If you cringe every time you look at your outdated kitchen, don’t give up hope. As long as your kitchen has a decent layout and solid structure, you can likely transform it with just a few strategic changes. Identify your “pain points” — organizational, functional or cosmetic — and check out these solutions.

Brighten up

“The current trend is to have everything in the house white,” says Sara Eizen, a Seattle decorator with a strong focus on home organization. “You don’t have to go that far, but it definitely helps to lighten things up.”

Upgrading a dark counter to a light quartz or quartzite surface can complement older wood cabinetry. If a new counter strains the budget, Eizen suggests lightening the cabinets themselves. “Maybe leave the wood on the bottom and paint the upper cabinets white,” she says. “If all the cabinetry needs painting, you could go all white — or try charcoal gray or navy blue for the lower cabinets.”

Alan Regala, owner of ShelfGenie of Seattle, reports that many of his clients are combining his cabinet-reorganization work with this type of cosmetic improvements to existing cabinets. “These updates are simpler and far less expensive than new cabinetry, but people feel like they have a brand-new kitchen in terms of appearance and ease of use,” he says.

Conquer clutter

Regala suggests doing a thorough cleaning of cabinets and counters at least twice a year, plus analyzing your use of appliances to see which ones really belong on the counter. “If you are using your Instant Pot several times a week, and the rice cooker only occasionally, the rice cooker should be stowed,” he says.

Both Regala and Eizen advise studying traffic patterns in your kitchen. Are your kids constantly crossing the kitchen between the microwave and the kitchen table, colliding with anyone cooking at the stove? Consider moving the microwave to a counter closer to the table.

Are newsletters, calendars, shopping lists, and phone chargers all over the place? Eizen suggests creating a corner “command center” to consolidate the tools of everyday living.

Are your pots and pans down at floor level, making them difficult to access? And, perhaps more importantly, making them difficult to put away when you’re done using them? Having an easily accessible place for everything is key to maintaining an organized space.

“There’s absolutely no reason why anyone should have to get down on their knees in the kitchen,” Regala says. “It’s not only inconvenient, it’s dangerous.” Improvements such as pull-out shelving, turntables, and even pull-up lifts that pop up to counter level, can put large appliances within reach.

“The good news is most people actually have plenty of space in their cabinets,” Regala says. “The problem is that the cabinets themselves are hard to reach into, inefficiently laid out, and hard to keep organized. As a result, everything you put in them ends up jumbled up and people get frustrated.”

There are a wide range of organization solutions on the market, from plastic bins and drawer organizers to professionally designed and installed storage systems, Regala says. “When you talk with a storage design expert, you’re hearing about hundreds of ideas they’ve seen work in kitchens,” he says. “And most of it can be done without changing the exterior cabinetry.”

Let in the light

If your kitchen feels tired and gloomy, look for ways to let in more light. Eizen likes to eliminate curtains and shades as much as possible. If your kitchen has an exterior door leading to your back or side yard, consider a sturdy, double-paned glass entry door that will bring light into the room and connect your home with the outdoors.


One of the best updates for an older kitchen is switching out an old-fashioned ceiling fixture with recessed or track lighting. Add task lighting in the form of inexpensive LED strips or pucks that fit under cabinets. Eizen loves to see an attractive pendant lamp over the sink or the eating area.

Quick fixes

Looking for a really quick fix or two? Eizen’s suggestions include fresh paint on the kitchen walls (“go lighter, or add a pop of bright color”), replacing beat-up faucets, updating the seating in the kitchen’s island or table, or adding a colorful, easy-to-clean kitchen rug. “You’ll find a little change like that can make a dramatic difference,” she says.

ShelfGenie of Seattle offers custom shelving solutions for kitchens, baths, and pantries, including expert design and installation. Learn how Alan Regala and his team can help add more space, more organization and more accessibility to your existing cabinets. 206-458-6804