The 6 Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Kitchen Upgrades

published May 12, 2024
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gray kitchen features open shelving and a red rug
Credit: Katie Currid

Whether you’re moving into a new house or want to refresh the space you’ve lived in for a while, the kitchen is an excellent place to start. However, the cost of tearing out kitchen cabinets and replacing granite counters can rack up quickly. Plus, with a gut renovation, your kitchen is rendered useless for weeks. If you’re on a budget or are simply looking for a small yet effective change, you can achieve a lot in a day or weekend by doing just a little DIY.

To get some inspiration, I asked six DIY experts their opinions on the most bang-for-your-buck kitchen upgrades. They gave me some very different (and very smart!) ideas that will give you the biggest impact in your kitchen for the least amount of money and DIY sweat equity.

Swap hardware and fixtures.

Changing knobs and installing new pendant lights are budget-friendly fixes that can turn expensive in a hurry, but they don’t have to be. Several home improvement stores offer hardware and fixtures in various price ranges. However, you can also look to your local ReStore or check Facebook Marketplace for bougie finds without the high cost.

“Changing hardware and fixtures can make such a difference,” says Lauren Jansen, the DIYer behind the blog Farmhouseish. Replacing out-of-date lights and drawer pulls is a small step with more visual interest than you might think.

Redo dated countertops.

Although avid DIYer Diane Henkler has done many kitchen projects, the one that had the most impact was getting rid of her unsightly countertops. Instead of replacing them, she painted them to mimic Carrara marble — a $100 investment that’s lasted seven years and counting.

“There is no doubt in my mind that painting my outdated Formica kitchen counters gave the biggest bang in my dated kitchen,” says Henkler. As long as you follow the directions and prepare your countertops property (she has directions on her blog, In My Own Style), you can have a seemingly new kitchen for a fraction of the cost.

Paint kitchen cabinets.

When Carrie Waller, the DIY blogger behind Dream Green DIY, moved into her home, the kitchen was stuck in a time warp. “Our 1960s home came with a kitchen that hadn’t been touched much — if at all —in the last 60 years,” she says.

Although Waller hired out complicated projects, such as installing an upgraded sink and countertops, she saved by doing DIY projects. One of the most significant visual changes was painting the dark, unevenly stained cabinets a bright, creamy white. Waller also said the upgrades “helped turn this once-dark space into our dream kitchen,” all while staying within budget. 

Retile the floor.

The mere mention of retiling a floor brings visions of dollar bills flying away, but if you use peel-and-stick tiles, you’ll have a high-impact change without a massive outflow of funds.

Marcel Dagenais, the designer behind Brew City Builds, wanted to cut costs without compromising the aesthetic of his kitchen, so he got creative. “One of my favorite budget-friendly ideas was replacing the dated brown floor tiles with some vinyl peel-and-stick terrazzo tiles,” he says. Not only was the cost low, but they’ve also held up really well over the past four years for Dagenais.

Freshen up wall coverings.

As simple as it sounds (and, admittedly, it is), sometimes all you need to do to refresh your kitchen is refresh the walls — either with new paint or by using wallpaper

“The right colors and textures can completely transform a kitchen, highlighting the cabinetry, tile, and other architectural features and giving fresh perspective,” says Veronica Colby, a designer who works with homeowners on their DIY project ideas.

Whether you transform dark blue walls by painting them a light beige or spruce up your kitchen with busy wallpaper, the large scale of this project can make a stunning difference.

Credit: Chloe Berk

Add trim and molding.

When planning a kitchen from scratch, adding trim and molding can inflate the cost significantly, which is why many homeowners go without. But this is one upgrade that’s worth it later on.

“If your budget couldn’t quite stretch at the time, or you’ve inherited a kitchen without trim, simply add molding to the tops of your kitchen cabinets to elevate them and make them look more sophisticated,” says kitchen expert Paul Dore. Add trim — which comes in various materials, such as plaster, wood, and lightweight polystyrene — to the top or underside of cabinets to tie everything together.

Create open shelving.

One idea that was cited by multiple experts as a favorite? Open shelving.

Many DIYers and designers said that open shelving — whether it’s created by just removing cabinet doors or by taking down cabinets and adding shelves — made a big difference in their own kitchens. Henkler, for example, previously made the swap herself. “Once you remove the doors, you can style the shelves in a decorative way or use them to display cookbooks,” she says.

Open shelving helps create storage that doubles as decor, as you can display pretty dishware, cool vintage hand-me-down pans, and other cooking essentials for all to see.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: The 6 Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Kitchen Upgrades, According to DIY Experts