Save vs. Splurge: Kitchen Renovations

Where to save and where to spend is a tough decision during renovations. HGTV Magazine shares how one North Carolina couple budgeted their kitchen makeover and still got everything they wanted.

By: Elizabeth Beeler

Photo By: Zach Desart

Photo By: Courtesy of the homeowner

Photo By: Zach Desart

Photo By: Zach Degart

Photo By: Zach Degart

Photo By: Zach Degart

Photo By: Zach Degart

Photo By: Zach Degart

Photo By: Courtesy of the manufacturer for HGTV Magazine

Photo By: Zach Degart

Photo By: Zach Degart

Photo By: Zach Degart

Renovation Constraints

Jason and Lauren Frye didn’t let small spaces and a tight budget stop them from gutting their 1973 Wilmington, N.C., kitchen. First on their must-have list was high-quality custom cabinetry, so Lauren’s dad — an experienced cabinetmaker — offered to help as a housewarming gift.

Makeovers on a Budget

They budgeted the rest of their expenses by spending hours comparison shopping online for materials. "We knew we couldn’t afford top-of-the-line everything, but there were some things we just didn’t want to sacrifice," says Jason. When the new kitchen was complete about two months later, they knew they had gotten the most bang for their buck.

Custom Cabinetry

Sure, they saved by working with family (free labor!) on their beaded-board cabinetry, but the Fryes still spent way more than they would have on stock or semi-custom cabinets. Plus, they hired a professional to paint the cabinets because they wanted the finish to be flawless.


The new counters are a mix of materials. The Fryes replaced the 1970s Formica countertops with a sturdy, inexpensive, acrylic surface (Hi-Macs) that comes in a wide range of solid colors. They topped the peninsula with maple butcher block and the bar area with maple wood countertops.


Instead of spending on a new refrigerator, the Fryes kept their old one (it still worked fine), moved it across the room and encased it in cabinetry for an upscale, built-in look. They bought a new dishwasher and electric stove, both in white (much cheaper than stainless), to match.


Sleek 3-inch-by-6-inch white tiles, which cost about $4 per square foot, fill the space between the upper and lower cabinetry. "We felt the subway tiles were a key style feature, so we spent a little extra for the look," says Lauren. They added a narrow black tile band to break up the white.


The old fixture hung too low and seemed out of place since the 8-foot ceilings are on the short side. They ditched it in favor of inexpensive recessed lights from The Home Depot and picked out three $118 glass pendants from Lowe’s for task lighting over the bar and sink.

Window Shade

For the Roman shade above the sink, Jason and Lauren found a black-and-white striped fabric for a few dollars per yard at a local discount fabric store. The graphic pattern repeats the backsplash style and is a relief from all the green. They hired a seamstress to sew and install the shade.

Pot Rack

The Fryes added extra pot and pan storage for not a lot of money. The copper pot rack keeps their supplies within easy reach, and complements the warm maple counters. Below it, an inexpensive magnetic woodblock holds knives without taking up valuable counter or drawer space. (Hammered copper pot rack, $78,


One of the easiest upgrades was replacing the original faucet with a stainless steel gooseneck version, a $250 Lowe’s find. "You don’t have to spend a fortune on a good-looking faucet," says Lauren. "This one was the perfect finishing touch. The kitchen wouldn’t feel complete without it."

Special Storage

Since they were already splurging on custom cabinets, the Fryes got creative with some of the awkwardly located nooks. Instead of wasting precious storage space, they maxed out tiny cubbies by giving them specialized functions. For instance, they built an appliance garage at counter level and a cutting board bay next to the prep counter.

Knobs and Pulls

"The milk-glass knobs ($4.50 each) have a timeless look, just like the beaded-board cabinets and subway tile backsplash," says Lauren. To add a modern flair to the cottage style, she picked out sleek stainless steel handles ($8 each) for the upper cabinet doors. "That little bit of metal keeps the kitchen current without pricey stainless appliances."


They ditched the dated linoleum in favor of durable 12-inch-by-12-inch ceramic tiles (less than $1 per square foot, plus the cost of installation). "We saw some beautiful hardwood flooring that we had to pass on because it was out of our price range," says Jason. But once the plaid area rug was down, they knew they’d made the best decision.

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