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Budget fixes for the kitchen

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The role of the kitchen has expanded over the past century, growing from an out-of-the-way service area to a room that's central both physically and functionally to the home.

It's no surprise that a room so significant presents costs so large during remodelling. The average kitchen remodelling project can be one of the most expensive projects homeowners undertake

Here are a few places you can trim your budget, whether you're hoping to spruce up your existing kitchen for a few bucks or overhaul the entire floor plan and bring in all-new materials.

Lighting

A sure way to avoid big-ticket expenses is to spruce up your existing kitchen rather than overhaul it, and new lighting is one of the fastest ways to lift a kitchen's mood and usefulness.

Halogen lamps are a good way to bounce light off the ceiling for indirect working light, and most come with dimmers so you can turn them down for more subtle lighting. For task and accent lighting, you can easily mount and plug in thin lights under cabinets - no wiring work required. New fixtures over a sink or island can boost performance and appearance.

Paint

There's nothing sacred about stained wood. Painted wood is just as appropriate in many kitchens, and paint lets you get the colour and finish you want at a fraction of the cost of refinishing cabinets - even if you hire a painter.

Appliance refinishing companies and even automobile paint shops can provide new complexions for your old range, refrigerator, or dishwasher. Just be sure you don't invest in a new look for an appliance that has only a couple of years of use left.

Special do-it-yourself wall-painting jobs, such as sponging, mottling, and rag-rolling, are a good way to divert attention from other less-attractive elements. Painted wood adds to the character of a kitchen.

Hardware and Moulding

New knobs and pulls on cabinets can add sparkle and life. Choose among glass, metal, rubber, wood, resin, and stone, and feel free to use multiple materials and styles to give kitchens a lift.

Featureless kitchens can benefit greatly from new mouldings. Use crown mouldings at the ceiling, install a chair rail or plate rail partway up the wall, and replace trim around windows and doors to create shape and detail.

Floor Plans
Better kitchens aren't always bigger. It's often wiser in terms of design and finances to reconfigure existing space than to build new. Instead of extending out, look inside to find possibilities. Removing interior walls usually costs less than adding exterior walls, and the hallways and closets that adjoin kitchens in many older homes provide prime opportunities for annexing space.

When you're considering efficient layouts, think about galley kitchens. You may not want a kitchen like those on a boat or in a motor home, but the functionality crammed into those kitchens is hard to resist.

For a feeling of spaciousness, devise a relatively compact cooking area and devote leftover space to a seating or eating area. Or open the kitchen to an adjoining dining room or family room, dividing the two spaces with an island or peninsula.

Simply adding an island can improve looks and performance in many kitchens. Islands are flexible design elements because they don't have to match the surrounding cabinets; antique tables often make great islands. If the island holds the sink or cook top, it often creates a more convenient floor plan and more work space.

Adding a pantry to your floor plan cuts cabinet costs. Pantries provide versatile storage and, depending on the style you choose, often require only an abundance of inexpensive shelving. Even a closet-size pantry can replace an entire wall of expensive cabinets, along with the countertops, backsplashes, and extra hinges and knobs that go with them.

Cabinetry

Quality new cabinets
When you're shopping for new cabinets, paying more for a good one is a smart investment. Look for high-quality construction and well-engineered features such as built-in spice racks, pop-up appliance platforms, etc.

Mixed looks
Well-designed kitchens don't require completely matched cabinetry, so if you like a mixed look, shop in antique stores and second-hand shops for china cabinets and dressers you can use in your plans. A vintage armoire or a stately bookcase can work like a pantry cabinet and bring a furniture look to the kitchen, while tables can make charming islands.

Reusing cabinets
Cabinets make up one-third to one-half of the cost of most kitchens, so good planning here has a large effect on your budget. For example, remember that new cabinets aren't your only option. New countertops and backsplashes could give existing cabinets a new lease on life. If the cabinets are structurally sound but visually unappealing, consider replacing just the doors and drawer fronts.

Well-designed kitchens don't require completely matched cabinetry

Countertops
Saving money on cabinets can free funds for countertop upgrades. If you select laminate, add bullnose edges or a wood strip for a decorative look. Solid-surfacing products cost more for materials and installation, but they can update the kitchen quickly. The same goes for ceramic tile, granite, marble, and butcher block.

Flooring

Tile
Shop for discontinued colours or patterns that are marked down. Or use a neutral-hued tile as a field tile and more expensive tiles for colour or pattern accents.

Faux flooring
Faux-stone vinyl and laminate flooring can create the look of granite or marble at bargain prices. Take a look at the latest trend of polished concrete floors - fabulous flooring at budget prices!

Labour - Don't skimp on skilled help
If you have to cut budget corners, economise on materials so you can hire the skilled help you need. By making the most of your budget and preventing costly mistakes, architects, interior designers, or kitchen designers can save you from substantial headaches and often cover the cost of their services.