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Tips For Renovating A Kitchen

Updated on January 30, 2010

When we enter a room, we immediately notice the "big picture," or overall appearance, and make a quick judgement: "good" or "bad." This first impression is based, in large part, on the room's color and light. Many people, especially renters, live with an ugly kitchen that lacks both pleasant color and good light. Fortunately, these are two facets of your space that are easy to change. Here's how to give your kitchen an entirely different look and feel without breaking the bank.

An Important Investment

When renovating a kitchen, it's important to do advance planning in terms of both function and aesthetics. Consumers today, more than ever, want a kitchen that's not only functionally efficient but visually beautiful. If a homeowner renovates his kitchen, he's sure to realize the return on his investment when he sells his home. A beautiful kitchen and bath are the new status symbols in home buying, so if you're renovating either one, do your homework. Renovating a kitchen can be expensive, inconvenient and sometimes even disastrous. If this project is too difficult to tackle yourself, consult a design professional. It's well worth the money, and even more so if you're trying to sell your home.

Advice From a Pro

More often than not, kitchens are painted white. Sometimes the walls are covered with enamel paint in a garish primary color. This treatment sometimes ends up looking better suited to your car than to your home. Enamel paint shows every imperfection because it reflects light. This doesn't mean it's completely out of the question, but if you're using it, know that proper wall and ceiling preparation is crucial if your kitchen is to have a high-quality look. Rather, try using a semigloss paint. It's easy to clean and isn't as shiny as enamel. Therefore slight imperfections aren't as easy to spot.

When choosing a wall color, it's best to flip through books and magazines for inspiration. For example, if you'd like a contemporary look, find a photograph of a kitchen that appeals to you, and let that image guide what colors you use, how they're placed and how they work together.

Counters, Walls and Floors

A commonly favorite look for a kitchen is a retro look, like the one your grandparents had. Retro means cherry-red plastic-laminate countertops, white appliances, white beaded-board wainscoting, white cabinets, and wallpaper with red fruit and green leaves. This is a great look and it's so easy to emulate the style affordably.

Countertops: Usually kitchen countertops are white or some other neutral shade of plastic-laminate (Formica). Plastic laminate counters get a bad rap, but they can be beautiful. They're also inexpensive and easy to maintain. To achieve the retro look, you can relaminate the countertops in cherry red and the visual impact will be huge.

Walls: To give the kitchen a wainscoting look without having beaded board, add a chair rail using 3-inch flat-stock molding. Paint the wall from below the chair rail to the baseboard with white semigloss paint. Paint the wall above the chair rail bright yellow or the same red as the counters. Another option is to use vinyl-coated wallpaper with a design that evokes a 1920s or 1930s theme.

Floors: If you have a wood floor that's in bad shape, paint it with the wall colors you've chosen. If your floor is vinyl or linoleum and is not attractive, try covering it with black-and-white checkerboard-patterned sheet vinyl, available from your local home center. If sheet vinyl is too expensive for your budget, use paint that's suitable for vinyl or linoleum and durable enough for use on floors. Paint over vinyl may have to be sealed, but it can be done. Ask the paint specialist at your local home center or hardware store for more information.

Cabinets and Lighting

Cabinets: If you've been blessed with 70s-style, ugly-brown fake-wood cabinets, there's help available. Primer and a top-quality semigloss paint will transform the dark, heavy things to something lighter and fresher. If you're skilled at decorative painting or faux finishing, cabinets are a great place to showcase your look. I wouldn't suggest a sponge technique, but perhaps thin stripes.

Lighting: After you've applied your colors, you'll need to work on lighting. Kitchens often have too little or too much light, and the fixtures are usually fluorescent. Fluorescent lighting is better suited to commercial than to residential use. If you do have fluorescent lighting, switch to yellow fluorescent bulbs, which will yield a warm feel, versus a cool one, and will take away some of the harshness of this type of lighting. Think about adding an inexpensive strip of lighting under the cabinets as an indirect light source. You might also consider installing a mirrored backsplash as it will look clean and elegant, and will add sparkle to your space.

There are all sorts of tricks to enhance a kitchen without spending a fortune. A word to the wise: before tackling the job, find an inspirational photograph to be your guide. Also, be sure you have a plan for each surface finish ahead of time. If you have a plan, you'll have fewer surprises later. Now, before you make your next meal, redo that kitchen!


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