Considering the amount of time we spend in our kitchens, it’s no wonder the room is usually at the top of the list when it comes to spaces we’d like to refresh. Luckily, there seems to be no limit to the ways the workhorse of a room can be modified. To help those who are seeking a kitchen upgrade—but aren’t quite ready for a complete overhaul—take action, we asked Washington, D.C.-based designer Zoe Feldman to share a few inspired design ideas that will make a big impact. From cosmetic tweaks to long-term investments, here are her recommendations.
Introduce open shelving. “This is a good way to make a small change to your kitchen’s aesthetic,” Feldman says. “I’m a big proponent of all decisions serving style and function, and this is the perfect medium.” In addition to creating a fresh focal point, incorporating open shelving also gives you the opportunity to introduce a new material to the space, like metal, stone, wood, or glass.
Use dishes as décor. If you have glass-fronted cabinets or open-shelving (as mentioned above), swapping out your dishware for something new and beautiful can satisfy your desire for change and make a strong style statement. “Lately, I’ve been loving the relaxed, hand-crafted nature of ashy black ceramic,” Feldman says. “Civil Stoneware out of Birmingham, Alabama, has a stunningly simple set.”
Add interest with the unexpected. Feldman advises adding some soul to your space by putting interesting pieces on display, such as an intriguing grouping of objects, beautiful cutting boards of various sizes, or your coveted cookbook collection. And don’t be afraid to layer in artwork. “People often overlook the idea of displaying art in a kitchen, because traditionally it hasn’t been an obvious choice,” Feldman notes. “But as long as it’s sealed properly, the kitchen can be a highly visible area to display your favorite pieces.”
Soften things up. Adding a runner or even an area rug into the kitchen can make a big impact, according to Feldman. “This is an otherwise hard-edged room, and a rug brings in a needed softness,” she says. To prevent tripping—and to make cleaning up spills simpler—she advises opting for a low pile or flat weave like a dhurrie when choosing your textiles.
Embrace the power of paint. Those who wish to make a pretty major change without going all-in can achieve this by painting just the upper or lower kitchen cabinets. Feldman recommends choosing a color that is similar to the existing color, but a few shades different. Or, go for a pop of contrast between black and white or grey and white. “Tonal painting in a kitchen adds depth and a level of drama that doesn’t overwhelm the room,” Feldman says. “In the same vein, cabinets and wall colors can be the same color throughout the entire room, but with different finishes, like eggshell and gloss.”
Consider a light switch. Switching out your existing lighting for something new is a high-impact, relatively low-stress way to add new life to your kitchen. For example, putting pendants where you currently have recessed lighting usually isn’t a big undertaking, Feldman says, since the junction boxes are already in place. This is a good place to get creative and explore current trends, such as mixing metals, she notes.
Try new tile. It may seem like a heavy lift, but changing out your backsplash isn’t necessarily a headache (or a budget-buster). “Think about choosing a fun stone or tile and taking it halfway or up the entire height of the wall,” Feldman suggests. There are also lots of innovative things you can do with the pattern of the tile and the grout (we recommend asking your local experts for guidance).
Invest in appliances. Upgrading your kitchen appliances to some of the new, more aesthetically pleasing lines has the power to change the kitchen’s overall look, Feldman says. While this can be more of an investment than other suggestions mentioned above, the change can be surprisingly impactful—enough so that you don’t feel the need to address other cosmetic items.