50 Cheap & Easy Kitchen Updates
Sprucing up your kitchen doesn’t have to take a big bite out of your budget. Our pro tips will help you creatively make several small changes that’ll add up to big style.
Max Out Your Kitchen’s Style for Less
A total kitchen makeover is one of the most expensive home reno projects — but from the island to the cabinets to the backsplash and everything in between, you can freshen up your existing kitchen’s style with tasteful tweaks and a few of our designer-approved tricks. Keep reading for our best tips.
Paint Just the Island, Or, Paint the Trim a Kicky Color
Ah … paint, what can’t it transform? One of the most budget-friendly fixes around, paint is also one of the easiest projects to tackle yourself. And best of all, if you change your mind, just paint it again in a new hue.
A little paint can go a long way. For a balanced palette, opt for soft white walls and a neutral island to let the look-at-me trim steal the show.
Rework What You Already Have, Or, Organize for Efficiency
Rearranging your existing furniture and accessories is a completely free way to reimagine any space. Of course, cabinets and large appliances make kitchens a little more — well, permanent — but you can still shift around the movable bits. Start by clearing the countertops and removing any furniture,
While you’re rearranging, don’t forget to look inside your cabinets and pantry. Consider how you use your utensils, plates, glassware, kitchen tools and small appliances; for instance, would creating a mini breakfast bar help your family start each day out on the right foot? Laying out your kitchen in the most functional way possible doesn’t cost a dime, but you’ll reap big rewards in the time you’ll save.
Display Gorgeous Gear
Any avid home cook will tell you that all kitchens — both large and small — can benefit from more storage. Hidden storage in cabinets and drawers is great, but for the tools you use regularly, like a spatula, whisk or slotted spoon, rely on a colorful crock to keep them at hand. For heavier items, like a wooden pizza peel, a securely attached brass rack keeps them on display and within easy reach.
Swap Out Your Barstools, Or, Creatively Recover the Seats
You may not give them much thought, but for kitchens with an eat-in island, barstools are a big component. Of course, comfort is key, but also consider the seats’ style, height and color. To pick up new barstools for less, search secondhand sites and check estate sales, consignment shops and thrift stores in your area.
Significantly cheaper than buying upholstery fabric by the yard, tablecloths are also readily available in both department stores and mass retailers — and they’re a great option when recovering barstools or dining chairs. Take a tip from our friends at HGTV Magazine and cover the fabric with a layer of clear vinyl from the fabric store to make the seats stainproof.
Wallpaper an Accent Wall, Or, Wallpaper a Small Area
Whether you prefer the permanence of traditional pasted papers or opt instead for removable peel-and-stick, a boldly patterned wallpaper is a foolproof way to rack up major kitchen style points. But, like all good things — too much can be, well, too much. So limit boldly patterned paper to just an accent wall to create maximum impact for minimum moola
A single roll of wallpaper is more than enough to add just a pop of pattern — without fully committing to covering an entire wall. Working in a such a small amount of pattern also allows you to go all-in on a more expensive paper or a heavily detailed pattern that might be overwhelming if it wrapped your entire kitchen.
Add Extra Storage With Open Shelves
Turn empty kitchen wall space into storage central with trendy leather-strapped shelves. Perfect for keeping glassware, cookware or spices handy, the open shelving can also function as cocktail central with the addition of your favorite booze and mixers.
Add Hanging Storage Where You Prep
If your kitchen island is meal-prep central, consider hanging a small towel rack on the end to keep kitchen towels handy. Metal S-hooks are a smart addition that make it easy to also keep small cutting boards or kitchen tools on-hand, too.
Roll Out a Runner
Adding rich color in small doses makes a big impact while keeping your budget low. Not only does this saturated runner bring a playful pop of pattern to this streamlined kitchen, it also adds softness underfoot, which is especially important in front of work areas, like the sink and stove, where you spend a lot of time standing.
Add Privacy With Tension Rods
Truly a handy-dandy invention, tension rods allow you to easily hang curtains without damaging woodwork. For these, stylist Liz Demos cut a pretty scarf to size, then used tension rods and clip-on rings to add a big splash of color and pattern without splashing the cash.
Stitch Up a Roman Shade
A great project for beginning sewers, a Roman shade in a look-at-me fabric can dramatically change the look of your kitchen windows. To save major money on material, use a tablecloth or fabric shower curtain instead of pricey yardage.
Take Shelf Liner Up a Notch
Self-adhesive shelf liner isn’t just great for lining drawers; follow our tutorial, below, to use it to inexpensively give glass-front kitchen cabinets or open shelving a big pop of color and vintage-style charm.
Get Creative With Leftover Wallpaper
Peel-and-stick wallpaper is so budget- and user-friendly that you’ll likely find yourself wanting to add it to surfaces other than walls. Put even the smallest bits of leftover paper to work to line the sides or bottom of kitchen drawers.
Bring In the Blooms, Or, Bring In Some Branches
Fresh-cut flowers are always a welcome sight in your kitchen, but creating an arrangement doesn’t have to be a chore. Go foraging in your backyard or pick up a few bunches at the grocery store or local florist, snip the ends, then plop them in a pitcher, ewer or old teapot.
