8 Ways To Update Your Kitchen Without Spending Barely Any Money

Last week, I did a Q&A on my Instagram stories and this was the most popular question that was sent, with thousands of people swiping up to the blog that I wrote three years ago when we first moved into this house. Throughout our many years of houses (a quite ridiculous nine moves in 14 years), I have never had a brand new kitchen. And, let me tell you, we’ve lived in some crackers. More of a Poundland cracker with a plastic puzzle and a hat that rips upon opening than a Fortnum & Mason gold embossed, but I’ve made the most of every one. When Ella and Max were tiny, we lived in a thirties semi in which the standard galley kitchen had been knocked into what would have been the dining space, or ‘back room’ if you’re from Middlesex (after buying Joe a Ring video door bell for our wedding anniversary which alerts him to knocks with ‘someone is at your back door’, I am avoiding all such expressions for fear of double entendre). The previous owners had also added a small conservatory extension, so small that they may actually have built it themselves. Its hollow walls were a haven for rats from Balmore Park behind, who would then access the rest of the house via the gaps in-between the floor. Despite the fact that I’m not making the living area sound very appealing, it was actually a great open plan space and the kitchen was made of solid wood, albeit at least ten years old. I changed the floor, painted the cupboards and the wall, made new blinds and swapped the ceiling lights, which were so dull that you were likely to do yourself a major injury when chopping onions due to lack of glare, replacing them with bright spotlights which had the dual benefit of saving you from a hospital visit whilst alerting you to every crumb.

The tiny kitchen in our Caversham house. I painted the walls, tiles, cupboards, took down the shelves and replaced the worktop with wood effect MDF.

The tiny kitchen in our Caversham house. I painted the walls, tiles, cupboards, took down the shelves and replaced the worktop with wood effect MDF.

Our next home, despite being larger, had the smallest kitchen that we’d taken on to date. The house was Edwardian and had a tiny, square kitchen with what would originally have been an outside toilet off it and a elaborately named ‘utility room’ that included enough space for a fridge, plus a tumble dryer and washing machine piled on top of each other. It wasn’t the dream, but it had my mark imprinted all over it - wall shelves, painted cupboards, a beaded palm tree room divider, an entire wall of religious iconic images collected from holidays and a vintage plate wall. A door opened on to a large conservatory and Joe and I spent many happy hours planning our perfect open plan, glass topped, exposed beamed kitchen that we’d be able to have once we had knocked all of these spaces into one. Unfortunately, our bank account was unable to cater for these heady expectations, mostly because it had a balance of approximately 56p for 99% of the time due to having three children under seven and only one main income. Combined with my own personal shocking financial history (possibly the only person ever to receive a County Court Judgement for an outstanding balance of £26 from The Book Club, obtained due to pure and utter laziness), these extension dreams were but a pie in the sky. Albeit a chicken and mushroom one (I had a lot of time for baking).

Our move to The Elms, our current home, was a revelation. Not only had our new Georgian home been completely renovated, it had a brand new kitchen. OH YES. Finally, after all these moves, my dreams were going to be realised. Fitted cupboards, spotlights, brand new tiling - it was all spanking new. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually like it. The light up glass wall cupboards, the brown worktop and the in-your-face creaminess of the cupboards made my eyes bleed. There was nothing really wrong with it - in fact, Joe loved it (he’d live in a 90’s catalogue home if he could) - but it was just a bit, well, meh. It most certainly didn’t reflect my personality. The previous mini kitchen may not have been everyone’s cup of tea (although, critics note, it reached the Top 5 of the Ktchn Small Kitchen Awards in 2009), but it was MY cup of tea. And much as the new kitchen would have been many people’s kitchen goals, it wasn’t mine. As Joe would say, it wasn’t ticking the box that said ‘filled with random shite’ and therefore, it needed work, but with a virtually non existent budget, I needed to be clever. I took down the wall cupboards, painted the units, changed the handles, added lighting, painted the walls (including a full blackboard wall) and added the random shite. Box was ticked.

I wrote a blog about what I did three years ago which you can read here, but in the meantime, here’s my eight Top Tips that will help you transform your kitchen into a space that suits you and not the previous home owner, without spending a fortune.


