Hi, guys! It’s Mandi. A kitchen renovation is an equally daunting and exciting project. Deciding what you want for your home’s main gathering place isn’t easy, but it sure is fun! Too bad the project doesn’t end with the planning. There’s this little problem that we’re all painfully aware of—money, honey. Sure, if we’d had the budget to renovate our dingy kitchen the day we got the keys to our 1950’s ranch, you better believe we would have! But looking back, I now really appreciate the three years of dreaming big, bringing ourselves back to reality, and then finally making achievable plans for a kitchen we can both love and afford.
With our tight budget, each decision we have made has been very mindful, since every dollar has to count! There are lots of things to consider when planning a kitchen renovation on a budget (whatever your budget may be), and now that I’m nearing the completion of my renovation (what, whaaat!), I have so much practical advice that I learned along the way, in addition to some fun designerly advice.
I graduated from a four-year accredited interior design program and worked briefly in the industry before plowing my own career path as a freelance designer and photographer, so working on the tedious aspects of our kitchen renovation has actually been a really fun blast from the past! In addition to my university training in design, I also have way too much experience with budgets. (Budgets and I have a love/hate relationship.) My husband, Phil, and I function on a mostly cash budget to stay on track with our spending and saving goals. Before we begin any projects or make any purchases, we either have the cash in hand or money purposefully set aside in our bank accounts. This helps us from making hasty decisions or getting ahead of ourselves financially. It really works for us (though it’s extremely difficult for me), and sticking to cash makes us appreciate each project all the more, since we have been planning and dreaming during the long time we have been saving.
Regardless of how large or small your household budget is, it’s a good idea to have a general idea of how much you want to spend before you get started on your kitchen renovation. Even seemingly simple projects, like repainting cabinet faces, can get out of hand really quickly! If you have no idea how much your dream renovation will cost, you could plan the financial aspect of it backwards, like I did, by making your grand plans first, then trimming them down to a more manageable price range once you see the scary cost of your big dreams. Alright, let’s start by talking about your kitchen dreams!
Before the days of Pinterest, I’d always clipped images from my favorite home magazines, like Domino and Livingetc, and pasted them into a “cut book.” These scrapbooks really helped me refine my decorating style and also helped me build specific dreams for the kinds of things I’d like to have in my own home some day. These days I do all of that dreaming on Pinterest, and boy, is it nice to have all of my kitchen inspirations just a click away! When planning our kitchen reno, I spent so many evenings pouring over the images and figuring out how to infuse the vibes I loved from each inspiration kitchen into my own home. I found some key elements that I knew I could easily incorporate into our budget kitchen renovation without having to make any drastic changes to the architecture of our space, such as specific textures, color schemes, inexpensive materials like paneling, and visual aspects like open shelving. Check out my notes above to see what elements we’ve been building into our new kitchen design.
Making Design Decisions
When selecting colors, finishes, and an overall style for our kitchen, there were a few things I kept in mind. I wanted the overall look to match the rest of our home and stay in keeping with the midcentury-modern-meets-country style of our home. (I know, kind of a weird combo, but I can dig it!) I didn’t want to create a time-capsule kitchen, though I did want the space to feel timeless while simultaneously current. I wanted it to be something I could really enjoy at this particular stage of my life, but also something anyone else might also enjoy if we sold the home in the next few years. (I’m starting to sound like a nightmare client!) Oh, and did I mention I wanted it to be as inexpensive as possible, without looking cheap? The more I pondered my style decisions, the more I realized planning a kitchen renovation is like planning a tattoo. Whatever you settle on will be around for a really long time, so the design should have staying power but also be true to you and your lifestyle. If you want to change it someday, it will be painful and expensive. So choose wisely while you can!
