Save: Cabinets. Splurge: Cabinet doors!
You can get a custom look for much, much less when using IKEA cabinet boxes and custom fronts, as Heejoo did here.
It's difficult to make sweeping generalizations about kitchen renovations and builds (other than the old "add 50% to the initial estimate!" rule — always a good idea!). Every kitchen is different, just as every cook has a slightly different set of desires and priorities. However, as I've researched and shopped for my own kitchen, which is being built from the ground up, I've made some trade-offs in costs and priority that, so far, seem worth it to me. Here are five of my own save/splurge decisions for a new kitchen.
No matter what, lighting in a kitchen is very important. I would love to have some spendy modern pendants over the island and the dining table (why oh why do my tastes run to the Champagne in this area??) but it's not in the budget.
I chose instead to put money into high-quality awning windows with good hardware. There are full-length sidelights next to a sliding door, and more windows in the dining area. The cost of windows adds up, but this is the time to put them in. Other lighting is less important, and inexpensive pendants from IKEA can be easily replaced down the road.
I predict this will be a controversial choice! The faucet is, after all, the most-frequently-used fixture in your kitchen. But as I have researched and shopped, I have found that some great faucets can be found from brands such as Grohe and Kohler, and they are often on sale at Amazon and Wayfair. You can get quite decent faucets for under $200.
Sinks, on the other hand, often cost more, and they are much more difficult to replace down the road. I am looking for a good although modestly-priced faucet, but I am buying the sink that I want.
Kitchen designer Susan Serra told me that the oven is the least-used appliance in most people's kitchens. Some folks don't even need an oven at all, especially with the advent of convection microwaves. Unless you're a frequent baker, prioritize your stove over your oven.
And, in my opinion, the stove doesn't need to be a high-powered faux-restaurant monster to be a good buy. I'm going for a more modestly-priced Bertazzoni rangetop, which is a fraction of the price of a BlueStar or Viking (although still the most expensive appliance in the kitchen). My oven is a used model (still in warranty!) that I found on Craigslist.
Splurge: Cabinet doors and hardware
Cabinets are an interesting thing. On the one hand, they seem important. You want them to last a long time and wear well. But they are fixed to the floor, and are protected by the doors and surrounding appliances. Cabinet bases actually come in for less wear and tear than your sofa or dresser. I simply could not justify spending $30,000 for handmade wood-frame cabinets, and more importantly, it didn't seem necessary. I'm going for good old IKEA frames, which are perfectly solid and very customizable, with all the drawers I desire. But I am also getting...
... Custom doors. This is where a smart small splurge can make your kitchen look truly custom. I am ordering doors from Semihandmade, a company in California that makes doors for IKEA cabinets. Henrybuilt, for a fraction of the price. That's the idea, at least.
Save: Tile and backsplash
It's amazing how tile can add up, especially if you want to branch out beyond the ubiquitous subway tile. And if you want to take it all the way up to the ceiling — watch out! Tile creep, both in size of the installation and price of the tile itself, can add up fast. So think outside of the box for backsplashes. What about plexiglass or glass (maybe with bright fabric behind it)? Or a sheet of stainless steel?
I'm mostly forgoing a backsplash along my back wall, with the exception of a marble 4-inch rise. I know that I can easily add a more extensive backsplash later, if it seems necessary. For now, I want to put my money into my countertops. Nothing is quite as visible in your kitchen as your countertops and they are the primary surface you work on and clean every day. I knew I wanted stone, instead of the more economical laminate or butcher block surfaces. So that's where I'm putting the cash.
What about you? Did you save and splurge along these same lines? Or something else? Like I said, everyone has their own priorities, and there are always reasons to allocate money differently in different projects. Did you find smart ways to save and splurge in your own renovation or new kitchen build? I'd love to hear your tips!
Related: What Is Your Best Kitchen Renovation & Planning Advice?
(Images: 1. Leela Cyd Ross from Sophie and Iain's Elegant Yet Family-Focused Vegetarian Kitchen; 2. from Lilian's Sunlit Family Kitchen; 4. Gregor Torrence from Kitchen Tour: Food Writer Ivy Manning's Portland Kitchen; 5. Jill Slater from Cherry & Jeff's Oven-Less But Active Hong Kong Kitchen; 6. Kitchen Before & After: Heejoo's Open Floor Plan IKEA Renovation; 7. Rebecca Szeto from Kitchen Spotlight: San Francisco Sleek Yet Vintage Re-Do; 8. Leela Cyd Ross from Ryan's Stunning San Francisco Remodel. Leela Cyd Ross from Jessica & Charley's Chocolate Workshop and Handmade Home Kitchen)