If your kitchen dreams are bigger than your budget, try some of these ideas. You can scale down your project by doing less construction, trimming luxury materials, or rethinking the ingredients that make up traditional kitchen design. Let these ideas help you get a lovely kitchen for a little less money.

But you don’t need to shell out big bucks to make a big impact in an outdated kitchen. Whether you’ve lived in your house for years or you just got the keys, here are some cheap and easy ways to update any kitchen:

Bring in the pattern

A vintage-inspired rug or lush floral wallpaper adds tons of personality to even the smallest of kitchens. If you want to try both at the same time, just look for patterns that have a linking colour between them.

Hang floating shelves.

We could all use more storage, right? Take a cue from McGee & Co. and position some rustic ledges over the sink to stack dishes, glasses, and even some leaned artwork.

Add colour with stools.

Metal stools like these are notoriously inexpensive, and often sold in sets. For extra cuteness in an all-white kitchen, try creating a rainbow effect with a different colour on every stool.

Simply stick them to the wall with removable strips, or hang them with plate hangers. Look into your china hutch for a treasured heirloom, or scoop up a few colourful and cheap ones from a yard sale.

Hang some art.

We are huge fans of art in the kitchen. Whether you have some blank walls, room to rest a frame directly on your counter, or even a giant gap between your upper cabinets and the ceiling, we say you should add some art! Framed stuff belongs in your kitchen just as much as it belongs in your dining or living room. The style is obviously up to you, but we do have some suggestions on where to look.

Add a rug

A rug does so much for a kitchen: It covers an ugly floor, adds colour, and makes for a cushier surface for your tired feet. We would love the options at West Elm, Wayfair, and even Urban Outfitters if we had to pick a few.

Paint something

Paint is the best way to make an easy and inexpensive change to your kitchen. There is nothing in your kitchen that you can’t paint—except the food, of course. Covering those dated wood cabinets by painting them white can make a small kitchen seem more significant. If the walls or cabinets are in poor condition, a faux finish will help hide the blemishes. Be creative and go wild. Paint is never permanent and can easily be changed if you don’t like the look.

We’re not telling you to paint your kitchen cabinets. (While it is possible and makes a huge difference in your space, it’s not all that easy to do compared to the rest of the ideas on this list.) Instead, you should just paint something. A bump-out! A single accent wall! The toe kick! Anything!

Iris Wingfield, an interior design consultant in the United Kingdom, says never to underestimate the effect of a new coat of paint and new curtains to match.

“Changing the colours will always feel like a huge change — and it is,” says Wingfield. “It will be a refreshing new look for the room, and the only thing needed is paint.”

Not only does painting offer a cost-effective way to make a huge, sweeping change to your room, but you can probably do the labour yourself, too. Doing the bulk of the grunt work for your paint job can save you even more money.

Without a doubt, paint is the fastest way to a fresh look for the least amount of money. Use it to freshen old wood floors, to remake tired cabinets, and to add a focal point wall to your kitchen. With careful prep work, you can even paint counters and backsplash tiles.

Painting your kitchen cabinets is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to create a fresh new look. With a cream background, it’s easy to give your kitchen a fresh feel by choosing from the latest colours available. If you plan to paint cabinets, be sure to prime them first. Wilko and B&Q sell furniture primer and a range of paints suitable for wood, melamine and MDF cupboards.

Add some wallpaper

There are so many great peel-and-stick wallpapers these days —, especially at Target. You can sort the options based on pattern (geometric, for example) or colour (blue, gold, etc.!) to find something perfect for your space. Want something extra subtle? This one is made to look just like white subway tiles!

Plug in a pendant light

Don’t want to start dealing with electricity and circuit breakers? We totally get it! You can still add new lighting without messing with all that dangerous stuff. Home Depot offers plenty of pendant lights that get plugged into an outlet (just plug one in, swoop the cord, and hang from a hook in the ceiling). The home improvement store also has pendant conversion kits, which allow you to screw a pendant light wherever a recessed bulb would usually go.

Lights and light switches play a big role in how bright and welcome a kitchen feels. That’s why, as a general rule, warm lighting is better in kitchens, notes Davis.

“Avoid overly dim lighting in favour of a brighter, warmer, more welcoming feel,” he says. “Also consider swapping out the light switch panels, which should match the hardware and overall feel of the kitchen well.”

Shopping around for new light fixtures and light switches is easy at most home improvement stores, and you can even compare prices online.

Swap out your stools.

If you have an island in your kitchen, big change can come just by getting a new bar stools (donate your old ones!). Some of our favourite sites for bar stools: Wayfair, World Market, and Industry West. We’re also huge fans of Amazon’s two private-label furniture brands, Rivet and Stone & Beam.

