3 Ways to Make Dated Countertops Look Amazing

published Jun 9, 2024
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Breakfast bar and cabinets in kitchen
Credit: Mint Images/Getty Images/Mint Images RF

If there’s one sentence people dream they could say in the midst of a kitchen renovation, it’s this: “Money is no object.” Didn’t that sound incredible? Unfortunately, that’s usually not the reality. In order to stay within your personal budget for a kitchen renovation — whether that’s $1,000 or $10,000 — you usually have to make some sacrifices and compromises. One way savvy renovators save is by skipping out on replacing the countertops and, instead, working with what they already have.

The choice is made with good reason: Countertops are usually a big-ticket item in a kitchen renovation. According to The Home Depot, replacing kitchen countertops with popular quartz will cost an average of $80 per square foot, and natural stones like marble will go for an average of $85 per square foot — that means you’d spend thousands of dollars on outfitting a whole kitchen. Taking this item off your replacement list means you’re freeing up a lot of your budget, and it’s a strategy that experts say is well worth it.

“I’m a big proponent of leaning into something that you can’t change,” says Arlyn Hernandez, design writer and specialist. “Unless it’s especially bad or just not in good shape, I think the best strategy for something like kitchen counters is to make them both disappear and shine at the same time.”

Hernandez and home decor YouTuber Alexandra Gater have shared the experience of not being able to change dated countertops in a shabby kitchen — cough, rentals, cough — and learned how to embrace them instead. Read on for their three golden rules for designing around dated countertops, which all can be done without touching them one bit.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Pull a color from the countertop to use on other surfaces.

Hernandez recently renovated her rental kitchen, and she had to keep the brown countertops in place. But she noticed that there were specs of green in the material, and decided to put that shade in her renovation palette: It appears in the peel-and-stick backsplash she installed and the surrounding wallpaper. By incorporating that color purposefully, the countertops seem more like an actual choice and not a default. 

“Our eyes pick up on differences between things, so making the counters more seamless in terms of tone makes it part of a whole, rather than an eyesore,” Hernandez says. “The more you can make a design element you have to work with feel intentional, the better it’s going to work in your space.”

Similarly, Gater updated a kitchen with countertops that had more of an orange tone. So she turned to green, which is its complementary shade on the color wheel, as a main hue for the reno and sprinkled orange in throughout. “In this kitchen, the olive green works so well with the orange-y countertops,” she says. “Then I took the color of the countertops and accented it through other accessories like the lamp shade, the copper pots, and tea towel. Suddenly, this outdated counter looks entirely intentional.”

Credit: Carla Antonio

Go bold with wall or cabinet paint.

It could be that your goal in a kitchen renovation isn’t exactly to embrace your dated countertops, but instead to make them fade into the background as much as possible. In this scenario, paint is your best bet. If you’re allowed to paint your kitchen cabinets, Gater recommends doing so with confidence. 

“If the color of the countertops doesn’t work with the overall color palette you were hoping to implement, consider going bold with your paint and backsplash choice to minimize the attention of your dated tops,” she says. “Just make sure to pick hues that have the same tone as the countertops. In this case, the warm red backsplash and warm buttery yellow on the cabinets match the warmth of the outdated countertop.”

Credit: Carla Antonio

Lean into accessories.

There are a lot of odds and ends in kitchens, which all present opportunities to get creative. If you can’t change your dated countertops, then lean into the possibilities provided by accessories. “Updating things around your countertops, like hardware, can go a long way,” Hernandez says. “Never underestimate the power of a large, beautiful wood cutting board, a stack of your favorite cookbooks, a ceramic spoon rest, and even a mini lamp to spruce your countertops up.”

Similarly, you can also change up the light fixture — and the type of light bulb! — to better accentuate the countertops’ charms (yes, they’re there somewhere). Either way, you have options, and they can be accomplished without covering your dated countertops up. 

“Don’t dwell on your outdated countertops too much,” says Gater. “The power of paint is, well, powerful — and you’ll be amazed at how a new cabinet color and some beautiful accessories can make the outdated-ness of your countertops virtually unnoticeable.”

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 3 Secrets for Living with Dated Countertops (and Making Them Look Amazing)