Planning on selling your home in the next 5-10 years? Then don’t get too crazy, kids! Can you still make some gutsy style decisions? Of course! But if you don’t want your home to lose value, and if you don’t want to do more renovations down the road, just make sure the more taste-specific decisions you make are things that can easily be changed, like cabinet hardware, paint colors, or lighting fixtures. Expensive and labor-intensive changes like countertops, cabinets, and tiled backsplashes are not as easy to change and can look dated really quickly if you choose something trendy. For instance, before you rip out all of your cabinets in lieu of open shelving, just keep those annoying doubting voices of your friends and family in mind. You know the ones. “Really? Open shelving? You’ll be doing a lot of dusting!” “You’re getting rid of all that storage?” These concerns may not seem like problems for your lifestyle, but they might be for potential home buyers when you go to sell your home one day. So if you want something more unusual like open shelving, maybe you could plan a compromise like I did and mix it in with your current cabinetry situation.
Be sure to keep kitchen standards in mind before moving things around in your kitchen, too. To maintain the functionality of the space and the value of your home, make sure major circulation pathways are at least 36-48″ wide; countertops should be 32-36″ high, and upper cabinets or shelves should be 18″ from the countertop so that they’re easily reached but far enough away to allow space for appliances. To be clear, these are standard measurements that contractors usually abide by, but they’re not exactly requirements for your specific kitchen. The space between my upper cabinets and countertop was only 15″, and I had never even realized the space was smaller than standard.
While considering improvements to your kitchen, keep the overall value of your home in mind. I don’t live in the best area, and I’d bet the homes in my neighborhood don’t have kitchens with marble countertops or beautiful hardwood floors. Because of this, I made sure my design selections weren’t over-improving our home; otherwise, we’d never get the money back when we go to sell it someday. We kept most of our original cabinetry (they’re generic, but not awful or worth replacing), selected less expensive finishes and fixtures, and decided not to even go near the beast of our terrazzo flooring. We may restore them one day, but again, I worry about recouping the expense of that in the future. Honestly, I’m not the kind of gal who needs brand new appliances or fancy fixtures to make me happy. Mainly I just wanted our kitchen to be a brighter and more neutral backdrop to our home, universally likeable, and infused with our particular style (where easily-swapped accessories are concerned).
To help plan the visuals of the space and figure out the spacing and materials required for the job, I laid out the changes in an elevation, which is a to-scale, two-dimensional drawing of a wall. You can easily make your own elevation by measuring your space and using graph paper (every square equals 3″ or 6″) to fill out your fixtures, like cabinets, appliances, windows, etc. Drawing your fixtures on separate paper makes it really easy to rearrange things on the graph paper until you get things the way you like them. I took my planning a step further and made a rendering of what the space would look like with the changes I’d planned. This was as easy as tracing over a photograph of my space and redrawing certain things as needed, such as raising the cabinets to the ceiling and replacing some cabinets with shelves. If you want more tips on how to realize your decorating plans in a drawing, perhaps we could do a whole post on the subject, if you guys are interested!
After I was able to literally visualize the changes that were to take place in our kitchen, I figured out the materials I needed for new fixtures (such as shelves) and for updates to old fixtures (such as paint). Using a spreadsheet, I determined the total cost of the project by adding together the price of every can of paint, shelf bracket, tub of wood putty, box of sandpaper, cabinet knob… You get the idea! Boy, was I surprised at the cost! $660 for all of my cabinet knobs? And that didn’t even include the hinges or fasteners, much less anything else in the kitchen! I knew immediately I had to make some adjustments to my plans, which required some hard decisions.
Revising Design Elements to Save Money
After my initial shock at the first cost sheet, I had to get real with myself. How much exactly were we wanting to spend for this project at this point in our lives for this particular home? What number wouldn’t shock my pants off? What dream elements could I sacrifice for the sake of other fancy things?
