27 Amazing Ways to Upgrade Your Kitchen Without Remodeling
These expert-backed kitchen upgrades will have your space feeling brand new in no time.
When it comes to creating a show-stopping home, there are few rooms that can make or break the overall aesthetic of a space like a kitchen. Whether you’ve got the wrong cabinets, the wrong appliances, or a hodgepodge design scheme that doesn’t appeal to buyers, even the smallest misstep when it comes to designing your kitchen can take tens of thousands of dollars off the value of your home. However, with a major midrange kitchen remodel costing an average of $68,490, according to Remodeling magazine, a kitchen upgrade can often seem just out of reach—but it doesn’t have to be.
With the help of expert designers, we’ve compiled the best ways to make over your kitchen without spending a fortune or undergoing a major remodel. And for more great ways to refresh your space, check out these 50 Easy DIY Projects You Can Tackle This Weekend.
Invest in some magnetic storage.
Kill two birds with one stone and add some storage and a fresh design element to your walls with a magnetic knife or spice rack. "Wall space is gold," says Maud Maciak, lead interior designer and owner of Magnifique Homes, an e-home-design company. "Use magnetic brackets to secure all of your everyday kitchen tools like knives, scissors, etc. You can also add metal bars with hooks to store ladles and wooden spoons." And if you want to avoid a costly error, it’s time to nix these 50 Ways You're Ruining Your Home Without Realizing It.
Add some drawers to your cabinets.
Simply stashing away items that would otherwise clutter your countertops can completely make over your kitchen in no time. The good news? Making your kitchen more put-together—and more functional—is easy. "Switch your shelf cabinets to drawers," suggests Maciak, who recommends Ikea for high-quality options that won't break the bank.
Install a peel-and-stick backsplash.
No experience laying tile? No problem! In an hour or so, you can easily add a backsplash that has the look and feel of tile to your wall without the help of a professional. "A backsplash adds a unifying element to a kitchen," explains Martha McNamara, the director of design and product at Vevano Home. "Plus, a good backsplash tends to be easier to wipe down than paint on a wall."
Add some under-cabinet lighting.
Making your kitchen brighter and more functional is easy with one simple addition: under-cabinet lighting! "This tends to brighten up counters, adding a more open feel that also is nice when it comes to food prep," says McNamara. And if you want a more polished space, make sure to avoid The One Home Design Mistake Everyone Makes.
Or highlight specific area with wall lighting.
The placement of light fixtures can make or break a kitchen space. So where's the best place to put them? According to Syd and Shea McGee, the husband and wife team behind design firm Studio McGee, using wall sconces to highlight an existing design element can reinvent your space in no time. "[We] love installing sconces above open shelving or a window," the couple writes on their blog.
Install some open shelving.
Want to make your kitchen more elegant? Add some open shelving.
"Too much cabinetry can feel heavy and closed off, so we like to add one or two elements that break it up a bit," note the McGees. In fact, according to a 2019 Zillow report, homes with open shelving in the kitchen sold 11 days faster than anticipated. And for more fun content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Install glass cabinet doors.
"Inner cabinet light and glass fronts bring the same light, airy feel you’re after with the advantages of a cabinet door," says Marty Basher, a home design expert for Modular Closets. He also notes that open cabinetry provides an opportunity to show off heirloom pieces—think wedding china, pretty silver flatware, or colorful vases—while also keeping them protected.
Or paint tuxedo cabinetry.
Painting tuxedo cabinets—in which the upper and lower cabinetry are different colors—is an easy way to transform your home without breaking the bank. In fact, according to a 2018 Zillow report, homes with tuxedo cabinets fetched $6,000 more than expected when they sold.
Add a windowsill herb garden.
A little greenery can go a long way when it comes to making your kitchen look like a brand-new space. "If you have a green thumb, you can grow an indoor herb garden," says Basher. "If not, it can be as simple as having a plant or two on the window ledge or counter or displaying fresh flowers in a fun canister on your kitchen table or counter." And if you’re eager to make your home feel more spacious, ditch these 23 Terrible Home Design Mistakes That Shrink Your Space.
Use cookbooks as décor.
You can quickly and easily change your kitchen's aesthetic using pieces you already have. "Displaying cookbooks with colorful covers on a shelf—or even just one on a kitchen counter—can add a little personality," says Basher. If you have more counter space to spare, try creating a vignette with a set of books with covers in a similar tonal palette, or, if you have open cabinetry, use bookends or stands to display interesting images or recipes you love. And if you want to make over the rest of your space, make sure to incorporate these 5 Things People Totally Regret Not Having in Their Homes.
Curate your fridge.
Your refrigerator shouldn't just be a space to stick up stray receipts and shopping lists. Instead, "turn your refrigerator into a little art gallery, adding colorful artwork from your kid’s school projects, inspiring quotes, favorite photos, etc.," suggests Basher. If you're feeling more inspired—or are working with an outdated appliance—you can even cover it with metallic or patterned contact paper to transform it in seconds.
Add a portable island.
If there is space going to waste in the center of your kitchen, try adding an island to the center of your room. And no, this doesn't have to mean hiring a designer or contractor to make it happen. "Adding a small cart is a great way to add both storage and create a functional food prep station," says Basher.
Or swap out the counter surface on your existing one.
Another quick kitchen transformation that doesn't involve a full remodel? Swap out the countertop on your kitchen's island for a more sophisticated style, suggests New York-based interior designer Diana Weinstein. If your budget's on the larger side, that can mean replacing that laminate for stone, or, if you're working with less money to spare, you can always cover those worse-for-wear counters with contact paper for a fun and frugal upgrade.
