Forget a Kitchen Reno: Try These 10 Low-Cost Upgrades Instead

Your dream kitchen is right around the corner, and you don't have to spend the weekend wielding a sledgehammer!

If you’ve ever dreamed of renovating your kitchen but you don’t quite have the budget to take on such a big project, then keep reading.

Kitchen renovations are expensive, time consuming and stressful. But even if you’re not quite ready to take one on, you don’t have to give up on the idea of a kitchen facelift.

We’ve rounded up our best tips and tricks for easy, low-cost kitchen upgrades that won’t break the bank. Even if you’re a renter, you can tackle most of these ideas!

1: Swap Out Cabinet Hardware

Kitchen With Matte Nickel Hardware

Kitchen With Matte Nickel Hardware

Looking to put a unique spin on modern hardware? Skip polished chrome or nickel and opt for matte finishes that are a bit softer and unexpected.

Photo by: Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

One of the easiest, yet surprisingly impactful changes you can make in your kitchen is to switch out your kitchen hardware. If you’re in a dated kitchen or just don’t love the style of your existing pulls, it’s time to make a change.

If you want to keep things as simple as possible, measure your current cabinet and drawer pulls and find replacements that are the exact same size. This means you will be able to use the existing holes so you can quickly and easily swap in the new pulls.

2: Paint Cabinets

Red Transitional Kitchen With Small Island

Red Transitional Kitchen With Small Island

In just one week, this eat-in kitchen is reborn as a sleek and vibrant place to prep and serve food in style. To stay on budget, the room's footprint is kept as is, while the existing cabinets are sanded, primed and updated with high-gloss, cranberry-red paint.

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

Painting kitchen cabinets is another great way to makeover your space. A fresh coat of paint can completely transform your kitchen, especially when combined with a new paint job in the room. Kitchen cabinets are often one of the biggest expenses in a renovation, so this is a great hack for saving some cash. Since there are so many different paint products available, you can pretty much paint over anything (wood, laminate, etc).

3: Take Off Cabinet Doors

dishware

dishware

The walls of the small but open pantry are painted with dramatic Mahogany, whose rich chocolate brown is an effective background for the dinnerware. Flower arrangements are done at the sink, by the white cabinetry.

From: Julia West

Photo by: Photo Credit: Edward Addeo

Photo Credit: Edward Addeo

If you love the look of open shelving but currently have upper kitchen cabinets mounted in your space, consider simply taking off the cabinet doors. This will create the same type of open and airy vibe without the hassle of having to rip down any of your existing cabinetry. This is even a great solution for renters, as you can remove the cabinet doors, store them out of the way, then put them back on when it’s time to move out.

Opt for Open Storage

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At Your Fingertips

Open shelving just above the cooking space is a great way to keep the most-used items within reach. Reserve the lower shelves for frequently used dishes, cookware, spices and more, and store special occasion dishware on the higher shelves.

All-White Alternative

As a relaxed and stylish alternative from the popular all-white kitchen, designer Nomita Joshi Gupta gave this previously dated kitchen a brand new look, complete with gorgeous wooden shelving that creates a feeling of warmth and nature in the space.

From: Nomita Joshi Gupta

Why So Serious?

While it is important to keep open shelving clutter free, a couple of personal effects can add tons of charm to your cooking space. Use a favorite toy or memento to lend personality and whimsy to any space.

Perfect Display

Do you love art? Open shelving is the perfect place to display your favorite artwork and still make the most of storage in your kitchen. This stunning shelving by designer Judy O'Neil Labins stores plenty of dishes while making a big statement.

Bold + Basic

Since this sparkling kitchen features a beautiful glam backsplash, the dishes are kept basic white in order to not compete with the bold backsplash.

Photo By: Chris Amaral

Small Stacks

Be sure never to overload your shelves with too many dishes. A good rule of thumb for open shelving is to keep stacks of dishes small in order to keep your space looking clutter free.

