Tight budget won't limit new kitchen's luxuries

If a designer kitchen is out of reach financially, don't worry.

There are many ways to create a stunning kitchen while on a tight budget. All it takes is a little creativity.

While it is easy to gravitate toward expensive, high-end cabinetry design, home buyers should start by investigating costs and defining their budgets.

"I try to get them to focus on a price range and cabinet grade," said Maria Cassara, interior selections coordinator with Remington Homes. "Everyone can ask for the moon, but you have to be realistic about what you can afford."

Among the least expensive cabinet options are those made with a thermofoil wrap instead of wood. Because wood can get costly, thermofoil cabinets are an option for those who like the crisp, clean look of white cabinets.

The process involves covering the cabinet boxes with a white vinyl wrap. The cabinets can have raised or flat panel doors, Cassara said.

The next level of pricing includes cabinets that are covered with a wood veneer instead of solid wood. These cabinets come with flat panel doors. At Remington Homes, those who want raised panel doors that create a very traditional look can find them in the third level of pricing. That level includes solid wood cabinets.

Pricing levels will vary with each builder; so it may take some research to compare various cabinets and upgrades. During this process, focus on the package that will deliver the best value for the money.

This might mean upgrading one level to get a wood veneer cabinet, then adding a special finish to give the cabinets some pizazz. Or, some home buyers might want to splurge on cherry wood but stick with a simple door style and overall kitchen design.

"If it's a straight budget concern, upgrade the wood and finish before upgrading the door style," said Maureen O'Neill, a senior designer with Abruzzo Kitchens in Schaumburg. "You get more bang for the buck."

A maple or cherry wood with a simple recessed door style and an attractive finish will go a long way toward creating an appealing design.

Door style upgrades, such as raised panel doors with intricate molding around the frame won't provide the same kind of return on investment, she said.

Another way to make a big impact on a budget is to splurge in one or two areas. A large kitchen sink with a high arching faucet might do the trick, for example.

In many higher-end kitchens, warm faucet finishes rule the day.

An oil rubbed bronze faucet could make a simple kitchen design stand out, said Cheryl Daugvila, owner of Cheryl D & Co., a kitchen and bath design firm in LaGrange.

Decorative kitchen faucets with stylish finishes are priced from $175 to $500 or more.

Or, add some spice to the kitchen walls to create drama. Many builders include a neutral wall tile as a standard item in the kitchen. One idea: Use the standard tile on most of the wall above the countertop, then splurge in one area with more decorative tile.

The extra $250 or so for the decorative tile and installation can create a stunning look behind the sink or range, for example.

There also are ways to incorporate high-end kitchen design trends. Many upscale kitchens incorporate furniture styling because it adds a warm, cozy feeling to a kitchen.

When designing a kitchen on a budget, go ahead and splurge on furniture-styled cabinets for the island, complete with carved legs and vertical molding. This can set the stage for the kitchen and allow the more simple perimeter cabinetry to become a backdrop.

Another option is to add a furniture-styled hutch in the kitchen or breakfast room. With a coat of paint or stain, the hutch can add warmth and personalize the design. It also can double as storage for dishes, linens and glassware.

Details can make or break a budget kitchen. The wall tile that coordinates with the family room furniture colors or the glass cabinet doors can make a big impact. Cabinet hardware also is an economical way to boost the look of the cabinets. Even the priciest hardware would only add $200 to $300 to the bill.

Crown molding is an economical product that can transform a room. Tall dentil and rope molding once was seen only in semi-custom and custom cabinetry. Now, many stock cabinet companies offer those features for $200 to $500 or so.

While staying on a budget is never easy, it doesn't have to doom a kitchen project. By using a little creativity -- plus some well-placed upgrades -- home buyers can bring a touch of the designer look.


Allison E. Beatty is a Chicago-area freelance writer. If you have questions or information to share regarding new home buyers' product and design choices, write to Choices c/o Chicago Tribune, New Homes Section, 435 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611. Or,