Get a colourful small appliance.

Small appliances are basically like throw pillows for your kitchen — only way more useful. Get a KitchenAid Stand Mixer in your favourite colour, a cute coffee machine, or a pastel SMEG toaster, and leave it out on your countertop. As long as you look at or use the machine regularly, it’ll be worth the real estate it takes up.

Or even just a tea kettle

Maybe you don’t need any new small appliances? Maybe you could use a new tea kettle, though? This one is a vintage Le Creuset item (second only to the brand’s Dutch ovens) and comes in more than a dozen fun hues. Leave it out on your stove for a pop of colour.

Hang new window treatments

Did you know that Minted sells curtains? They do, and the options are as gorgeous as the stationery (because a lot makes the patterns of the same artists!). Switch out your curtains in your breakfast nook for a fresh, new look.

Add a backsplash

Once again, peel-and-stick technology comes through with the win: You can add a backsplash without having to deal with grout. Home Depot has a bunch of stick-on backsplash panels, which couldn’t be easier to install. We’re partial to these faux subway tiles but could totally see a kitchen pulling off these marble hexagon tiles or these copper-like ones.

Pay for a Pro

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 get more kitchen for your money. In fact, it can help you prevent costly mistakes that could more than makeup for their fees.

Tile the Backsplash

Replace dated backsplash tiles on a budget. The tile showrooms display expensive and inspiring solutions but don’t despair. These tiles might be out of range, but with a little creativity, you can get the look you want with less expensive tile. Think about interest applications: linear stacks or thoughtful accents with a few well-placed expensive tiles.

Install New Floors

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 compare cost per square foot before buying. Don’t rule out modest materials: Creative application by mixing colours or finishes can yield a one-of-a-kind (and inexpensive) solution. Look at vinyl, linoleum, and laminate for affordable choices.

Painting over those eye-sore tiles rather than replacing or putting up with them is a much quicker (and cheaper) solution. So get out your paintbrush and get those ugly tiles covered! It’s actually a very easy DIY job if you know what you are doing, so go and have a read of our step-by-step guide to painting tiles to get started. 

If a tatty kitchen floor is letting the scheme down, you don’t need to go to the hassle of taking it all up as you can lay new flooring on top. Most kitchen designers will advise that you can simply run it underneath the plinths, instead of wall-to-wall, which cuts your costs further.

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. Use baskets and trays to corral smaller items. Crocks on the counters organise silverware.

Little Changes

Sometimes just upgrading cabinet knobs and pulls with those in a current finish or show-stopping colour can be just the lift a tired kitchen needs.

Shop Carefully

Contractors and plumbers often cover their costs by charging list prices for materials. If you buy direct, your costs will be significantly lower. Let those who bid on your projects know which materials you plan to buy.

Easy to Clean

There are unlimited options for paint and wallcoverings to spruce up the walls — just make sure that whatever you choose can be easily cleaned. There are also many kinds of window treatments, but for ease of installation and cleanup, keep the design uncomplicated.

Update (don’t replace) your kitchen cabinets

While the focus of any kitchen remodelling project usually involves installing brand new kitchen cabinets, you don’t have to fork over tens of thousands of dollars for new cabinets if your current set is in good shape.

If they’re solid wood especially, a few simple upgrades can make your kitchen cabinets look a lot better – and more up-to-date than they do now.

According to real estate expert and founder of RemodelingCosts.org Alex Biyevetskiy, simple (and cost-effective) cabinet upgrades to consider include:

Cabinet pulls: “Any kitchen cabinets can be updated by replacing the hinges, knobs, and pulls with contemporary hardware,” says Biyevetskiy.

Sanding and re-staining: “Wood cabinets that are sanded and re-stained to get rid of oily stains, scratches, and a colour that doesn’t fit your design scheme become vibrant components of your low-cost, high-appeal kitchen,” he adds.

A new paint job: If stained natural wood isn’t the look you prefer, then sand the cabinets and paint them in a colour that appeals to you. While a lot of people choose fancy colour schemes for the cabinets, bright white kitchen cabinets can create a clean and updated look in any kitchen.

Replacing only the cabinet doors and drawer fronts is much cheaper than installing all-new cabinets. If this is out of your budget, consider replacing the inside panels of your cabinets with lattice door inserts. They are unique and add an interesting texture. Additionally, the inside panels can be replaced with clear glass to display your favourite dishes and glassware. Or if you like the look yet, you don’t want your cabinets on display, and you can use frosted glass.

If you already have glass cabinets and have grown tired of having your clutter on display, consider using chicken wire behind the glass or hang fabric from small curtain rods on the inside of the cabinets.

