Make smart decisions when it comes to cabinetry, countertops, floor plan, and layout.

When Michael Toth, president and founder of Inspired Kitchen Design, talks with clients about how to make their dream kitchen a reality, he asks these questions: "What would a day in your dream kitchen look like? What do you hate about your current kitchen?" These answers, he says, help clarify the vision and shave dollars off the cost. "We're like the 'kitchen project whisperer,'" says Toth. According to NARI's 2019 Remodeling Impact Report, the average kitchen renovation runs between $38,300 and $68,000. "The traditional way to quote the kitchen is to begin incrementally from nothing," Toth explains.

remodeling kitchen with power tools
Credit: suravikin / Getty Images

Once you've answered those questions for yourself, heed the advice of experts to get a top-notch, design-oriented kitchen that works with your budget. Labor constitutes about 30 to 35 percent of the cost, according to HomeAdvisor, with materials the remaining 65 to 70 percent. Home Depot advises keeping the one-third rule in mind: cabinetry, finishing touches (appliances, faucets and countertops), and labor and installation.

Ahead, we ask the experts about these affiliated costs and how to save on them.

Understand the breakdown of materials cost.

The materials category is where you have the most flexibility—the only way you can pay your contractor less is to do the work yourself, but you can choose less-expensive tile, light fixtures, or a range. According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, nearly a third (29 percent) of the materials' budget goes to cabinetry and hardware, followed by their installation (17 percent, often folded into labor); appliances and ventilation run around 14 percent, and everything else—countertops, flooring, lighting, walls and ceilings, design fees, doors and windows, and faucets and plumbing—constitutes small amounts of less than 10 percent.

Some of these fixtures can be found outside of traditional suppliers. "I've seen clients buy high-end, second-hand appliances on Facebook Marketplace," says designer Christina Kolb, with Kowalske Kitchen & Bath in Delafield, Wisconsin. "Because there's so much remodeling going on, there's a fair amount available." One client even converted a dresser scored at Goodwill into an island with a walnut butcher-block top (more affordable than granite or marble) for her 1920s bungalow.

Be smart with cabinetry.

Knowing that cabinetry is the most expensive piece of a kitchen remodel, it's important to consider your options carefully. Have you thought about open shelves in some areas of the kitchen? It takes less craftsmanship (or labor) to construct a board than a cabinet. Some homeowners can even buy shelves and hang them in the span of an afternoon. But if you're set on traditional cabinets, consider Shaker-style doors (a flat panel with square edges and no design carvings), says Toth, because those look great and cost less.

Corner cabinets, says Kolb, "can add thousands of dollars to your kitchen budget." Instead, install two full-size cabinets that meet at the corner and leave blank space within for a tiered Lazy Susan, to provide more space, she says. Purchasing "stock cabinetry" (what's in stock at places like IKEA and Home Depot) is another moneysaving trick, says Kolb. The downside? They are fixed in size.

Work with the existing layout.

Once you start shifting appliances around, you can practically hear the ding-ding of the contractor quote rising: It's because new plumbing and electrical is now needed. If you can keep the same general layout and not have to move the flooring, explains Kolb, you'll save more. "Moving the flooring tends to snowball into other areas of the house."

Get the high-end look for less.

Having your heart set on pricey materials like marble-top counters and stone flooring could be a huge disappointment. "Laminate countertops," says Kolb, "have come a long way from the countertops I had growing up, especially the wood-look ones." Beautiful cabinet or drawer pulls and lighting—two low-budget items—can also make a kitchen shine.

Toth says that "having the end in mind before the beginning" is key to saving money on a kitchen remodel. "In order to lower labor costs, and avoid material delays, give the contractor more clarity," he adds. Clipping photos out of magazines and printing out images found online moves the conversation in the right—and hopefully more affordable—direction.


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