Spring branches, just breaking into bloom, are a favorite staging trick of photographers and designers. Thanks, in part, to the fact that it’s such an easy trick to master. Just head outdoors with some pruning shears or loppers and gather a few branches with an interesting shape that have already formed buds. Place the cut ends in a tall, water-filled vase with some heft, to prevent it from tipping over, then wait. In about a week or two (depending on how close the buds are to opening when cut) you’ll be rewarded with flower-filled branches that’ll brighten up your kitchen for a week or more.
Pretty Up With Produce
Add a bit of fresh color (pun intended) to even an all-white kitchen with a countertop fruit bowl. This display of crisp, green apples adds a lovely splash of color, plus you’re more likely to help yourself to a healthy snack if it’s in plain sight and easy to grab for a quick bite.
Paint the Floor, Or, Paint the Ceiling
Want the look of trendy cement tile — without completely demoing your existing ceramic tile floor? Transform the look of your kitchen floor with just water-based floor paint and a stencil.
For a daring look that brings all the drama, take a cue from this high-end kitchen and coat walls, ceiling and trim in the same super-saturated shade. With a color this dark, it’s important to add balance with lots of white and the reflective gleam of metallic finishes.
Grow an Indoor Herb Garden
Having fresh herbs at hand will take your culinary skills to the next level — and add a beautiful pop of live greenery to your kitchen. Follow our steps to create a rustic countertop garden by giving terra cotta pots a charming, timeworn patina.
Say Hello to Houseplants
This colorful kitchen proves the appeal of working a few houseplants into the mix. Live plants not only add a mood-lifting reminder of the great outdoors, they also clean the air of common indoor pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde and act as mini humidifiers, releasing moisture back into the home. Just a few reasons why hardworking houseplants, like the low-maintenance pothos and peperomia seen here, are real kitchen all-stars.
Keep Colorful Small Appliances on Display
While original retro appliances can still be found at estate sales, antique fairs and online sites, many manufacturers are replicating the charming look of vintage small appliances with modern functionality and efficiency. If you’re lucky enough to have one of these colorful cuties, whether a beautiful blender or a trendy toaster, keep them on display for a fun pop of cheery color.
Show Off Your Showstoppers
Don’t hide your beautiful cookware away. Showcase it on your stove or artfully arrange it with other colorful essentials on your countertop or open shelves. Large pieces like colorful stock pots and Dutch ovens are a great choice, as are smaller pieces like brightly hued or patterned teapots.
Swap Out Ho-Hum Hardware
Swapping out old knobs and pulls is one of the quickest and cheapest fixes for what ails your kitchen cabinets. Hunt for new, trendy options at your local big-box store, salvage shops or your favorite online retailer. Before purchasing, be sure to match the width (both 3″ and 4″ are common) of your new drawer pulls to the existing holes. A good trick is to take one of the old pulls with you when shopping so you can be sure the new hardware will match up.
Focus on the Faucet
If you’re handy with a wrench, you can bid a maybe not-so-fond farewell to your old faucet and upgrade it for a model that’s more your desired style. Whether you’re yearning for a modern, touchless style or are more interested in a timeless touch, like this bridge-style beauty, faucets are available in such a wide variety of finishes and styles that it’s easy to find one that’ll fit both your look and budget.
Tile the Backsplash Yourself
Following our tutorial, below, you can boost your kitchen’s wow factor in a three-day weekend by installing a timeless Carrara marble backsplash in an updated subway tile pattern.
Add a Peel + Stick Backsplash
Let’s face it: Trends are fading. If you’re a renter who can’t make permanent changes or a homeowner who wants to embrace the latest color palette or pattern to strike your fancy without decades of commitment, a peel-and-stick wallpaper backsplash might be just the trick to add a lot of color without a lot of cost.
Conquer Clutter in the Pantry
While an Insta-worthy pantry might seem appealing, a well-organized cupboard is more about functionality than form. Whether you’re lucky enough to have a spacious walk-in, like this example, or are making do with a few dedicated shelves, decanting dry goods into jars and adding custom labels is a great first step to keeping things tidy.
Organize Kitchen Drawers
Kitchen drawers can quickly become a dumping ground for everything from takeout menus and leftover condiment packets to phone chargers and dried-up pens. Minimize the mess by retrofitting your existing kitchen drawers with wood blocks as dividers or a readymade organizer to streamline storage for must-have items like linens and utensils. Take a tour of this kitchen, updated on a budget, below.
Tame Baking Gear
If you’re an avid baker, you know that necessary gear, like cookie sheets, muffin tins and cake pans, can quickly become a cluttered pile in your cabinets. Eliminate the noisy need to extricate cookie sheets and muffin tins from the bottom of the pile with the easy addition of a few tension rods.
Showcase Your Favorite Serveware
Make the heart of your home an expression of your unique style by filling open shelves with functional and beautiful pieces that are also a reminder of family or just fun times thrifting. This is your home, after all, so it should be a reflection of your own personal style. Use pieces you love looking at to style out the areas — like kitchen shelves — you see most often.
