Cost Effective Kitchen Updates to Add Style Beauty and Value


Cost effective kitchen updates
This kitchen make over encompasses many of the ideas shared in this article. Click on the link in the article for “before and after” photos of this project.

The kitchen is the heart and soul of the home.  Often it’s the room that gets the most attention and use.  Family gathers there for meals and just catching up.  How many times have you invited people over and everyone winds up settled into your kitchen? If your kitchen is outdated, or doesn’t send the message you want your family, guests, or even potential buyers to receive, a cost effective kitchen update may be just what you need.

When it comes to remodeling, the kitchen can easily be the most expensive room in the house to renovate. A complete kitchen renovation can easily cost you $25,000 – $50,000. But, if you want a fresh new look, consider these cost effective kitchen updates that will give you a bang for your buck at a fraction of the cost! ( Click here to see “before and after” photos of the kitchen pictured . )



Kitchen Cabinet Replacing
Replacing kitchen cabinets is by far the most expensive option for a kitchen remodel. New cabinets will cost several thousand dollars for even a modest size kitchen, and may not be the high quality you want in your home. This cost doesn’t even include demolition and installation.

 You may be happy with the layout of your existing cabinets.  They may be sturdy and well built, but just look outdated.  If that’s the case, having them professionally painted is a no-brainer. A professional paint job can tie your entire kitchen remodel together.

The paint option also opens up much more opportunity for you to get a fabulous custom high-end look. A decorative paint finish on existing cabinets will cost about one third of lower-end new cabinets. Whether you choose a great shade of white or something more bold and decorative, painting opens up many creative design options.


Choosing the Right Color

cost effective kitchen updates white kitchen 02
These oak cabinets form the 1990’s were transformed into a stylish new look in a “cool white”. Click on image to view full size.

White is by far the most popular color choice for kitchens right now. Folks are excited about “50 Shades of Gray,” but there are dozens of shades of white, from cool sleek whites with wonderful undertones of blues and grays to warm whites with creams and yellows. Following close behind white, painted gray cabinets are a common choice. Once you make the decision to have your cabinets painted, the possibilities are endless.

A ”straight paint” in a color you select can completely transform the room, but a more decorative custom look can be accomplished with a glazed finish. A custom glazed finish in your specific colors and finish will quickly give your space a much sought after high-end look like what you see in top national decorating magazines. Click here to see before and after photos of white kitchens painted by Vintage Chic Painting.



Decorative Finish Options

Cost effective kitchen updates old world paint finish
This custom decorative paint finish is our “Old World Paint Finish”. Gives a great aged look and elegant style. Click on image for full size view. Also see more photos from this kitchen in the article to the left.

If your style lends itself to something more decorative, there are endless options available. There are some spectacular finishes out there and the exact look you are going for can be achieved. Options range from a standard paint with a contrasting glaze to complex finishes with several layers and steps to achieve just the right look for your kitchen.

Often folks may think that glazed and decorative cabinets can only look “country”, but that certainly isn’t the case. While you can get a romantic, cottage shabby-chic look from glazed and distressed cabinets, more modern and contemporary looks can be done as well. Tuscan style and Country French are very popular choices with decorative paint finishes. Even clunky oak cabinets from the 1980’s can be transformed into stylish art that would

This is an up close view of a shabby chic look. For years "shabby chic" has been the look for furniture, now it has moved to kitchen cabinets and can create a unique look!
This is an up close view of a shabby chic look. For years “shabby chic” has been the look for furniture, now it has moved to kitchen cabinets and can create a unique look!

easily be at home in a Manhattan apartment or a French chateau.


This is an example of the look John Baker with JB Designs mentioned in his quote. The wall cabinets are a great cool shade of designer white and the island is done in a contrasting gray with a glaze.
This is an example of the look John Baker with JB Designs mentioned in his quote. The wall cabinets are a great cool shade of designer white and the island is done in a contrasting gray with a glaze.

Advice from a local professional decorator John Baker, of JB Designs adds, “Try staying to a more neutral color for the main cabinets; that direction gives you more options to work with. Then of course, consider an accent cabinet grouping. Doing something bolder with the island, around the stove, or refrigerator/pantry units can add interest. Just remember, that most people only stay in their home for about 7 years or so; you have to think of resale. Set a budget and a design plan, and stay with it to ensure that your kitchen remodel is a success.”

