15 Glam-on-a-Budget Cabinet Updates for Kitchens

Smart ways to redo or shop for cabinets without breaking the bank.

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1: Detail Your Doors

Age your glass doors. This homeowner worked with Seattle designer Judith Wright Sentz to create the leaded glass windows in the cupboards of this 2016 National Kitchen + Bath Association-winning kitchen, but premade glass would have the same stylish effect. For an even cheaper and simpler fix, faux stained glass craft kits and window films can be found through online retailers for under $40. 

2: Hide Certain Components

Sometimes the key to an updated look hinges on, well, the hinges. In this Georgia lake home kitchen, designer Beth Johnson preserved the original cabinets but removed the existing exposed bronze hinges on the doors and replaced them with hidden hinges. Together with a fresh coat of paint, the wall of cabinets now has a clean, streamlined appeal.

3: Create Symmetry

Simplifying the cabinet placement can create a polished designer look. Using pairs, like these cabinets on either side of the high-end range hood, creates rhythm, says Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson, architect and designer with Terracotta Design Build in Atlanta. This inspirational luxury kitchen also has another smart idea, to replace upper cabinet doors with glass ones to create a display space.

4: Reach a Higher Level

Top off your cabinets with molding. It can be a weekend DIY project and a way to add needed charm to basic, bland cabinets.

Just an Extra Touch

Crown molding at the top also adds a bit more dimension to these white cabinets. The extra architectural element, however, doesn’t distract from the shiny vent hood, tile and pendants.

Geometric Design Detail

For another molding idea, go the extra step by creating a diamond design on your vent hood to connect sections of cabinets. For this high-end kitchen, Atlanta designer Michele Gratch also brought in luxe barstools and surfaces but then accessorized with affordable items from home decor stores.

5: Stick With (a Few) Standards

Use cost-saving standard colors in one area so you can splurge in other areas. The homeowners in this Atlanta neighborhood worked with designer Thea Quillian to plan their kitchen, and originally wanted to install blue upper cabinets. When they found white cabinets from Ikea at a fraction of the cost, they realized they could use the savings to afford more expensive walnut countertops. 

6. Go for High-Gloss

A smaller group of gray Ikea cabinets, used in an Atlanta mid-century modern kitchen, gives a steel sheen to the space, which was previously designed by Brian Patrick Flynn as his personal residence.

Glossy Bright

Use a high gloss paint in a color that matches your other decor on some of your cabinets to give your kitchen a luxury lacquer look. Use the same hardware throughout the kitchen to maintain a cohesive look, as designer Diane Foreman did in this 2016 National Kitchen + Bath Association Design Competition winner. 

Looks Great in a Loft

Loft-style living demands cabinets with an industrial edge. Because Atlanta homeowners Sy and Nyvette Gray needed to fill a vast space and create much-needed storage, they selected kitchen cabinets from Ikea. They worked with designer Iesia D. King for their loft decor, and the minimalist cabinets even bring out the grayish tones of the aged exposed brick.

7: Break Up the Space

Create an intentional break in the cabinets by adding another component to a wall. In an Atlanta Victorian home, designer Jenn Ryan Designs separated the row of upper cabinets with a section of small shelves that hold spices and keep cookbooks handy.

Accent Shelving

When you remove doors, it doesn’t have to be a complete cabinet redo. Instead, let one cabinet be free to display interesting kitchenware, such as cooper kettles, cookbooks and other items out in the open. Enhance the background with tile or wallpaper.

8. Repaint and Refashion

Painting cabinets can be a big undertaking, but it pays off in the end in terms of look and cost savings. DIY blogger Yuni Min spent about three weeks painting all 39 cabinets and 23 drawers, including the island, in her kitchen. She used satin finishes of Behr’s Gray Shimmer for the perimeter cabinets and Behr’s Dawn Gray on the island to refashion the once dark cherry cupboards for a bright modern look. The transformation cost less than $300, she says.

Age Gracefully

When DIYer and stylist Jo Torrijos renovated her Atlanta Craftsman bungalow kitchen in 2009, she installed cherry cabinets. She later grew tired of the look, but didn’t want to purchase new cabinets. By repainting them in a light gray (Benjamin Moore’s Gray Owl), Torrijos was able to modify her kitchen to go with her updated style.

Contrasting Colors

Mix things up by painting your top cabinets a darker lighter color than the bottom cabinets. The owners of this updated Victorian home in Atlanta, who worked with Jenn Ryan Designs, used simple, white subway tile to bridge the light and dark hues. 

9: Hard Choices with Hardware

One of the easiest ways to give your cabinets a makeover is simply by switching out your hardware. “People say they add the jewelry when they add the hardware,” says Seattle designer Judith Wright Sentz, a 2016 National Kitchen + Bath Association Design Competition winner. 

Use Bronze or Brass

Replace your old hardware with bronze or brass knobs or pulls, says Georgia designer Michelle Mentzer. In this kitchen, she also removed doors to cabinets to display a stack of plates and decorative dishes in a black-and-white color scheme.

10: Shine New Light

If you like your cabinets but want a bit more pizzazz, put a spotlight on them with lighting. Seattle designer Judith Wright Sentz used LED ribbon lights inside and low voltage lights underneath. Not only does this showcase the beautiful leaded glass doors and items on display, it also provides additional functional light for the kitchen. Sentz says the kitchen, which was a 2016 National Kitchen + Bath Association winner, was once very dark, so she took care to add as much light to the space as possible.

11. Bring on Organization Envy

Add pullout appliance storage to free up counter surface and maximize cabinet storage space. Diane Foreman of Neil Kelly Co. designed this 2016 National Kitchen + Bath Association winner. A layered caddy like this one adds a lot of utility, but even a simple pullout drawer can help transform your space. 

Small Storage

Get organized by turning a bottom shelf into a mini-office. Storage bins and baskets in a contrasting color with the cabinets or even a fun pattern can create a designer look with little investment.

12: Open Up Display Space

Simply remove the doors of your upper cabinets, which gives you the look of a built-in hutch. Here, tilework matching the backsplash creates a textured background for the items on display in the open shelving. 

13: See What's Overhead

Carve out a display nook. If you’re removing doors, take them off of the cabinets above your refrigerator or microwave to create a shelf for displaying favorite platters, dinnerware and bakeware. Designers often group white items together for an expensive look, even with affordable dinnerware.

Smart Design

Although the cabinets in this modern rustic kitchen were custom made, architect Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson with Terracotta Design Build in Atlanta says there’s a key space-planning tip here. Depending on your kitchen layout, use the space above your windows for storage that you don’t need every day. Floating reclaimed wood shelves would well work in these spaces and can be found at home decor stores, for example.

14: Simplify Your Drawers

Reconsider your drawer style. Slab, or solid, drawer fronts often fit best into tight spaces and are cheaper than more ornate options. They also may work better in tighter spaces. This inspiration kitchen is by Monte Hewett Homes, a metro Atlanta builder.

15: Be a Show-off

Install glass doors on cabinets in key spots, such as flanking the oven. That way, you can select a few pieces to display without going all out with open shelving.