Make It Yours

While simple white dishes seem to be the most popular look on open shelving, warm wooden dishware against a zesty orange wall adds a cozy look to this fun space that is anything but basic.

From: Barry Dixon

Photo By: Photo Credit: Edward Addeo © Gibbs Smith, Barry Dixon Interiors, Brian D Coleman, Edward Addeo (photographer)

Add Storage Anywhere

For kitchens that lack shelving altogether, open shelving is a great way to store extra dishware while also adding a major dose of style. Designers Dan Faires and Brian Patrick Flynn put this striking shelf together using pine planks and plumbing supplies for less than $250!

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Dish Decor

With a beautiful white beadboard backsplash, colorful dishes make a bold statement in this sweet cottage kitchen. Shelf hooks are a great addition to open shelving for extra storage without taking up a lot of space.

From: Kathryn Ireland

Photo By: Photo Credit: Edward Addeo © Gibbs Smith, Farrow and Ball, Brian D Coleman, Edward Addeo (photographer)

Color-Coded Creation

And if you love color in the kitchen, color-coded dishes can be a fun way to showcase color on open shelving. Whether you use just a few hues or incorporate all the colors in the rainbow, color-coded shelves are sure to garner attention.

Photo By: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn ©Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn 2013

4: Add a Faux Kitchen Island

Small Kitchen With Space-Saving Wheeled Cart

Small Kitchen With Space-Saving Wheeled Cart

In a compact kitchen, a narrow, wheeled cart can be a space-savvy alternative to a traditional built-in island. “This custom-made walnut and stainless steel kitchen island was designed to save space and provide flexibility in the kitchen,” say designers Roy and Jen Leone. “The countertop is character-grade walnut butcher block ordered online, while the stainless steel base was fabricated by a local shop in Brooklyn. The island design allows stools to tuck under and out of the way when not in use or during a party. Also, the entire island can be rolled and then locked into place with locking casters.”

Photo by: Steve Williams; Design By: Roy and Jen Leone, Leone Design Studio

Steve Williams; Design By: Roy and Jen Leone, Leone Design Studio

If your kitchen doesn’t currently have an island but you’re longing for some additional space, try using an existing piece of furniture to create an "island." Depending on how much space you have, many different pieces can work including counter-height tables, bar carts and even a taller dresser. And if you don’t have room in the center of your kitchen, consider putting your "island" off to the side or up against a wall.

5: Customize Lower Cabinets

Bamboo Roll-Out Drawers in Blue Kitchen Cabinets

Bamboo Roll-Out Drawers in Blue Kitchen Cabinets

Custom kitchens have lots of built-in features to add functionality, but there’s no reason you can’t have the same perks on a budget. Roll-out shelves for bottom cabinets are a must — these sturdy bamboo drawers from The Container Store are easy to install with just a screwdriver or drill.

Function is just as important as aesthetics in a kitchen. If your space currently isn’t working for you, it might be time to see how you can add some upgrades behind the scenes. Retrofitting your existing cabinets with some pull-out drawers or baskets can really be a gamechanger, especially if you spend a great deal of time in your kitchen and cook a lot. These work great for lower cabinets, and come in a variety of different styles and options depending on the size of your cabinet. There are even lazy Susan upgrades to make the most of the space in corner cabinets.

6: Create Additional Storage

Eclectic Green Kitchen With Pine and Pipe Shelves

Eclectic Green Kitchen With Pine and Pipe Shelves

We absolutely the eclectic custom creations from Brian Patrick Flynn like this bespoke storage unit.

If you need to create some additional storage space in your kitchen, don’t be afraid to use items that you might not normally expect to find in a kitchen, like a shelf or bookcase. Get creative and use any additional empty wall space you might have to give yourself some extra storage options. I needed some extra space in my own tiny kitchen and ended up using an Ikea Pax closet as a pantry.