Assess what you really need and ditch the excess. Kitchen,  Bianca Hall .

Assess what you really need and ditch the excess. Kitchen, Bianca Hall.

1. Assess The Storage

Right, first of all CLEAR IT OUT. Work out exactly what you need to have in your kitchen space. How often do you use the blender? Or the fondue set that you won in a raffle back in 2007? Rarely, but I’ll bet it takes up at least half a cupboard. Donate, sell or box up and store in the garage or shed. Chuck out all the chipped plates and consolidate what remains - do you need a stack of 25 in your kitchen when you are a family of five? Box up 15 and store them away. Same applies to crockery, mugs (the last time I cleared out my kitchen I took a grand total of 26 mugs to the charity shop) and that huge casserole dish that you only use at Christmas. Be ruthless.

Tackle the drawer of plastic containers, if you’ve lost the lids send them off to recycling. And why do you still have plastic cups and bowls when your children are about to take their GCSE’s? Donate or recycle to someone who has the glorious years of toddler feeding ahead of them. Empty out the food cupboard, including the tin of carrots dating from 1996 and date check your herbs and spices (I always fall down on this one, although I’m unconvinced that a bit of out of date cumin can cause any harmful effects). Be brutal. It’ll be worth it when you’re able to open a drawer without swearing when it’s so overfilled that it gets stuck.


A masterclass in kitchen shelf styling: Kitchen,  Emma Jane Palin .

A masterclass in kitchen shelf styling: Kitchen, Emma Jane Palin.

2. Remove The Wall Cupboards

I have done this in every single home I have ever moved into. There are two good reasons for this. One, it completely opens up the space. I’ve had homes with galley kitchens that feel dark and overcrowded; removing the units brings in the light. Secondly, it enables you to make your kitchen a room that reflects you, not a Magnet kitchen showroom. If you’re reading my blog, I’d bet you fifty quid that you’re as obsessed with room styling as I so I KNOW this will resonate with you.

Most of the time, the wall cupboards will have been fitted straight on to the plaster so should come off easily. Be clever - when I removed the units from our original kitchen, I whacked them on eBay and sold them within a day. Recycled kitchen carcasses are hot news when everyone is trying to spend less and be more sustainable. I used the money I got from the unit sale to have oak shelves made to fill the gaps after finding a local timber yard to do it at a bargain price. I’ve used scaffold shelving in my utility room - not only does it add character but they’re also solid as a rock. You can get old preused ones at salvage yards, often at an excellent price.


Painting a door is the perfect colour pop in a neutral kitchen: Kitchen,  Olivia Silk .

Painting a door is the perfect colour pop in a neutral kitchen: Kitchen, Olivia Silk.

3. Get Out The Paintbrush

Paint is a healer when it comes to tending to an unloved room. Personally, I’m a big fan of white in the kitchen but there’s nothing to say that you can’t add any colour that you like - treat it as you would any other room in your house. I took the radiator wall (always a dead space) in my kitchen and painted the whole thing in blackboard paint, a great excuse to get your creative head on (hours of my life I’ll never get back scouring Pinterest for drawings of hanging baskets). I’ve used wallpaper in my utility room as I wanted it to feel less like a room of gloom (let’s face it, who likes washing?) and more like a space that would make me smile when I walked in with a basket of dirty football kits and tiny pants (Ella’s not mine).

And don’t stop at the walls. The biggest transformation that you can do in the kitchen is to paint the cupboards. I know, I know. People veer away from this, worried that they will mess it up, that it will chip. But let’s face it, if your kitchen cupboards are making your heart sink every time you walk into the room, then any change is a good one. I’ve done this job myself and I’ve also had a decorator do it, but if you plan well and make sure you have all you need to hand, there’s no reason that you can’t do it yourself. Speak to the paint desk people in your local store and ask for their recommendations on what to use. It’s a game changer. Or paint the window frames or doors - again, I did this in my kitchen with black paint and it completely changed the look of the space when combined with crisp white walls.


You don’t need many tiles to update a splash back to great effect: Kitchen,  Melanie Lissack .

You don’t need many tiles to update a splash back to great effect: Kitchen, Melanie Lissack.

