November 13, 2023
While a big-budget kitchen renovation will yield a floor-to-ceiling makeover, you don’t have to part with tons of cash to yield impressive results. Even just a small investment toward upgrading features like your backsplash, cabinetry, flooring, or lighting can offer a surprisingly big payoff.
We asked interior designers to share their best pro tips for upgrading a kitchen without spending a penny over $100. Best of all, these upgrades will not only help you and your family enjoy the space more, but can even add value to your home.
1. Paint Your Cabinets
A fresh coat of paint across your cabinets is one of the quickest and most affordable ways to transform your kitchen. This is true whether you're simply refreshing the existing color or opting for a new hue.
"While a bright white can certainly be compelling, leaning into color can help elevate the vibe of your kitchen," says interior designer Audrey Scheck. "Look for muted greens, muddy browns, or ivory to contrast against white or off-white walls."
2. Upgrade Your Light Fixture
Swap in new pendant lights over the island, or replace a chandelier or mounted fixture. This inexpensive project shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, and you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it can make to the overall feel and appeal of your kitchen. If you want to save even more money, consider taking down the old light and freshening it up with some paint or a new finish before reinstalling.
3. Add a Statement-Making Task Lamp
If electrical work doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, switch up your kitchen’s lighting game by incorporating a statement-making task lamp. This interior design trend is gaining momentum and is an easy way to cozy up the space while adding some character. Thrift for a one-of-a-kind design or pick up something new that speaks to your style.
4. Lay a New Rug
Replacing your kitchen flooring altogether is a spendy upgrade, but you can fake the look of new floors by simply laying a new rug or two. Interior designer Kristin Marino of KozyKasa says this also adds warmth and comfort to your kitchen while preventing foot fatigue. "Consider playing with colors and patterns to decorate with the seasons," says Marino. "Also, ensure you have a quality rug mat underneath to avoid slipping."
5. Swap in New Hardware
In addition to (or instead of) painting your kitchen cabinets, replace your existing hardware with something brand new for a modern, updated look. Alternatively, shine up existing cabinet knobs or give them a fresh coat of paint.
"Cabinet hardware is similar to most tile and plumbing in that it will start to feel dated after approximately 20 years," Scheck says. "Our general rule of thumb is to limit yourself to two metals in any given space. For example, if your kitchen plumbing is chrome, try using brass or black cabinet hardware to bring more visual interest to the space."
6. Thrift and Upcycle a Piece of Furniture
If you look often and are quick on the draw, you can absolutely find a piece of furniture for under $100 and give it a nice facelift. For example, a vintage work table can be repurposed into a kitchen island, or you can transform a simple dresser into a sideboard. Of course, you can always breathe new life into traditional kitchen furniture pieces, like a hutch or Hoosier cabinet.
7. Spring for a Designer Trash Can
Every kitchen needs a trash bin, but if yours is looking a bit rough these days, then a simple switch can level-up the space. Cameron Johnson, founder of Nickson Living, says to opt for a modern designer trash can that combines both form and function. "This will allow you to hide your trash in plain sight while adding an accent to your kitchen design," he says.
8. Create a Sophisticated Gallery Wall
Gallery walls don’t need to remain in the living room—they can absolutely work in the kitchen, too. Kitchen gallery wall ideas include everything from a collection of framed art (keep it on theme by featuring still-life oil paintings of food) or showcasing beautiful plates, cutting boards, or baskets.
9. Hang New Window Treatments
New window treatments are such a simple way to add a fresh look to your space. "Choose a lightweight fabric, such as linen, to keep the space light and airy," says Marino. "Make sure you have a liner to avoid sun fading."
10. Get Organized
A messy kitchen isn’t just unsightly—it also leads to poor efficiency. Make your space one you look forward to working in by spending a weekend reorganizing everything from the countertops to the cupboards. Get rid of anything you’re not using, tuck away infrequently used appliances, and leverage storage and organizational solutions whenever possible.
11. Style Your Countertops
While kitchens certainly need to be functional, it’s also important to find ways to add some personality and charm to your space.
"Try mixing vertical and horizontal stacks of cookbooks throughout your kitchen countertops to create varying height," Scheck says. "We also love to layer in small art pieces to add a pop of color and help to fill any negative space."
12. Place a Solid Wood Cutting Board Over the Stove Top
A solid wood cutting board shows the natural grain of the wood and adds a beautiful, natural, and functional piece to your kitchen, says Johnson. Plus, they can double as serving platters, work stations, charcuterie platters, and even drink trays. "Leave the cutting board on the stove top to make that space functional when not in use and to upgrade its often industrial look," Johnson says.
13. Refresh Your Gout
Dirty grout may seem like a tiny detail, but you’d be surprised at how quickly it can make a space feel dingy. Refreshing your grout is another kitchen upgrade that’s virtually free but can make a huge difference.
14. Install Under Cabinet Lighting
Install LED under-cabinet lighting to improve both kitchen efficiency and aesthetic appeal. "It adds a modern touch while also providing practical task lighting," says Marino. "Opt for motion sensor lights if you can find them. This will help illuminate your space during your late-night snack raid."
15. Replace Your Faucet
You’ll be surprised at just how satisfying this easy and affordable kitchen upgrade is once you’ve completed the task. Simply take out your old faucet—especially if it’s looking tired, dated, or doesn’t function well—and replace it with a modern option that fits your aesthetic. Make sure to turn the water supply off first and follow the directions carefully for seamless installation.
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