20 Kitchen Storage Ideas

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Stash Stuff in Plain Sight

Open shelves provide plenty of storage while keeping everyday serveware, pots and pans within easy reach. For the true chef, built-in knife slots in this kitchen's butcher-block island keep culinary tools handy. Photo courtesy of The Brooklyn Home Company

Don't Forget the Kids

Keep little ones busy while you finish up dinner prep with hideaway kitchen storage for art supplies. Roll-out shelves make the most of the storage space at the end of this colorful island and make it easy for kids to access crayons and paper then neatly put everything away again. Photo courtesy of Mullet Cabinets, Inc.

Customize Your Pantry

Shelves, pullout baskets and shallow drawers will ensure your pantry offers a place for everything and keeps everything in its place. "Even small closets can be converted into orderly and spacious walk-in pantries. It's about making the best use of the space you have," says Rozalia Kiss, design manager of transFORM.

Think Vertically

Even if there isn't room for a walk-in pantry, you don't have to sacrifice much-needed storage. Designer Bart Lidsky of The Hammer & Nail, Inc. embraces the height of this kitchen to create a fully functional pantry with cabinetry. No space is wasted with tall pullouts and drawers and shelves of varying sizes which allow for a variety of food storage needs.

Stash Bottles Safely

Curved cradles turn an ordinary pantry shelf into a beverage storage center and allow you to store wine — or even water or soda — bottles on their sides without fear of them falling off the shelf. Photo courtesy of transFORM

Easy-to-Grab Spices

Storing spices in a drawer rather than a wall-mounted rack ensures seasonings are handy for cooking while preserving their delicate flavors by protecting them from sunlight, moisture and heat. Photo courtesy of Dura Supreme Cabinetry

Take Storage for a Spin

Put corners to work with a carrousel-style rack that spins to allow easy access to items in the back. Photo courtesy of transFORM

Keep Veggies Fresh Year Round

Keep root vegetables, like onions and potatoes, fresh longer by storing them in a cool, dry, dark place. Handy open-weave baskets, like these, provide air circulation to keep the veggies dry while the cabinet's interior protects them from sunlight. Photo courtesy of Dura Supreme Cabinetry

Put Pots in Their Place

Instead of precarious stacks of cookware piled in the back of a cabinet, store your everyday pots in a handy drawer. This drawer features two separate sections: a deep area for housing big pots and a shallow roll-out for storing potholders, lids and trivets. Photo courtesy of Dura Supreme Cabinetry

Handy Sink Storage

To really maximize the storage in your kitchen, put unused areas to work. Typically, the "drawer" in front of the kitchen sink is just a false front, but with the addition of cleverly hidden hinges and a stainless steel tray, it becomes out-of-sight storage for wet sponges and scrub brushes. Photo courtesy of Mullet Cabinets, Inc.

No More Junky Drawers

Make the most of your utensil drawer with dividers that organize utensils, steak knives, measuring spoons and even your favorite spices. Photo courtesy of Dura Supreme Cabinetry

Practical Dish Drawers

A clever peg system allows dishes to be placed in a base cabinet for easier lifting and organization. Sturdy slides under the drawer can support up to 250 pounds, so heavy plates are no problem. Photo courtesy of Mullet Cabinets, Inc.

Easy-Access Pullouts

Pullout pantry racks are a smart place to store canned goods, dry goods, and fruits and vegetables, while still providing greater visibility and ease of access. "Your home and pantry should enhance your lifestyle, whether you are hosting friends or cooking dinner for the family," says Rozalia Kiss, design manager of transFORM.

