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7 Easy, Designer-Approved Ways to Upgrade Cheap Kitchen Cabinets

Hint: Hardware really does make all the difference.

Minimalist blue kitchen
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You might think that if you're building or redoing your kitchen on a budget that you can't create the kitchen of your dreams, but that's not necessarily true. There are plenty of things you can do with affordable, basic kitchen cabinets—like those from Ikea and Home Depot—to make them look custom and add your own personal flair, even when splurging isn't an option. Here, designers share their favorite tips for upgrading inexpensive cabinets, with some tricks you can even use on your existing cabinets.

Fill in gaps with crown moulding.

For Gina Gutierrez of Gina Rachelle Design, it's all about making sure the design goes floor to ceiling, so that there's no gap between the ceiling and the upper cabinets. "We use crown moulding, finishing trim, and filler panels to fill all gaps to ceilings, walls, above refrigerators, etc," she explains. "This creates a polished, custom-built look." And for even more customization, Gutierrez adds that she "likes to work in an island or peninsula in the layout whenever possible," and notes that you can even easily modify Ikea cabinets to fit a farmhouse sink—with the help of some basic job site carpentry, of course.

Add interest with new hardware.

Designer and Queer Eye star Bobby Berk tells House Beautiful that his biggest tip for upgrading otherwise basic cabinets is to use "high-end" hardware. "Styles can be very limited when it comes to cabinet profiles, so I love to swap out the hardware for something more custom" he shares. "There are so many good options from big box stores that look high-end but come at a very affordable price point." And to really make it feel custom, Bobby suggests mixing and matching styles between your upper and lower cabinets. "Lower doors get knobs, lower drawers get pulls and uppers get latches," for example.

Don't forget about the hinges.

The hardware may be all about upgrading your style, but you should also think about practicality when you're enhancing your kitchen. "Always opt for the slow-close hinge—you won't regret it!" advises Raymond Boozer, principal designer at Apartment48. Not only do they keep your cabinet doors from slamming shut (who wants to hear that?), they also extend the life of your cabinets thanks to less wear-and-tear.

Play with lighting.

"I bring in beautiful lighting," Gutierrez says. Skip the usual recessed can lights, she advises, and instead, "ask yourself if you can add pendants, sconces, and under cabinet lighting." Changing up your lighting can change up your kitchen as a whole, even if you go with simple cabinets. "These pieces are not only functional, but they do add dimension and texture to a kitchen," Gutierrez adds.

Modern scandinavian open space with kitchen accessories, plants, wooden shelf, and straw bag . Design room with white brick walls.
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Incorporate open shelving.

Adding some open shelving—which Berk notes has made a comeback recently—is another easy way to make your kitchen look more custom and a little less basic. Plus, it gives you a functional display area, too. "I am all about it—not only does it open up the space visually, it also allows you to show off some of your prettier items," Berk says.

Just remember: Less is more.

"I really stand by the phrase, 'less is more,'" Berk says. "Especially when it comes to kitchen cabinets. Rather than going for a cabinet style that has a lot of detail work or a busy pattern in the wood grain, go for something a little more simple." Berk notes that he usually sticks with flat-front cabinets or panel-style doors, since those are classic and timeless. Plus, you can always change out the hardware to change up your style later on and really elevate the look.

Get closer to custom with Semihandmade.

You don't have to go full custom to get an even more custom look with Ikea cabinets. Designer Jennifer Vaquero of September Workshop tells House Beautiful that you can turn to companies like Semihandmade (which, she notes, has exploded in popularity) for a more personalized look. "They make custom cabinet fronts for the Ikea boxes, including paint grade wood," Vaquero explains. "This allows your kitchen to be any color under the sun, which used to be reserved for custom kitchens. I have a lot of clients request this, because it’s a relatively cost-effective way to get a custom looking kitchen." It's worth noting, however, that while "the end result is beautiful," going this route is more complicated and takes more time.



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