Display Collectible Cookware
Copper pots are too pretty to hide away in a dusty cabinet. If you’re lucky enough to have a collection of these pretties, display them where they’ll add a warm gleam but are still handy for cooking. Copper pots are so desirable in part due to copper’s ability to heat quickly and evenly and cool down just as quickly, making copper pots ideal for heat-sensitive recipes like chocolate, caramel and sauces that can easily scorch if overheated. They’re also super durable. Given proper care, copper cookware can last for generations. So, whether you inherited or thrifted these burnished beauties, show them off.
Give Can Lights a Designer Upgrade
Do a bit of searching online or at your local hardware store and you’ll find a variety of kits that’ll help you convert existing recessed (or can) lights into pendants that’ll give your kitchen island a freshened-up look for minimal fuss.
Opt for Happy Hued Pendants
An easy update to an all-white kitchen? Swap builder-grade light fixtures for pendants with panache, like these spring green lantern-style fixtures that boost this kitchen’s fun factor with just one change.
Create a Cozy Breakfast Nook
A common feature of high-end homes, a breakfast nook creates a cozy spot to enjoy a light snack, turning any kitchen into an eat-in kitchen. And, bonus: If you have a little space to spare, a breakfast nook is easy to fake, just pull together a slim table, a low bench and a few folding chairs — no costly custom carpentry or dedicated home addition necessary.
Remove Just a Few Cabinet Doors, Or, Add Glass Inserts
Love the look of open shelving but don’t want to tear out your cabinets? Try removing a few cabinet doors, instead. Fill the now-open shelves with your prettiest dishware, stacks of books, a few metallic accents and small framed art. For added pop, you can even line the back of the cabinet with wallpaper or paint it in a complementary color.
According to glass insert manufacturer Bendheim, refacing existing cabinets costs 80% less than totally replacing them. Plus, it’s a project you can do yourself over a weekend without losing the use of your kitchen. Not brave enough to go totally open with your cabinetry? Try this project on just the set of cabinets flanking your stove or over the coffee counter, and put your best dishes on display.
Squeeze In a Mini Cocktail Bar, Or, Create a Coffee Bar
If you’re short on space, skip the bar cart and gather your go-to liquors and mixers on a tray that — bonus — can be easily moved to the dining room or den, when guests gather.
Minimize your morning hustle by turning one corner of your kitchen into an in-home coffee shop. Gather together your coffee maker, grinder, beans, sugar and other add-ins, along with spoons and this handy DIY space-saving mug holder to both create a pretty display and streamline your morning cuppa.
Turn a Vacay Photo Into Art
Whether you consider yourself a shutterbug or you just got really lucky with a particular shot, turn it into art. There’s a multitude of online sites and local office supply stores or camera shops that can turn your favorite vacation photo into a poster-size print. Framed inexpensively in a poster frame, the larger-than-life print will bring a getaway feel to a corner of your kitchen.
Put a Window to Work
Turn a sunny window into a spot for displaying a collection of your favorite kitchen items. Vintage pieces in a similar color palette are especially lovely when grouped together. Kitchen window shelves are also the perfect location for growing light-loving herbs and flowering plants.
Max Out the Space You Have
The easy addition of a single, central shelf turns formerly wasted space above the fridge into a handy home for favorite cookbooks, framed art and an antique butter mold. A little high up for regular waterings, a faux string of pearls succulent drapes colorfully along the space-saving shelf.
Use the Seating You Have
Short on dining chairs? No worries, mix up seating options — from a weathered garden bench to an antique channel-back armchair — for a laid-back look. Cozy up any hard surfaces with a throw or pillows to encourage guests to linger over a home-cooked meal.
DIY a Cookbook or Tablet Stand
Everyone could use an extra hand in the kitchen, especially when they’re whipping up a new recipe. Beginner woodworking skills and our step-by-step instructions, below, will help you turn leftover lumber into a useful kitchen assistant.
DIY a Useful Cutting Board
Turn hardwood lumber into a stylish cutting board that not only looks great as a decorative kitchen accent, but is also a beautiful serving surface for parties and can lend you an assist in chopping veggies for dinner.
Pop In Some Unexpected Color
Paint a small area, like the beadboard under this island, for an unexpected pop of color. Classic navy adds depth to this modern kitchen that’s filled with whites and pale woods. Jazzing up a small area doesn’t require a ton of paint, so grab some leftover paint from another project or buy a sample can to cover the space for around the cost of your venti coffee.
Paint the Entire Island
White cabinets help a kitchen feel bright, open and clean, but white-everything can feel stark and cold. Change things up a bit by painting the island a shade that really stands out, like this still-neutral cadet blue.
Modernize Vintage Lighting
Easily give a dated brass fixture an updated look with a can of spray paint. If you don’t feel comfortable removing the fixture yourself, have a friend who’s electrically savvy give you a hand. Place the fixture on a drop cloth, cover the sockets with painter’s tape, then evenly coat all surfaces with paint. Reinstall the fixture and swap out the traditional candelabra bulbs for frosted globes or Edison bulbs.