Low-cost Kitchen Updates

Minor expense can yield major improvement

Walking into a tired, outdated kitchen can really bring a homeowner down when funds don't permit a $30,000 remodel. However, there are a few easy updates to spruce up your kitchen without having to invest major amounts of time and money. We all know about painting and adding new curtains, but what else can we do to update the kitchen?

Simple kitchen island

Add a kitchen island

If your kitchen has room for it, adding an island or a new rolling workstation can be attractive and useful. You can build one yourself if you are handy, pick one up at an unfinished furniture store, or the local home improvement store. If your budget doesn't allow for a built-in model, a rolling island will only cost you about $150 on the low end of the spectrum and $500 on the high end. These are convenient because when you're finished using them, you can just roll them into the corner until the next time you'd like to use it. If you're pressed for storage space in your kitchen, many kitchen islands have storage that can provide you with the extra room you need for more kitchenware.

New lighting

Lighting can be one of the simplest ways to add character and a contemporary feel to the kitchen. Replace your fluorescent fixture with flexible track lighting or one of the attractive new pendant-style fixtures. Track lighting is relatively inexpensive—you can get an 8 foot track for about $15 and each track fixture for about $10 each—and has the added bonus of being adjustable so you can direct the light toward task areas like the sink and countertops. Another way to bring the kitchen up to date is with under cabinet lighting. Strands of rope lights (about $3 per foot) or single halogen spots (about $3 per light) are relatively easy to install on the underside of upper cabinets.

Mosaic backsplash

Make a backsplash

Adding a backsplash can be a fun project and these days there are many options you can choose from. A tile backsplash is the most cost-conscious way to go if you want something practical as well as attractive. Tiles are available both hand-made and mass produced and can be purchased for approximately $4 per square foot for an affordable, manufactured plain colored tile. Adding a few of the hand-painted tiles with unique designs will make it more interesting and unique. With all the materials, it might cost around $100 or less if you do it yourself and shop around for good, but inexpensive tile.

Revamp the cabinets

While replacing cabinets in your kitchen can cost you a big mound of money, refinishing them can be a much less expensive way to make them look new again. Replacing hardware on the cabinets is also a very economical way to add style without going broke.

A typical refinishing job costs only about $200-$500 if you want to tackle it yourself. It's messy and time consuming—there really isn't a tidy way to get old paint or finish off cabinets—but when you've revarnished or painted, it can literally look brand new. Plan on devoting a month of weekends though. A good refinishing job takes time. And instead of refinishing, you could also repaint cabinetry to eliminate the old, weathered look.

If you have lower cabinet doors with just shelves and few drawers, consider mounting some of the pull-out drawer assemblies that are available in stock sizes for many cabinets. These are often available at storage and organization-type stores. You'll find that you will be able to store more and find what you have more easily. That alone could prevent you from pulling your hair out trying to find the elusive widget.

Another idea is to take the doors off your upper cabinets for a more open look and feel to the kitchen. If you do decide to remove the cabinet faces completely, a neat idea is to paint the inside backing of the cabinets different or alternating colors to add a sense of depth and texture to the room. You could take down the upper cabinets entirely and hang artwork, especially if you've been able to streamline and improve the functionality of the lower cabinets.

Adding "cabinet jewelry" like pulls and handles can inject some quality detail into your update. They come in beautiful designs, shapes, colors, and materials. Some of the most popular hardware for cabinets are Plexiglas pulls, jewel-toned knobs, and brushed chrome knobs. Other materials like glass can add one-of-a-kind style. Don't forget to rummage through antique shops or online for old pulls for a vintage or retro look.

New counters

The countertops are one of the most important features in your kitchen because good horizontal surface is all about the work. That doesn't mean they shouldn't look good. Of course everyone knows that granite is very expensive and yeah, it's what everyone in the world wants for counters, but realistically, sometimes it's more money than makes any sense. But all isn't lost. There are still several nice alternatives to granite that are functional and beautiful.

Laminates are the most popular choice for an inexpensive, long-lasting, easy-to-clean countertop. They come in myriad colors and cost about $25 per linear foot. There is some trickiness to attaching laminates as a do-it-yourself project, but for motivated homeowners it can be gratifying to say, "I did it myself."

Other work surfaces that might work well include tile and even linoleum. It could even be a way to install granite (or marble) for a look that is close to the real thing for much less. Linoleum counters are similar to laminate, but with a somewhat more trendy appearance. Wood counters for some areas might be just the ticket too.

Don't overlook the value of coordinating various types of counters. For example, tile next to the sink and stove are heat and waterproof, but a wood counter is ideal for a baking center. And laminate is designed for kids.

Including the kitchen sink

It gets used every day and nothing is more tiresome than a kitchen sink that is so worn it just never comes clean. Options abound for new sink options. If you've had your eyes on the newest stainless steel sink bowls, you'll be happy to know that they can often be had for less than $100 though they go up dramatically in price as the quality improves. Other standard size sinks, which are available in porcelain, cast-iron, composite, acrylic and solid-surface, are priced at $40 and up. Installing a sink isn't even that hard, though it helps to have a handy friend if you aren't that mechanical yourself.

Add a new faucet for some genuine dishwashing pleasure. With the right tools, most homeowners can manage this otherwise knuckle-busting project in short order. Faucets have a broad price and quality range so shop around for the best cost-value, before settling on the one most suited to your needs.


Pressed for time and need some help getting the project done? Find a qualified handyman to help with just the pieces you want help with. Find a professional at NextStepRemodeling.com .

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