Clear the Countertops

Stash dishwashing supplies out of sight. This narrow pullout provides sink-adjacent storage for dish soap, scrub brushes and hand towels. Plus, a towel rack allows the dish towel to dry after use. Photo courtesy of Dura Supreme Cabinetry

Wine Lover's Storage

Homeowner Susan Opperman wanted to display her husband's passion for wine in a fresh, modern way. Her custom-constructed island safely houses 30 bottles of wine in a functional design without distracting from the kitchen's overall look. Design by Sally Ross Designs and Kenzer Furniture; Photo by George Ross Photographs

Not Your Typical Lazy Susan

Make the most of those pesky corners with drawers that embrace the right angle. Another perk: Corner drawers increase the depth of a standard kitchen drawer by six inches. Photo courtesy of Mullet Cabinets, Inc.

Functional and Concealed

Hideaway storage is key to keeping a kitchen looking well organized and clean. Pantry-style shelves and pullout drawers maximize storage space in a narrow cabinet next to the double ovens and refrigerator in this kitchen designed by Jennifer Gilmer Kitchens & Bath Ltd.

Add Storage to the Island

Large islands are the ideal space to add much-needed storage as well as a few luxuries. Designer Jennifer Gilmer of Jennifer Gilmer Kitchens & Bath Ltd., included an under-counter beverage refrigerator, deep and shallow drawers, and even an extra prep sink to create a functional and stylish island.

From: Jennifer Gilmer and Lauren Levant

Photo By: Photography by Bob Narod for Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen and Bath

Location, Location, Location

Keep pots handy for cooking by storing them right below the range. This convenient drawer even features a partition at the back that neatly stores all the lids in plain view. Photo courtesy of Dura Supreme Cabinetry

Small-Space Solutions

Vertical pullout spice racks are the perfect solution for small kitchens, since they take up a minimal amount of real estate while providing plenty of storage. The hidden storage also keeps the spices out of light, which can weaken their flavor. Photo courtesy of Dura Supreme Cabinetry

7: Line Cabinets With Wallpaper

Yellow Backing in Kitchen Cabinet

Yellow Backing in Kitchen Cabinet

Peel-and-stick adhesive backing has come a long way, baby — there’s a pattern available for every kitchen style these days, and you can even design your own at Spoonflower. This cabinet was lined with Spoonflower’s removable wallpaper by DIY blogger Jessi Wohlwend at PracticallyFunctional.com (the design shown is “quatrefoil lg yellow” by designer misstiina).

Photo by: Jessi Wohlwend

If you've taken the doors off your cabinets or have glass-front cabinets, you can update the look of your space and add some interest by lining the back with decals, drawer liners or even wallpaper. This is a great, non-permanent way to add some color and pattern to your space . (If you're renting and don’t want to damage anything, use removable double-sided tape.) And if you happen to have standard cabinets, consider using wallpaper on the front of the cabinetry, too.

8: Add Drawer Dividers

Silverware Drawer

Silverware Drawer

Make the most of your utensil drawer with dividers that organize utensils, steak knives, measuring spoons and even your favorite spices. Photo courtesy of Dura Supreme Cabinetry

Are your kitchen drawers a jumbled mess? Add some order and organization to your kitchen by simply using drawer dividers or trays. This is also a great time to do an audit of all your kitchen gadgets and utensils, and get rid of or store anything that you don’t use very often. While this might seem like a simple thing, getting your space organized from top to bottom might actually make you forget about your renovation aspirations altogether.

9: Upgrade Light Fixtures

White Penthouse Kitchen With Globe Pendant Light Fixture

White Penthouse Kitchen With Globe Pendant Light Fixture

Being a very narrow kitchen space, the goal was to make the kitchen and dining area as open to each other as possible while adding storage which was created in the wall behind the dining table. A pine picnic table works as a space saver and point of interest in this otherwise white kitchen.

Photo by: Alyssa Kirsten

Alyssa Kirsten

Another great way to transform your kitchen is to switch up the light fixtures. Many older kitchen designs relied on things like fluorescent lighting boxes (yikes!). But it’s super easy to remove those and replace them with more up-to-date pendants or chandeliers. Even track lighting has come a long way. Again, if you're a renter, you can simply store the existing fixtures out of the way.

