7 Low-Cost (or Free!) Ways to Make Your Kitchen Better, According to Professional House Stagers

published Aug 9, 2019
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Credit: Minette Hand

When it comes to the anatomy of a home, the kitchen is the heart. It’s where you make meals (or open the pizza box) when entertaining friends, and where you spend lazy weekend mornings baking (or just eating cereal). So, how do you create a space that strikes the right balance of warmth and functionality? 

We asked home stagers for their best tips when it comes to styling a kitchen. These tips will, yes, sell potential buyers on your kitchen. But even if your home isn’t on the market, embracing some of these kitchen styling rules will help you create a lovely space for entertaining (or providing an Instagram backdrop for those great food photos you’ve been taking). The best part? Most of them are free or super low-cost!

1. Declutter.

The stagers we talked to were in harmonious agreement that kitchens should be clutter-free (ahem, no refrigerator magnet collections!) if you’re looking to sell or have a cohesive-looking space. 

Buyers want a fresh, clean space that isn’t overly personalized. A good rule of thumb: “The kitchen should look like you could walk in and cook a meal now,” says Audrey Driscoll, a New Orleans-based interior designer with staging experience.

Here’s where most people go wrong: Collections begin to grow in their kitchens, Driscoll says. This result is a space that looks more like a set for a play than a functional kitchen. It’s crowded. It’s not very aspirational. Instead, stick to just one collection (for example, showing off a few pieces of pottery), Driscoll says.

Also, if you’re staging your home for sale, crowded countertops send the message that there isn’t enough storage space, says Mary Frances McGraw, a certified home stager with Practical Life LLC in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

“Even just the appearance of lack of storage space can keep potential buyers from taking a serious interest in a home,” she says. To make space, you can store special occasion items out of reach on higher shelves or even in another room.

One more point on this topic: You may not photograph inside your cupboards if you’re listing your house, but don’t just shove everything in them. You better believe that during showings potential buyers are looking inside the cabinets to determine if there’s ample space, says Adam Cottrell, a professional stager with the Keller Williams Amy Owens Team in New Jersey.

Credit: Viv Yapp

2. Bring in herbs and plants.

Bring the outside in, suggests Driscoll.

“If there is a windowsill in your kitchen, have a couple pots of fresh herbs growing,” she says. “It will add a fresh component to the room.”

Plus, if you’re staging to sell, potential buyers will envision themselves chopping herbs for fresh pesto in the kitchen. If you need some more inspiration for bringing greenery in, here are some of the best house plants, specifically for your kitchen.

3. Pick an accent color.

Kitchens are a collection of hard surfaces and often neutral colors, so adding some color and texture is important, explains Janet Lorusso, an interior designer and real estate stager based in Massachusetts.

“If you have a neutral kitchen, pick an accent color from one of the adjacent rooms and use it for kitchen towels, pot holders, accessories, or artfully displayed cookware on a stovetop,” she suggests. 

A runner or rug is another way to add pattern and color. Pretty, natural wood bread boards or wooden dough bowls can add texture and warmth too, Lorusso says. If you have open shelves, style them with a limited palette of dishes, glassware, or serving pieces. 

4. Add a bowl of fruit.

“You can never go wrong with a bowl full of fresh fruit, but the best impact comes from limiting this to a single type of fruit,” Lorusso says. “Think of, say, a bowl brimming with lemons (or apples, or oranges).”

And yes, there’s an emphasis on fresh. Remember when people decorated with faux fruit? (Side note: The gelatinous grapes were especially odd, though fun to poke at.)

5. Deep clean.

While you may not need to buy new appliances if you’re looking to sell, you do need to give a good deep clean to the inside of the fridge and the oven. Buyers tend to believe that a clean kitchen is the sign of a well-maintained home, says Cottrell. 

Credit: Liz Calka

6. Remove a few chairs. 

Instead of four stools, see what the kitchen countertop looks like with two, says Lori Matzke, founder and president of Home Staging Expert. Instead of eight chairs around the table, try four, she says. “You will be amazed at how much larger your eating area will look without all that seating,” she says. 

7. Replace cabinetry hardware and light fixtures.

An inexpensive update that can provide an excellent ROI (or simply make your kitchen feel new again) is updating your cabinetry hardware and lighting fixtures, says Matzke.

“You can purchase cabinet pulls, knobs, and hinges in bulk at big box stores, and they also carry some really gorgeous light fixtures now for cheap,” she says.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 7 Low-Cost (or Free!) Kitchen Staging Ideas Professionals Swear By