Q: My kitchen is stuck in the 1990s. But as much as I’d like to update it, I don’t have a huge budget. Is there any way I can freshen it up without spending a fortune?

A: You don’t need a full gut and remodel to update your kitchen. Sometimes it only takes a few simple adjustments to give it a fresh new look. Here are a few suggestions for quick fixes with nearly instant results.

Optimize the space. A cluttered kitchen feels small and cramped, and there’s little point in trying to upgrade it if it’s overstuffed. Start your project by clearing and reorganizing the interiors of your cabinets. Be brutal with discarding — you probably don’t need half the things in there. Install pull-out shelves and drawers, and cabinet organizers as needed. Now you can clear the countertops and store the random containers, utensils and small appliances that tend to clutter surfaces. Remove all the old notes and pictures on your refrigerator door.

Update the backsplash. Of everything in your kitchen, the backsplash dates the fastest. By updating it you can add years to the space. For a quick change minus the mess and labor of replacing it altogether, you can apply peel-and-stick vinyl tiles over the old ones, or simply prime and paint it. To add some color and personality, place some small art or craft items against the wall and on open shelves.

Revive the cabinets. Upgrading your cabinets will have the biggest impact on your kitchen. Painting the old wood or even laminating it in a fresh color will make a huge difference. You can also replace old knobs and handles with something more current. If your cabinets don’t rise all the way to the ceiling, you can extend them with panel board and crown molding, adding height and a more finished feeling to your kitchen.

Add an island. Every kitchen would benefit from an island. Islands provide additional storage and workspace to prepare food, as well as a great place for a decorative bowl of fruit or fresh flowers when you’re done. Even if your kitchen is small, having a tiny cart on wheels is incredibly handy for adding extra landing or serving space. And if it gets in the way, it can be pushed aside. You can purchase an island sized for your kitchen, add castor wheels, and give it a bold coat of paint.


Layer the lighting. Good lighting is a crucial kitchen element because it’s functional and adds ambiance. First, install dimmer switches so you have lighting flexibility when you need it. Second, add layers of lighting. Under-counter puck lights or LED strips make great task lighting, while small recessed lights are good for general lighting. New pendants over the island can upgrade the look. Add a little magic by placing a table lamp on the counter for extra light and ambiance.

Spruce up the sink and window. The sink is often the last place we think of, but it doesn’t have to be simply functional and boring. An easy faucet replacement can make a world of difference, and with new water-saving devices, it will also lower your water bill. Add some fresh flowers and attractive soap and-cream dispensers on the side. Hang a colorful Roman blind or add a touch of style to the sill with pretty pots of fresh herbs.

Don’t be afraid to decorate. There’s no reason to treat your kitchen any differently than the rest of your home. Add splashes of color, hang mirrors and artwork, and keep lots of fresh flora around. Your kitchen is ultimately an extension of your living area, so style it with the same enthusiasm you bring to your other rooms. A strong sense of style can neutralize even the most dated features.


Mia Hannom is the owner of In Form Design and a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s nearly 2,800 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.