8 ways to update a kitchen without buying anything new, according to interior designers

Refresh your kitchen for free with these expert tips and tricks

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(Image credit: Farrow & Ball/Kathy Kuo Home/Artem Kropovinsky, Arsight)

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking your whole kitchen needs to be redone when it begins to feel old, tired or simply a bit boring. But a renovation, and even a simple makeover, can quickly add up and cost a small fortune.

More often than not, your kitchen can be brought back to life with a few simple steps, all of which cost absolutely nothing. Making some subtle changes, whether you reorganize a space or introduce decorative items swapped out for others in your home, can make a world of difference in your kitchen. Here, we ask interior designers how they recommend updating a kitchen without spending a cent.

How to update a kitchen without buying anything new

The kitchen is the room most people spend the majority of their time in, so it's not uncommon to start feeling bored of the space. However, it's unrealistic to have a remodel every time trends, seasons or your personal interior design style changes. There are plenty of ways you can breathe new life into your kitchen without having to buy anything new, it's just about getting creative and working with what you already have. 

1. Reorganize and declutter your kitchen counters and cabinets

White modern kitchen with statement pendant lights and wooden rattan bar stools

(Image credit: Kathy Kuo Home)

Cluttered surfaces and disorganized cabinets make a kitchen instantly feel more tired than it really is. 'My go-to tip for refreshing without buying anything is always to undertake a big cleaning and re-organization project,' advises Kathy Kuo, CEO of Kathy Kuo Home

Emptying out and reorganizing kitchen cabinets and counters in a way that makes sense will instantly make your kitchen feel like a much more useable and aesthetically pleasing space. 'It can be shocking how much of a difference it makes in the whole look and feel of a kitchen after you've done a deep clean and tackled countertop clutter,' adds Kathy Kuo.

As Ania Dunlop, founder of Home for Zen, explains, 'By embracing the mantra of less is more, and curating a clean and uncluttered countertop, you set the stage for a transformative visual overhaul. This not only imparts an immediate sense of spaciousness but also offers a canvas where even the simplest of decorative elements can shine.'

kathy kuo home
Kathy Kuo

Kathy Kuo is a celebrated interior designer and international guru within the home and lifestyle space. She has 20+ years of experience in the design industry. 

2. Undertake a deep clean

discovering your interior design style, blue kitchen with glazed wall units, small metro tile backslash, vintage cabinet and table

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

Kitchens see a lot of wear and tear over time, which can add to the old, used appearance your space has. But taking an afternoon to spend on deep cleaning all the nooks and crannies in your kitchen can instantly bring the space back to life. 

'Deep cleaning is a really effective way to update your kitchen without buying anything new. With the vast amounts of cooking and food prep that takes place, it's expected deep stains and grime will appear,' adds Gabriella Dyson. 'Deep cleaning will help to lift the stains and instantly brighten surfaces in the kitchen.'

There are a few key areas to focus on: grout between kitchen wall tiles naturally becomes discolored, so giving them a good clean will instantly make your tiles look as good as new. 

Hardware is another feature that can make a huge difference to the overall appearance of your kitchen. Taps, sinks, and finishes will look brand new with a good buff and shine.

3. Restyle what's there already

kitchen with pale wood units and open shelves

(Image credit: Chad Mellon at Studio Mellon for Jen Samson Design/ Styling Kara Perlis)

'Once you've decluttered and cleaned, and cleared off all the countertops and shelves, you can reorganize intentionally on a clean slate,' says interior designer Lichelle Silvestry

Reorganizing intentionally, that's what this is all about. It's easy to get so used to how things are in your kitchen that you almost stop noticing what's there. An uninspiring storage jar that you've been using for years or a pile of everyday dishes are on show, not because they're beautiful, but because you use them regularly. If that's the case, it's time to rethink your kitchen styling ideas.

'Swap the tabletop canister for that funky vase you'd got hidden away in a cupboard, incorporating tree branches for added height,' says Chicago-based designer Alissa Johnson. 'Additionally, rearranging the displays of your dishware and glasses on open shelves can bring a new visual impact.'

Work with what you have already, agrees Jen Samson: 'The easiest way to update a kitchen without spending money is by simply restyling it,' says Jen, who designed the kitchen pictured above. 'Pull together all of your accessories and have some fun! Play around with open shelves, switching out pillows and changing art.'

Do this and it won't be long before you're enjoying a whole new kitchen look. 

Designer Jen Samson of Jen Samson Design
Jen Samson

Jen Samson is the principal designer of Laguna Beach-based firm Jen Samson Design. Evident with the Lake Tahoe kitchen, pictured above, Jen’s design ethos is centered around inspired spaces that include an eclectic, yet modern, mix of vintage, antiques and bespoke finishes.

