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Splurge or save? Creative kitchen remodel ideas for every budget

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | October 24, 2014

What do you notice first about a fabulous kitchen remodel when you see one? The top-of-the-line, professional-grade, stainless steel appliances? The shiny, oh-so-desirable granite countertops and chic open shelving? What about the eye-catching or colorful glass-tile backsplash?

What excites a culinary expert does not necessarily tickle the fancy of the homeowner or homebuyer who is keen on a vintage look with period appliances. The family with kids and pets might love a pristine, all-white kitchen, but they may also know they have little time or strength left at the end of the day to keep it looking that way.

The answer to the perennial, "What do you like (or love) about this kitchen?" differs depending on your needs and sense of style.

Prioritizing your kitchen remodel ideas

Even if you are fortunate enough to afford every indulgence you desire for your kitchen remodel, you probably know that might not be wise if you're looking for a good return on investment. An upscale, major kitchen remodel of almost $110,000, according to Remodeling Magazine's annual Cost vs. Value report for 2014 returned a mere 63.6 percent of its cost at resale. On the other hand, a minor, mid-range kitchen upgrade of just under $19,000 returned 82.7 percent of its investment expenses, and even a major mid-range kitchen overhaul at nearly $55,000 produced a respectable ROI of 74.2 percent. Bigger is not necessarily better, except, perhaps, in the eye of the beholder.

From big spenders to budget-strapped homeowners, all have dreams for how they can alter the kitchen they've lived with -- and possibly hated -- for years. So where should you splurge and how can you save regardless of your financial resources?

5 kitchen focal points: looks and functionality for less

Functionality and appearance are always vying for top billing when you plan a remodel. Consider these tips for the major elements of a kitchen to help you prioritize your kitchen remodel and come up with creative kitchen remodel ideas that fit both your needs and your finances.

Appliances. You can spend under $3,000 on kitchen appliances or more than $30,000. There is plenty of room to splurge or save in between. Are you an accomplished chef? If not, do you really need a professional-quality range or specialty ovens? Do you need stainless steel appliances? Right now, stainless is still king, but you may pay a premium. Unless you have a large family, you might not need a $15,000 refrigerator. Budget-minded homeowners often find deals on appliances with superficial defects at scratch-and-dent outlets or by buying floor models. However, if time and convenience at mealtime are top priorities for you, splurge on appliances like an induction cooktop, a GE Advantium speed cook oven, or under-the-counter refrigerator drawers that can change functionality from freezer to produce to wine cooler and more. Just a quiet dishwasher may be a huge priority if you have an open kitchen plan.

Counters. Granite still enjoys some of the same popularity stainless has had. If it's a must for you, look for deals on remnant slabs directly from suppliers. If you have a kitchen island or more than one continuous counter area, use granite for one and go for something different on the others. There are more - and easier-maintenance countertop materials beside granite such as quartz composite, ceramic, or the latest self-repairing nanotechnology laminate. And speaking of laminate, if your present counters are laminate that's decades-old with a built-in backsplash, that's a dated feature. Replace it -- even with one of the newer budget materials.

Backsplash. Feel free to give a little or a lot of love to the area between your cabinets and your counter top. It's relatively inexpensive and can make a big splash, no pun intended. Tiles -- especially metal, glass, or stone -- or bead board can add interest and draw the eye to the counters and cabinets. Break up sheets of mosaic tiles and reconfigure them for originality, or use even a simple subway tile design to bring outdated kitchens into the new millennium. If nothing else, give the wall a fresh coat of gloss paint in a color that makes your cabinets pop.

Cabinets. The cabinets are probably the first thing most people see when they enter your kitchen. You may have little or no choice but to get new ones if any of the following scenarios apply:

  • You have poor quality cabinets that have seen better days.
  • They are a style that doesn't match your vision for the new kitchen.
  • You are changing the entire layout of your kitchen, and the old ones won't fit the space.

When it comes to saving money on new cabinets, some homeowners opt for ready-to-assemble ones such as those you can get at IKEA. If you already have granite or other stone countertops, you may not be able to remove the lower cabinetry without sacrificing the counters. In that case, you can reface them in a number of DIY ways to save money -- installing new doors, adding molding to the present doors, painting, staining or faux finishing, creating a mosaic inlay, or simply by adding new hardware. Removing the upper cabinet doors or adding glass inserts or lattice to the doors and installing cabinet lighting can dramatically change the entire look of your kitchen. So can removing some or all of the upper cabinets and replacing them with open shelving to display your dishes and glassware.

Window treatments. Does your kitchen feature big windows with plenty of light streaming in? Does it overlook a great view? Be sure to take advantage of it. If, however, your windows look out on the interstate overpass or your neighbors' less-than-appealing yard-scape, make a stunning window treatment one of your kitchen's focal points. It can cost you as much as a few hundred dollars for a custom window shade or, if you're handy with a sewing machine, less than $50. If your budget allows, add a skylight or solar light tube to bring in more natural light.

There are plenty of other details to a kitchen remodel to which you should pay attention -- the things that don't jump out at you, but without which your remodel looks and feels incomplete. The same rules -- prioritizing what is most important for appearance and functionality -- apply to things such as adequate lighting and wiring for tech, a functional but attractive sink and faucet, flooring, cabinet organizers or even a pet feeding station.

If you plan to live in your home and use this kitchen for a long time to come, basic functionality might be more important to you than style, which often changes every decade. On the other hand, if you expect to sell your home in the next few years, look at your remodel through the eyes of a potential buyer. The colorful backsplash tiles you might love today could be a turnoff to a potential buyer of tomorrow. In the final decision-making process, your kitchen remodel should always be based on your well-thought out priorities.

Photo credit to Kevin Irby

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.

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