It’s a Catch-22 homeowners are all too familiar with: Remodeling your outdated kitchen is almost certain to pay off big when you sell—but the actual makeover takes big bucks.
By Jennifer Kelly Geddes
Is there any way to make a huge change without all the expense? Well, believe it or not, you can give your kitchen a face-lift without ripping out everything and starting from scratch. Yes, it all comes down to being creative with your cabinets—uppers, lowers, and everything in between.
Here’s some savvy advice from the pros who know, along with excellent cheap and simple cabinet updates you can start—and finish—this weekend.
1. Cabinet upgrade: paint your cabinets a fresh color
Photo by Cabinets by Design
You can’t go wrong with basic white in the kitchen. It channels a clean vibe that’s easy to live with, and makes resale a breeze when you’re ready to move.
But a little color is also lovely, especially cool blue hues and trendy pastels. A handy DIYer can paint kitchen cabinets in a couple of days. (It’ll cost you only the paint and brushes—and your time.)
Marty Basher, a professional organizer with Modular Closets, votes for matte paint finishes over glossy, as the latter sheen can veer into garish territory.
“Choose muted colors in jewel and earth tones instead of overly bright ones for a more luxe feel,” he says.
2. Cabinet upgrade: install brushed-brass accents
Photo by Boswell Construction
This one’s easy: Grab a screwdriver and put in new drawer pulls, says Drew Henry of Design Dudes.
“It’s supereasy to upgrade your cabinets with different hardware, and it’ll give you a lovely look,” he says.
Henry’s pick: brushed brass for a chic but quiet appeal.
“And go for elongated drawer pulls with clean angles over small knobs,” he adds.
3. Cabinet upgrade: brighten cabinet backs
Photo by Alair Homes Decatur
Glass-front cabinets are all the rage—you might even have a set in your kitchen right now. But rather than style (and restyle) the plate stacks and glasses inside, let paint step in (again) to do the tough work of updating and beautifying your workaday cabinets.
“A fun pop of color on the backs of a few glass-front cabinets adds interest to the room and lightens up the look,” Henry says.
4. Cabinet upgrade: add temporary wallpaper
Photo by The Cross Interior Design
Just as bright paint can enliven your cereal bowl display, so too can a couple of pieces of wallpaper. This can be a quick DIY, just watch a few tutorials first on how to hang wallpaper. Even better: Make it temporary paper, which you can remove anytime you need a change.
And don’t stop with cabinet backs—temporary wallpaper is a nifty surprise along your drawers’ outside edges. (Just pull the drawers open to reveal a pretty pattern.)
5. Cabinet upgrade: install under-cabinet lighting
Photo by Bartelt. The Remodeling Resource
You know that gorgeous glow you spy on Instagram when you’re scrolling kitchen renovations? It comes from under-cabinet lighting. This smart upgrade brightens shadows that are invariably created by overhead pendants and can be installed by a pro for just a couple hundred bucks.
Want to go cheaper? You can get lights that plug in to existing sockets or grab some adhesive lights to press on in dark corners. Or just place a couple of small lamps you already own along counters under your cabinets.
6. Cabinet upgrade: consider smart storage
Photo by Dura Supreme Cabinetry
A simple rack or drawer rearrangement can take advantage of unused kitchen cabinet space. If you’re a wine person, you can quickly create an X design with plain wood for stacking bottles on their sides.
Photo by Dura Supreme Cabinetry
Or if baking’s your game, a shallow pull-out to store cookie cutters means you’ll never lose these little tin items again.
7. Cabinet upgrade: decorate your cabinets with molding
Photo by Anthony Baratta LLC
You may not notice it at first, but molding is the unsung decor hero in every room. Simple pieces of crown molding, whether stacked, stepped, or the traditional variety, can be added to the tops of your cabinets for an upgrade that looks custom and expensive.
Karen Gray-Plaisted of Design Solutions KGP approves of crown molding on top of cabinets as it extends the design right the ceiling.
“Or reconfigure just a couple of upper cabinets to reach your ceiling like the ones around the sink or refrigerator area,” she says.
You might also try bottom molding, which is just what it sounds like: decorative pieces you attach to the edges or the base of lower cabinets or the kitchen island.
Adding these “feet” transforms lowers or an island, making them look like pieces of furniture.
Jennifer Kelly Geddes creates content for WhatToExpect.com, the National Sleep Foundation, American Airlines Vacations, Oxo, and Mastercard.