4. Shop your own home

Dark kitchen with marble countertops and decorated display shelves

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

Looking around your home at what you already own is a great way to refresh multiple rooms at once. 'Swapping wall art from room to room is another fun way to get a new look without opening your wallet,' says Kathy.

This also applies to other decorative items – if you have kitchen shelving, switch up the pieces you have on display. This could be other kitchenware, recipe books, or ornaments you've found elsewhere in your home.

Artem Kropovinsky, founder and principal designer at Arsight, suggests taking it one step further by repurposing items in your home, adding 'use jars as utensil holders and hang pots and pans to serve a decorative purpose.'

Artem Kropovinsky headshot
Artem Kropovinsky

Founder of NYC-based interior design firm, Arsight, Artem Kropovinsky has a decade of extensive global design experience, connecting a cohesive, collaborative team of passionate professionals, who work on interior projects in the U.S. and worldwide. 

5. Keep it personal – add characterful family heirlooms

pink cabinets in kitchen with black and white checkerboard marble floor and grey marble top and copper saucepans hanging and rattan scallop pendant lamp

(Image credit: Chris Wakefield Photography)

We all love to be reminded of the special people in our lives, so why not include some mementos in the kitchen. We're not talking family photos here, although framed sepia photos of ancestors can make an interesting display. It's more about bringing vintage objects into the kitchen, with their meaningful stories attached, as Jen Samson explains. 

'What I love most (and doesn’t cost a thing!) is to ask family members, especially elderly ones, who have collected things over their lifetime, for objects, art, old cookbooks, teapots, pottery, copper pots and so on,' says Jen. 'Truly, this can be anything they may want to pass down knowing that it will have new life breathed into it. The kitchen is a perfect room to share and display these interesting items on open shelves, inside glass cabinets, or on countertops. Family heirlooms are free and brimming with charm.'

6. Get crafty – try making pillows and tablecloths

farmhouse spring decor idea with yellow gingham table cloth with frills, yellow stripe bench seats and matching blind, fisherman style pendant lights, beams, artwork, plates and cake stand on table

(Image credit: Tori Murphy)

If, like so many interiors fans, you keep a stash of furnishing fabric remnants intending to do something useful with them one day, then take advice from designer Claire Hung. Why not have a go at sewing furnishings to give the kitchen a new lease of life, all for the cost of a spool of thread?

'My grandmother and mother both learned to sew their own clothes at an early age, and taught me to do the same,' says the designer. 'I later began making drapes and pillows. So whether you repurpose an old fabric or have free remnants in the house, you can easily sew new drapes or a tablecloth. It's way more simple than sewing clothes!'

7. Make use of leftover paint

best green paints, green cabinets with marble countertops on cabinetry and island, backsplash, glazed wall units, copper pans hanging

(Image credit: deVOL Kitchens)

If you're an avid DIYer, you've probably got a few part-used cans of paint sitting in the garage. Making use of them is a quick and easy paint project and a great way to spruce up your kitchen without spending money. 

'Paint can make the most impactful change of anything you would do with a kitchen renovation,' says Andi Morse, of Morse Design. 'If you have a kitchen island, it's fun to paint it a different color than the surrounding cabinets. It's even more fun to choose a bold color.'

If you have leftover paint that matches your kitchen cabinetry, opt for a simple touch-up. Alternatively, if you have enough of another paint color, give island cabinets a fresh look, or add a pop of color with a feature wall.

Andi Morse

Andi Morse is the principal designer and founder of Morse Design, an interior design studio based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her designs focus on creating stylish and comfortable spaces that reflect the people living in them.

8. Adjust your kitchen lighting

Blue and green devol kitchen with a chandelier

(Image credit: deVOL)

Kitchens aren't just for cooking, they are one of the most social rooms in the home. To create a more homely feel, a simple adjustment to the kitchen lighting can make all the difference. 

'Modify the existing illumination by altering its give direction or adding lampshades,' says Artem Kropovinsky. 'These small changes can change your kitchen’s atmosphere.'

A small table lamp or floor lamp currently used in an entryway or bedroom can work wonders to create mood lighting and make a kitchen feel cozier. If you already have additional lighting in your kitchen, switch out a lampshade for one used in a different room for an easy way to inject a new color or pattern.

There are plenty of fun and simple ways to update a kitchen without buying anything new. It doesn't need to be an expensive task, and by making a few conscious choices you can refresh your space and make you feel excited about your kitchen once again.

Kitchens & Bathrooms Editor

I joined the Homes & Gardens interiors team at the start of 2024 as the kitchens & bathrooms editor. My undergraduate degree was in Magazine Journalism and Production, which I studied at the University of Gloucestershire. Before joining Homes & Gardens, I worked for two interiors titles across both print and digital channels, writing about a range of topics from room design ideas and decorating trends to timeless kitchen schemes and the best places to source pre-loved homeware.

With contributions from