Homeowner Christy Jerz lives with her family in a four-bedroom split-level in Reno, Nevada. It has a huge but somewhat blah kitchen that's due for an upgrade. She has a budget of $12,000 to spruce her place up.
In this series, expert Alex Bandon answers your specific renovation questions. Write in about your planned remodel, and she'll identify potential pitfalls, give recommendations, and help you get the most of your project!
From Christy: Our daughter is graduating from high school in June 2017, and we plan to give the kitchen a facelift before the graduation party.
We're not sure how to best stretch our budget. Do we stick with our current plan: new backsplash, floor tile, counters, cabinet doors and/or cabinet paint? Or would we be able to rethink existing elements for better use of the space, like the six-foot expanse of counter that has no cabinets underneath it next to the fridge. We'd love to find room for a pantry, recycling pull-out, and dog-food storage. Most importantly, we're so done cleaning grout on the tiled countertop. So. Much. Tile. At the same time, we'd like to make the space feel more like us, and less... um... beige.
Alex's Answer: First let me say that I would kill for a kitchen with that much space to move around. It's almost too much space between the two sides of the room! (Alas, not enough to fit an island in there, which would be a great addition to the room. But I digress.)
But you're so right. It's beige. That's really what's wrong with it more than anything. And the tiles! I'm going to guess someone got a great deal on travertine tile back in the day. It's everywhere, making the space not only feel really bland, but kind of dingy. But there's a few easy fixes for that, and you should be able to do it on your budget.
1. Leave Those Cabinets Alone
You might be tempted to paint the cabinets, as you mention. My warning to you: painted cabinets are tough to get right if they're not done in a shop under pristine conditions, especially ones with as many little paint-catching crevices as yours. If you're going to do it yourself (totally possible), spend time watching videos and how-tos, and make sure you don't skip any steps, like degreasing, sanding, and using a paint sprayer.
Really, though, your cabinets look fine. They look boring because what's around them is boring. Really, there are nice honey tones in that wood that could be highlighted by contrasting them against counters and tile (more on that below).
I say skip the painting and make an impact in other ways. Make that fridge wall into a real statement piece. Put in a bank of cabinets—with deep drawers—where the random counter is. But since you probably won't be able to match the existing cabinets, treat this wall like a complementary piece rather than a matching one. Find a similar raised panel door, but do it all in black for a contrast that doesn't make the room look quite so monotone.
This is also where you can fit your much needed pantry. Put a tall unit to the right of the fridge, one that's as deep top to bottom as the counters, and let the microwave live inside it. Then add matching upper and lower cabinets to the right of that (including a recycling pull-out), and a full counter that doesn't end in an angle. If those are the only cabinets you buy, you won't break your budget. For added impact, swap in a counter-depth fridge that will make the whole wall feel more unified, like a large piece of furniture.
2. Focus on Quality Countertops
Yes. You are replacing those counters. No question. From the information you provided me, you have about 44 square feet of space or more, so this is going to be your biggest ticket item. Make it worth your while.
Engineered stone has come a long way from the speckled monochromatic fake granite look of 10 years ago. Today, there are many interesting colors and patterns, which could take your kitchen up a notch immediately. Cambria, in particular, has gotten very bold with colors. And the bonus is that engineered stone is extremely durable—more so than granite.
This quality stone does come at a price; some elaborate patterns can run over $100 a square foot (installed). But the tradeoff is that all new counters will impact the look of the kitchen immediately.
3. Make Your Backsplash More Modern
Both your backsplash and your floors are not doing much to combat the blahs. That's an easy fix.
For very little cost, you could make the backsplash look more modern. Simple white subway tile is very inexpensive and easy to DIY, if you're willing to take a stab at it. So is colorful square tile.
For your floors, you need something with more depth. Slate tile would be a beautiful upgrade. The darker color will give the floor weight, and the color will contrast with your new (I'm going to just go aheas and say red-flecked) counters and white backsplash. Slate tile is only about $6 a square foot, totally within your budget.
4. Decorate with Pops of Color
Add your style in final bursts of color that are not built in. Get bright towels and pot holders. Hang some bold ceramic plates above the sink window. Put a patterned runner in front of the sink to delineate the work area.
Really, your current plan is a very solid one, as long as you pick the right colors and elements. Get planning now and you should have a kitchen you're happy to show off long before the family arrives for the graduation celebration.
Alex Bandon has 18 years of experience in home renovations. She started as a writer and editor for This Old House, learning everything she could about residential construction and building materials. She now owns North River Renovation Management, and works with homeowners to design, budget, and manage their home makeovers.