Cabinet Modifications
Many homeowners are not aware that in addition to painting, or a new finish on existing cabinets that they can be modified to look more updated and be more functional. If cabinets are added or changed, the new paint finish will create a seamless look as if they have always been that way, even if the new ones are built from a different type of wood.  Below are some ways to make small changes that add a lot of custom style if you are planning on having your cabinets painted.

Offset Some Cabinets
Most new cabinet sets from the big box stores will have parts of the cabinets offset from the rest. You may find cabinets over the stove, over the refrigerator, perhaps over the sink and in corners. You might not realize it, but in most cases, the cabinets in your home are each separate boxes that can be moved relatively easily to create the same look as new high-end or custom-built cabinets. See photos of more kitchen projects from Vintage Chic here.

Dress Up End Caps
End caps of existing cabinets can get a huge custom bump with small changes that are very cost effective. Ends caps are the exposed flat-broad surfaces you see on the sides, i.e., on the end of the refrigerator, around the sides of an island, or where the cabinets end and the sides are exposed.  Bead board is a popular choice, and is a very inexpensive option. A good finish contractor or a crafty homeowner can also use trim and molding to simulate the look of panels, or actual panels can also be added. Often, these panels will exactly match the panels you already have on your doors.

Change What is Over Your Sink


Cost effective kitchen updates sink topper idea
This is one example of a decorative sink topper design to stand out from the other cabinets. This was all built with simple materials; adds a great deal of style with a small cost.

Nothing can age a kitchen quicker than having the wrong the look over the sink. Until recently the ubiquitous board bridged the sink from one end to the other.  No matter what you choose to do to the rest of the kitchen that board needs to come down. One option is to leave it open and that look is very popular. Another option is to add a decorative sink topper- not a cabinet, but an offset header with decorative trim and an interesting shape. A sink topper can be simple or more elaborate, depending entirely on your style and budget. A popular direction in this area to have the new sink topper offset (like other cabinets you may move) to create balance in the space.

Rearrange or Modify Some
This approach has been discussed some in the previous sections. This often intimidates clients the most, but it is really not that complicated and can easily transform older stock cabinets into a stunning custom look. Modifications mentioned already are offsetting cabinets and sink toppers. Others can be taking out a box of cabinets (on the bottom) and changing them to a bank of drawers, (the big long ones like you see in new kitchens).

A new build around the refrigerator is also popular. The top cabinets are usually moved forward and panels added to the exposed side; this can easily create a built in look for just about any refrigerator. You may even get to go with a larger refrigerator if the top cabinets are offset and moved up. More space and bigger fridge… a definite win.


Cost effective kitchen updates offset cabinet
This is an example of a cabinet moved to offset for a very updated look.

Many kitchens from the 1990’s and even 80’s in some cases have the “kitchen desk.”  This dates back to a time when they were actually used, sometimes for meal planning, but in the 1990’s for the home computer. It was necessary because the family computer was a desk top and had to be plugged into the internet. Now that option is all but obsolete and homeowners are left with a dated desk that turns into the place to pile things on, not to mention looking very dated (and messy). Taking it out solves the problem, and as mentioned above, adding cabinets is a pretty easy fix. This is a great opportunity to add a bank of drawers or regular base cabinets. The counter top is brought up to the same level of the rest of the kitchen. Many homeowners use this new space to create a coffee station like the ones you see at hotels and inns… very inviting, and a great idea!


Little Details Can Add a Big Look

Decorative Trims and Moldings

Cost effective kitchen updates with decorative details
This photo shows a few examples of details that can easily be added or changed. In the Background you can see how the cabinets above the microwave have been raised and the peninsula was flat board, beadboard was added around along with wide baseboard trim and leg posts.

In addition to the trim ideas for end caps and the bead board option, adding moldings to the top and bottom of upper cabinets can quickly give ordinary cabinets an extraordinary custom look. It can be as simple as wrapping the top in a nice wide crown (go for at least three inches or wider), or layer it up to add great dimension.  The end result can be stunning, and it can bring the whole re-working of your cabinets together. Trim around the base of the top cabinets can also add great detail.

