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Look Into Laminates
These homeowners wanted copper accents without paying top dollar for the real thing. So they installed a metallic laminate around the island that mimics the look of real copper. They added what looks like copper tiles to the backsplash — it’s actually copper-colored foil hand-wrapped over cheap white porcelain tiles.
Custom Isn’t the Only Way
Instead of paying top dollar for custom cabinetry, these homeowners built their own. They are made from purple-heart wood flooring and stainless-steel sheets. The handles are plumbing pipes from a hardware store. The countertops are stainless steel found at an old pizza parlor for $50. A sander was used on them to create funky swirls to camouflage the old scratches. Total cost of cabinets and countertops: $3,000.
These homeowners combined multiple pieces to create one kitchen island. They found two premade Ikea cabinet units for $500, sandwiched them together then topped it with butcher-block. They found old soda-fountain stools online and had a builder anchor them into the floor joists
Step 1: Mark the Studs
Take out all cabinet drawers and remove all cabinet doors, marking them as you go. This will lighten the cabinets for easier installation.
Find and mark all the studs. Then, measure from the ceiling and make a line where the cabinets will be placed.
Cabinet Installation Tips:
- Hang the upper cabinets first so the lower ones won’t be in the way during installation.
- It’s a good idea to work in pairs with this project, as cabinets can be heavy.
- Use a ledger board to help hang the upper cabinets and keep them straight.
- Mark your studs before you get started.
Step 2: Insert Screws for the First Cabinet
Level line and screw a ledger board along it. Lift the cabinet into place, and if someone is helping you (recommended) have them help you hold it steady (Image 1).
Sink two screws into each stud behind the cabinet, one on top and one on bottom. This ensures the cabinet is secured (Image 2). If a cabinet only falls across one stud, use a toggle bolt as an additional fastener.
Step 3: Install the Sink Cabinet
Next, tackle the sink cabinet, which is often the toughest cabinet to install. First, measure the plumbing area and mark where holes need to be cut. Cut along the marks (Image 1) and lift the cabinet into place carefully (Image 2).
Adjust the cabinet to meet flush with the other cabinets using a level and shims (Image 3). Use quick clamps to secure them into place.
Step 4: Secure the Remaining Cabinets
Pre-drill holes along where the cabinets will be attached together. Sink a screw into those holes.
Put shims in the space between the wall and the sink cabinet, along the stud lines (Image 1). Sink drywall screws into the wall, through the shims, securing the cabinet to the wall (Image 2).
Often there are gaps where the cabinets meet the wall, preserve these gaps because walls are often uneven, so the gaps keep the front of the cabinets flush and will be covered later by the countertop.
Use this road map to create the kitchen of your dreams — no matter the reality of your budget.
BUDGET: $50 OR LESS
Paint is the easiest, least expensive way to transform a tired looking kitchen. Choose a semigloss latex paint, which will allow you to easily sponge off the inevitable food splashes and spatters. Also, opt for a semigloss finish on the trim, such as the baseboard and around windows and doors. For best results, don’t skimp out on prep work. Kitchen surfaces accumulate grime, so be sure to wash all walls and the ceiling with a TSP (trisodium phosphate) or a TSP substitute before painting. This will help clean and prepare the surface so that the paint adheres to it properly.
Now matter how expensive your cabinets and countertops are, an organized and tidy kitchen will always be an instant upgrade. If your budget is $100, it will be well spent on organizers.
Pot racks, lid holders, shelving, drawer organizers, pullout trays, and utensil crocks are affordable ways to keep clutter at bay and let the charm of your kitchen shine greatly. Open shelving takes advantage of empty walls and gives the kitchen an airy feeling. Stretch your makeover dollars by DIYing your storage organizers.
Another quick, inexpensive way to update a kitchen is with the right lighting.
Replace those dim CFL floods with halogen floods. You’ll still save energy over traditional incandescent bulbs, and the light will be a substantial improvement. Install a dimmer switch so that the halogens last a longer and save even more energy. As for those still-good CFLs, don’t toss them. Save them for use in utilitarian spaces, such as the garage, basement, attic, or closets. Add under-cabinet lighting to existing kitchen cabinets and bring countertop work areas out of the shadows. Use decorative lights over kitchen tables to change the mood when it’s time to dine.
