How to Get the Perfect Kitchen: Design Tips & Budget Advice

A beautifully remodeled kitchen with white cabinets and dark countertops

What this article is all about:


Getting Started

Many people consider the kitchen to be the most important room in a house. It’s a spot to prepare your meals and gather with family and friends, and can be a valuable area to wow potential buyers. The kitchen is also one of the most expensive, time consuming, and inconvenient rooms of the home to remodel. This guide will help you set a budget, plan appropriately, and complete your kitchen renovation project as smoothly as possible.

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Why Remodel Your Kitchen

Perhaps more than any other room, the kitchen is a place where dreams run wild. Between built-in wine coolers and the latest double drawer dishwashers, it’s easy to lose sight of the real reason you’re renovating and what’s actually a requirement. Take time at the beginning of the project to jot down your goals, and come back to these notes periodically to be sure you’re staying on track.

Renovating specifically to improve resale value requires the greatest self-control when it comes to budget, style, and feature choices. Start by speaking with a local real estate agent; they can share information on the current and potential value of your home, as well as the elements buyers in your neighborhood prefer.

It’s critical not to over-improve your kitchen if you want to recoup the majority of your investment. Some experts recommend capping your spend on a major kitchen renovation at 10-15 percent of your home’s total value. Within that budget range, be sure to consider local standards when making materials selections and prioritizing features. Splurging on a professional range but skipping the granite countertops isn’t wise if buyers expect the latter to be a standard part of homes in your area.

Remodeling for personal reasons allows much more flexibility, but still requires focus – especially if your goals are functional in nature. Common reasons for renovating the kitchen include desires to update the overall look and feel, improve energy efficiency, or make the space accessible for aging members of the household.

While personal improvements may not increase the value of your home, they can impact your enjoyment and the utility of the space. For example, home cooks who routinely host large dinner parties with multi-course meals may benefit from installing a double oven, even if most local homebuyers wouldn’t consider that a requirement. Selecting energy-efficient and right-sized appliances for your household could also result in cost savings from reduced energy or water consumption. While it’s rarely wrong to consider resale value when making renovation decisions, don’t fret about prioritizing your needs if you plan to stay in the home for the long haul.

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Your Kitchen Renovation Budget

Average costs

A total kitchen renovation, even on the smallest scale, typically requires a significant investment. The sheer number of materials needed adds up quickly, from light fixtures to major appliances and everything in between. Plus the integration of so many electrical and water-based elements often requires professional assistance.

Costs will vary considerably based on the types of changes you intend to make and the specific materials you select. According to Remodeling magazine*, a minor kitchen remodel using midrange materials costs approximately $19,226. This assumes you have a 200-square-foot kitchen and includes replacing a wall oven, cooktop, laminate countertops, basic sink, faucet, and resilient flooring. Cabinet boxes were left in place, but doors and drawers were also replaced.

A major kitchen remodel will cost significantly more. Remodeling magazine estimates a major remodel with midrange materials will cost $56,768. Upgrades and additions from the minor remodel include new semi-custom wood cabinets, a 3-by-5 foot island, new ventilation system, built-in microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal, and custom lighting. Prepare to spend about double that if you’re looking for luxury or professional-grade features. An upscale kitchen remodel comes in at $113,097 and includes custom cherry cabinets, stone countertops, and a 36-inch commercial grade range and vent hood, among other high-end features.

*Source: 2015 Cost vs. Value Report. For full project assumptions and additional details, click here.

How to create a budget

Your kitchen remodel budget should always start with how much you can realistically afford. If you’re determined to make a major overhaul but are nervous about the resources required, consider working with a kitchen planner. While it may seem counter intuitive to pay for this service when cost is a concern, a good planner could save you money in the end. They’ll know all the tricks for maximizing your budget while making the most of your space and can help you avoid costly mistakes.

Ready to put together a plan of your own? Follow these five steps to map out your kitchen renovation.

1) Start by deciding what needs to change in your kitchen. Take time to consider how the space functions today. Which appliances are frequently used and which are dust collectors? How often do you entertain and how elaborate are your meals? Which storage solutions are working well and which are constant sources of frustration? Once you’ve evaluated your current state, answer the following questions to guide your kitchen plan.

General layout:


Functional features:


Decorative elements:


2) Select your preferred materials. Be as specific as possible. Different finishes or model years may not have the same price, even for otherwise identical products from the same manufacturer. While this is time consuming, it is a critical step to arrive at a realistic budget. You’ll need to make decisions about the following elements:


3) Add up the cost of labor, materials, and other expenses. If you’re planning a do-it-yourself kitchen renovation, the cost of materials will be the majority of your expense. Don’t forget to include the cost of meals out while your kitchen is unavailable, and any building permits required in your area. Use this Excel template to keep track of your anticipated and actual expenses.

