What makes a kitchen look cheap – 5 things that you are doing wrong, according to designers

These design decisions could be making an impression in your kitchen – for all the wrong reasons

Gray kitchen layout ideas with an island and breakfast bar
(Image credit: Future plc / Darren Chung)

The kitchen is perhaps the most complex room in the home. Above all, this space needs to function as a workspace, meaning practical and durable elements are essential. However, prioritizing functionality can often feel conflicting – not least because this space is often one of the most sociable rooms in the home. Therefore, as the place where family and guests often congregate, it's important your kitchen looks good, too. 

Knowing what makes a house look cheap is one way to ensure every room in your home is well-curated for all who live there and all who pass through. This is valuable in every space, but none more so than in your kitchen – the place where you are subject to the most hardware, appliances, and inevitable splashes and spills that come with cooking (and living).

In many cases, the things that lead to a house looking cheap aren't even a reflection of wealth, in fact, there are many budget-friendly ways you can make a home look expensive.

What makes a kitchen look cheap?

We asked top designers for the top five things to avoid or change – to be sure your kitchen ideas are as exclusive as the rest of your home. 

1. Bulky under-cabinet hoods

Cooker with a large under-cabinet hood

(Image credit: Alamy)

A cabinet-hoods is the perfect example of something that is necessary for practical reasons in a home. And while you certainly shouldn't get rid of it completely, designer J.R. Coffin from Studio Den Den in Brooklyn warns that you should look for a more discreet alternative.

'Not every kitchen has access to exterior exhaust – but large recirculating hoods mounted to the underside of your cabinets make your kitchen look more of a quick rental than a home,' J.R warns. Instead, she suggests investing in a minimal range hood that can be 'sleekly integrated into cabinets, millwork, or even your microwave.'

2. Mismatched appliances

Pictures of kitchens showing a geometric patterned backsplash, pale cabinetry and open shelving.

(Image credit: Future / Emma Lee)

It is only natural that your kitchen is home to more appliances than any other space. However, J.R. warns that too many materials and colors can make a kitchen look 'hodge-podge and cheap.'

'We don't always need everything to be stainless steel, but appliances should match with - either each other or the environment around them,' she says. For example, you should choose a dark dishwasher if you have dark base kitchen cabinet ideas – or a panelized wood fridge with wood cabinets  – for a more streamlined aesthetic overall. 

3. Short backsplashes

How to install a backsplash example, with blue tiles and dark grout in a white kitchen.

(Image credit: Future / Jake Curtis)

'No matter your counter material, a 4" tall backsplash – often matching the counter color – makes kitchens look small and outdated,' J.R says. 'This is a total missed opportunity to elevate your kitchen with an eye-catching wall tile that runs from the top of the counter to the bottom of the upper cabinet or shelf.'

Carla Bast from Carla Bast Design in Minneapolis agrees. She, too, cautions that a standard 4" backsplash in your countertop material will bring down the overall look and feel of your kitchen – and prompts you to look for more vibrant kitchen tile ideas instead. 

'Tile is relatively inexpensive and easy to install; plus, it can really help to tie together your kitchen's overall look and feel, making it appear more expensive,' she says. 'Remove that 4" curb and replace it with a full-height tile backsplash from the countertop to the bottom of your upper cabinets.'

4. Laminate countertops

Formica countertop

(Image credit: GettyImages)

On the subject of countertop ideas, Carla also urges against laminate countertops (often referred to as Formica) – explaining that the synthetic material can have a less-than-desired impact on your kitchen. 

'They don't have the natural beauty or depth of real stone or solid surface such as manufactured quartz,' the designer says. 

'Additionally, they sound cheap because they make a hollow sound when you place an item on them. but rather a print or vinyl overlay. Laminate countertops also tend to make a kitchen look smaller due to their glossy finish, and they also produce a high-pitched sound when tapped.'

5. Fluorescent lights

A kitchen extension with a dining table and statement ceiling lighting next to glass doors

(Image credit: Davide Lovatti/Future PLC)

Mastering the most flattering lighting ideas can make or break any room, but none quite so much as your kitchen. And, arguably, the worst choice you can make in your kitchen is mounting a large fluorescent light on the kitchen ceiling. 

'They're often harsh, unflattering, and just plain ugly,' Carla says. 'If you want your kitchen to look more elegant, install recessed lighting and add decorative lighting such as pendants over your center island and kitchen sink. They'll cast a softer, more flattering light and will make your kitchen look much more luxurious.'

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.