By Kathy Wilson

Q. We want to update our kitchen but have a pretty modest budget. How can we keep costs down and still make it look great?

A. After the bedroom, the kitchen is probably where you spend the most time at home. So of course, you want it to look fresh and inviting. Luckily, some quick and inexpensive ways can help you achieve that -- instead of a remodeling job that could cost you thousands. One of the fastest routes to a brand-new look is buying a few cans of paint. Consider your walls first. Even though the cabinets take up a lot of space, a rich wall color can warm up the room and reduce that utilitarian feeling such spaces often have. Don’t be afraid of strong wall colors. Because there’s less wall space, you can go bright or deep without overwhelming the room.

Think about painting the cabinets a coordinating color as well. First remove all hardware and clean with TSP (a grease and paint remover available at hardware stores), then sand and prime them before painting. Or, for a country look, cut out the wood panels on a few of the doors and staple shirred fabric or even chicken wire to the inside frame. Too much work? Simply use an accent color to stencil an interesting motif on the cabinet doors to make them look new again.

Hate your floors? Even if you can’t afford to replace them, you have terrific options. Inexpensive self-stick vinyl tiles have come a long way and can be installed in just one afternoon. Black-and-white checks are classic, but there are also great new wood and stone looks that no longer scream “I’m fake!” If you have vinyl floors, painting them is another alternative. You can produce beautiful custom results, but you’ll have to eliminate kitchen traffic for several days.

To paint vinyl floors, strip the floor of any wax. Then coat the floor with a primer made exclusively for nonporous surfaces and let dry at least overnight. Now paint in your desired pattern or color. You can use 1/4 of an inch of masking tape to create “grout” lines for a tiled look or use one the many tools available at the paint store to create a faux marbling or wood grain effect. Then protect your work by sealing the floor with four to six coats of water-based polyurethane. (You can also use this technique on laminate counters.)

Last, don’t forget to decorate. Hang some pretty plates or antique silverware from yard sales on the wall. Check out discount stores -- or your own cupboards! -- for colored glass vases to display in the window. For the final touch, pick some flowers from your backyard and set them on your counter in a pretty creamer. 

Expert Kathy Wilson is a home decorating expert and the editor of The Budget Decorator

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Home & Garden - Kitchen Makeover on a Budget