Save big bucks by staying within your kitchen's existing footprint as you reimagine the space. Need more room? Instead of ripping out an exterior wall and extending the foundation, consider stealing square footage from an adjacent room, closet or hallway. Or look at adding a storage-rich island or peninsula (or removing or reconfiguring an existing island that impedes traffic flow and just isn't functional). Rolling carts offer another flexible option.
Work with existing plumbing, electrical and gas lines, and you'll save even more cash.
Pictured: Karrie and Mark Weinhardt thought about adding on to their Des Moines kitchen, but instead found more budget-friendly ways to upgrade the cooking space, like tweaking the existing layout to better serve their family's needs. For example, they were able to install a functional new prep sink in the island for a reasonable price, since plumbing lines were already nearby. Now Karrie can chat with the kids in the evening as she prepares meals and they pull up barstools on the other side of the island.
The Weinhardts considered installing new custom wood cabinets, but saved more than $2,000 by going with medium-density fiberboard (a smooth engineered wood). Dress up stock cabinets by applying moldings, or replace the center panel of select doors (like upper cabinets where you'd like to show off nice dishware or glasses) with glass.
Remember, too, that sometimes you don't even need new cabinets. For an inexpensive update, paint existing cabinets and change out the hardware to get a fresh look with minimal cost and work.
Pictured: The Weinhardts tucked a tall cabinet into an unused corner to create an instant mini mudroom. It tidily stows the kids' coats, backpacks and school gear.
Open shelves, rail storage systems and pot racks are all cheaper than new cabinets. And they are extremely versatile, able to fit in odd spaces and be sized to fit your exact storage needs.
Another storage-savvy addition: Add shelves to your existing cabinets. "A lot of stock cabinets come with a set amount of shelves, so you end up with dead space because your glasses are only so tall," says Chicago kitchen designer Rebekah Zaveloff. Your local hardware store can cut laminate shelves. To install, use existing peg holes inside cabinets or drill new ones as needed.
Pictured: A rack above the stove for cooking oils eliminates countertop clutter. Open storage, like the Weinhardts' plate rack also gives a kitchen a sense of airiness--and a visual break from expanses of cabinetry.
Have your heart set on granite? So did the Weinhardts, so they went to a local fabricator for discount slabs. "Sticking to stock colors or finding the perfect remnant can lower the price [of materials] by 5 to 35 percent," says Minneapolis kitchen designer Sarah Michalowski.
Pictured: If you're changing out your countertops, look for ways to improve function at the same time. The two-tier counter on the Weinhardts' island makes life easier. Chopping veggies can be done right by the prep sink--still in the conversation zone with anyone doing homework or working on a laptop on the counter's top tier, but yet safely tucked away.
Laminate flooring will mimic wood plank floors, for instance. Textured wallpaper on the ceiling could stand in for pressed-tin tiles. On countertops, if you want a granite look without the granite price, go for laminates, which offer the same style at 60 to 80 percent less cost.
Pictured: 180fx granite laminate comes in long sheets with color variations, veining and no pattern repetition, so it looks like real granite slabs. $12 to $22 per square foot. Formica (800/367-6422).
Analyze your cooking habits before buying, and only get a high-end appliance if you'll use the advanced features. The Weinhardts' love of cooking justified splurging on a pro-style range, but they opted for a midrange refrigerator and dishwasher to compensate.
Debating about what to replace? "Get rid of any refrigerator more than 10 years old," Minneapolis kitchen designer Debbie Thompson says. "They're energy hogs." And if you're low on cash, wait to buy a freestanding stove or dishwasher; they come in standard sizes, so you can replace them anytime.
Pictured: "The stove was the one thing we did not want to compromise on," Karrie Weinhardt says. "We wanted the double oven, six burners and a griddle. But we saved everywhere else."
Small appliances, installed outside the work core, can inexpensively improve how your kitchen works with your family's habits. Wish you had just a little more room in the fridge? Or would you love to keep the kids or guests out of the work zone when you're cooking? Think about adding a small fridge or beverage cooler just outside the cooking area.
Pictured: The Weinhardts found a $240 wine cooler and tucked it into unused wall space opposite the work zone. Now the kids can grab quick snacks without getting underfoot when Karrie is in the middle of meal prep.
A black-and-white checkerboard linoleum tile floor adds inexpensive punch to the Weinhardts' white kitchen. Dozens of colors are available in this eco-friendly flooring made of linseed oil, wood flour and other renewable materials, for $2 to $6 per square foot.
Even wood-look laminates, which cost less than hardwood, come in colorful stain colors. And if you own an older home, check under existing laminate for hardwood. A pro can refinish wood floors for $2 to $4 per square foot.
Accents, such as a tile backsplash, add loads of character for little cost. "For an average backsplash, you'll need 30 square feet of tile or less," Zaveloff says. "You can usually find great deals on tile, often for $5 a square foot."
Pictured: Reversible melamine wall panels (solid color on one side, pattern on the other) resist grease and heat. Fastbo Series, $12.99 per 24x16 7/8 inch panel; $9.99 for aluminum rails to secure.
Unexpected accessories also dress up a kitchen without a big investment. Install pendants over an island for task lighting that looks great, too. Or put living-room-style lighting in the kitchen. "I have a table lamp on my peninsula that adds warmth to the kitchen," Zaveloff says.
Pictured: A bold red interior makes the iron Sol Pendant Lamp shine, $99.95. CB2 (800/606-6252).
Little touches of bold hues add zest to a white kitchen or one with banks of solid cabinetry. Consider little touches like changing out the seating to bring in a splash of brightness.
Pictured: Saddle Seat 29-inch bar Stool in red puts some pop into an island seating area for only $39. Wal-Mart (800/925-6278).
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2010.)