4. Update The Tiles

If you’ve got tiling in your kitchen that you’re not keen on, there’s a few ways that you can make a change. Firstly, paint them. Again, people avoid this for fear of failure but I can tell you now that my sister painted an entire floor to ceiling red kitchen in white tile paint and no one was any the wiser. You can buy tile paint off the shelf and I’ve used it in every house I’ve ever lived in. You can also paint the floor - again, check with your local store as to which paint to use.

Tile transfers are also widely available if your tiles are plain and you’re looking to pimp them up a bit. Or if you’re up for it and your tiling area is small (for example, a hob backsplash), remove what’s there and retile to suit the look you’re going for.


Changing the cupboard handles and knobs can streamline the look: Kitchen,  Melanie Lissack .

Changing the cupboard handles and knobs can streamline the look: Kitchen, Melanie Lissack.

5. Change The Handles

Another quick update is to change the handles on the cupboards. Again, this doesn’t have to be expensive. Take off what is there and fill in the holes prior to painting the cupboards, then drill holes once you’ve finished the job.

When I first updated my kitchen, I bought plain brass D shaped handles from eBay for a bargain price, replacing the ornate, brown brass handles that the previous owner had inflicted on the doors. Be savvy - I eBayed the old handles and sold them to someone who liked them (it takes all sorts). It’s a small, inexpensive change with big impact.


A large central light creates ambience: Kitchen,  Katty Patterson .

A large central light creates ambience: Kitchen, Katty Patterson.

6. Switch The Lighting

It’s oh so easy just to stick spotlights in the kitchen ceiling and be done with it. But where is the ambience? It doesn’t fit with my ‘the kitchen should be treated like any other room’ ethos one bit. Adding a ceiling light over a breakfast bar or central table reflects your style in a way that spotlights never will - be brave with your choice and go for something with impact.

Position targeted lighting over shelves to highlight your favourite items or if you have the room, use small table lamps on the worktop that can create a welcoming mood rather than a Piccadilly Circus style 100 watt glow. Put the spotlights on a dimmer so you can up the ante when you need to.


My own kitchen, it’s had a veritable array of rugs over the years.

My own kitchen, it’s had a veritable array of rugs over the years.

7. Add A Rug

Flooring is an expensive, core part of your home and replacing it isn’t an easy or cheap update, so if you don’t like what you’ve got it’s a bit of an issue. The answer? Go for the rugs. Whether you pick hardwearing jute or eBay purchased Persian (yep, that was me), a rug will tie the room together. Placed under a table, they create a focal point and make the space feel cosy and sociable.

Avoid putting anything too expensive down - scour the charity shops or reuse one that you’ve used elsewhere in your home. And yes, obvs you have to hoover it regularly but it’s worth it for the difference that it makes to the room.


A kitchen doesn’t have to be purely functional: Kitchen,  Kerry Lockwood .

A kitchen doesn’t have to be purely functional: Kitchen, Kerry Lockwood.

9. Accessorise, Accessorise

Finish off your newly updated kitchen with a styling fest. Use your shelves to display your favourite crockery and cook books and add plants to bring the outside in (they’re much easier to keep alive when they’re close to the tap, I’ve realised). Add art - prop it on the shelves and pop it on the walls to bring the room together. Shop your home for pieces that will add your personality to the space and don’t hold back. I’ve recently started a plate wall above my oven which I’m loving adding new finds to.

If you have a kitchen table, use a tray to curate a central display including a plant and candles for those ambient moments, although be aware that if your kitchen is anything like mine, it’ll be filled with keys, coins and rubbish within an hour of placement. Nice whilst it lasts, though.


So those are my top tips. As a woman who has had many kitchens in many houses but has never once installed her own, these tips have taken me through many years of difficult spaces. It’s easy to look at an unsatisfactory kitchen and think it’s insurmountable but it doesn’t take much money to really make a difference and to create a room that suits you and your personality. Every room in your house should make your heart sing and the kitchen is no exception. Think sell, donate, reuse and repurpose and you’ll soon have a room that will tick the box. Even the ‘filled with random shite’ box. Because ALL rooms should have a bit of random shite in them. That’s what makes them your own.





Lisa Dawson10 Comments