19 Ideas to Help You Stay on Budget

Find out how to save money while adding style and function to your kitchen with these expert tips.


In this appealing kitchen, the designer limited the use of the most expensive materials and employed simple bilateral symmetry to create a fresh and workable room. By putting glass fronts on two of the upper cabinets, he maximizes both light and space. (Design by Andre Rothblatt)

In this appealing kitchen, the designer limited the use of the most expensive materials and employed simple bilateral symmetry to create a fresh and workable room. By putting glass fronts on two of the upper cabinets, he maximizes both light and space. (Design by Andre Rothblatt)

Author and HGTV host Joan Kohn provides 19 budget-friendly ideas for improving your kitchen from her book, It's Your Kitchen.

Save money on cabinets.
Cabinets are generally the single most expensive element in any kitchen design. Fortunately, there are many ways to save money:

  • Refinishing or replacing cabinet doors can make a huge improvement at a fraction of the cost of new cabinets.
  • Noting that fine finishes cause cabinetry prices to soar, one shrewd home enthusiast I know recommends selecting less-expensive cabinets and then painting over the finish. (When it comes to appliances, he shops for last year’s models and doesn’t mind a few scratches or dents.)
  • Resist the temptation to fill all available wall space with cabinets. Buy only the cabinets you need. Don’t build so many that you are forced to shop to fill them when the kitchen is complete. The corollary is to streamline your kitchen supplies and equipment. I like the "one-of-each" rule: If you find one bowl that can be used for prep, storage, and serving, buy just that one. The less stuff you have, the fewer cabinets you need.
  • In lieu of a wall of costly cabinetry, use the space for something other than storage. Create a seating area, office space or a place for the kids to play.
  • Flush-overlay cabinet doors generally are less costly than inset doors. Open shelves are decorative, provide easy access, and also save money.

Add life.
Real life makes any kitchen more beautiful, often at little or no extra cost. Plants and fresh flowers enrich any kitchen design. Books are also wonderful signs of life, with their vivid implications about the people who enjoy them. Add color and texture to your kitchen by making foods a living part of your decor. A bowl of fruit or a garland of dried chilies enliven a space for next to nothing.

Do it yourself.
Lots of money can be saved by doing some of the work, such as demolition or painting, yourself.

Avoid construction changes.
Nothing can drive up the cost of a new kitchen like making last-minute changes in the design plans. They can really throw a "money wrench" into the best-laid blueprints!

Shop at home...literally.
Bring in accessories and furniture from other rooms or the attic. And shop less by eliminating items you really don’t need, such as window treatments (your kitchen can actually be enhanced by the extra light).

Create a single focal point.
Focus your investment where it will have the biggest impact. Then balance your design and your budget with more modest selections. A professional-style cooktop can add functional power and great presence to a kitchen, carrying the "weight" of the entire design. Make your design statement once, with one truly beautiful focal point; then allow the rest of the design to do its work with modest simplicity.

Once you satisfy the eye’s need for beauty, your mission is accomplished and you can let the other elements recede and take a secondary position. All it takes is a few special tiles on a field of standard tile to make your own personal statement on a backsplash. Use unadorned field tiles in your favorite color. A painted wall also works, and is the least-costly option.



Found in an old farmhouse, this hutch had lost its doors and was a mess. Hand-painting has transformed a discarded relic into a richly decorative addition to a beautiful kitchen. (Design by Nancy Mullan)

Found in an old farmhouse, this hutch had lost its doors and was a mess. Hand-painting has transformed a discarded relic into a richly decorative addition to a beautiful kitchen. (Design by Nancy Mullan)

Use salvaged or found materials.
This kitchen is a wonderful example of how effective this idea can be. In an old farmhouse, the designer found a hutch that had lost its doors and was a mess. She painted it dark brown, then painted it white, and rubbed it down before applying a decorative motif inspired by tile in the room. Finally, she painted the inside blue and left it without doors. As a result, what might have been a discarded relic has become a richly decorative addition to a beautiful kitchen.

Invest in permanence.
The money you spend on architecture — space and light — is a lasting choice. You can always upgrade to finer appliances and materials later.

Avoid current trends.
For example, if you are flexible enough not to go with the current color trends, you can pick up a fine stone countertop at a more affordable price. One contractor I know suggests asking merchants what they "want to get rid of."

Choose a style that suits your pocketbook.
Some styles themselves suggest ways to economize. A minimalist approach can save you spare change if you really keep it minimal. The shabby chic approach gives you the chance to make the most of salvaged finds and flea-market treasures.

Make choices that perform a double function.
Plants can serve as a window screen and can also bring their own beauty and vitality to your kitchen. A decorative chest can hide the kids’ toys and also serve as a window seat.

Monitor your momentum.
As the design process starts moving forward, it’s easy to get carried away. The most dangerous words for a design budget can be "While we’re at it..." If you go too far you can end up with excess space that you don’t use, or rows of cabinets you don’t need.

Kitchen design is not a race.
There is no finish line. Savor the pleasure of letting your kitchen design evolve and grow with you. Design is a lifelong process. Let your kitchen build slowly, one idea at a time.

Paint a new kitchen picture.
The most economical way to remodel your kitchen is with a fresh paint job. Whether you go wild with color or simply choose a coat of fresh white paint to revive old cabinet doors, you’re literally applying a brand-new feeling to your kitchen.

Painting one wall, an alcove, or the interiors of your cabinets with a strong shot of color can provide just the boost your kitchen needs. Pantries, mudrooms, and other small spaces adjoining your kitchen are also good candidates for new colors. Even appliances can be painted!

Professionals always say that meticulous preparation is the key to success when painting. It’s true in kitchen design as well: Cleaning out cabinets, scraping away grime, and getting rid of the mismatched plastic wares hidden in the back corners of the cupboards will make any kitchen feel new.

So if a complete remodeling isn’t in the cards right now, consider a new coat of paint to freshen up your kitchen while you’re waiting.

Final Thoughts
Spending less money on your kitchen does not mean spending less creativity or enthusiasm. In fact, choosing to solve a design issue with an affordable solution often stimulates extraordinary thinking and leads you to a brand-new vision.

Whether you’re designing on a shoestring or with an unlimited budget, your kitchen will be successful if it is a true expression of your values, tastes, and lifestyle. What I remember most after visiting someone’s new kitchen is not the name of the material of the countertop or the particular details in the crown moldings. It’s the people I met, and most of all their joyful enthusiasm as they shared their stories.

All kitchens include some ideas that are old, some that are new, some that are borrowed...but each must be you.

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