Where you should save and splurge on your kitchen renovation
This is a column I wrote for the Your Home & Garden magazine. You can view it here.
Renovating the kitchen can be a black hole for spending. You’ve got to know where to cut costs and when to splash out
A kitchen can cost anything from around $15,000 for a facelift to $150,000 for an all-new bespoke version, but that doesn’t mean a kitchen at the lower end of the price bracket will look cheap. There are options for all budgets if you keep these save versus splurge ideas in mind.
Kitset or custom
Cabinetry is the classic off-the-shelf option. You measure the space, choose your units, and install it in the space you have available. If your kitchen cabinetry is to run from wall-to-wall, it’s unlikely the cabinetry will fit perfectly. You’ll either need to pack the wall out or install a packer panel to avoid any little slivers of space at either end. In a kitchen where the cabinetry runs from wall to open space, it’s not such an issue.
If you’re going to go down this path, hire a builder to install it for you. You’ll still get the cost-saving of a kitset kitchen, but with a high-quality installation.
If your budget is somewhere between save and splurge, there’s also the option of pairing kitset base units with a custom stone benchtop to elevate the look.
No templates in sight. Cabinetry is completely bespoke, from design right through to fabrication and installation.
There are almost no design limitations – the finish, the profile, the hardware and the add-ons like benchtop, open shelving, pot hangers – you name it, everything can be catered to your tastes exactly.
If you’re operating at this end of the market, you’ll want to hire a kitchen specialist or interior designer to ensure the drawings are completed properly and reflect the aesthetic you desire.
Cupboards or drawers
Cupboards, particularly under bench, are the most budget-friendly option available because they require the least amount of work from a fabrication point of view. There aren’t any special soft close runners or custom dividers in sight. They have a door and possibly a shelf or two.
If you’re looking for a way to save money on your kitchen, consider what you can live with in a cupboard instead of a drawer, whether it’s small appliances, serveware or pots and pans.
Flush cabinetry is more affordable than profiled as well. It all comes down to the effort required to fabricate each panel.
Under-bench drawers are more of an investment, but they’re also more practical. They can be any depth you need, and they make accessing items stored at the back a whole lot easier than in a cupboard.
Drawers are a more efficient use of space and ease of access is better, but if they’re a push financially consider offsetting the investment with some open-shelving above the bench.
Cabinetry with fancy profiles or rebated finger pulls are going to be a little pricier too, so factor in how complicated you want your design to be.
A basic chrome mixer is about as cost-effective as it gets. Some alternative colours like black are almost the same price these days, but if your palette includes pops of brass, gunmetal or copper you may need to compromise on something else to get your chosen tapware.
Aside from colour and finish, other nice-to-have features include pull-out hoses, integrated standard and filter taps, or whole systems that provide chilled, ambient, boiling and sparkling water out of one faucet. Just don’t forget to make sure you have space for the associated kit under the bench if you’re installing a multi-unit.
Islands and benchtops
If you love the idea of a kitchen island, but not the associated price tag, consider a narrow version. Try 80-100cm wide at best, and only slightly longer. If your kitchen is large, this will look out of proportion so isn’t recommended. You’ll also be paying for a full slab of stone if that’s what your chosen material is. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a different finish such as timber laminate for your island for cost efficiency.
The most luxurious kitchen islands start at about 1.2m deep with a possible overhang on the other side for stools – which you wouldn’t be able to accommodate in anything less than 90cm.
Materials such as timber, marble, stone or terrazzo are definitely on the splurge spectrum. Bear in mind the maintenance requirements for such a choice, though – you’ll need to be careful of turmeric, red wine and lemon juice as they will damage these surfaces – except good old timber.
Plumbing is one of those items that’s hard to fully scope and quote for without opening walls, but forcing a fixed price could mean paying a premium for the risk-factor. The best option is to work around the existing plumbing locations. That may mean your sink and dishwasher need to stay in their current positions in the new kitchen, even if the actual tapware, sink and appliance is upgraded.
Full flexibility. If the plumbing isn’t working for you where it is, then move it. There’s also the option of adding a second tap, sink or dishwasher to your scullery, if you have one. In some households the laundry is integrated into a space off the kitchen too, which will also need a water feed.
If the idea of having a space that collects dust at the top of your cabinetry is unbearable – and you have a little bit of extra cash to spend on a solution – ask your builder to frame and plasterboard a bulkhead above the top of your cabinetry. You won’t regret it.
Alternatively, you can either run your bespoke cabinetry floor to the ceiling or install some fixed panels in the same finish as your cabinetry above your cupboards to give the illusion it does. May as well use the space for additional storage, if the budget allows, too.
Never mind the brand and model of your appliances, think more about the integration. Will your fridge hang out at the end of your kitchen bench? Will your dishwasher break up the seamless line of cabinetry under bench? Will your rangehood blend into your above bench cupboards? If the cost of fully integrated appliances is too much, the minimum should be an alcove for your fridge-freezer. If you can squeeze it in, an integrated dishwasher is even better as it’s often positioned in the middle of a kitchen (versus a fridge-freezer, which is often at one end and thus doesn’t break up the cabinetry).
Integrated everything. Appliances that can be integrated are generally more expensive than non-integrated for a start, then there’s the cost of the additional cabinetry to hide each item away. Your rangehood, your dishwasher, your fridge-freezer, your cooling drawer, and so on, can all be integrated for a seamless, out-ofsight effect. Couple that with top-of-the- range brands for your appliances and you’re splurging.
Do you have plans to renovate your kitchen?
My Pinterest-Worthy Kitchens ebook covers everything you need to know to DIY your kitchen reno. I share top tips, save vs splurge options, an overview of the design and build process, plus more layouts like the ones above for walk-in pantry and scullery options. The content also includes information and inspiration for cabinetry selection and appliances, and an overview of finishes and services requirements.