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
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: 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
4: Add a Faux Kitchen Island
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.”
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.
More: Kitchen Island Carts
5: Customize Lower 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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
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.)
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.