10 Affordable Ways to Upgrade Your Kitchen

happy couple in stylish kitchen
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I get it. The kitchen is the heart of the home — a place for cooking, hanging out, doing homework and working from home. With so many functions, it’s understandable that the kitchen deserves some remodeling love.

But according to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of a full kitchen remodel is more than $25,000. If that price would skewer your bank account, try a more modest approach. Here are ways to upgrade your kitchen without downgrading the rest of your life.

1. Add a backsplash

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Backsplashes are one of the first things people notice in a kitchen. But since they don’t take up much real estate, it’s possible to make a big impression with very little cash.

From painted tile to self-adhesive decals, let these “17 Budget-Friendly Backsplash Ideas” from Better Homes & Gardens inspire you.

2. … Or an island

Parents cooking at home
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Make your kitchen more functional — and fabulous — by adding an island. Premade options like this affordable model from Ikea mean you won’t have to hire a carpenter (or pop a single aspirin).

Take things to the next level by installing hooks for towels and totes and choosing barstools that complement the decor.

3. Paint or refinish cabinets

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According to HomeGuide, the average cost for new kitchen cabinets in 2022 is $6,650. If that’s too steep for your budget, try a less expensive alternative.

With proper sanding and priming, painted kitchen cabinets can turn out looking brand new. And refinishing solid wood cabinets is a satisfying (but fairly time-intensive) project. Maximum cost? $100-$200 for materials plus your free labor.

For more on budget updates, see our article on “How to Remodel Your Kitchen for Less.”

4. Replace upper cabinets with exposed shelves

exposed shelves in kitchen
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Add visual “breathing space” in a tiny kitchen by replacing a few upper cabinets with open shelving. This set of three floating shelves is currently selling for $38 on Amazon.

Pro tip: Open shelving means everything is on display. Reserve shelves for color-coordinated bowls and dishes, mugs, and glass storage jars. Keep things light and sparse; don’t overcrowd each shelf.

5. Swap out cabinet hardware

kitchen cabinet hardware
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In the words of so many HGTV designers, cabinet hardware is the jewelry of a kitchen. Bring the bling by swapping dated drawer pulls and cabinet handles for more contemporary designs. For instance, at Lowe’s, this square drawer pull in brushed bronze sells for less than $10.

Pro tip: Don’t forget the hinges! To avoid a much larger project, match new cabinet hardware to the existing hinge color. Otherwise, each hinge will need to be removed and repainted or replaced.

This is just one example of “33 Home Upgrades That Cost Less Than $100.

6. Install a new faucet

Woman washing produce
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Improve the aesthetics and functionality of your kitchen by replacing the faucet. Models that feature a high arch and pull-down sprayer look more contemporary and can make cleaning large items easier. Pfister’s Hanover faucet is one example of this style.

Pro tip: To minimize cost, choose a faucet with either a large mounting plate or the same specs as your current model. Otherwise, you may need to replace the sink.

7. Paint the refrigerator

Woman looking into her fridge
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My sister-in-law painted her refrigerator last year, and it turned out perfectly. (I have to admit, I was skeptical.) It’s all about good prep work and choosing the right type of paint.

Instead of regular house paint, use appliance epoxy such as Rust-Oleum Appliance Epoxy which can be found in hardware stores or on Amazon. Not sure how to start? This YouTube video shows the process step-by-step.

8. Install under-cabinet lighting

under cabinet lighting kitchen
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Shed some light on those countertops and improve the ambiance of your kitchen. Most under-cabinet lighting is fairly easy to install and surprisingly inexpensive.

But shop smart — lights come in a variety of styles, voltages and installation methods. The Family Handyman covers the “10 Best Under Cabinet Lighting Options” to help get you started.

9. Wallpaper an accent wall

kitchen modern wallpaper
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Express yourself! Tie the colors of your space together by papering one wall in the kitchen or breakfast nook.

With so many peel-and-stick options, wallpapering isn’t the messy hassle it used to be. And it doesn’t have to be expensive either. This lotus flower wallpaper is only $35 a roll at Overstock.

10. Refresh window treatments

airy breezy kitchen
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Take a fresh look at the windows over your sink and in the breakfast nook. Is it time for an update?

Add cafe curtains that complement your new wallpaper or hang a Roman shade. This easy-to-clean bamboo shade, for instance, sells for $74 on Amazon.

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