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Real Homes
Sophie Warren-Smith

10 easy small kitchen upgrades on a budget

Dark green kitchen cabinets with blush pink walls.

Our easy small kitchen upgrades will inspire you to give this key space a revamp and the best bit is most can be done over a weekend. 

After a few years, the rooms in our homes that get the most use can look a little worn, but all they need is a little TLC to get them looking smart and stylish again. Our design pros have 10 easy small kitchen upgrades to help you add spark.

These small kitchen ideas are ideal for those of you who are renting or on a tight budget, with a little something for everyone.

Small kitchen upgrades to spark joy 

Not sure where to start? Look at the areas that need the most attention and could do with a bit of small kitchen brightening. This might be scruffy cabinets, or bringing in a little extra storage to help streamline things.

Where our experts have suggested products for small kitchen upgrades, we've curated highly-rated products from trusted retailers.

The prices below were correct at the time of publishing this article.

1. Add shelving

(Image credit: The White Company)

Open shelving is a welcome small kitchen trend. Not only can it be beautifully arranged, but you can easily see what you have, where it is, and, if you love collecting tableware, have them on display. 

"Well-organized open shelves (we love the Selena rattan shelving unit from Anthropologie) in a kitchen can look amazing and provide much-needed storage — it’s a shame to hide all our lovely pieces away. Neat piles of plates and dishes, a cluster of sparkling glasses, cutlery in a good-looking jug is always so pleasing," says Chrissie Rucker, OBE, founder of The White Company.

"I also think that open shelves in a kitchen are a must, so long as they are kept tidy – mine are always overflowing with books, jars, and the herbs and spices that I’ve collected over the years," says Molly Mahon, textile and print designer. 

If you're renting or don't want to drill into walls, try free standing display units such as the Straun kitchen pantry with farm doors from Wayfair for effective, damage-free small kitchen upgrades.

2. Use a rolling island

(Image credit: Ikea)

Yearning for a kitchen island but have no space? Perhaps you need some narrow kitchen ideas. Either way, rolling islands (such as the multifunctional Shintenchi Rolling Kitchen Island Cart with Folding Drop Leaf Breakfast Bar from Amazon) are  brilliant small kitchen upgrades, adding extra space for food prep or eating, and easily tucked out of the way when not in use.

They can double as veg and fruit storage, or turn it into a brilliant bar cart when entertaining. 

3. Wallpaper your ceiling

(Image credit: Divine Savages / @arianna_danielson)

If you love a bit of DIY and don't mind hanging wallpaper, then easy small kitchen upgrades like this are most definitely for you. 

"For a luxurious transformation on a budget, embrace the fifth wall and create a feature of the ceiling with a bold wallpaper," says Jamie Watkins, founder of Divine Savages.

Using the ceiling in this way certainly gives you an extra option for color and decoration and works well alongside color-drenching in the rest of the space.

Jamie adds, "It really gives the impression of extravagance and luxe, like you might find in a boutique hotel, but without spending hundreds on papering all the walls. By bringing bold color and pattern into a practical and functional room it elevates it to become a space packed full of personality."

4. Choose freestanding storage

(Image credit: Mustard Made)

Great storage furniture and solutions are imperative in a kitchen, and in small ones, even more so. Whether you love the open shelving look or prefer a more minimalist hide-it-away style, good storage units (such as Pottery Barn's bestselling modular storage unit) are key.

“Freestanding storage is an easy upgrade for the kitchen that not only works for homeowners but renters too. Creating more space for glassware, crockery, and cooking essentials, by choosing a slimline design such as a locker (we love the Mustard Made mid locker available at Pottery Barn for small kitchens), can help maximise the vertical wall space without taking up too much of the floor!" says Becca Stern, creative director and co-founder of Mustard Made.

They're also fabulous for adding a color accent and easy small kitchen upgrades — with a new pop of color able to uplift the whole kitchen. 

"For an added pop of personality look for a colored storage solution, the versatile nature of freestanding storage means it can be easily shuffled around or swapped out to another room if you change your color scheme later down the line," Becca adds. 

5. Hand paint your tiled splash back

(Image credit: Molly Mahon)

Love painting? This quick, cheap and cheerful easy small kitchen upgrade just needs a little creative flair and some leftover paint. 

