Amy and Peter Sharpless still blink when they walk into their kitchen. The room is now dressed head to toe in fresh greens and whites, with nickel-plated hardware sparkling at every turn. The new appliances, flooring, and countertops make the work areas inviting and practical. A round pedestal dining table tucked into the far corner is surrounded by photographs and children's art showcased on built-in bulletin boards, which infuse the sophisticated space with warmth and color.
Roughly 3.8 million American kitchens were renovated last year. The average cost of a major kitchen makeover is $43,804, according to "Remodeling" magazine. Amazingly, Amy and Peter redid theirs for less than $12,000 by doing most of the work themselves. Their plan was to spruce up the serviceable cabinets, install new lighting, build a dining nook, upgrade the entryway, and paint -- leaving installation of the sink, counters, appliances, and floor to professionals. Finding a contractor to commit to a few small jobs was difficult. "It would have been easier to hire someone to do everything," Amy says. But she found the I-can't-believe-I-can-do-this part of the experience as rewarding as the money saved.
Amy's Tried-and-True Tips
-Assemble the tools and materials you'll be relying on most frequently. Invest in quality screwdrivers and paintbrushes and an electric sander.
-Audition paint colors before making your choices by brushing large swatches on the wall. The reflection of light throughout the day can change the appearance of a color considerably.
-Interview vendors until you find one who will do exactly what you want -- such as replace the countertops and build a panel over the dishwasher -- at a reasonable price. Don't let them pressure you into signing up for more than you planned to have done.
-Search the Internet to discover hard-to-find items -- often at a good price. That's how Amy got her oval-shaped, nickel-plated doorknobs.
-Splurge on one or two high-impact items. Amy wanted first-class appliances and a beautiful faucet so she cut costs elsewhere. She chose durable, inexpensive linoleum flooring and found a vintage oak table, which she painted herself.
-Install appliances and flooring after you've done most of the renovation so you don't run the risk of damaging them as you finish.
-Arrange for someone to mind young children when you're doing the work.
-Get the whole family involved. Let the kids help with small tasks. Have fun!
Before A year ago, this galley kitchen set in a town house in Princeton, New Jersey, had a dated, awkward setup that didn't work for the couple and their two young daughters. "We spend an awful lot of time in the kitchen," Amy says. "I wanted it to be more livable, but we had to be budget conscious."
Without windows or doors, the pass-through kitchen lined with aging appliances seemed more like a corridor than a room. Dim lighting and brown oak cabinetry contributed to a dark, closed-in feeling. A mismatched palette -- off-white countertops, a black stove, yellow-green walls -- and a lack of architectural features created other aesthetic challenges. Without a designated spot, mail, bills, and other papers got misplaced.
After Amy loves soft, natural greens -- like the hues of beach glass, ferns, and sea urchins -- and chose them for her color scheme. Pale-green cabinets, furniture, and linen-covered bulletin boards; a creamy floor and walls; new white appliances and counters; and additional lighting brighten the kitchen, giving it a fresh, clean look. High-end nickel-plated hardware for the cabinet pulls, doorknobs, and faucet dress up the room with a subtle sheen. Streamlining touches include a dishwasher panel and tile backsplash. The bulletin boards and bins keep papers and keys organized. The space now functions and feels like a comfortable room, with French doors that open to the dining room.
Efficiency New appliances and Corian counters make meal preparation pleasurable.
Distinction French doors have a windowlike effect in a windowless room. They also divide the dining room and kitchen, useful for entertaining.
Beauty To make it a focal point, the sink got the big splurge: an old-style polished-nickel faucet and a vintage cup holder for soap. A shelf with antique plates helps frame the area.
Convenience Keeping track of mail is easy now that each family member has a slot. Hooks beneath the bins hold keys.
Organization Linen-covered bulletin boards are an attractive alternative to the refrigerator door for posting children's art, family photos, schedules, and important reminders.