The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Need a kitchen remodel but can’t afford it? A 'facelift’ might do the trick.

A kitchen “facelift” implies purely aesthetic, superficial changes to freshen up a space, but there are plenty of aftermarket accessories and storage add-ons you can incorporate to make your space more efficient (not just better-looking). (Benjamin C Tankersley for The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

The kitchen is usually the most used utility room in the house.

With its various machines and behind-the-wall mechanics, it is expected to perform functionally and reliably to support basic human needs. Yet we treat the kitchen much less like a utility room and more like a hub for family activities, social gatherings and even sometimes expression of status; the purpose of a household kitchen has evolved to be so much more than its humble beginnings in strictly service.

What happens when the kitchen in your home is still stuck in the days of service, designed for pure function, with no mind paid to aesthetics? Consider that, according to the National Association of Home Builders, about half of U.S. houses were built before 1980. We have made leaps and bounds in kitchen design over the past 40 years, so how do you translate that into your own space?

More Brick: How to include sensory elements in your home design

The first and most ideal answer is to renovate your kitchen: Work with a designer to develop the layout, storage and look to best suit your lifestyle and personal style. Though this is an excellent way to invest in your home and improve its value, it does come at a price (financially speaking). If a full renovation is not inyour budget, consider the advantages you could gain, instead, from a kitchen “facelift.”

Many builder-grade homes and kitchens are built with little attention to detail, but it is these details that can really elevate a space from mundane to nice. There are four areas you can focus on in a “lite” renovation of your kitchen: cabinetry improvements, backsplash, paint and countertops.

There are a number of different moldings most designers include in kitchen cabinetry. The first is crown molding, which goes on the top of the wall cabinets. Next is chair/light rail molding, which is much smaller — usually about ¾-inch high — and attaches to the bottom of wall cabinets. At the bottom of the base cabinets is toe kick and small shoe molding (between the toe kick and the floor). The final piece of molding is called scribe molding, which is a small molding designed to conceal uneven gaps if the walls are not perfectly plumb.

All of these moldings run continuously across the cabinetry with every attempt to minimize seams. Installing these to match your existing cabinetry can be a great way to spruce up your cabinets without breaking the bank. Additionally, replacing all the hardware (knobs and pulls) — or adding some if none was installed — can be a nice way to improve both functionality and aesthetics. This gives you a chance to change not only the style but potentially the finish, too.

One of the least expensive upgrades you can make to your space is to change the paint on the walls. If you do not have distinctive colors in your cabinets or backsplash, a splash of color on the walls — whether a rich purple, dusty blue or warm gold — can revive and refresh almost any space. This is especially true if you do not have a tile backsplash, though this is another upgrade to consider. Tile with accenting or a decorative listello can enhance any space, especially when coordinated with the existing cabinetry and countertops.

Finally, if you have good-quality cabinets, upgrading your countertops to granite or quartz can be a wonderful way to transform your kitchen without investing in a full-scale remodel. Slab yards and fabricators offer a nearly infinite selection of colors and patterns sure to fit almost any palette and style you like.

A kitchen “facelift” implies purely aesthetic, superficial changes to freshen up a space, but there are plenty of aftermarket accessories and storage add-ons you can incorporate to make your space more efficient (not just better-looking).

Home improvement stores offer a wealth of aftermarket products to make cabinet storage more accessible and efficient. The possibilities are nearly endless if you have a little dexterity (or enough patience to compensate) and are comfortable with a screwdriver. Alternatively, these can be easy and quick installations for your local handyman.

More Brick: How to make your home ‘inclusive’ as you grow older

Getting inspired while shopping is not a terrible idea, but it is much better to prepare before your shopping trip (or online browsing) to determine the best storage accessories to add to your space. I recommend first opening up and examining your cabinets: Where are the pain points? Are there too many trays stuffed and stacked together? Are your spice containers impossible to read or access? Do you have to blindly burrow to find anything in your pantry? Being able to identify the storage improvements your current kitchen needs will help you focus on the most efficient and effective solutions for your space. You do not need to identify the best storage or organization solutions (products can be great inspiration for that); identifying what kind of storage you need and the dimensions of the cabinets where you want it (width, especially) will help guide you.

Pullout spice racks can be as little as 3 inches wide; alternatively, adding a tiered shelf (like stadium seating for your spices!) can improve visibility for these small-scale cooking essentials. Slide-out shelving is a great ergonomic solution to better access everything from food items to pots and pans without needing to strain yourself. For corner cabinets with a diagonal door, consider the value of adding a lazy Susan on each shelf: a round platform that spins around so you have better access. (Though this is best considered if your existing shelves are adjustable, otherwise you will not be able to get a large enough lazy Susan inside the cabinet — and even then, it might be an orchestration of two people, but will be worth it!)

Finally, think about other nooks and spaces that are otherwise unused, like the toe kick of base cabinets. The space behind the toe kick is almost always empty, which translates to excellent storage potential, especially on wider cabinets. With a little accessorizing and DIY, this can be a great area to store trays, platters, cupcake tins and more.

There are plenty of options to consider if you are longing for a new kitchen but not quite ready to dive into a full remodel investment. Investing in small ways throughout your space can improve both the look and the storage functionality of your current kitchen design.

Stephanie Brick is the owner of Stephanie Brick Design in Baltimore.