"I hand-painted the backsplash tiles in our kitchen to add character and make the space more personal to me. They are simple plywood tiles that I painted and then varnished with lots of heat-proof varnish. They’re set far back from the hob so are quite safe and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result," says Molly.

6. Add a decorative rug

(Image credit: Forge & Bow )

If you're not keen on your current kitchen floor, especially common in rentals,  adding a rug will cover it up until you have the budget, as well as add a splash of color and pattern. 

The gorgeous Ruggable x Bridgerton collab brought much hubbub in the Real Homes team, and we love that they're machine washable  — a must for high-traffic areas such as the kitchen.

"Rugs are both practical and stylish in the kitchen. A runner can bring much needed comfort while introducing pattern, color, and depth, especially in a small space. For easy clean up, go for a washable rug option or pick a material that is wipeable and stain resistant. 

"I always recommend wool as wool rugs are naturally stain resistant and there's no need for extra chemical coatings," say Annie and Jordan Obermann, principals and founders of Forge & Bow.

For a narrow galley style kitchen consider a runner, but if you have the floor space, a rectangular rug will work really well, or opt for indoor/outdoor rugs for practicality. 

7. Add some color blocking

(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

For super quick small kitchen upgrades, consider painting some color blocks on your walls. Not only is it really effective, but it's ideal for using up leftover paint. 

Helen Shaw, international marketing director, Benjamin Moore says, “The kitchen is a room that gets the most wear, yet we tend to only think about making updates as part of a wider remodel, which can be infrequent. 

"Add visual interest to a kitchen filled with neutral countertops and cabinets by painting elements such as the cooker hood or light fittings with contrasting and energising pastels. Defining these decorative features with zingy hues is quick, easy and will instantly lift the space."

Helen Parker, creative director at deVOL Kitchens adds, "Keep colors to a minimum and try to stick to a calm and soft color palette to avoid things feeling busy, it's surprising how a limited selection of colors creates a more serene and tidy feel to a room."

Try out a similar orange shade with Lick's Orange 05 Matt paint.

8. Multipurpose seating

(Image credit: OKA)

When kitchens are small it can be hard to manage a layout that suits the space. Trying to fit in a kitchen table can be challenging, Sue Jones, co-founder and creative director, OKA, has a great solution,

She says, “You don’t always have to try to squeeze in a conventional rectangular or round dining table with chairs on all sides, especially if it’s going to make getting in and out rather tricky. 

"If you have space for a few bar stools (we love the Yuvaan Adjustable Height Retro Barstool with Ergonomic Molded Seat from Wayfair for its on-trend metallic hue options) on the end of a kitchen island, this makes for a wonderfully social and informal dining set up, not to mention saving yourself the space and investment of a separate dining table.”

This idea will save on space and costs, and if you don't have a kitchen island you can use your new bar stool to perch at the corner of a countertop instead. 

9. Paint your units

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

Color is really transformative, especially when you pick a small space color trend for fabulous small kitchen upgrades, and one that many landlords will accept too — just double check they're happy for you to take a paint brush to their property, first.

"Use light and neutral tones on both walls and cabinets, the chalk paint range offers a wide range of colors. Light colors reflect natural light, making the space feel more open and inviting," says color expert Annie Sloan

You can color drench and use the same shade across your walls and cabinetry or pick a couple of shades to use together. 

"You can also add a finishing touch and save money by simply repainting existing knobs and handles, chalk paint colors will look retro and fun, Athenian Black gives a cool contemporary finish, whilst our Gold, Silver, or Copper Gilding Waxes work in virtually any space," adds Annie. 

10. Upgrade to lighter wall cabinets

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

Wall cabinets are definitely worth investing in if your kitchen is small, and the key is to choose lighter colors over dark so they blend in visually. 

"If your aim is to make your kitchen look bigger, then the best way to achieve this is by not filling the room full of cupboards and leaving plenty of light and space around windows," suggest Helen.

Small glazed cabinets will help to reflect the light too. "It is also a good idea to keep the colors and materials similar, so soft light woods and flooring and similar color walls and cupboards. This will have more of an impact than just painting your walls in a light color," adds Helen.

It's definitely possible to upgrade your small kitchen with easy updates – and budget friendly kitchen storage ideas, too.

"Remember to focus on creating a cohesive color palette and maintaining a clutter-free environment," advises Annie.

For more  inspiration, our experts have dived into how to maximize space in a small kitchen.

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