How to renovate your kitchen on a budget, from $1,000 to $15,000

A kitchen remodel can cost six figures — but it doesn’t have to

Collage illustration including a calculator, a hammer, a strip of light blue paint color swatches, a blueprint sketch of kitchen cabinet designs, backsplash tile and countertop textures
(Chloe Meister/The Washington Post; iStock)
7 min

When my husband and I bought our house in Richmond, we knew we’d need to renovate the kitchen. The laminate countertops, off-white cabinets, 1990s appliances and dim lighting made the space feel dark and dirty. I envisioned gutting it and adding square footage. Then I got a harsh dose of reality from a contractor. My plan, he said, would cost $88,000 and take two months.

Okay, so we’d live with the layout. After some more research, I opted to have the cabinets professionally spray-painted for $3,375. We got new lighting, leathered-granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances, but kept the existing backsplash. When we finished the job last summer, the total tab was about $15,000. While it’s not the kitchen I originally dreamed of, it’s a space that makes me smile.

Like a lot of homeowners, I’d heard that you should spend 10 percent of your home’s value on your kitchen renovation (which, by the way, would’ve still been much less than that initial $88,000 quote) — but I learned that I didn’t really need to, and maybe you don’t either. Even with a budget as small as $1,000, home-design experts say you can make a significant difference in your kitchen. Here’s how.

$1,000: Paint and add new accessories

Inexpensive cosmetic updates can go a long way. For instance, I scored a sleek faucet on clearance at Lowe’s for $70 and new knobs and pulls for $265 at — all noticeable upgrades. But new paint will probably give you the biggest bang for your buck.

“You can literally paint every square inch and make it feel different,” says Amanda Vernaci, the Clarkston, Mich., DIY blogger behind Come Stay Awhile. For those oak cabinets that were so popular in the ’90s, Vernaci recommends applying a coat of wood filler with a putty knife to achieve a smooth surface, then sanding and priming before rolling or spraying on two coats of paint (sanding lightly between them). Start to finish, Vernaci estimates the job will take about two weeks. “Painting your cabinets takes a ton of prep work, but it can save you a lot of money to do it yourself."

Vernaci has also transformed dated tile with little more than a paintbrush. She used white epoxy tile paint on a backsplash in her old house, a technique that works for tile floors, too.

Richmond interior designer Diana Mathews, of Mathews & Co. Studio, gave her own kitchen a facelift with a coat of Sherwin-Williams Studio Clay on the walls, along with new furniture and artwork. She painted a $600 antique worktable on casters and now uses it as a kitchen island, and snagged a pair of floor-sample bar stools from Pottery Barn for less than $100. “The island was definitely a functional game- changer, adding both surface area as well as a place to sit," she says.

$5,000: Hire a pro to paint or refinish your cabinets

If you can spend a bit more, it’s worth hiring professionals to give your cabinets a facelift. The results will almost certainly hold up better (and look nicer) than a DIY job.

Some companies give you the option of brush-painting wood cabinets or — for a little more money — spray-painting them. The painters who did my cabinets quoted me $2,250 for brushing with latex versus $3,375 for spraying with lacquer, which will withstand more wear and tear.

The painter removed hardware; degreased, sanded and cleaned the exterior of our cabinets; wrapped the entire room in plastic; then sprayed the cabinets with two coats each of oil primer and lacquer. Within a week, they were transformed.

Cabinet refinishing is a step up from painting and typically costs about twice as much. The process involves spraying on a durable varnish, rather than paint. “That finish would come on brand-new cabinets. It’s a factory finish,” explains Pete Simonello, owner of The Cabinet Restoration Co. in Manchester, Md. “And it can be matched to any paint color.”

Doors and drawer fronts are removed and sprayed off-site; cabinet boxes are sprayed on-site. For a small kitchen, Simonello estimates refinishing would cost around $5,000 (by comparison, he estimates that a paint job in a similar kitchen would run about $2,000). Refinishing, he says, “is a good fit for someone staying put for another 15 years.”

$10,000: Get new countertops, floors and backsplash

According to Marine Sargsyan, an economist at Houzz, about 90 percent of renovating homeowners surveyed in the site’s Kitchen Trends Study eventually upgraded their countertops. Engineered quartz (typically $55 and up per square foot) and granite ($40-plus per square foot) are top choices, as is butcher block (as little as $30 per square foot).

Though granite might conjure images of the builder-grade stuff from the ’90s, it actually comes in a number of on-trend styles. Nowadays it can feature veining (similar to marble, but lower maintenance), or it can be leathered, a process that results in a more textured, matte finish.

Quartz, although pricier, is sealed during the manufacturing process, adding to its durability.

One tip for homeowners looking to save, according to Halil Bulut, co-owner of Tri-State Surfaces in Temple, Md.: Tear out the old countertops yourself, as most companies charge extra for demo and haul-away.

The backsplash is another opportunity to add personality to your kitchen. There are endless tile options, many of which are inexpensive (basic subway tile, for instance, costs as little as 15 cents a piece at big-box stores). Professional installation costs an average of $1,000, according to Angi.

If outdated tile or vinyl flooring is bringing down your space, consider swapping it for luxury vinyl planks (also called LVP), an affordable, durable upgrade that’s relatively easy to install for an ambitious DIYer. The material comes in an array of faux wood or stone finishes. On average, it costs $3.45 per square foot — or about $4.50 less than real hardwood at big-box stores.

"The trickiest part is cutting around door jambs and angles, but once you get going, you get the hang of it pretty quickly,” says Vernaci, about installing it. “This type of flooring also floats, so it isn’t glued or nailed down at all.”

The 10 items every kitchen needs, according to experts

$15,000 and up: Reface your cabinets and/or get new appliances

If you don’t like the style of your cabinet doors — but your cabinetry is in good overall condition and you can live with the layout — refacing might be your best bet.

Simonello says his company’s average cabinet-refacing job costs around $15,000. It involves replacing the drawer and door fronts, updating hardware to soft hinges and drawer slides, and can also include storage upgrades such as installing lazy Susans and pullout trash systems. “Refacing, which is the next step up from refinishing, is what I call a full facelift without replacing the cabinets,” says Simonello.

New appliances are another big-ticket item. On average, homeowners spend $10,875 to replace a full suite (the fridge, range, microwave oven and dishwasher), according to HomeAdvisor. One tip that Mathews, the Richmond interior designer, offers renovators on a budget: Shop scratch-and-dent sales at appliance stores, or ask if floor models are for sale.

Marissa Hermanson is a writer in Richmond.

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