13 Kitchen Upgrades That Make Your Home Look Expensive
To create a beautiful kitchen, you don't have to spend a lot—but you can fool people into thinking you did.
“The simplest way to elevate any room is to clear the counters of clutter,” says Laurence Carr, New York City-based interior designer. “You want bare countertops and impeccably organized cabinets and drawers where everything has a place.” A tip-top space feels like you’ve put effort into maintaining it. Make sure everything has a home—go through mail and the kids’ school work that’s been piling up, and in the future set it in a designated, out-of-the-way location so it’s not just taking over the kitchen table or island.
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Stick with neutrals
Plenty of designers can create gorgeous, colourful kitchens, but if you’re upgrading on your own and can’t call in a pro, neutral colors are the way to go, says René Dekker, London-based luxury interior designer. “If you spend a lot of time in your kitchen, you want it to be easy to digest in a visual way,” he says. “Dark colours tend to suck the light in, which can strain the eye.” On the other hand, light taupes, creams, and grays are easy to match, giving you a pulled-together look that will trick guests into thinking you hired the best of the best to design it.
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Get the marble look
If you want a standout countertop on a budget, go for quartz, suggests Carr. Not only does it look expensive, but it’s also easy to clean and maintain. “Choosing quartz with a marble facade gives you all the elegance of marble without the upkeep and the hefty price tag,” she says. If you’re going for a more rustic feel, she recommends butcher block counters.
Consider integrated appliances
Dishwashers and fridges don’t tend to be the prettiest part of a kitchen, and they can draw your eye from an otherwise beautiful space. Consider buying an integrated set that blends right into the cabinets, suggests Dekker—what looks like a cupboard actually opens up into your fridge or freezer. “When you integrate your appliances, you have a much smoother, much sleeker finish,” says Dekker.
Go for stainless steel
If you aren’t into integrated appliances, Carr recommends brushed silver smart appliances. “Not only do they look polished and elevate your life, but they are energy-efficient and kind to our planet,” she says. And what’s good for the planet is good for your energy bill—it’s a win-win.
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Swap out your handles
Drawer handles and cabinet pulls can be one of the first things in your kitchen to show their age since they’re handled so many times during a day, Carr points out. Dekker recommends heading to Etsy to find replacements for your ho-hum handles. “You can have a really plain kitchen and buy jeweled handles with semi-precious stones, and your kitchen looks like a jewelry store,” he says.
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Invest in a standout light fixture
If you want an upgrade but don’t have the budget for a full kitchen renovation, start by switching out the lights, suggests Carr. “Oversize, sophisticated light fixtures create the illusion of a complete kitchen upgrade,” she says. Fixtures with exposed circular bulbs and bold lines tend to do particularly well, she says.
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Install two sets of lights
Don’t just slap up a single light fixture and call it a day; lighting is key to creating an atmosphere that drips of expensiveness. Dekker recommends having at least two different sets of dimmable lights: One should be more ambient, like under the cupboards or kickboards, for times when you just pop in to grab a glass of water for a snack. The other should be overhead lights that shine down when you’re cooking.
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Dress up the walls
A simple paint job can really transform a room—and it doesn’t have to be a room-wide project, either. A strong paint colour or a punchy wallpaper on just one accent wall will really make a statement. “I love textured wall coverings made of vinyl,” says Carr. “Vinyl is not only affordable, but it is also a naturally-derived material and is recyclable at the end of its life.”
Make it glossy
Glossy and matte paint finishes can both look high-class, but if you don’t have a huge budget for pulling out all the stops in a renovation, Dekker recommends opting for those ultra-shiny cabinets. “It immediately is a little bit more eye-catching,” he says. “They have a three-dimensional feel because of their reflection.”
Don’t forget to accessorize
A kitchen seems like it’s more about utility than aesthetics, but simple touches can really pull the place together. Carr suggests warming up the room by setting a rattan basket on the counter or laying a colorful, textured rug in front of the sink. Those little pops are sure to impress—and make guests say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
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Swap out the seating
You don’t have to blow your budget on new kitchen chairs to fool people into thinking you’ve spent a lot. Dekker recommends vinyl, faux-leather chairs. “They make it so amazingly well now that you can’t tell the difference between real leather and vinyl,” he says. “The pattern and texture is so close to the real thing.”
Don’t go for anything too trendy
That ultra-trendy molding or cabinet material might look incredible when it’s first installed, but within a couple of years your fresh new look could already look dated—so unless you’re upgrading all over again, it’ll feel like the opposite of what you’d hoped for in an expensive-looking kitchen. “I advise steering clear from anything too trendy and opting for upgraded classic options instead,” says Carr.
For even more ideas, check out these tips from influential interior designer Brian Gluckstein.