Affordable kitchen remodel ideas for upscale results

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | January 12, 2015

A popular TV remodeling show from a few years ago featured cheap home makeovers inspired by expensive, high-end designer rooms. They accomplished these decorating feats by substituting elements similar to the pricey originals for sometimes as little as a tenth of the cost or less.

Thanks to today's vast variety of kitchen remodeling materials, products and supplies, homeowners who are willing to do some serious bargain-hunting can also successfully upgrade their kitchens on a tight budget. According to Remodeling Magazine's 2014 Cost vs. Value report, some of the best ROI comes from some of the least costly remodels. A mid-range kitchen remodel at under $19,000 can be more financially rewarding in the long run than pulling out all the stops.

Cheap kitchen remodel ideas for the budget-minded

The most popular kitchen makeovers still feature white cabinetry, stainless steel appliances and granite counters. Unless you are a trendsetter and want an all black kitchen this year, you can find plenty of ways to substitute less costly products and materials to achieve today's favorite kitchen look for less.

Using the stainless steel kitchen with white cabinets and granite countertops as an example -- and armed with images of the kitchen remodels you like the best as your inspiration -- you can adapt the most costly design elements to a smaller budget:

  • Cabinets. If you like the cabinets you have and you want to save a bundle right off the top, keep them. Paint your cabinets white. Add decorative molding to doors, or crown moldings above the cabinets. Create or purchase bead board cabinet doors for a fresh style. Affix stainless steel or brushed nickel hardware to match stainless appliances. Even if you decide you want new cabinets, keeping the same kitchen layout can save you money on electrical and plumbing work. Opt for ready-to-assemble or unpainted cabinetry. Ikea kitchen cabinets are popular with many DIYers for their adaptability, and they come with a variety of separate door styles, including glass. You don't even need to bother buying wall cabinets at all: as an alternative, shelving has become very upscale.
  • Appliances. The first thing some contractors may ask potential clients is, What is your budget for appliances? If it's substantial, they know the job will be at least a $75,000 remodel. You can easily spend more than $30,000 on stainless steel appliances alone. If you are not a culinary-school graduate, you may not need professional-grade equipment, but even if you do, wait for sales or buy floor models with minor nicks that won't be seen when the appliances are installed between cabinets. That could save you hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars on appliances. Buy last year's models in September or October when the new ones hit the market. Even better, wait until January when stores need to clear out last year's inventory. If all else fails, shop for deals on any major holiday weekend.
  • Countertops. Even with the ever-increasing array of new countertop materials available like Vetrazzo recycled glass and nanotechnology, self-repairing laminate FENIX NTM®, most homeowners still clamor for granite, so much so that it has become "common." The truth is that you can probably get a slab of granite these days at Home Depot for less than you would pay for some of the other high-end or new counter materials. Keep in mind, however, that the larger the kitchen and the better the quality of the slab you choose, the higher the price can be. Granite's closest manufactured competition is probably quartz, like Silestone, CaesarStone and Cambria, which cost about $100 to $150 a foot. The look is very similar to granite. Unlike natural stone, the pattern in quartz countertop material is consistent, which makes it possible to match up the seams. The real deal-breaker, however, might be that quartz is easy-maintenance and does not stain or require annual applications of sealant like granite does.
  • Flooring. What's not to love about hardwood flooring? It has timeless appeal. But it can also be pricey and damage easily. If you don't particularly warm up to laminate flooring as a substitute for wood, the next best thing is engineered wood. Another, more recent popular alternative to hardwood is porcelain tile that looks amazingly like wood. It comes in styles from plank to parquet. Porcelain tile is typically a less costly material than good hardwoods; however, installation of porcelain tile can cost more than wood, and you may find it hard on your legs and back when standing to prepare food. If you want heated floors, it's an ideal candidate. Wood-look, resilient vinyl plank flooring is one of the least expensive flooring materials, and it's waterproof, extremely durable, and easy underfoot.
  • Kitchen island. Who has not longed for a kitchen island? Unfortunately, if you have a tiny kitchen, it may be out of the question without breaking down walls. With very little extra space, however, you can buy a mobile kitchen island far more cheaply and create additional work and storage space that you can roll out of the way when not in use. You can also make your own rolling kitchen island from a double base cabinet and the countertop material of your choice. Add some casters, and away you go.

Other elements to complete a kitchen remodel include task lighting, backsplash treatments, sinks, and faucets. Check thrift shops, flea markets, Habitat for Humanity Re-stores for used building materials, and consignment stores for items you can recycle, upcycle, and repurpose. Then enjoy your dream kitchen or a nice return on investment when you sell your home.

Photo credit to Nam Phan