A full kitchen renovation is likely to cost more than $20,000, according to HomeAdvisor.com—and potentially much more if you select high-end appliances and materials. But there are ways to make a drab, dated or worn-out kitchen look significantly better for a whole lot less money. Of course, a new coat of paint and new cabinet hardware can get you started—but there are other low-cost ways to spruce up your kitchen that can have surprisingly dramatic results. Here are seven great kitchen spruce-ups, ranging from $35.99 to $1,000…
Replace underpowered bulbs and “flush mount” ceiling lights. Insufficient lighting is a big reason why many older kitchens look dated and dingy. Hiring an electrician to install additional fixtures can cost thousands, but for a few hundred dollars you could replace the “flush mount” overhead lighting fixtures often found in older kitchens with “semi flush” fixtures. Unlike flush-mount fixtures, which position bulbs at or very near ceiling level, semi-flush fixtures extend down perhaps a foot from the ceiling. They’re generally more attractive and almost always do a better job of distributing light throughout the room.
Install laminate countertops and backsplashes that look like high-end stone. Laminates lack the prestige of high-end quartz or stone countertops, but today the best of these man-made products really do resemble stone countertops for a fraction of the price.
Example: Formica 180fx laminate effectively mimics marble, granite and travertine, yet it can be found for $100 to $200 per 48-inch-x-96-inch sheet.
If you have a small kitchen, you might be able to have new laminate countertops installed for about $1,000. Granite would likely cost at least twice that. If new countertops aren’t in your budget, you still could use these laminates as an eye-catching backsplash.
Additional backsplash options: If you have a traditional-style kitchen, consider installing a painted bead-board backsplash—bead board costs around $20 per 48-inch-x-8-inch panel. Tile is a fine choice for traditional or modern kitchens—choose large-scale 18-x-18-inch tiles, which are in style and easy to install. Larger tiles mean fewer tiles and less grout work. You’ll find plenty of tile options for less than $3 a square foot.
Replace the countertop microwave. If your budget is tight, you almost certainly can’t replace a kitchen full of older appliances. But for $200 or less, you can replace an old or a low-end microwave with a new one that looks modern and stylish. Microwaves generally are positioned prominently on countertops or hung at eye level, so up-dating this one seemingly minor appliance can make a kitchen feel more modern. Today’s microwaves tend to be smaller than the microwaves of decades past, too, so updating a countertop microwave could free up counter space, making a small kitchen seem a bit less cramped.
Update the inside of your cabinets with roll-outs, stacked shelving and cutlery holders. Painting kitchen cabinets is an inexpensive and oft-mentioned way to pep up their appearance…but a coat of paint won’t make old cabinets any more functional on the inside, and that’s important, too. Today’s cabinets often feature roll-out racks, rotating trays and other amenities that help home owners get the most out of kitchen storage space. Efficient cabinets don’t just make kitchens more convenient—they make them more attractive, too, because clutter will more likely be stowed out of sight.
Fortunately, you do not need to install new cabinets to accomplish this. There is a wide range of aftermarket kitchen roll-out racks and other organization products on the market that can transform old, basic cabinets into modern, functional storage spaces. The Container Store has perhaps the best selection, but you also can find kitchen-cabinet organizing items at places ranging from Amazon.com to a home-improvement center or a hardware store.
Example: The Container Store’s Chrome Roll-Out Cabinet Drawers recently were available for $44.99 to $59 apiece.
Add a rolling or freestanding island. Installing a permanent kitchen island costs thousands, but attractive rolling and freestanding islands are available at home centers for $500 or less. These islands can provide additional counter space and serve as an attractive addition to the kitchen. (They’re not right for every kitchen, however. If there isn’t enough room to position the island at least 36 inches from the main kitchen counters, it will make the kitchen feel cramped.)
If you decide on a rolling island, make sure its wheels lock and—if you have vinyl or softwood kitchen floors—the island should be relatively lightweight so that it won’t damage your flooring.
Install or expand moldings. Crown moldings, which run along the top edge of walls…decorative baseboards, which run along the bottom edge…and decorative door and window casings can make a plain kitchen seem much more upscale. Add these moldings if your kitchen lacks them. Example: Replace standard two-inch-high baseboards with decorative five-inch baseboards. A small kitchen could have new baseboards, crown molding and window casings fitted for less than $500, and potentially much less if you have basic woodworking skills and can tackle it as a do-it-yourself project.
Hang colorful window coverings. Brightly colored kitchen curtains or shades can instantly make a dull kitchen seem more stylish and interesting. In fact, this is among the cheapest, easiest ways to significantly update the look of a kitchen, particularly a kitchen that currently features mostly whites and neutral tones.
Caution: If a kitchen window is near a sink, make sure that the curtain or shade is made from stain-resistant material.