Quick Kitchen Update Ideas to try Right Now

13 min read Don’t have time or the budget to plan something big for your kitchen right now? Create a kitchen you love with a Level One quick kitchen update while you wait.

Don’t have time or the budget to plan something really big for your kitchen right now? You can still have a kitchen you love while you wait with a Level One quick kitchen update.

This week we’ll be discussing quick fix, small budget, DIY solutions that turn your house into one you can live with while you wait to remodel. And sometimes, this is all you need if your house is pretty close to what you want. This week’s quick kitchen updates are the most budget and time friendly option. So, if you can’t afford to do more, rather than do nothing, do just a little bit of the right thing. And with planning, you can still achieve a great result. 

A quick kitchen update is the best option for anyone who’s planning to do a big remodel later. Don’t live with a house you don’t love while you wait, budget and save for a big change; take a few concrete steps to make the place your own and love it while you wait.

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • A recap of the three levels of a kitchen remodel [0:50]
  • The concept of a Level One Remodel – a quick kitchen update – and how your home may benefit from small changes [2:45]
  • Mistakes I made in my own remodel and what you can do instead [4:00]
  • Clever ways to paint your way to a kitchen you love [7:20]
  • How to alter your cabinets to increase the sense of space in your kitchen [9:20]
  • Easy solutions for changing your kitchen floor to something beautiful [11:05]
  • Purchases you can make right now to transform the look and function of your kitchen [11:30]

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Resources for a Quick Kitchen Update

Read The Full Episode Transcript

Don’t have time or the budget to plan something really big for your kitchen right now? You can still have a kitchen you love … while you wait with a quick kitchen update. Here are some ideas for DIY projects or small changes you can make to smooth your kitchens rough edges. 

Hey there. Welcome back to Mid Mod Remodel. This is the show about updating MCM homes; helping you match a mid century home to your modern life. I’m your host Della Hansmann, architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast. You’re listening to season five, episode eight. 

When I planned a whole season around kitchen updates for mid-century houses, I knew I’d have a lot to discuss.  And really, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in this season. That’s hardly surprising. It’s a dense topic full of technical complexity, functional challenges and personal taste, but that’s okay. I’m not done talking about kitchen updates. After the season wraps up, they’re always going to be intimately connected to everything I touch in mid modern remodel. 

So I do want to go out with a bang. If you’ve been listening along and feeling ever so slightly left out, blue, because you’re not ready to jump onto your remodel planning yet, or for quite a while, there’s still plenty you can do to your house right now. 

As a reminder: throughout the season, I’ve been talking about three different levels of kitchen remodels – remodels in general, really. 

Level one remodels are quick fixes, small budget, DIY-able solutions to bring the house you have into one you can live with. They’re short term solutions to hold you over while you wait to remodel. Or sometimes they’re all you need because the house is pretty close to what you wanted. 

A level two remodel is the kind where you’re going to be doing it yourself. Or managing a series of subcontracts to come in one by one and change the house step by step by step towards something fairly dramatically different. Sometimes it’s a more budget friendly option, but often what you’re really spending on is time. It can also mean replacing things where they are in a kitchen.

For example, working with the exact location of your refrigerator, stove and sink, particularly the sink, but moving around other more freestanding elements. 

If you’re going to the extreme of calling a contractor to manage an entire remodel budget might be less of an object. And that might lead you to make bigger changes in the kitchen; to expand it in size or shape; to flip it around one way to the other, or to move it to another part of the house. Those are some of the changes we talked about last week.

Listen to me talk in greater detail about the various vagaries of levels and their pros and cons way back in season one. If you haven’t checked out the previous seasons, by the way, that was a great time to subscribe. That way you won’t miss an episode when I take a break and then start recording again after our little July time off. Never miss an episode and you can still go find the back catalog in your feed and get caught up. As always, you’ll find the show notes with links to the references we make and an outline of the conversation we’re having on my website at midmod-midwest.com/508.

So this week we’re going to talk about that most subtle of all update plans: the level one remodel. This is such an overlooked area of home updates from an architect’s perspective.  But I feel like it can be incredibly useful in a couple of different cases. It’s the best – and flat out just a great – option for anyone who likes their home pretty much completely and only wants to make a few little tweaks to bring it into alignment with where your life is right now. 

Particularly if you’re blessed with a single owner ranch, and all you need to do is replace a few things that don’t work or make a few tweaks from the original choices and you love that vintage nature, a level one remodel is all you need. It’s also the most budget and time friendly option. If you can’t afford to do more, rather than do nothing, do just a little bit of the right thing and with planning, you can still achieve a great result. It’s the best option for anyone who’s planning to do a big remodel later. Don’t live with a house you don’t love while you wait and budget and save for a big change.

You can take a few concrete steps to make the place your own and love it while you wait. True confession. This is where I often forget to take my own advice. 

I’m going to give you a point/counterpoint of two homeowners put a lot in common who bought ranch houses in the last five years with dated kitchens and what happened next. Here’s a couple of things these two people have in common. They both bought their first homes with un-remodeled kitchens and big plans for the future, but not enough time and budget to get into remodeling the kitchen right off the bat. Both houses were compact ranches built in the early fifties here in Madison, both new homeowners were tall brown haired women with the last name of Hansmann. 

