Can't afford designer benchtops?
Take the cheaper, quicker route to kitchen heaven.
By Alex Brooks
I have low kitchen esteem. My shabby timber kitchen would like to be chic, really it would. I've tried scrubbing it; I've tried making a wish; I've even tried feng shui-ing it into elegance. It is still just a daggy old kitchen, albeit with a trickling water feature and a money plant at the door.
Deep down, I am shallow. I want a gorgeous, glossy, glamorous kitchen. Glass splashbacks? Yes please. Stainless steel appliances? The bigger the better! I am also fond of those retro appliances from Smeg, classic marble benchtops and wonderfully worn butchers' blocks as island benches.
I know I am not alone in my kitchen fantasies. The Housing Industry Association predicts Australians will install 450,500 kitchens this financial year.
Harvey Norman's chairman, Gerry Harvey, who has branched into flogging kitchen renovations along with the appliances that go in them, says customers go ga-ga for the expensive finishes such as stone and stainless steel, and happily spend more then $50,000 to achieve their dream kitchen. It's enough to take the chi straight out of your wallet. There are, however, ways to renovate a kitchen on the cheap.
Replace the doors
The biggest cost of a kitchen renovation is the cabinets, especially if you lust after glass, solid timber or high-gloss polyurethane.
The association says the average cost of cupboards and benchtops in a new kitchen is $9235. A renovator can halve that cost by replacing only the doors of their cabinets.
Another way to brighten a room without blowing lots of bucks is to replace the doors on a bank of overhead wall cabinets with frosted glass doors.
Benchtops can be re-laminated for less than $500. Cheap. Cheerful. But not always easy - re-laminating is harder than it looks.
Replacing the entire bench costs more but if you finish the new top with a four-centimetre square edge, rather than a rounded one, it will look like a stylish slab rather than a cheap replacement, says kitchen designer Ross Sta Maria.
If you want the stainless-steel look, use modular freestanding commercial benches, which are like a table with shelves underneath. They can cost less than $1000. You can use the bench in the centre of the room, or buy more to use instead of built-in cabinets. Some steel companies make doors for the under-bench shelves.
Make the sacrifice
Sta Maria says the best budget-saving tip is to sacrifice expensive European appliances that can cost $15,000 or more for the cheaper brands that still have the sought-after stainless steel shine.
"There are several unknown brands that perform extremely well and still have the look of stainless steel with minimal facings to keep the price down," he says, citing the Nobel range as an example.
Alternatively, use stainless steel commercial equipment that has all the shine of a sleek European brand, but costs half the price or even less when second-hand.
Fake the look
Kitchen Connection's general manager, John Hall, says glass splashbacks are popular, but cost four times the price of ceramic tiled splashbacks. Ouch.
Sta Maria says renovators can mimic stylish glass splashbacks with frosted perspex. The perspex won't have the heat resistance of glass, but it's about one-third of the price. Many acrylic and enamel paints can also be used over ugly old tiled splashbacks or you can install new laminated panels over old splashbacks.
Little things count
- Change cupboard door handles. Little chrome handles can cost less than $5 each. Hunt down quirky handles to give your kitchen a distinctive look.
- Laminate and tile paints are readily available and can change the look of a kitchen for less than $200. Be warned, though: the paint can chip easily in a hard-working area such as a kitchen.
- Make the most of empty walls in a kitchen by creating a bank of overhead shelving. Splurge on downlights to shine on the shelf from above.
- Splash out on a fancy new coffee machine, plonk it on your kitchen bench and stare only at the shiny, new appliance. That way you can ignore the rest of the kitchen.
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