Cabinets are often the most expensive items in any kitchen makeover. If yours look worn and have become soft and gummy around the pulls, consider refinishing or repainting the doors and frames instead of replacing the entire units. This will make a big impact in your kitchen at the fraction of the cost of brand-new cabinets.
- Refinish: Use a furniture refinisher, such as the one made by Formby’s or Minwax, to strip off most clear finishes. Refinishers often remove some of the stain, too, so you may have to even out the remaining stain color by rubbing on one or more coats of a matching stain. Once the color is to your liking, allow the stain to dry, wipe carefully with a tack cloth, and apply a new clear protective coat. Just be sure to protect yourself from fumes; use a respirator (with the correct cartridge), allow for plenty of ventilation, and work in a dust-free environment as possible when reapplying the clear coat. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, especially with regard to health and safety, as these products are flammable and poisonous.
BUDGET: $500 – $1000: NEW FLOORING
Refresh your kitchen flooring for a brand new look.
Vinyl floor tiles are not only affordable, but have come a long way in terms of style and ease of installation. This type of flooring is comfortable to walk on, easy to clean, and durable. To install, you no longer have to deal with messy adhesives; the floors float atop the underlayment. At less than $2 per square foot, you can put a vinyl floor in just about any kitchen for $500.
Want a more natural flooring material? Choices include wood (solid or engineered), cork, and bamboo. You’ll have to shell out two or three times the price of vinyl, but the finish can not be beat. Avoid laminates, which are susceptible to moisture damage. Also, try to steer clear of ceramic tile, which is cold and hard to the touch, plus cracks easily.
Sinks and countertops bear the brunt of work in the kitchen. As a consequence, they can look very worn after 10 or 15 years. A new sink, faucet and countertops are within this budget — providing you choose economical materials for the countertops, such as plastic laminate or wood. You can dress up the former with a beveled or rounded hardwood molding along the front edge. Or fake the high-style look of granite, marble, or soapstone with affordable laminate. Butcher block, long neglected as a countertop material, is again in vogue and quite functional. It will need periodic sealing with mineral oil, but can be easily renewed with a sander when needed.
Now that we’re talking about serious money, you can consider buying a complete recycled kitchen, often with the appliances included. Check out Green Demolition at and similar organizations that accept and resell used building materials. Green Demolitions’ New York metropolitan area showrooms offer entire kitchens that have been donated by homeowners who are about to remodel. The donors get a tax deduction, and the purchasers get kitchens at prices that are a fraction of the original list price. Everybody wins, including the environment.
This budget range will allow you to purchase new kitchen cabinets. Stock cabinets for a 10 x 12 kitchen start at about $5,000. Custom cabinets, that are built to order, cost $8,000 and up. Solid wood, plywood, and stainless steel cabinets are best. Cabinets made of MDF (medium density fiberboard) are good. Avoid cabinets made with particleboard. Look for well-crafted rabbeted or dovetail joints, especially on drawers. They should be carefully glued and fastened. You may also be able to replace your old countertops in this budget range, but most likely not with granite or other synthetic stone materials. To keep this remodeling project under $10,000, you’ll have to do much of the work yourself and minimize changes to plumbing, venting and electrical systems.
- Consult with a pro: If your budget is in this range, do yourself a favor and spend some of it on a professional designer. If you have a pretty good idea of what you want, $500 spent on consultations and plans can go a long way. An experienced designer has seen it all and will likely be able to help you avoid costly mistakes. In addition to suggesting an efficient layout for cabinets, counters, and appliances, a designer will help you create free-flowing traffic patterns to dining rooms and to outdoor entertainment areas. They can help with a lighting plan, mudroom or kitchen-office solutions, color selection, material and appliance choices. A good designer will suggest ways to minimize changes to your kitchen’s footprint that can add significant cost to your project.