Ask 10 people what to splurge on in a kitchen remodel, and you’ll get 10 different answers. What constitutes an ideal space is highly subjective, and every kitchen remodel is a circus-worthy balancing act of money and priorities. Start by knowing what’s important to you, and then spend strategically.
Look to Your Layout
If you are happy enough with your kitchen’s existing footprint, leave it as is. “Keeping your layout is a surefire way to save money,” says Melanie Burstin, an interior designer from Los Angeles. One of the biggest ways to drive up spending is by tearing down walls and reconfiguring the space, which usually requires expensive professionals to move plumbing and electrical work. Keep outside labor costs low and don’t shift the sink, lighting, and appliances without good reason. That said, if your biggest pet peeve is staring at a wall for hours while you wash your household’s endless stream of dishes, then a new open floor plan with an island sink might just be worth it to you. Pay more for the change, then take money from elsewhere in your budget.
But don’t break out the sledgehammer without investigating less expensive and invasive options first. While remodeling her own dark, cramped galley kitchen (which cost under $20K), designer Velinda Hellen chose to replace a solid-core exterior door on the far wall with a glass option, which visually opened everything up, and let in more sunlight. If you can swing it, adding “larger windows can make a kitchen,” she says.
Well-constructed, durable materials that better withstand the heavy wear and tear of meal prep, cooking, and cleaning are almost always worth the extra money. Avid cooks, in particular, will want to spend more on items that get a lot of use—particularly those that are fixed and hard to replace down the line. While it’s relatively easy and cheap to swap out a pendant light, tearing out and reinstalling an entirely new countertop requires a lot more money and effort. Choose a quality work surface the first time and you won’t have to turn around and shell out more cash in a couple of years when the original one chips or stains.
One of Velinda’s regrets is the cheap $200 eBay faucet she installed in that same kitchen five years ago. Since then, the metal corroded and shoddy threads cause it to spin around at the base. A plumber recently quoted $500 just to replace it, making her yearn for the nicer $650 faucet she originally considered. It would have been a better deal in the long run, without the added hassle. “Although it sounded like a boring thing to invest in on my small budget, I had to learn the hard way that quality plumbing fixtures make a difference,” Velinda says.
Few things cause more sticker shock than new custo m kitchen cabinets. One strategy is to use existing cabinetry wherever possible, especially when it’s made of real wood and still in good condition. Fresh paint and new hardware go far for just a couple hundred bucks, if you tackle the work yourselves. (In fact, the more you knowledgeably DIY, the more you save, whether it’s demo, painting, or even plumbing.) For non-handy types, refacing is also an option, which updates the outwardly visible parts of an existing cabinet framework, namely the doors, side panels, and drawer fronts. It’s not as cheap as a couple of coats of paint, but can make old, outdated cabinets look like a completely new and different animal, without the custom price tag.
Sometimes cabinets aren’t salvageable. Enter IKEA, the best-known brand in the world of ready-to-assemble budget alternatives. Their SEKTION line features modular units with a lot of flexibility and good quality European-made hardware for the price. Save money by going the IKEA route, then skip their doors and upgrade to semi-custom ones from Reform or Semihandmade to substantially elevate the look. You can also powder coat any RTA cabinets, says Velinda, and get picky about exact tones of paint, just as you would with a custom build. “I’m all for that splurge rather than trying paint yourself,” she says. Plus, the finish is easier to clean and will hold up longer, with fewer scratches.
After successfully saving your pennies elsewhere, consider at least one decent splurge to take your kitchen to the next level. “Lighting is an easy way to upscale your project, without a huge price tag. Look to Etsy for reasonably-priced, but handmade, pieces that will bring a touch of something special to your room,” says Velinda. “You’ll support makers along the way, so it’s a win-win.”
Melanie herself loves good minimalist design that streamlines everything, and panel-ready appliances—fitted with custom covers that match the rest of the kitchen’s cabinetry—are one of her favorite ways to supercharge the end result. “It's crazy how much more expensive this type of fridge is, but, the cool thing is, once the cabinetry is done, it completely goes away.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest