Cheap Tricks for Cool Kitchens: These improvements won't break the bank


If home is where the heart is, then kitchens are clearly one of the vital organs that convert a house into a home. So it is no surprise that kitchens are among the most popular remodeling projects tackled each year.

Not only does updating your kitchen breathe new life into your home, it adds value to it should you decide to sell. According to Remodeling Online’s 2005 Cost vs. Value Report, even a minor kitchen remodeling project will return an average of 98.5% of its cost when it comes time to sell the home.

Any home improvement projects can be complicated, but a major kitchen makeover can turn your life upside down, not to mention all the fast food pounds you’ll put on waiting for that kitchen to welcome you back in. To avoid the indigestion and home improvement hassles, it makes sense to break down the projects into “modules” which can be completed independently of one another. Not only does this make the project more manageable, these smaller changes can have a big visual impact and cut down on the need for more major makeovers.

Here are some ideas to help you separate the wheat flour from the kosher salt and cook up the kitchen of your dreams:

POP THE TOP - Kitchen countertops create bold statements and become the feature point of the entire room. Changing the countertops is simple way to make a big change that can be completed in a short time frame with little impact on family life. Countertop materials can vary as much in price as they do in style. You can use laminates to keep your costs low or if you are willing to spend the “dough” natural stone is an elegant option.

Granite is the most popular choice for kitchens; it can handle a hot pan, is very durable, and just looks darn gorgeous. If you want the dimensional stability that natural stone has to offer but want a bit of a break on the wallet, then engineered stone such as Silestone might be for you. Silestone is made from quartz, comes in a large variety of colors and it is a nonporous surface that resists stains and scratches and is easy to maintain.

Ceramic tile is also a great choice for your countertops and it doesn’t have to end there, you can continue your tile up to the backsplash for a whole new look. Tile is inexpensive, can be installed by a handy homeowner and is easy to maintain. To avoid the hassles of cleaning grout, choose darker colors, seal the grout right after you are done and use grout with an anti-microbial additive that resists mold growth. For example, Laticrete offers a grout product that is treated with Microban and resists mold and fungus.

Laminate countertops are available in standard sizes at your local Home Depot. And your laminate choices do not end there; manufacturers such as Laminart offer you almost endless style options. You are not only limited to these choices, countertops can also be made of butcher-block, stainless steel, and even concrete.

For the best results when having countertops made for you, the fabricator should make a template of your existing walls. Homes are never square and having a template is the best way to make sure the new top fits your old walls.

KEEP THE CABINETS - Cabinet replacement is one of the most expensive parts of a remodeling project. But in many cases, you can create an entirely new look to the kitchen by giving those cabinets the love they deserve.

If your cabinets are in good shape but you just are not thrilled with their finish, you have many options to change their appearance. You can strip off the original finish and stain them any way you like. Stain colors are not limited only to the brown family they can be tinted just about any color of the rainbow. Be sure that when you put a topcoat on them you select one that does not yellow; this is especially a problem in the kitchen.

Paint is another great option for your cabinets. Crackling is a beautiful effect for cabinets, especially if you use a bright color which will pop under a more neutral tone like off white.

For the more adventurous, vintage wallpaper is such a hot ticket right now; patterns are available in Asian prints, floral, stripes, or botanicals. Elements can be cut out of the vintage wall covering and can be decoupaged to the cabinet door face. You can create your own pattern and style by mixing and matching different details from the wall coverings and sealing it with a top coat.

If the idea of having a pattern on the exterior of your cabinets is a bit frightening, then how about replacing your cabinet doors with glass doors and using the vintage wall paper as a liner to brighten up the interior? If the crafty thing is not your style; you can purchase new cabinet doors which are an instant facelift for your kitchen.

Finally, don’t forget about the bling!. No we’re not suggesting your deck your cabinets with fine gems, but adding new hardware can be just like jewelry for your cabinets. Small changes like new door handles and drawer pulls can make a huge difference in the overall look of the kitchen. Places like the Home Depot Expo always stock a huge variety of handle designs and styles as well a number more which are available special order.