The most expensive changes I was planning on making in the kitchen were my cabinet hardware and my countertops. I originally had wanted solid-surface or quartz counters because of their durability and the light colors available. But we just don’t have the money for that kind of material, considering how much counter space we have to cover, and we couldn’t justify a splurge, since there are lots of other important home improvement projects waiting in line for our money. My compromise was a beautiful butcher block counter that is less than half the cost, though it will require more gentle use and maintenance than a product like Corian or quartz.
Another way I was able to cut down on the cost of this project was by mixing our cabinet hardware styles. I originally wanted all of the cabinet doors and drawers to have long brass bars on them, but each bar I wanted cost $22 (check them out here), putting the total cost of handles at $660! I couldn’t believe it. I knew that new hardware would dramatically change the space, though, so I compromised and decided to get a smaller version of that pull for the drawers only, and for the doors I would use closely-matching knobs I found at a local hardware store for around $2. That put my cost at $40 for door pulls and $168 for the drawers, giving me a grand total of $208 for my new hardware. Making that compromise wasn’t my initial plan, but it did save me $452!
I was able to shave down money here and there by compromising on several smaller details too. I went through every item on my wish list and thought about what I really liked about it and considered if there was a way to achieve that for less money. That white globe light that I liked at West Elm? Sure, it has pretty brass detailing, but it was the shape that I really liked, and I found a less expensive globe light on Amazon that fit the bill. I originally wanted white subway tile for a backsplash, but after thinking about it, I realized what I really wanted was a white backdrop with textural interest. DIY painted paneling will bring in that texture I love for a fraction of the cost. New, sleek, Ikea cabinets? Maybe less expensive than custom cabinets, but still more money than I wanted to spend. How about I just refinish and paint the ones I have? So many dollars saved.
Now that we’re nearing the end of the renovation process, I can sheepishly admit that there are several things I hadn’t planned for and should have, like tarps and outlet covers. Sure, these surprises meant more work for me (so many trips to the store!), which wasn’t that big of a deal, but the main problem was causing my budget to stray from the original estimated cost. The key to sticking to your renovation budget is to initially plan that budget to include everything required for your job. It’s a good idea to add 5-10% to your expected project cost to allow for mistakes or any additional materials that might be required. But to help you do it right the first time, I made a list below of items that are easily forgotten when preparing for a kitchen renovation. Can you think of any other often-missed expenses? I’d love to read your stories in the comments below!
General expenses I omitted from my cost sheet:
-shipping costs for online orders
-ear plugs for use around air compressors or other loud devices
-electrical nuts and electrical tape for changing light fixtures
-outlet covers & switchplates to match new paint colors
-proper bolts and screws for mounting sinks, cabinetry, counters, and shelving
-masonite or plywood for making templates for new sink holes, etc.
-fresh blades for clean cuts with Skil saws
-renting spray guns, air compressors, other equipment
Demo & repair work:
-duct tape for hanging tarps
–Sand & Kleen system to trap dust while drywall sanding (worth the money!)
-both quick-setting and finishing-grade sheet rock (drywall compound)
-drywall mesh and tape for repairing large holes
-chisels for removing old tile
-respiration masks for all helpers
-variety of sandpaper and sanding screens—I generally need more sandpaper than I anticipate. Fresh sand paper helps the job go faster.
-ducts and adapters for moving or changing ventilation systems
-quarter round or other molding for covering gaps around cabinets, etc.
-toe kicks for cabinet faces
-caulk—waterproof silicone and construction adhesive as needed
-clamps for Skil saw guides or gluing together pieces of wood
-chemical cleaners like TSP for washing walls before painting or floors that are badly stained
-sponges, brushes, and metal scratchy pads
-respiration masks for all helpers
-additional brushes, rollers, or trays for any helpers
-brush cleaner for washing oil-based paint
-saw horses and lumber for laying out wet cabinet doors, etc.
-wax paper for placing underneath painted objects that haven’t yet cured
I’m so excited to share this renovation process with you all! I’ve got a few things to teach you along the way, and a big before and after to show you at the end. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see, we’d love to hear your thoughts! –Mandi