27 Creative Kitchen Upgrades
Freshen up your cook space on even the smallest of budgets with these savvy ideas
You don't need a soup-to-nuts remodel to spice up your kitchen. With the right ingredients—clever seating, statement lighting, color in unexpected places—you can get an updated look for not a lot of dough.
Give an eye-catching new look to a table by painting its base a bold hue, like this zesty orange. It's an easy and inexpensive way to add a hit of color to an otherwise neutral cook space.
Similar to shown: Rust-Oleum protective enamel spray in Gloss Burnt Orange, about $4; at home centers
Go for the gleam with a fresh take on classic subway tile. The metallic sheen on these mini rectangles picks up the shine of the stainless-steel appliances and chrome fixtures while softening the transition between black counters and white cabinets.
Shown: Ann Sacks Stoneware Elements tile in New Mercury, about $35 per square foot; annsacks.com for retailers
Add character along with illumination by swapping recessed cans for fixtures that hug the ceiling. Semi-flush mounts like these simple transparent cones make an elegant statement without calling too much attention to themselves.
Similar to shown: Defiance fixture with shade, about $145; schoolhouseelectric.com
Bridge the gap between ceiling and upper cabinets with a handsome molding treatment. This built-up cornice is easy to DIY using paintable clear pine or poplar 1x6 boards.
Shown: Primed pine board, about $1.50 per foot; lowes.com
Turn a simple storage niche into a design feature by painting the back a contrasting shade. The splash of fresh citrus color echoes the tiles and livens up the gray island.
Similar to shown: Behr's Premium Plus Ultra Interior Semi-Gloss Enamel in Orange Burst, about $35 per gallon; homedepot.com
Put a pop of color in an unexpected place, such as the chartreuse-green in this storage alcove.
Similar to shown: Benjamin Moore's Aura Interior Semi-Gloss in Flower Power, about $65 per gallon; at paint stores
Opt for inexpensive open storage to turn everyday items into functional art. The white shelves "disappear" against the white wall, making the space feel larger, and they're a bargain compared with the cost of upper cabinets.
Similar to shown: Tampa 36-inch white floating shelf, about $45; overstock.com
Skip the fancy upholstery and choose fitted slipcovers for your kitchen chairs. Practical and easy to launder, they're an affordable solution in a potentially messy, high-traffic area.
Similar to shown: Cotton twill slipcover, about $55; customcoverings.com
Trade in the usual counter-height seating for diner-style barstools. They're a durable, family-friendly choice that wipes clean easily.
Similar to shown: Retro diner barstool, about $78; barstoolsandchairs.com
Impart a vintage look for an old-fashioned price by covering one wall with inexpensive ceramic squares in multiple colors.
Similar to shown: Semigloss tiles, about $3 per square foot; daltile.com
Disguise less-than-perfect wood planks with a coat of enamel in a vibrant color, like this cobalt blue. You'll avoid the cost of refinishing or replacing worn boards and enliven the look of your kitchen at the same time.
Similar to shown: Sherwin-Williams's Porch and Floor Enamel in Pulsating Blue, about $55 per gallon; at paint stores
Get a rustic hardwood look for less with No. 2 Common boards (sometimes referred to as "utility grade")—they have just the right amount of knots to add character.
Face-nail them down, and give them an aged patina with a stain such as Minwax Weathered Oak, about $27 per gallon; homedepot.com
Evoke an old farmhouse hearth and add an architectural element by using curved brackets to support a 2x6 shelf above a stove that has a downdraft vent.
Similar to shown: Ornamental Mouldings unfinished wood corbel, about $25; homedepot.com
Free up drawer space and add efficiency to your kitchen routines with an above-the-stove rail that puts cooking utensils right where you need them.
Similar to shown: Fintrop nickel-plated rail, about $10; ikea.com
Check out eBay for an old church pew to use as a bench seat, starting at about $50.
Rethink the concept of the traditional kitchen island. A rustic wood-top workbench or desk makes a great prep surface that's long on character.
Search eBay or Craigslist for pieces similar to the one shown here, for as little as $55.
Make a statement with a single dramatic light fixture. This multilight number casts ample light on a kitchen workstation, so you lose the need for individual task lights while gaining a stunning focal point.
Give a plain wood floor oodles of rustic charm with a simple design of stained or painted diamonds. For the former, you'll need to sand down to bare wood and use two contrasting stain colors.
To learn how to tape off and paint a checkerboard, watch the video at thisoldhouse.com/may2014.
Save on a big-ticket item like a soapstone sink by haunting stoneyards for discounted remnants or buying a slab from a dealer. Cut and assemble the sink yourself using a jigsaw, epoxy, and free DIY assembly instructions online.
Shown: 30-by-84-inch slab, about $520; soapstones.com
Turn a store-bought hutch into a handsome built-in by finishing the top with expensive-looking crown molding and staining it to match.
Similar to shown: Ronan Hutch in Tobacco Brown, about $400; pier1.com
Fasten inexpensive wood cubbies together with screws, and frame the front with 1x2s. Add a coat of paint and a cushion.
Shown: Birch plywood cube, about $60; gothiccabinetcraft.com
Pull up a pair of backless benches with shapely supports, or hit up the home center for turned wood legs and build a bench with plywood and skirting.
Shown: 18-inch wood scrolled leg, about $9.50; lowes.com
Build a basic banquette from a frame of 2x4s clad with paint-grade ¾-inch plywood. Layer a 1x2 over a 1x4 to create the stepped-up trim.