When it comes to the happiness we associate with our homes, few things send spirits soaring quite like a brand-new kitchen. But, realistically, this isn’t an option for all of us. Those who are renters or have perennially tight budgets often feel that they are forced to make do with what they currently have.
But wait, there’s another alternative: They could give their kitchens a “no-renovation renovation.” That’s where you give your kitchen a whole new look without ripping out cabinets, replacing countertops, or otherwise spending big bucks (or violating your rental agreement to leave the place as you found it).
While this renovation on a budget doesn’t include all of the bells and whistles of a new kitchen, it can streamline your space visually and leave it looking refreshed. So we reached out to some design experts to ask for their favorite suggestions on how to update a kitchen without doing a full overhaul.
Paint your cabinets
One of the easiest changes you can make to the overall aesthetic of your kitchen is to change the color of your kitchen cabinets.
“Painting your kitchen cabinetry is the best way to create a dramatic impact on a shoestring budget,” says Patrick Ediger, a Los Angeles-based interior designer. “Whether you’re giving dated, dark-stained cabinets a coat of fresh white paint or sprucing up boring melamine with a beautiful color, it’s a huge impact for a small investment.”
Even if you’re dealing with an outdated 1960s, ’70s or ’80s kitchen, fear not—refreshing and changing up the color can make one of the biggest differences and render the year it was built virtually impossible to detect. (As with all of these tips, if you’re a renter, be sure to get your landlord’s permission first.)
Replace or remove your upper cabinet doors
“In a small kitchen, you can remove the doors from the upper cabinetry and paint the insides a bright color as a fun way to add temporary and unexpected color to the space,” he says. If a minimalist look is more your speed, “keep it all white, and go for a more millennial ‘floating shelf’ vibe that keeps the space feeling open.”
Just a word of warning to renters: “Keep the doors to put back on before you move out!” cautions Taylor. This easy reno is best as a way to display your favorite kitchen-related items, such as your impressive array of cookbooks, artisanal oils, and condiments, or simply a favorite tchotchke or two.
Install a new backsplash
Tired of staring every day at the plain, boring white wall between your cabinets and counter? There is a way to jazz up this spot without spending a fortune: backsplash tile. In particular, subway tiles are a timeless option that may look expensive, but cost much less than you might expect.
“Subway tile is incredibly cheap and is a classic look that will never go out of style,” Erin Gates, a Boston-based interior designer. “Swapping subway for ugly or missing backsplash tile can really improve your kitchen’s overall look.”
One word of warning to avoid a commonly made (yet completely avoidable) mistake? “Just be sure to use a slightly or much darker grout, not bright white, so it doesn’t look like a bathroom!” Gates says.
Apply a peel-and-stick floor
Dealing with dated linoleum? A cracked cement floor? Chipped tiles? Any of these unfortunate flooring conundrums can be easily fixed by applying a peel-and-stick floor covering in the color and pattern of your choice. Not only is this durable and affordable, but it actually looks good, too.
“Vinyl decals are a fun way to breathe new life into tired tile,” suggests Taylor. “It can also be a great opportunity to add color and pattern to a kitchen, too.”
For those seeking a neutral look (and even some mimicking the grain of real wood), an array of options are to be had at big-box retailers, while specialty stores and sites have more specific and graphic choices. “Etsy sells some great design options,” offers Taylor. So don’t be afraid to search out homemade and custom versions.
Changing outdated hardware and fixtures
This renter-friendly solution lets you enjoy the beauty of new hardware and fixtures while you live in your home, and you can take them with you when you leave (provided you save and return the original, not-so-modern fixtures to their original places).
“Stores like Anthropologie and Schoolhouse Electric have great hardware options that can bring a unique and fresh look to an existing kitchen,” says Taylor. Another suggestion to refresh cabinet doors in a modern yet hip way? “Brass card-file pulls on the doors are a great way to instantly introduce a heritage vibe to a kitchen,” he adds.
Added bonus if you have a small kitchen? You won’t have to buy as many pieces of hardware to complete your update!