MECHANICAL MAKEOVERS - The “dated” look of kitchens can often be traced to the appliances. Just like cars, appliances reflect the style of the day and changing or repainting can make a kitchen appear 20 years younger, especially if you repaint the walls to match the new colors.

Although appliances may look the same from the outside, there are many differences 'under the hood.' When replacing, choose an "Energy Star" rated appliance. This designation means the appliance exceeds the Department of Energy guidelines for efficiency by at least 10%. Not only will you save money on your energy bills, you may be eligible for rebates from your local energy supplier as well. For example, some Energy Star rated refrigerators that use as much electricity as a 75 watt light bulb, an amazing improvement considering the energy hogs refrigerators used to be. Appliances are available to suite every style and taste and some even come with a built in television.

FAUCET FIX-UPS - New faucets also make a nice feature in an otherwise dreary looking space. Faucet replacements are also fairly simple plumbing projects with all of the parts available at your local hardware store. For ideas on what’s available, what’s new and within your budget, go to Moen’s design center. Using a vivid on-line visualizer, you can mix and match fixture styles, finishes, and prices until you find one that meets your tastes and budget.

FLUSH THE FLOORS - New flooring alone can really change the look of a kitchen and can be installed with little impact on family life. To see how various flooring designs might look after installation, check out Armstrong Flooring’s interactive "Design a Room" planner. This neat on line tool allows you to combine an almost limitless palette of flooring, ceiling, countertops, cabinets and more to test out room design ideas without ever picking up a hammer or paintbrush.

If you are looking for something a little bit different, Adura is a high fashion, high performance rigid tile that offers whatever look you desire. Made by Mannington, the tiles are16” x 16” wide and a solid 5mm thick, with patterns that range from Tumbled Stone with realistic grout lines to slate or even sisal and grass cloth.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring is also a great choice for the kitchen. They respond well to all conditions including moisture and wear beautifully. Armstrong offers a beautiful engineered hardwood with planks in a variety of sizes, styles, and finishes under their Bruce Hardwood Floor line. They even offer planks that look distressed or aged if you are going for a country or French inspired kitchen. For more information, see the Complete Guide to Flooring at www.armstrong.com.

SET THE MOOD - Lighting is just as important in the kitchen as any other room of the house. You have more options than just recessed cans. Track lighting is a great choice for the kitchen and it doesn’t have to look bulky and awkward anymore. The tracks can be anything from a thin cable with beautiful beaded shades hanging above your island or a bendable metal track with lamps that spotlight artwork or bathe the room with light.

Dimmers are another easy-to-install option that work well to deliver just the right amount of light depending on your mood. With a dimmer, you can keep the lights at full brightness while preparing your meal and put then down low when entertaining. Fixtures can be added underneath your upper cabinets to put the light where you need it most in your prep area.

DRESS YOUR WINDOW - Windows are always a focal point in the kitchen and since privacy is not an issue you do not have to cover them up. Kitchen windows beg for beautiful swags that don’t always require sewing. Swags are drapes lesser known cousin. They are versatile top treatments for your window and can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Swag occurs where fabrics balloons down over the upper middle portion of the window. They can have one or swags and can fabric that drapes down the sides of the window frame. The fabric does not even need to have a pocket you can just drape it decoratively over the rod if you like.

Try using napkins or vintage dish towels with a bold pattern or a subtle strip tied onto a rod to create a new spin on the tradition swag. You can also drape the napkins over the rod to create an overlap of triangle as your swag. If you have a modern kitchen and just love something different, you can install a ball chain track instead of a rod and hang them at varied lengths to create a metal beaded swag. Ball chain doesn’t have to be just silver. Get creative! Go to www.ballchain.com to see just how many colors and finishes they are available in.

No matter what your budget, kitchen makeovers can be inexpensive, engaging a fun! With a little creativity, you can add sizzle and spice; and cook up the kitchen of your dreams!

Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show’s podcast or sign-up for Tom’s free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program’s website at www.moneypit.com.

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