Dreamy Kitchen Lighting

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Pendant Perfection

Most frequently seen over an island workspace, pendant lights are as striking as they are practical. The pair here is "clean, classic and timeless. The brushed nickel finish and clean design of these striking pendants add a 'wow' factor, combining the best of form and function," says Kim Mager, Marketing Director at Hinkley Lighting.

"Adequate wattage of bulbs for pendants, and the number of pendants used, have a direct effect on the quality of the light on the island for food preparation. Take care when placing pendants above an island to avoid them being too close to those seated at the island or too close to the cooktop, if one is installed on an island," suggests Susan Serra, CKD, CAPS of The Kitchen Designer and President of Bornholm Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Hinkley Lighting.

Love Those Layers

"Layering light is a technique that is often used in dining rooms or living rooms but, until recently, wasn't utilized in the kitchen," says Mager. "Now kitchens have become the hub of the home, being used for socializing, eating and entertaining, as well as homework stations or home offices."

"Layering light is the best way to provide task as well as ambient lighting," advises Mager, "striking just the right balance between function and mood." This farmhouse-style kitchen includes a pared-down chandelier and matching sconces to "complete a cohesive, stylish environment where you want to spend time, regardless of whether it's for relaxation or entertaining," according to Mager. Photo courtesy of Hinkley Lighting.

Create Dimension

"Layered lighting can be used to supplement the intensity of light or to overlap fields of light, creating interesting shadows and manipulating the dimension of areas the light is directed toward," explains Serra. "Lighting, when layered, can add a wonderful dimension of shadows and color to feature and enhance natural characteristics of woods, stones and metals.

In many kitchen designs, a focal point is a prominent feature of the space and lighting can immediately focus attention to one or more special areas to guide the eye into the design." Here, recessed lighting, accent lighting, over-counter task lighting and pendants work together for a welcoming, warm result. Photo courtesy of Susan Serra.

Keeping It Together

"Upscale kitchen lighting must be beautifully designed. Its form and proportion should be scaled properly to the space. The size of a fixture should not be too small, especially over a table, as luxury often is communicated by size," recommends Serra. "The style of a lighting fixture should complement the decor of the kitchen and surrounding rooms. It should also relate, but does not have to match, the finish of other fixtures," she adds. Here, the clean, warm lines of this kitchen are echoed in the mission-style pendants and matching fixture above the window. Photo courtesy of Susan Serra.

Outside the Box

When it comes choosing light fixtures for a dream kitchen, some "rules" are made to be broken. "I do believe that any style of lighting has a place in the kitchen," Serra says, "whether in a fabulous breakfast room or in the center of a kitchen work area."

"These contemporary pendants are actually made for outdoor use," reveals Mager, "but they are so modern and chic, they look just as fabulous inside. The seeded glass and minimalist, stem-hung design adds an urban edge while providing excellent task lighting that reduces eye strain while preparing a meal or doing homework at a kitchen island." Photo courtesy of Hinkley Lighting.

Accentuate the Positive

"The use of accent lighting is all about atmosphere, and the kitchen can and should have the ability to communicate a feeling to family, friends and guests, just as other rooms do," Serra says. "Accent lighting is used best when it is designed to feature specific areas of detail, whether architectural elements, artwork or decorative areas in the kitchen."

This dramatic, domed ceiling glows with accent lights that highlight the architecture, the hand-painted floral detail and the grand chandelier. "The color of the bulb, spread and intensity [of the lighting] will create dramatic or soft shadow effects and add dimension to the areas the light is focused on," Serra elaborates. Photo courtesy of Susan Serra.