Use Appliques to Create Detail
Whether it is part of your new sink topper or at the base of your sink, adding appliques is an easy way to add a lot of detail. It can be a simple design to add a hint, or you can opt for more detailed options. This idea gives you the look of custom scroll-work that will transform a flat, boring surface into a work of art.

New Counter Tops
Dark wooden cabinets and other elements quickly age a kitchen, but outdated or worn out counter tops will not only date a kitchen, but they can just make it look plain ugly. In the same way there are new paint finish and color options for your cabinets, there are also lots of options for counter tops. While there are some great DIY products for painting and resurfacing counter tops, replacing pays off in the long run. If you’re going through a whole kitchen remodel, ending with the same counter tops or a quick fix to your old ones can lead to a disappointing finish to your kitchen transformation. Curtis Cooper, of Flat Rock Surfaces in Johnson City says, “While granite counter tops are still the number one choice for homeowners, and are most often the go to choice, quartz is quickly becoming the surface of choice. Especially if you’re selling your home, you’ll want to consider quartz first, or at least granite to appeal to new buyers.”

Just like professional cabinet painting, replacing counter tops is one of the larger investments you’ll make in a kitchen remodel, but you’ll get a great return on your investment.

Hardware and Pulls
Changing the pulls or knobs on your kitchen can be the quickest change available. If you have bright brass then you’re behind the curve. For the last few years, brushed nickel has ruled kitchen remodels. While still current, it’s the back end of the trend. The most popular current look by far is oil rubbed bronze and moving in quickly are various black metals and shades of pewter. Most of the time, you can buy stock pulls that will fit the holes of your existing hardware, if you are wanting a quick change.

If you have front mount hinges you’ll want to make sure that you change those as well to match the new pulls or knobs you add. (For good measure and a seamless updated look in this area, change your sink faucet to the same metal and look of your pulls.) If you do have front mount or visible hinges, you might not realize it, but your doors can be changed to hidden or invisible hinges. Your kitchen can have a more updated look with this simple change.

If you’re painting your cabinets, old holes from front mount hinges and old pulls can be filled. This option gives the opportunity to start fresh with any pull or knob option you may want rather than making some new fit the existing holes.

Stylish New Backsplash
This can be the grand finally to a kitchen transformation. When it comes to backsplashes, you can spend a little or spend a lot! The most popular choice for backsplash is subway tile. Traditional white is the most popular choice, but there are many color and size options to give you a unique look. Your new back splash can also be your new counter top surface that’s taken up the wall to the cabinets. Another cost-effective option growing in popularity is to use bead board as a backsplash. Not only is it by far the least expensive option, it gives great flexibly. It can be painted the same as your cabinets or can be used for a “pop” of color.  Changing the color is very easy and only involves painting, rather than a tear out like changing other options like tile.

Wrapping Up

Cost effective kitchen updates customer thumbs up
Ready to give your kitchen the “thumbs up”? Call today and schedule your free estimate and consultation for your kitchen makeover!

Applying some or all of these ideas and options to your kitchen is an investment, but doing a kitchen remodel the right way will easily get you a great return on your money, especially if your goal is listing your house to sell. Colby Hurd, a local real estate agent with Signature Properties says, “Out of all home improvement projects, kitchens still offer the most remodeling bang for the buck.  Completing these projects prior to listing your home will put your home at the top of buyer’s lists, ensure a higher selling price and a shorter time on the market.” If selling is not the goal but you need a new look, then it is worth the investment to give you and your family many years of enjoyment, not to mention a renewed excitement around the most important room in the house.

When tackling an entire kitchen re-do, plan ahead.  Even if you cannot do everything at once, go ahead and get estimates for all that you want to have done and map out a strategy. Much of the ideas outlined here should be done in a sequence and not all at once.  This makes for an affordable, exciting change to your home!

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This article was written by Donnye Phillips, Chief Paint Slinger (and owner) of Vintage Chic Painting in Johnson City. Vintage Chic Painting offers custom decorative paint finishes for cabinets and furniture. Donnye works with clients to achieve just the right look. Examples of his work can be seen online at, on Facebook, or by appointment at his studio showroom at 208 North Boone Street in downtown Johnson City. Consultation and estimates are free call today (423)557-5097 or email