$15K or Under: CountertopsBest for: Someone who plans on spending less than three years in their house. While all kitchen upgrades add resale value to your home (experts say you can expect to recoup between 90 and 102 percent of your investment), minor remodeling has the surefire guarantee of a full return.
"Small changes can have a big impact," says Janice Anne Costa, author of Everything and the Kitchen Sink and editor of the trade publication Kitchen and Bath Design News. "We're not talking about a triple glaze on cabinets or baroque cabinet carvings of course, but adding a new countertop or a fresh coat of paint. These can quickly reinvent the most-used room in your house." Here are some of the must-have ways you can get more bang for the buck.
These surfaces get a lot of wear and tear in a kitchen. So freshening up the countertops can instantly reinvent your kitchen. While precious marble or stone will most likely be a budget-buster at this price point, there are economical choices that are also now virtually indestructible, too. CaesarStone, for example, is 93-percent crushed quartz that's combined with polymer resins to create a tough-as-nails, nonporous surface, according to Janice Anne.
$15K or Under: CabinetsOften the biggest expense in a kitchen, new cabinets will probably be out of reach at this price point. If you have an older kitchen, it may be wiser to repaint or refinish the existing cabinets, which are likely wood. It will cost half as much as the price of new wood cabinets — and smarter than downgrading to particleboard to fit the budget, Janice Anne points out. Or consider tearing out cabinets completely and going for a trendier open-shelving design, like this look from Pottery Barn. While this is an inexpensive option, it's important to keep shelves clutter-free to maintain the stylish, airy look.
$15K or Under: HardwareThe easiest and cheapest way to update a kitchen (besides painting the walls) is to install new cabinet hardware. There are plenty of styles to choose from, making it one of the easiest and least expensive ways to inject a pop of personality. Here, vintage-inspired bin pulls give this kitchen an instant facelift.
$15K or Under: AppliancesIf your existing appliances work well, forgo new, costly replacements. "Consider putting a new panel over your current refrigerator door," suggests Janice Anne. Only don't squander the potential to increase the kitchen's functionality for the sake of cost, she adds. If a new triple-rack dishwasher like this one from Maytag or a convection oven will make your life easier, take the plunge and invest in that new appliance.
$15K TIP: Creating a focal point in the kitchen goes a long way. Renew your kitchen sink by replacing your chrome-finish faucet with an antique bronze farmhouse style, for example, or personalize that shelf over your window by adding a collection of Depression-era glass vases.
Erinn Bucklan is a New York City writer who is about to renovate her own kitchen.