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Work With What You’ve Got: Freshening Up an Outdated Kitchen for Less Time + Money

Kitchen renovations are almost as infamous for being expensive as they are lengthy. Living in a half-done, half-usable space, while you spend tons of cash on either the DIY supplies or the pros to do it right, is not something we love to recommend to clients or friends…or really anyone who’s sanity we care about 😂 That being said, there’s something about that ~new kitchen feel~ that makes buyers’ eyes light up and hearts get attached. After all, the kitchen is the heart of the home for so many, and buyers want to feel those warm fuzzies when they think about baking cookies with the grandkids or hosting a dinner party with friends. Good feelings aside, it’s also a sought after reno for many buyers, and your return on investment can be a nice bonus, too. According to RE/MAX, kitchen upgrades can really deliver, with a 44% higher return on investment than the average return on other popular renos. So if you’re cursing your honey coloured cabinets (or some other relic of a bygone era) in your kitchen, we have our top tips for getting that ~new kitchen feel~ without painting your cabinets at all! Because let’s be real – they don’t make ’em like they used to AND oak cabinets are totally on trend for 2021!

In the 90s, honey coloured oak cabinets were the height of fashion and if you’ve lived it – you’ll remember how the warm tones dominated the trend scene, but if not, this really sums it up (que scary music):

Honey coloured cabinets, laminate counters and floors, primary colours and dated fixtures. Source:

From the signature honey cabinets to the laminate countertops, complete with that backstop piece, to the clunky plastic knobs to fluorescent light fixtures to those bizzare wood valances connecting the wall cabinets above the sink – we can’t help but feel like these are meant to be left in the past. But don’t get your sledge hammers and paint brushes out just yet. As we said earlier, Oak Cabinets are totally on trend for 2021’s natural, earthy vibes. Not that we don’t love a good white cabinet, but there’s something to be said for the texture a wood cabinet adds to the space. So let’s start from the beginning and see how you can turn your dated kitchen into a dream come true ✨


Picking a paint colour that offsets the warm tones can modernize the space! Source: Thomas Despeyroux

This has to be the most impactful visual changes in any space, but particularly in a dated kitchen with warm tone cabinets. Counteract these warm tones with the opposite tones on the colour wheel – neutral blues and greys – to make it feel modern and updated. If your kitchen is feeling dark, this is also a great opportunity to bring the light in through the paint choice.


Image Credit: Simple Stylings

In the kitchen, backsplash can add huge impact and serve a practical role as well. Choosing the right tile for the space can be difficult at the best of time, but when you’re matching to warm, dated cabinets, you want to opt for something modern but timeless so it remains on trend for more than a few like an extra long white subway tile, or a herringbone tile in a light hue. Again, this is a low cost way to add huge impact!


Image Credit: Houzz

This could be possibly the biggest change in a dated space! Especially when you’re going from laminate to solid surface counters like quartz or granite. There isn’t much wrong with laminate countertops today (Seriously – IKEA has some cool options that are very affordable) but the dated laminate counters of the past with a several inches tall ‘backsplash’ is going to bring the look down big time. Adding new counters is not only great for your return on investment – offering about 60-80% ROI – but they can dramatically lighten a dark room or make even the honey-est cabinets look hip!


Image Credit: Julie Blanner

Dated lighting, that often doesn’t throw out enough light to begin with (thanks, fluorescent lighting), can detract from the modernized aspects that you’re adding in. Whether you choose to add in texture with a cool basket-style light, or opt for a modern pendant over the island. Ensure you are creating task-based lighting, and check out some under cabinet lighting if you are still feeling like it’s a dark space. Check out this round up of awesome, affordable and modern lighting for the kitchen. 


Image Credit: Julie Blanner

Swapping out dated nickel or those intricate, weird handles popular in the 90s for something sleek, modern or even matte can make your honey colour kitchen look intentionally trendy. For less than $100 (or less), you can wow your guests (and buyers). 


Image Credit: Home Depot

This is another low-cost option (in comparison to renovating the whole kitchen) and makes a big visual difference right away. Choosing a modern style, especially mimicking that of the door hardware, will not only finish your look up, but will bring the space together with these anchoring metals. 

Decor + Finishing Touches

Image Credit:

Don’t forget to add decor! Just because it’s the kitchen doesn’t mean you want to ditch the accessories. Adding some plants, trays, jars and other practical vessels that can act as storage options with style and personality. 

Would you renovate your kitchen like this? Or are you all more of an all out renovation kind of person? Have you undertaken a kitchen reno before?

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