These Expert Tips Will Help You Refresh Your Kitchen Without Spending a Lot

A real estate agent poses for a portrait inside a kitchen that has a fresh coat of paint on the cabinets and updated handles. These things are less expensive then renovating a whole kitchen.
Judy Anderson, a real estate agent with Re/MAX, tells her clients that a little bit of paint goes a long way. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

For some, it’s a creative space where new recipes come to life each night. For others, it’s just the same old place where we cook the same old things.

Either way, sprucing up your kitchen can be good for your spirits and efficiency.

Here are some easy, inexpensive kitchen updates you can do on a budget.

Before You Do Anything Else: Declutter

Sometimes subtracting from a room can change the whole look as much as adding to it.

“The rule of thumb is your kitchen counter should be 80% clear,” said Allison Marshall, a professional home organizer and founder of Simply Inspired Spaces.

“You can get all of the extra stuff off the counter — not just the clutter and the mail, but even appliances and other things you have there,” she said. “The only thing that should be on your counter is what you use every day.”

This means the toaster or that trusty George Foreman grill should go in the cabinets, even if you use them every other day.

But what if there’s not an extra inch of room in the cabinets or the pantry?

“Clients always think they need more space, but once we go through stuff and they get rid of what they don’t need, they always have new space,” Marshall said.

The first step to finding more room in a kitchen is taking everything out of the cabinets and drawers.

Then be honest about what goes back in. You only need one muffin tin and one set of mixing bowls. If later, you find you need another one, borrow it.

Once you free up cabinets and drawers, clear off almost everything from your countertops.

“Then you can add one thing to the space that makes you happy,” Marshall said. “A candle or an orchid instead of that toaster.”

A Little Bit of Paint Goes a Long Way

Cabinets with a fresh coat of white paint and updated handles.
Anderson recommended her client paint these kitchen cabinets white and replace the plastic knobs with black wrought-iron handles and pulls. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Real estate agent Judy Anderson is a veteran of easy fixes that spruce up a kitchen.

“I always tell people a little bit of paint goes a long way, said Anderson, who is with Re/Max Action First of Florida in St. Petersburg. “It’s an inexpensive way to just totally change the look and feel of your kitchen.”

She recently listed a 1970s home with a partially updated kitchen. The clients had installed marble countertops and replaced all the appliances except the range. They never touched the dark wood cabinets.

Anderson suggested they paint the cabinets white and replace the round plastic knobs with black wrought-iron handles and drawer pulls.

The first day it was on the market, Anderson said, an interested buyer told her, “I love that they completely renovated the kitchen but don’t see why they did everything but the oven.”

Ready to tackle the bathroom? Here's how to create that spa feeling with a budget bathroom makeover.

Get Inventive

Anderson had another client who needed to free up counter space in a small kitchen, so the client decided to create a coffee bar in a corner of the larger family room.

They bought a coffee bar from Ikea for $60, and moved the coffee maker, flavorings, mugs and stirrers out of the kitchen. This created more room in the kitchen and enhanced the family room with a “zen” corner.

Let There Be Light (Shelves)

Sarah Shields, an interior designer at Intrepid Interior Design in Arizona, is a big fan of light shelves hanging in front of a window to add space and a positive ambiance.

”I love the nontraditional idea of a light shelf [which bounces light off of your ceiling and into your room] with plants on it,” she said. “The increase in light will also help brighten your mood.”

A light shelf is also a great place for favorite cookbooks or spices.

Shields says you can make your own light shelf using ropes or leather straps. The ropes or straps can be tied to metal hooks on either side of the top of the window frame. They hang in a loop which can hold a board cut to be the width of the window.

Shields suggests measuring the width of your window frames, then buying a board that’s a little bit wider than the window and having Home Depot or Lowe’s cut out a space for the frame so it can be mounted on the wall outside the window.

Adding a wow factor, more light and storage space is a win-win-win.

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance editor and reporter in St. Petersburg, FL., and author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps & Lessons Learned.