Remodeling your kitchen can breathe new life into your home, but costly appliances, countertops and cabinets can quickly drive up the price.
According to a recent report from Remodeling Magazine, the average cost of a "midrange" kitchen renovation is about $60,000. An "upscale" kitchen renovation with pricier appliances and finishes costs an average of about $120,000.
But you don't need to completely gut your kitchen to make it look more modern. A few strategic changes can make a huge difference, said Patty Gray, co-owner of DreamMaker Bath and Kitchen in Bakersfield, California.
It's difficult to estimate how much even small projects in the kitchen will cost because each space is different in size and design, but Gray recommended a few projects that she said should keep homeowners below the $25,000 mark. A budget that size may not be enough to make every change you want to see in your kitchen at once, but choosing one or two at a time could still greatly improve your enjoyment of the space.
Of course, every remodeling project has its quirks, so consider building in a budget cushion of 20 percent or more as you start to plan. It's better to be prepared than surprised, even if it means skipping a few higher-end upgrades.
We used Homewyse, a website that tracks home improvement and maintenance costs, to calculate the costs of these kitchen upgrades in the 10021 ZIP code of New York City (a market known for being on the pricier side) and the 37501 ZIP code of Memphis, Tennessee (a generally more-affordable midsize market).
Click ahead to see eight projects that could renew your cooking space for less than half the average cost of a full midrange remodel.
First, a word on contractors
Before you start planning your kitchen remodel, find a contractor who specializes in kitchens and bathrooms, Gray said.
"You don't want to hire a roofer and a framer just because they have 'contractor' behind their name," she said. "You want to be sure you're using a kitchen design specialist."
These specialists will have better knowledge of current trends and the newest products on the market, and have experience fitting those elements together for a cohesive kitchen look.
Reface the cabinets
Changing the appearance of your cabinets can change the entire appearance your kitchen, Gray said.
"When you walk into a kitchen, the first thing you see are the cabinets," she said. "Cabinets really tell the story of the age of the kitchen."
Replacing your cabinets takes a lot of work -- tearing out the old ones often involves additional work on the underlying plumbing and electrical components -- so Gray recommends refacing them if they're less than 20 years old. Older cabinets may have to be replaced if their drawer gliders or other parts are worn down.
When refacing cabinets, a contractor will remove the doors and drawers, apply laminate or a veneer to the face of the cabinets and add new doors.
"It's a facelift for the kitchen without tearing everything out and getting into the electrical and plumbing," Gray said.
A cabinet refacing project is usually about 25 percent of the cost of a top-to-bottom kitchen remodel, she said. Homewyse estimates this kind of project will cost between about $304 and $393 per cabinet in Memphis and between about $323 and $419 in New York City.
Add knobs and pulls
The handles and knobs on your cabinets are "the jewelry for your kitchen," Gray said.
Replacing them with more modern designs is a quick way to update the room.
Adding pulls to cabinets that don't already have them could help prevent wear and tear on the surface and make them look more "finished," she said.
Drawer pulls and knobs usually cost a few dollars each -- between $1 and $10, although some designs cost $25 or more each -- at most home improvement stores. Most of these features can be easily installed without the help of a professional.
Upgrade the lighting
Changing one light fixture could help you see the room in, well, a whole new light.
Gray said she see many kitchens in her area that have dated, wood-framed fluorescent light fixtures. When removed, these fixtures leave a raised trough that opens up the kitchen with the help of a little crown molding, making the room feel taller and larger. Recessed can lighting (and maybe a small chandelier) can replace the old fluorescent tubes for a more modern look.
For a less drastic project, adding pendant lights over an island "makes a big difference," Gray said.
The cost of purchasing and installing a new light fixture is between about $301 and $427 in New York City and between about $209 and $315 in Memphis. This cost fluctuates depending on the fixture itself and the company doing the labor.
Installing pendant lights costs between about $336 and $496 in New York and between $235 and $369 in Memphis. Adding undercabinet lights costs about $129 to $187 per fixture in New York and about $88 to $133 in Memphis.
Put in new flooring
New flooring is another way to change the look of the room without changing everything else.
Porcelain tile has long been a favorite kitchen flooring option because of its durability and relatively low cost, but luxury vinyl tile (LVT) is starting to gain popularity, Gray said.
LVT comes in a variety of finishes, from wood to travertine tile. It's durable, low-maintenance and costs roughly the same as porcelain tile, she said.
"Porcelain tile is extremely durable if you've got pets and kids, but if you don't want to deal with grout, LVT is an easily maintained floor," Gray said.
New porcelain tile and installation for a 500-square-foot rectangular kitchen costs between about $9,370 and $11,565 in New York, according to Homewyse. The same floor costs about $8,636 to $$10,659 in Memphis.
An LVT floor of the same size requires a fraction of the installation time -- only 6.5 hours compared to 105.5 for porcelain tile, according to Homewyse. While the tiles themselves are about the same cost as porcelain, the whole project costs far less, between about $2,582 and $3,312 in New York and between about $2,492 and $3,195 in Memphis.
Add a backsplash
A tile backsplash could add additional color, texture and depth to your kitchen, Gray said.
A kitchen without a backsplash, she said, "is like you're wearing a black outfit -- you've got a beautiful skirt and blouse -- but no jewelry. When you add some jewelry or a nice scarf, that's the same thing a backsplash will do for a kitchen."
Gray recommends a backsplash that goes all the way from the countertop to the bottom of the cabinets, although some builders stop at 4 or 6 inches above the countertop to cut costs.
Including labor and materials, installing a 120-square-foot backsplash costs between about $2,098 and $4,190 in New York and about $1,680 and $3,099 in Memphis, according to Homewyse.
An old stove or refrigerator can really date a kitchen even if the other finishes are timeless.
Gray recommends purchasing your appliances from a dealer that specializes in appliances and is trained on the latest models and features, rather than a big-box store.
"You want a real expert, not someone who was just stocking shelves and came over to sell you your new appliance," Gray said.
Also keep in mind that upgrading your appliances may come with the added expense of upgrading your electric or gas connections, depending on the size and power of the new appliances.
Buying and installing a new refrigerator will set you back from about $1,030 to $2,168 in New York and about $1,018 to $2,147 in Memphis, according to Homewyse. A new oven is in about the same range -- between $1,280 and $2,684 in New York and between $1,212 and $2,571 in Memphis. A dishwasher is less expensive, and costs between about $634 and $1,269 in New York and between about $562 and $1,147 in Memphis.
While granite is still a popular way to upgrade your work surfaces, quartz is "nipping at its heels," Gray said.
Quartz is nonporous, more durable than granite and available in a wide variety of colors. The average cost of installing a 100-square-foot "basic" quartz countertop is between about $7,849 and $10,765 in New York and between about $7,507 and $10,311 in Memphis, according to Homewyse. A "basic" granite countertop of the same size is about $6,048 to $8,493 in New York and about $5,848 to $8,212 in Memphis.
However, Gray cautions that this isn't the most dramatic change you can make to the kitchen. Because counters are a horizontal surface, they may not stand out as much as new light fixtures or cabinets.
A new coat of paint
"If you can't afford a remodel, choose a new, more up-to-date paint color," Gray said.
Neutral gray tones, white and off-white are popular kitchen colors right now, she said.
For color inspiration, Gray recommends looking at home design catalogs. Homeowners might also want to browse samples at a paint store or use design-oriented social media like Pinterest to get some ideas.