If you’re planning to use professionals for cabinet installation, electrical changes, or the like, contact them directly to get an estimate for their services. The detailed plan you put together in steps one and two should help you get accurate quotes for the work. Given the number of tradespeople potentially involved in a kitchen remodel, you may prefer to hire a general contractor instead. In addition to managing the labor required for your renovation, a general contractor can also arrange for any permits and inspections.

4) Leave room for unexpected expenses. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends including a buffer of 10-20 percent for unbudgeted costs. While developing a detailed design plan upfront and sticking with those selections helps minimize budget bloat, it’s impossible to anticipate every possible expense. For example, in the process of moving an electrical outlet, your electrician may discover a wiring issue that presents a serious safety hazard. You may find additional improvements are required as the project progresses, and building in a buffer helps you make those changes comfortably.

5) Adjust your plans as needed. Are you satisfied with the cost of your kitchen renovation as currently outlined? If so, congratulations! You’re ready to start your remodeling project. If you need to rein in your budget, look for areas where you may be overspending. According to the NKBA*, a typical kitchen renovation budget breaks down as follows:

Remodeling expense Percent of budget
Design fees 4%
Installation 17%
Appliances & ventilation 14%
Cabinetry & hardware 29%
Countertops 10%
Lighting 5%
Flooring 7%
Doors & windows 4%
Walls & ceilings 5%
Faucets & plumbing 4%
Other 1%


*Source: National Kitchen and Bath Association Kitchen Planner

Ways to save money

Cabinets are often the most expensive part of a kitchen remodel and a prime area to cut costs. One strategy is to refinish your current cabinets instead of replacing them. Depending on the base material, you may decide to paint or stain them. Even getting new doors or refacing cabinets with a veneer is typically less expensive than total replacement.

Countertops are another feature that can blow your budget. If you envisioned marble but can’t foot the bill, try this tip: pick a special spot for expensive countertop materials – like a kitchen island – and use less expensive laminate or ceramic tile elsewhere.

Are your appliance costs higher than expected? Look for “scratch and dent” or showroom floor deals. These appliances often have only small aesthetic imperfections and are being sold at a fraction of the retail price. Just be sure you can live with the damage; a dent that drives you crazy now isn’t going to look better 10 years down the road.

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Three Keys to Good Kitchen Design

Most of us don’t have the cash for multiple kitchen redesigns, so it’s important to get it right the first time. Focus on these three keys to good design for a kitchen you’ll love for years to come.

A functional layout

The layout of your kitchen is probably the most important thing to get right. A great layout will make smart use of the space available and intelligently position the major workstations.

A common concept in kitchen design is the work triangle, which refers to the connection between your cooktop, sink, and refrigerator. Best practice is to align these elements so there are no less than 4 feet and no more than 9 feet between any two “points” of the triangle. The dishwasher should be near the sink, but make sure it does not impede foot traffic when the door is open. Ideally your refrigerator will be on an outer corner where household members and guests can access food without disrupting the primary cooking area.

Your general kitchen configuration is often predetermined, but if you have the flexibility to alter the overall shape of the kitchen space, keep your general cooking habits in mind. A galley kitchen can be a very efficient setup for homes with single cooks, but might be cramped with multiple people preparing food. L-shaped kitchens or U-shaped kitchens with an island can work well for two cooks, but be sure you truly have enough room for these layouts; ideally islands will have 42 inches of clearance on all sides.

Storage for everything

In addition to food, kitchens house a myriad of cooking tools, books, and dining supplies. Finding a place for everything can be a real challenge; creating a truly organized space may sound impossible. But a total kitchen renovation is the perfect time to prioritize your storage needs. Make sure you’ve made space for the following:


Items built to last

Durability should rule when choosing kitchen materials. When in doubt, select items that require low maintenance and have a long warranty period.

Consider engineered stone for countertops. It’s nonporous, scratch and stain resistant, and does not need to be sealed. Quartz is the most popular form of engineered stone and comes in an array of styles, many of which mimic natural stone. This is a great choice for cooks who put their kitchen through the gauntlet every week.

Cabinets have two key pieces to their construction: the box (or frame) and the drawers/doors. Cabinet boxes made of plywood are more stable than other engineered wood products and even solid wood, which can warp over time from exposure to humidity. Look for drawers with dovetail joints, which stand up well to heavy use.

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Resource Center & Glossary

Key terms – in plain English

Dovetail – An interlocking corner joint style. A hallmark of fine woodworking, dovetail joints are typically found in the highest quality cabinets.

Galley – A kitchen layout featuring two parallel walls of cabinets and appliances.

L-shaped – A kitchen layout with workstations on two adjacent walls, akin to the shape of the letter “L.”

National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) – A non-profit trade group supplying guidance and design standards for the home. With an emphasis on universal access, the NKBA assists both homeowners and industry professionals in creating safe and effective spaces.

U-shaped – A kitchen layout with workstations on three adjacent walls, akin to the shape of the letter “U.”

Work triangle – A concept in kitchen design describing the relationship between the three primary workstations: the cooktop, sink, and refrigerator.

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