Shop for budget countertops

While most full kitchen remodels inevitably require new upscale countertops, you can easily save on this expense simply by shopping around. If you’re keeping your old cabinets and simply refreshing them, it may even be the perfect time to rip out and replace the countertops you have.

A stained or outdated countertop can spoil the whole look of a kitchen. Rather than replacing it, you might consider tiling over it. If even that is outside of your budget, consider re-laminating it instead. Laminate sheets can be purchased at almost any home improvement store and are cheaper than purchasing all new countertops. Plus, they are lighter, easy enough for one person to install, and they come in a variety of finishes, colours, and styles.

Nancy Brook, a realtor from Billings, Mont. suggests shopping for new stone countertops at discount granite shops or home improvement stores instead of with a designer. Brook says she has personally bought brand new granite countertops for less than half the price of what she would have paid elsewhere just by shopping at Lowe’s during one of their big annual sales.

“Also consider other options like resin, which can be put atop an existing laminate counter, or concrete,” says Brook.

Brian Davis of SparkRental.com also suggests replacing or covering existing counters with wooden butcher’s block. “They’re much cheaper, and will age gracefully if cared for,” says Davis. “Round out the look with a matching wooden dish rack and wine rack. Add a bottle of two of stuffy-looking French wine, and it’s a whole new look.”

The right countertops for your specific kitchen depend on your existing cabinetry, style, and budget. Still, you can save a bundle by keeping your mind open to different materials, comparing prices, and setting up the installation yourself. Meanwhile, you may also save additional funds if you’re willing to remove your old countertops yourself versus paying an installer to do the demo work.

Add roll-out kitchen shelves.

If you skip the new kitchen cabinets but still want the feel and improved functionality of a new kitchen, adding some more unique upgrades to your existing cabinets can offer a big bang for your buck. Darla DeMorrow of Heartwork Organizing is big on adding roll-out shelving to kitchens that need better organisation and more room.

Roll-out shelving units are typically around $100 each, says DeMorrow, but they give you back precious square feet of otherwise lost kitchen cabinet space. They can also make existing cabinets more usable for people with mobility issues, says DeMorrow.

Spruce up a fridge with wallpaper

If you can’t afford an expensive Smeg fridge but are desperate to give your refrigerator or freezer a splash of colour, why not get crafty with a can of spray paint as shown in this fridge hack. Alternatively, for a less permanent option cover the front of the household appliance with a leftover roll of wallpaper attached with double-sided sticky tape.

Install new worktops

Dramatically change the look of your kitchen by replacing your existing worktops. Laminate is the most cost-effective to purchase. If you have spare cash, consider extras, such as heat rods that can be fitted into the surface for a permanent pan stand or a built-in draining board.

ADD A FREESTANDING KITCHEN ISLAND

Designing a kitchen isn’t something we always get right the first time, so if you’ve not planned enough worktop space into your kitchen but still have enough room, a freestanding kitchen island will be a massive bonus to both prepping and storing. Or, perhaps you’re renting and frustrated by the lack of kitchen storage in the room? A freestanding kitchen island is something you can take with you when you move or flog. Plus, it often comes packed with kitchen storage space, worktop space and room for kitchen island seating.

Improve your kitchen storage

There’s no getting away from it, good storage for small kitchens (in fact, storage for all kitchen sizes) will improve how your kitchen looks and functions in a heartbeat. Storage jars, laundry storage ideas and pantry storage ideas… they’ll all help your kitchen feel neater and look more streamlined. Say no more. It’s amazing how much we accumulate over the years. Try setting aside an afternoon to sort out your kitchen cupboards, then organise them so you have access to the things you use every day. Clearing your worktops can also instantly improve your kitchen, and it won’t cost you anything at all. Alternatively, try rethinking storage solutions. Put up extra shelves and hanging rails to make use of every available space.

If your cupboards are a bit dated, in terms of style and or colour, why not consider just replacing the doors if the framework is still in good shape? There are a host of companies that specialise in providing replacement doors. Alternatively, simply give your cabinetry a quick refresh with a few coats of paint. Both of these ideas are a lot cheaper and less hassle than replacing the entire kitchen. Colour, in general, is the most natural and least expensive way to transform a kitchen. Look for a rich, yet calming shade that allows you to relax in your space.

Try to avoid anything that’s too extreme, as there’s already a lot of activity going on in the kitchen and you don’t want it to seem even busier. And always opt for a high-quality paint to ensure a durable finish. Finishing touches such as artwork, soft furnishings and shelving displays make open-plan schemes warm and inviting, and they are easy to replace and update seasonally or whenever you fancy a new look. Vintage cookware adds charm to classic, and country kitchens – antique shops, charity shops and eBay are great sources. Affordable pieces such as a vintage dresser with glass doors or budget kitchen furniture can be used to store and show off your favourite china.

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