, an interior design consulting firm and blog based in New York. “This shifted my kitchen from an older contemporary feel and transformed it into a more modern look and feel.”
A toolbox and a trip to your local hardware store are the only things you need to completely change your kitchen for the better. “Replacing your kitchen faucet can bring your kitchen into the modern era,” says Elron. He notes that this easy installation “will change not only the mood of your kitchen, but also adds quite a bit of functionality,” as well.
While that flush mount lighting that came with your kitchen may have served you well for some time, if your space needs a refresh, changing your light fixtures is a quick way to do it without a major investment of time or money. For maximum effect, Weinstein recommends installing pendant lights. They can create a new focal point in the room, add a pop of color without overwhelming the space, or designate a seating area without sacrificing precious square footage.
The quickest way to make your kitchen look like a brand-new room in no time? A little paint. “You can completely change the mood and tone of your kitchen for a few hundred dollars,” says Elron. Opting for lighter colors can make a small kitchen seem bigger, while adding in some unique design touches—stripes, or a chalkboard wall, for instance—can add visual appeal without taking up precious counter or wall space.
No experience laying tile? No problem! In an hour or so, you can easily add a backsplash that has the look and feel of tile to your wall without the help of a professional. “A backsplash adds a unifying element to a kitchen,” explains Martha McNamara, the director of design and product at Vevano Home. “Plus, a good backsplash tends to be easier to wipe down than paint on a wall.”
Making your kitchen brighter and more functional is easy with one simple addition: under-cabinet lighting! “This tends to brighten up counters, adding a more open feel that also is nice when it comes to food prep,” says McNamara.
The placement of light fixtures can make or break a kitchen space. So where’s the best place to put them? According to Syd and Shea McGee, the husband and wife team behind design firm Studio McGee, using wall sconces to highlight an existing design element can reinvent your space in no time. “[We] love installing sconces above open shelving or a window,” the couple writes on their blog.
Kill two birds with one stone and add some storage and a fresh design element to your walls with a magnetic knife or spice rack. “Wall space is gold,” says Maud Maciak, lead interior designer and owner of Magnifique Homes, an e-home-design company. “Use magnetic brackets to secure all of your everyday kitchen tools like knives, scissors, etc. You can also add metal bars with hooks to store ladles and wooden spoons.”
“Too much cabinetry can feel heavy and closed off, so we like to add one or two elements that break it up a bit,” note the McGees. Their solution for a more open-feeling kitchen? “Installing some open shelves,” of course!
Simply stashing away items that would otherwise clutter your countertops can completely make over your kitchen in no time. The good news? Making your kitchen more put-together—and more functional—is easy. “Switch your shelf cabinets to drawers,” suggests Maciak, who recommends Ikea for high-quality options that won’t break the bank.
Take advantage of your kitchen’s super small spaces—like the one between the fridge and the cabinet—with a thin, vertical rack that can store anything from baking sheets to spices. Of course, you can easily incorporate these into your cabinetry if and when you do renovations—but if a complete kitchen overhaul isn’t in your budget, a rolling rack is a cheap and easy alternative.
The more items you can store vertically, the better. This method of storage not only saves precious cabinet and counter space, but it also adds visual appeal to dead space in your kitchen, and makes it easier to sort through your belongings when you need to find a specific pot or serving tray. The sky’s the limit!
Don’t neglect the corners of your kitchen just because you feel like they’re inaccessible; they’re actually the perfect opportunity for a stunning and functional design feature. In an article for Houzz, kitchen cabinet designer Sam Ferris recommends using corner areas for features like a Lazy Susan, swinging pullout cabinets, or a breakfast nook. “A corner sink base just might be worth it if there’s a view involved,” writes Ferris. “The extra counter space behind your sink can house your finest décor (and show it off to the neighbors, too).”
A little greenery can go a long way when it comes to making your kitchen look like a brand-new space. “If you have a green thumb, you can grow an indoor herb garden,” says Marty Basher, a home design expert for Modular Closets. “If not, it can be as simple as having a plant or two on the window ledge or counter or displaying fresh flowers in a fun canister on your kitchen table or counter.”
If there is space going to waste in the center of your kitchen, try adding an island to the center of your room. And no, this doesn’t have to mean hiring a designer or contractor to make it happen. “Adding a small cart is a great way to add both storage and create a functional food prep station,” says Basher.
Another quick kitchen transformation that doesn’t involve a full remodel? Swap out the countertop on your kitchen’s island for a more sophisticated style, suggests Weinstein. If your budget’s on the larger side, that can mean replacing that laminate for stone, or, if you’re working with less money to spare, you can always cover those worse-for-wear counters with contact paper for a fun and frugal upgrade.
“Inner cabinet light and glass fronts bring the same light, airy feel you’re after with the advantages of a cabinet door,” says Basher. He also notes that open cabinetry provides an opportunity to show off heirloom pieces—think wedding china, pretty silver flatware, or colorful vases—while also keeping them protected.
You can quickly and easily change your kitchen’s aesthetic using pieces you already have. “Displaying cookbooks with colorful covers on a shelf—or even just one on a kitchen counter—can add a little personality,” says Basher. If you have more counter space to spare, try creating a vignette with a set of books with covers in a similar tonal palette, or, if you have open cabinetry, use book stands to display interesting images or recipes you love.
Your refrigerator shouldn’t just be a space to stick up stray receipts and shopping lists. Instead, “turn your refrigerator into a little art gallery, adding colorful artwork from your kids school projects, inspiring quotes, favorite photos, etc.,” suggests Basher. If you’re feeling more inspired—or are working with an outdated appliance—you can even cover it with metallic or patterned contact paper to transform it in seconds.
Instead of wasting precious storage space on unused plates, bowls, and other dinnerware that you keep “just in case,” you’d be better off trimming down your collection to only what you use on a daily basis. For a family of three, for instance, six of everything—at most—should suffice.
If there’s one overarching rule for transforming any kitchen, it’s to keep things simple. Declutter your stacks of supplies, take it easy on the non-essential appliances, and be sure to curate your decorative items to those you really want. By streamlining things, you’ll create a calm and soothing space rather than a hectic and disorganized one. And for more ways to keep clutter at bay in your home, discover these 20 Easy Tips for Keeping Your Closet Organized.
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