all of this tells me that we could all use a thread on quick, cheap, and easy way to make your kitchen way better. i'm guessing quite a few of us have some ideas.
Let me start by saying that I think the top several things are all going to be lighting-related. It's amazing how much of a difference good lighting makes to a kitchen. A few things:
- The absolute simplest thing you can do is get better light bulbs. Not better fixtures; just better bulbs. It's amazing how many kitchens are illuminated by standard yellowish Soviet-interrogation-room incandescent bulbs or by Bronx-public-high-school cold greenish-white fluorescent bulbs. Almost any style of standard incandescent or fluorescent bulb can be replaced by a warmer, more efficient bulb that will immediately brighten up the space in question.
- Only slightly more complex is adding more lights. We talked about this on the other thread a bit. The two major categories of lighting in a kitchen are overhead (general illumination) and under-cabinet (task) lighting. The theoretical goal with task lighting is that you should be able to shut off every other light in your house and, in the middle of the night, be able to perform all countertop tasks with only task-light illumination. These lights are so cheap and so easy to install, you should get twice as many of them as you think you need and put them everywhere so that they fully and evenly illuminate every square inch of counter space. No electrical expertise is required -- most models are available in plug-in versions with the ability to link one light to the next so they can all run off one or two outlets.
- If you have some electrical ability, or if you want to bring in an electrician for a very easy job (very often the job is so easy that an employee of a lighting store can do it after work, off the record), your best move is to install a whole bunch of halogen lighting both in the ceiling and under the cabinets.
- There are additional places where extra and better lighting can be helpful. If, for example, you don't have a good light in your range hood, that's an easy place to make a big improvement. If your cabinets don't go all the way to the ceiling, there's an opportunity for lights to be installed on top of the cabinets. And there are also baseboard/kickplate lighting options if you want to get fancy.
Some other thoughts:
- Tile the walls between the countertops and cabinets (aka the backsplash). This is an incredibly easy DIY project if you work slowly and carefully and use spacers. There are so many options with tile, including a solid color, a checkerboard pattern, a solid color plus a few judiciously spaced accent/contrast tiles, or a variety of other looks. A well tiled backsplash pulls attention away from most everything else.
- If your countertops are really ugly but you don't want to replace them, consider 1) getting some really nice cutting boards to virtually cover the entire countertop -- you can even get colorful vinyl ones and just lay them almost edge-to-edge; or 2) if you have a nice flat countertop surface and the only problem is that it's ugly, very often you can tile right over it no problem; the only potentially difficult area is the sink but it's often doable with minimal expertise.
- If your floors suck, consider a rubber-backed floor mat to cover most of the floor. You can go to any carpet store and get this in a variety of colors and simple geometrich patterns and textures, but even gunmetal gray is a huge improvement over a bad linoleum floor. If you have a long galley-style kitchen this is a particularly good aesthetic option.
- New cabinet and drawer pulls in large-format shiny metal or bright white can brighten up cabinets more than you'd imagine.
- Repaint any surface that's already painted, like the ceiling -- a new coat of bright paint makes a big difference.