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10 Low-Cost Kitchen Updates That Make A BIG Impact

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

In a perfect world, if you wanted to update your kitchen you could just toss out a quick $30,000-40,000 or more for a total kitchen overhaul (the average cost for this type of renovation). That sounds nice, but what if it’s not realistic? And, I mean, for a lot of people it probably isn't. The great news is there are some really high impact changes that you can make for very little money. Not only will these updates make your kitchen feel fresh and more updated, but they also add value to your home.

1. Upgrade the Faucet – The sink tends to be a focal point in the kitchen. A quick and pretty easy way to upgrade your kitchen is to switch out the faucet for a more updated fixture. There are a lot of different options to choose from that vary pretty significantly in price, but generally, you can get a good, quality replacement for around $200-300.

2. Switch out the Light Fixtures – Light fixture upgrades are another cost-effective way to update the space. Fresh pendant lights can make the kitchen feel brighter and new for less than $100. We swapped our 90s builder-grade opaque (and very beige) pendants for these seeded glass pendant lights.

3. Paint the Cabinets – Painting is one of the best ways to update your cabinets on a budget. Replacing cabinets can cost several thousand dollars but something as simple as a fresh coat of paint can make the space feel completely renovated. White cabinets are still in high demand but alternative colors like gray, and even some darker colors like navy blue are becoming more popular. When choosing a paint color for your cabinets it's helpful to consider a few things. First of all, the amount of space and natural light matters. If it is lighting is minimal, you might want to go with a bright color to make the space feel lighter. Darker colors with poor lighting can make the space feel even smaller or closed-in. Also, if you’re not replacing the countertops, be sure your cabinet paint choice coordinates. You don’t want the cabinets and counters to clash. Also, note that if you are DIYing, prep is key to make sure the paint adheres well. Painting cabinets (well) is a multi-step, sometimes time-consuming process. After all, kitchen cabinets tend to be highly used and abused so you want to be sure your paint job will hold up to the wear and tear. Here is a good set of instructions on exactly how to go about the process.

4. Add or Swap out a Backsplash – A pop of color or pattern can add interest and visual appeal to the kitchen. If your cabinets and countertops are already in great shape, changing just the backsplash can refresh the whole kitchen and add a ‘wow’ factor. True tile work is recommended but there are other alternatives that require less work and knowledge. True tiling tends to hold up better long term and the quality difference up close is pretty notable. It’s a fairly simple DIY job as long as you’re patient and careful. But, there are newer stick-on options that are much less involved than trying your hand at tiling.

5. Change your Hardware – Drawer pulls and cabinet handles may seem pretty insignificant compared to everything else you could possibly change, but they can make a huge impact on your kitchen’s appearance and overall style. Hardware can also add a little bit of personality and flair to the space without being over the top. The average kitchen has about 30-40 drawer pulls or knobs, so this project can get expensive if you’re not careful. Online retailers or places like Hobby Lobby offer cheaper hardware options. Pro-tip: if you already have hardware on your cabinets, consider using the same type (either pulls or handles) when you replace. Measure the space between holes of drawer handles for the easiest (and quickest) swap out. You can definitely drill new holes and patch old ones to put in completely different hardware, just know what you’re getting into from a time and work perspective (there will be some wood putty and painting or staining involved).

6. Add or Expand Storage – One of the easiest ways to make a kitchen more functional is to add more storage or make the space you have more user friendly. We don’t have a huge kitchen so my favorite storage features in our space are the lazy susans in our corner cabinets and our pull-out drawers. These things help improve the usability of the space we do have so we can maximize every inch of it. Plus, have you ever tried to pull a stand mixer out of the back of a corner cabinet without a lazy susan? In case you're wondering, it's a workout. Customize your kitchen and maximize space by transforming an empty wall, cluttered drawer, or unused cabinet into storage for pantry items, cookbooks, or pans. Being able to maximize space will help make your kitchen much more user friendly and enjoyable when it’s time to cook. That way, you’re not digging through cabinets to find things or having to store small appliances elsewhere in your home because you don’t have the space in the kitchen. Think about what you use most in the space and figure out ways to make your life easier. Maybe it’s as simple as adding a spice rack or storage containers, but these small changes can make a big difference.

7. Hang Open Shelving – An entire wall of upper cabinets can make a space feel darker, crowded, or closed off. Open shelving can be a great way to, well, open the space up a bit and make a kitchen feel larger. Since you will be able to see everything you store there it also gives you the opportunity to style the shelves and add a bit of personality to the kitchen. Depending on the look you’re going for, you can utilize reclaimed wood and mount on wall brackets or install floating shelves. Both are pretty cost-effective and can result in a big transformation of the space.

8. Create a Coffee Bar – While you’re likely to see some highly elaborate coffee bars out there complete with their own sink, fridge, and lighted shelving, all you really need is a corner of your kitchen or a bit of empty counter space so that you can group all of your coffee-making supplies together. That way, when you're desperate for coffee the morning after you got very little sleep, you're not digging through the entire kitchen for the necessities. Put the coffee machine on the counter and mugs in a cabinet above or on a stylish mug holder. Then place filters, coffee beans or pods, and other coffee supplies in a drawer beneath. And just like that, you have your own coffee bar!

9. Add Character with Wood Accents – If your kitchen is builder grade and basic, find ways to add interest with features like shiplap panels on walls or reclaimed wood on an island base. Other ways to add character might include things like crown molding, faux beams, or wood accents. The opportunities are endless but it is an easy way to make a kitchen feel more “custom”, even with a super low budget.

10. Declutter Your Space – Okay, technically not an “update” per se…but trust me, it can make a big impact. Minimize the extra stuff you store on your countertops and go through your small appliances and kitchen utensils. Do you really need 5 spatulas? What about that giant toaster oven you’ve used once in the three years since you’ve purchased it? Toss or donate the things you don’t need to clear out space. Then reorganize and put everything back to make things much easier to find. Minimizing the extra stuff will also make the space easier to keep nice and tidy too!

See? You don't have to have a huge budget to make big changes in your kitchen. There are a lot of low-cost but high impact alternatives whether you are looking to prep for sale or just want to enjoy your space a bit more. Have you done any recent kitchen updates? I'd love to hear about them!

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My name is Lindsay Walston.

I'm a healthcare provider turned real estate agent with an eye for luxurious details. Let me show you how to create (or find!) a beautiful and functional home, no matter your budget.  Want to learn more?

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