Add a runner rug.
Though having wall-to-wall carpeting in your kitchen may be a nightmarish situation for many neatniks, Weinstein suggests adding a runner to spruce up the space. Not only will this create a new focal point in the room, but doing so can also help take some of the focus off of those dinged-up or outdated floors until you’re ready to swap them out.
Upgrade your seating.
If you have a kitchen island or breakfast bar, swapping out seating is an easy way to transform the space—and one that doesn’t require a construction crew. “Switching up the seating at your island with new stools or chairs will make the space look updated—and since you will likely need four to five chairs, it’s not a huge investment!” says Weinstein.
Or reposition your seating area entirely.
That table that's been in front of your kitchen window for the past decade? Move it to the center of the room, or put it in the corner for an instant revamp of your space. "Simply moving things around, including your seating area, can change the feel the room," says Keith Melanson, a project manager at RenosGroup, a home renovation company.
Wallpaper your ceiling.
The ceiling is one of the most often overlooked areas in any room—but adding something to it is an easy way to completely change the feel of your kitchen in no time. “Adding wallpaper to your ceiling is a simple way to add color, pattern, or texture to your kitchen,” says Weinstein. For those who like the look of pressed tin ceilings, numerous companies now even offer metallic wallpaper that mimics the appearance of metal tile, but without the difficult installation process.
Install a new pendant light.
While that flush mount lighting that came with your kitchen may have served you well for some time, if your space needs a refresh, changing your light fixtures is a quick way to do it without a major investment of time or money. For maximum effect, Weinstein recommends installing pendant lights. They can create a new focal point in the room, add a pop of color without overwhelming the space, or designate a seating area without sacrificing precious square footage.
Upgrade your countertop appliances.
While investing in a new fridge, stove, and dishwasher can easily set you back thousands, as well as requiring some serious installation time, you can upgrade that same space for a fraction of the cost by swapping out smaller appliances, like toasters, microwaves, or blenders. “Small details can make a huge difference in a room,” says Weinstein. She recommends unique appliances, like Smeg’s iconic colorful line of retro-inspired wares, to “add a pop of color to your countertop.”
And install a steam oven.
If you’re looking for a single appliance that will upgrade your kitchen, put a steam oven on the top of your must-have list. According to Zillow’s 2019 report, homes with steam ovens mentioned in the listing sold for 34.1 percent more than the anticipated sale price.
Repaint your cabinets.
While tearing down and replacing your kitchen cabinets is an undeniably large—and costly—proposition, there are easy ways to upgrade your kitchen without turning it into a construction zone for weeks. “If you want to change the look of your kitchen but also wish to avoid spending a fortune, a great way to do so is by either replacing your cabinet doors or by simply repainting them,” says Melanson.
Or just add new hardware.
Looking for an easy kitchen upgrade you can knock out in a few hours? “In the past I've gone from brass hardware on my cabinets, and ended up spray painting all the hardware a dark stainless steel color for under $50 dollars,” says Brett Elron, owner and lead interior designer at Barter Design, an interior design consulting firm and blog based in New York. “This shifted my kitchen from an older contemporary feel and transformed it into a more modern look and feel.”
Swap out your faucet.
A toolbox and a trip to your local hardware store are the only things you need to completely change your kitchen for the better. “Replacing your kitchen faucet can bring your kitchen into the modern era,” says Elron. He notes that this easy installation “will change not only the mood of your kitchen, but also adds quite a bit of functionality,” as well.
Paint your walls.
The quickest way to upgrade your kitchen in no time? A little paint. “You can completely change the mood and tone of your kitchen for a few hundred dollars,” says Elron. Opting for lighter colors can make a small kitchen seem bigger, while adding in some unique design touches—stripes, or a chalkboard wall, for instance—can add visual appeal without taking up precious counter or wall space.
Add racks to your cabinetry.
Take advantage of your kitchen's super small spaces—like the one between the fridge and the cabinet—with a thin, vertical rack that can store anything from baking sheets to spices. Of course, you can easily incorporate these into your cabinetry if and when you do renovations—but if a complete kitchen overhaul isn't in your budget, a rolling rack is a cheap and easy alternative.
And vertical ones to store bulky items, too.
The more items you can store vertically, the better. This method of storage not only saves precious cabinet and counter space, but it also adds visual appeal to dead space in your kitchen, and makes it easier to sort through your belongings when you need to find a specific pot or serving tray. The sky's the limit!
Make the most of corner spaces.
Don't neglect the corners of your kitchen just because you feel like they're inaccessible; they're actually the perfect opportunity for a stunning and functional design feature. In an article for Houzz, kitchen cabinet designer Sam Ferris recommends using corner areas for features like a Lazy Susan, swinging pullout cabinets, or a breakfast nook. "A corner sink base just might be worth it if there's a view involved," writes Ferris. "The extra counter space behind your sink can house your finest décor (and show it off to the neighbors, too)."
Keep it simple.
If there's one overarching rule for transforming any kitchen, it's to keep things simple. Declutter your stacks of supplies, take it easy on the non-essential appliances, and be sure to curate your decorative items to those you really want. By streamlining things, you'll create a calm and soothing space rather than a hectic and disorganized one. And for more amazing ways to transform your space, discover these 27 Amazing Home Upgrades for Every Budget.