18 Cheap Kitchen Updates That Look Expensive

Updated: Jul. 25, 2023

Make your kitchen look like a million bucks—or at least more expensive than what you really paid for these updates. We’ll show you how to achieve a high-end look for a lot less.

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Kitchen Updates: Swap Out Light Fixtures
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Kitchen Updates: Swap Out Light Fixtures

If you are still using older lighting (especially ugly fluorescent tubes) in your kitchen, consider installing new lighting fixtures for a low-cost project that can make a big difference. Your kitchen may look very different under brighter hanging lights! Plus, today's hanging light fixtures come in a vast number of shapes, sizes and styles, making them an ideal option for adding personality to your kitchen. Consider lower hanging lights, floodlights and sconces for particularly dark areas of your kitchen. LED lights are expensive but save the most energy and tend to last a long time. You might be interested in this list of functional yet stylish kitchen over the sink lights.
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Kitchen Updates: Paint Tired, Old Cabinets

Kitchen Updates: Paint Tired, Old Cabinets

If you have old, dark, unattractive kitchen cabinets you may think you're stuck with them because it's too expensive to replace them and you don't know how to paint them. Help is on the way! Learn the three steps for a successful cabinet transformation, including what tools and materials you'll need, in our tutorial.
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Kitchen Upgrades: Lay Down Luxury Vinyl

Kitchen Upgrades: Lay Down Luxury Vinyl

With careful planning and the right supplies, you can lay down a new floor in a weekend. A good bet for the kitchen is luxury vinyl tile: It looks like stone or ceramic, but is much less expensive and easier to cut and install. Luxury vinyl tile is often sold as peel-and-stick, but the bevels on the sides require grouting, an extra step that gives the final result a more expensive look than you'd get with traditional vinyl tile. Choose tile in a style that compliments your appliances and cabinets, taking its texture, color and shape into consideration. Keep a selection of sample tiles in the kitchen for 24 hours to observe how they look under various light conditions. Choose the look you like best and follow this tutorial to get the job done with a minimal amount of time, effort and expense.
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Photo: ben bryant/Shutterstock

Kitchen Upgrades: DIY Faucet Install

If you have enough in your budget to splurge on a new faucet or sink (or both!), install it yourself to save money. We’ll walk you through how to replace a kitchen faucet step-by-step. 

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Kitchen Updates: Open Kitchen Shelves
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Kitchen Updates: Open Kitchen Shelves

Show off your dish collection with open kitchen shelves. The open-shelf home design trend gives you more storage variety for a smaller price tag than traditional cabinetry. And this is a popular storage solution for modern and rustic kitchens.
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display storage shelf

Kitchen Updates: Dress Up Cabinetry

Create an attractive display shelf for the empty space above your kitchen cabinets. This project requires only basic carpentry skills, and you can build it in a day. We’ll walk you through how to add shelves above kitchen cabinets step-by-step.

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higher ceiling illusion

Kitchen Upgrades: Give the Illusion of Higher Ceilings

If you can’t raise your roof, literally, you might consider raising your window treatments, says Keysha Jillian, lead interior designer and owner of K. Jillian Designs, based in Tampa, Florida. Jillian suggests raising window panels to create an illusion of height and give it a grander feel. “Window treatment is often underrated and clients commonly overlook the impact it has on a space,” she says. “An inexpensive way to achieve this tip is to simply add fabric to your existing panels. Once you find the perfect complimentary fabric, simply take it to your local seamstress to have him/her add the fabric at the top, middle, or end of the fabric.”

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Kitchen Updates: Replace Hardware
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Kitchen Updates: Replace Hardware

Take a look at your handles and knobs. If they are showing their age, consider picking up a new set and installing them. You may be surprised how much difference new hardware can make in your kitchen. An old drawer can look new again with a sleek, clean handle. Even sink fixtures like faucets are usually quite affordable and easy enough to switch out for a quick renovation.
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Kitchen finishes

Kitchen Updates: Don’t Match Finishes Perfectly, Coordinate Them

Certain stains and finishes play well with others (for example, cherry wood marries well with oak, and hickory blends tend to work well with almost everything), but the vast majority do not. If you’re looking to match your floor to your cabinets, or your faucets to your doorknobs, go for an exact match, or make a real contrast; aim for at least three shades darker or lighter. An almost match has the tendency to look cheap.

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Kitchen Updates: Peel-and-Stick Backsplash Tiles

Kitchen Updates: Peel-and-Stick Backsplash Tiles

The recent influx of peel-and-stick tiles to the market has provided homeowners with the look and feel of luxury tile for a fraction of the cost. The application is as simple and peel and stick, and these tiles can be installed over existing tile and many other surfaces, making it an easy way to boost the value of your home.
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Kitchen Upgrades: Add a Centerpiece

No need to wait for a dinner party to elevate your usual table setting. Something as simple as fresh-cut flowers can make it seem like you’ve put time and effort into your dinner table, says Drew Henry, founder of design firm Design Dudes.

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Kitchen Upgrades: Wood Countertops

The long-favored material of butchers and bar owners, wood is right at home in any residential kitchen or bathroom. Wood countertops, particularly the thick butcher-block style, are a great addition to remodeled kitchens and require minimal maintenance. While scratches in laminate and natural stone can be difficult to repair, wood can be sanded and refinished as necessary making it a long-lasting, inexpensive solution.
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kitchen laminate countertops cutting board
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Kitchen Updates: Resurface Countertops

Did you know that you can resurface your countertops? You can! It’s no more difficult than a painting project, so basic tools and skills are all you need. Here are the step-by-step instructions on how to renew kitchen countertops.

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Kitchen Upgrades: Add Molding

If your kitchen walls are bare besides the occasional artwork, consider adding molding to the baseboard, chair rail or ceiling. “It doesn’t even have to be a gaudy, Victorian-style molding—a simple and single-shape, single-depth piece of molding will do the trick,” says interior designer Erica Leigh Reiner, owner of E. Leigh Designs.

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Kitchen Upgrades: DIY Cabinet Organizers

The space under sinks is often overlooked, but it’s prime real estate for rollouts, which can transform that ‘I’m not sure what’s under there’ storage space into an organized and efficient location for cleaning supplies that lets you see everything you’ve got in one glance. Here are a few ideas to upgrade your apartment kitchen without losing your deposit.

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Reupholster Dining Chairs
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Kitchen Updates: Reupholster Dining Chairs

Turn your ho-hum dining chairs into showpieces by reupholstering them with stunning fabric. This is a simple DIY project that can make a big impact. Here’s how to reupholster a chair step-by-step.

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Pick Basic Dishes

Shelling out on fine china isn’t the only way to create a stunning table setting. “White dishes … have a low price tag with a high impact,” says Henry. Pair them with gold flatware for a trendy, high-brow look.

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tips for organizing your home under cabinet wine rack
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Kitchen Upgrades: Customize Cabinets

There’s a lot of usable space below many upper kitchen cabinets, and it’s the perfect place to store your favorite vintages. This easy-to-build wine rack requires just two 1x4s the length of the under-cabinet bay and a strip of 3/4-in. plywood that same length and 8 in. wide. Click here to get the full project plans.