Totally On-Trend

The trendiest fixtures today express strong visual design statements. "Lighting that makes a statement is now," enthuses Serra. "Oversized fixtures make for a bold entrance into the kitchen. Simple shapes, often with heavy textures, vintage styles and Edison-style bulbs are all saying, 'Look at me!'" Mager shares, "If you want to update your kitchen lighting, think about adding one of the hottest trends in lighting design: a linear chandelier. Not only will it provide more light, it adds a dramatic and stylish focal point to the room, immediately upgrading the overall design and elegance of the room." Photo courtesy of Hinkley Lighting.

Art of the Matter

"Hand blown glass is popular, as its wonderful imperfections and artisan elements add warmth to any kitchen," says Serra. The gorgeous cobalt glass pendants here add a pop of color and unique appeal to a contemporary setting. "Natural materials in lighting fixtures such as reclaimed wood and distressed metals also add that authentic element we crave. Imperfections are desired and coveted...in context, of course!" Serra says.

A side note on pendant fixtures, Serra adds, "I love layered pendant lighting — groupings of pendants set at different heights, creating a singular form. I also like multiple pendants placed close together, say, four to six across an island. It is simple yet makes a strong design statement." Photo courtesy of Susan Serra.

Strike Your Fancy

According to Serra, the dreamiest, most upscale kitchens today are likely to feature some distinguishing elements: "Innovative designs, first and foremost, will clearly differentiate truly fabulous lighting from the rest," she says. "Quality materials with quality finishes further differentiate the upscale from the ordinary. In addition, it is often the details — the small crystal ball, nickel chain, hand blown glass, luxury fabric, reclaimed wood — that clearly communicates quality as well as authenticity. Chandeliers featuring waterfalls of crystals, pieces of luxury metals, feathers and fabric add both strong texture and luxury to a room. Here clean, modern pendants light the island, while a classic crystal chandelier graces the dining area. Photo courtesy of Susan Serra.

Everyday Glam

"I really love dining chandeliers," says Serra, and we agree! Here, two glittering mini chandeliers add a luxe feel to a bright, beautiful kitchen.

Mager adds, "Kitchen lighting has definitely evolved beyond the typical flush-mount application (one large overhead fixture flush against the ceiling). Chandeliers were installed only in dining rooms or large foyers, but [today] in high-end, luxurious kitchens, chandeliers are right at home." Photo courtesy of Susan Serra.

The Skinny on Sconces

"Sconces with silk or linen shades on either side of a window over the sink in a formal kitchen provides an elegant look, especially [since they] are an unexpected lighting solution for a kitchen. Wall sconces bring the 'living room' feeling into the kitchen and serve well as mood lighting."

The sconces shown here are so understated, yet they really add an impressive design [element] to the kitchen, making it not only functional but stylish," says Mager. "The brushed-nickel finish, white fabric hard-back shade and clear-glass casing on the finials make an unexpected statement of luxury, subtly injecting a dose of traditional style into the contemporary, clean lines of this contemporary kitchen." Photo courtesy of Hinkley Lighting.

10: Splurge on a New Appliance

Retro-Inspired Refrigerator

Retro-Inspired Refrigerator

Vintage styles are making a big comeback with the help of companies like Big Chill, which developed its Retro appliance line as a fresh take on the hot colors of the 1950s, according to co-founder Orion Creamer. You can buy Retro fridges, ranges, microwaves and dishwashers in eight standard colors: Beach Blue, Pink Lemonade, Cherry Red, Buttercup Yellow, Jadite Green, Black, White and Orange. (Custom colors are available, too.)

Photo by: Big Chill

Big Chill

If you have a little bit more money in your budget to play with, consider splurging on one appliance upgrade. Maybe your dishwasher is ready for retirement? Or perhaps your refrigerator worked when your family was smaller, but now you're bursting at the seams.

If you find an appliance that you think would work for your space but you still want to save a bit of cash, try searching for the same model on Craigslist. I've found amazing appliance bargains on Craigslist for items that were brand-new or just a year old.

Sometimes making one big upgrade in your space is all you need to feel like you’re actually closer to your dream kitchen than you realized.

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