How to Update an Old Kitchen on a Budget

white kitchen

If your kitchen dreams are bigger than your budget, you don't have to throw in the dish towel. Simply scale down your project by taking on less construction, trimming luxury materials, or rethinking the ingredients that make up traditional kitchen design. Consult our creative budget-saving strategies to help you achieve a lovely kitchen for less money.

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Incorporate Furniture

blue island

Not every wall in the kitchen needs to be wrapped in cabinetry. You can use furniture creatively to achieve a custom look on a budget—for example, create a pantry from an armoire or an island from an old table. In this kitchen, a dresser on casters received a fresh coat of blue paint and became a beautiful movable workspace.

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Research Before You Buy

white kitchen

What you see on the floor of big-box stores is probably not the full scope of what's available. Most big-box stores carry additional products online and will special order just about anything from top manufacturers at below list price. Shop the web to compare prices and make your purchase accordingly.

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Refinish Your Cabinets


If your cabinets are in good working condition but you don't like the style, refinishing them will score you a new look for less. With a few basic do-it-yourself skills, you can give cabinets a fresh coat of paint on your own. Or send them out to a paint shop for a factory-finish spray coat.

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Panel the Walls or Ceiling

Seaside Happiness

If you can't afford expansive stretches of tile or fancy woodwork, look to beaded-board paneling. Sold in 4x8-foot sheets, it can be applied as a backsplash, on the ceiling, or on walls, delivering cottage charm without taking a major bite out of your budget.

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Go Wild with Wallpaper

blue kitchen

The sky is the limit with wall coverings. Use colorful wallpaper to dress up a blank surface, enliven a cabinet door, or line the back of an open cupboard. This delivers an instant style upgrade, and with the range of peel-and-stick options, you don't necessarily have to hire someone to hang your paper.

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Assemble Your Cabinets


Flat-pack or ready-to-assemble cabinets reward industrious homeowners with deep discounts. These cabinets come flat and unassembled, and each box needs to be built before it can be hung. If you're willing to invest the elbow grease, you can turn out a full kitchen without hiring a crew to put the cabinets together.

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Encase Your Fridge

white kitchen

Surround a freestanding refrigerator with wood walls and a deep upper cabinet to score a custom update without a major investment. Note: Make sure to check your fridge's ventilation needs before you enclose it.

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Dress Up the Details


Even if you don't touch the cabinets or countertops, consider replacing sinks, faucets, lighting, and appliances as part of your makeover. If these elements are more than 10 years old, they're probably showing signs of wear and may not have some of the convenience, style, and operating features that today's products offer.

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Be Your Own Contractor

Kitchen Cabinet Colors

By acting as your own general contractor, you can save roughly 10 to 20 percent overall. Just be absolutely sure you're qualified and that you have the time to oversee every detail of your remodel. If you are unskilled and have to choose between expensive materials and labor, choose the labor. A good craftsman can make even mundane materials look great.

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Eliminate Upper Cabinets


If your budget is tight and you don't need a ton of storage, install only lower cabinets for a significant cost savings. In place of upper cabinets, you can display art, hang a shelf or two, or create a focal wall.

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Pay for a Pro

subway tile

Talk to a professional designer about your dreams and budget. It just might be that hiring an architect, kitchen designer, or general contractor will help you score more kitchen for your money. In fact, bringing in the pros can help prevent costly mistakes that could more than make up for their fees.

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Paint Anything (or Everything)

What Goes With - Oak Cabinets, Wood Floors, Blue, Brown

Paint is undoubtedly the fastest way to a fresher look for the least amount of money. Use it to reinvigorate old wood floors, remake tired cabinets, or add an accent wall to your kitchen. With careful prep work, you can even paint counters and backsplash tiles.

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Refresh the Backsplash

white kitchen

Tile showrooms display inspiring but expensive backsplashes, but don't despair. Replacing dated backsplash tiles on a budget is possible. With a little creativity, you can achieve the look you want with less costly tile. Think about interesting applications: linear stacks or thoughtful accents using a few well-placed expensive tiles.

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Consider Affordable Flooring

green kitchen cabinets

If your kitchen needs new flooring, shop around before committing to your replacement. Flooring is sold in different formats (sheet, linear foot, square foot), so be sure to calculate and compare cost per square foot before buying. Don't rule out modest materials: Creatively mixing colors or finishes can yield a one-of-a-kind (and inexpensive) design. Look at vinyl, linoleum, and laminate for affordable options.

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Forgo Cabinetry


Substitute traditional cabinetry with carts and shelves. Shop at a restaurant supply store for freestanding metal counters and shelves found in professional kitchens. Stack dishware, platters, and small appliances on shelves, and use baskets and trays to corral smaller items. Crocks on the counters are perfect for organizing silverware.

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Upgrade the Hardware


Sometimes just replacing cabinet knobs and pulls with more modern hardware can be the lift a tired kitchen needs. Even if you choose the same finish to match your faucets but pick a different style, you can dramatically alter the feel of the space.

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Buy Materials on Your Own

kitchen sink

Contractors and plumbers often cover their costs by charging list prices for materials. But if you buy direct, your costs will be significantly lower. Instead of leaving the purchasing power to others, let those who bid on your projects know you'll be buying some of the materials.

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Look for Easy-to-Clean Materials


The price may be right, but is the product low-maintenance? When considering paints, wallcoverings, and even window treatments, prioritize ease of cleaning. That way, you'll be able to wipe down your walls and fabrics, instead of having to replace them when spaghetti sauce goes flying.

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