Yeah, I’m talking about me and my sister here. And here’s where the stories diverge. I bought my house four and a half years ago now – let’s be conservative and say that. And only this past winter, did I finally paint over the mint green walls in that kitchen, which had been driving me nuts since day one. 
The thing is, I plan to update my kitchen.  

In my original plans, I thought I’d get around to that pretty soon, probably within a year. I wanted to do the basement first, but I got busy designing other people’s homes. And guess what? I haven’t remodeled my kitchen yet. Boy, do I regret not changing it sooner. Although I have to say I’m delighted with the result. I shared it in my Instagram stories a while ago, getting rid of the last mint green in this totally mint green house, I bought that I love so much and painting it a fresh, clean white that I can now accessorize with colors I like. 

On the other hand, my little sister who is perhaps smarter than me, and also learned from my example, bought her house.  

She went out of her way the very first week before they’d even moved all of their things in from the other place, since they were relocating from an apartment in town to paint over the heinously terrible seventies floral wallpaper in her kitchen. The rest of the kitchen is vintage-cute now because it has a bright white modernized wall color. And she was also able to make a few other small cases in there. She changed out the light fixture, took the wallpaper off the switch plate covers and a few other very simple things that transformed the kitchen from dingy and drab to retro and sweet. Now she still may make changes it in the future when she gets to them, but she can do that at her leisure because she’s already living with a kitchen that she likes. Brilliant girl. Can’t love her more. 

Alright, so here’s the thing. I think you have to really think about your philosophy around a level one remodel it’s important, even when you’re planning a bigger remodel in the future, to be honest about your planning window, how long can you live with your as-is kitchen? Do you need a quick kitchen update? If you’re talking about a few months, maybe it’s not worth it to do anything. But if you’re planning to remodel, even as much as a year from now, be realistic and know that you might not get to it as soon as you plan and that’s too long to live with something you really don’t like about your house, especially if it’s color.

So with a level one, DIY, give yourself some grace, these things take time. And if you’re honest about your planning, horizons and realistic about how long it will take you to get around to the big update, you can live with things you like better. I saw a tweet recently that was talking from one academic researcher to another. They said, overestimate, how much you will underestimate how long a task will take. Once you’ve done that re overestimate your underestimation and add two more hours. I would say the same thing, but with months or years, anyway, a few careful tweaks might be all your kitchen needs. Honestly, an original MCM kitchen with a well-built charm might not need much at all. If you don’t hit your layout, just cleaned it up and go. 

If you have a house where the kitchen has already been remodeled into a sort of horrifying nineties or early two thousands update, most of the things that I’m going to mention next, you can do more aggressively.

For example, with paint, if your house has an original kitchen, I never recommend you paint original woodwork . Perhaps if you’re committed to tearing them out in a few years, you could go ahead and do that – if your house has a remodeled kitchen from the nineties, paint that sucker, you can put paint on the floor on the walls, paint tile. You can certainly paint cabinets that aren’t long for this world. You might paint them inside and out.

And when you’re wondering about what color you should paint them, I have the same advice for color in your kitchen than I do at your front door. The simplest thing is to go generally neutral, but splash out in a big way with one or two colors. You’ve probably heard me state that I think your front door should be your favorite color. Your kitchen should have it too. It can show up on the walls. Also in smaller places like an accent area of tile, your bar, stools or chairs, a light fixture, even kitchen towels or hot pads. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

As with the front area, put that color in a few places. You want the color to occur in a couple of different places to tie the room together, but not be so overwhelming unless you love a theme. So pick your favorite spots or the items you touch daily and focus your color energy there.

When you’re having fun with walls, you could hang wallpaper. Nothing could be more vintage cool, even though the next person might not love it. You can enjoy it right now.

My grandmother, who was a mid-century Martha Stewart on the budget of an itinerant minister’s wife, did over every new kitchen she moved into. One, my mom particularly remembers had a small lot of wallpaper that she trimmed out the little Ivy vine pattern. She let it extend up the walls and a few crucial places to let it go farther. If wallpaper full-stop feels too pricey, which is fine on a budget that you can take inexpensive paint pens or a stencil pattern and make your own wallpaper with a mid-century vibe. Instagram is full of inspiration for this, so start you-tubing or Googling for DIY wallpaper. 

So much for the walls.

Let’s turn our attention to the built-in elements of the kitchen. When you’re looking at cabinets, you might paint them front back and center. You might remove the cabinet doors and paint the inside the cabinets, the same color as the wall, or a fun contrasting color. Just being able to see to the wall will instantly make a small kitchen feel bigger.

It’s one of the DIY updates I made on every apartment I ever lived in. Not to paint the cabinets of the rental unit, but just to take the doors off and put them back on again. When I left, you can also do a lot with contact paper for semi temporary solutions. You can also remove the entire upper wall cabinets. Seriously. Have you caught on to how much I don’t love wall-mounted cabinets.

If you have enough home improvement, know how to pull down the cabinets you’ve got, you’re also pretty much set to hang open shelving. I think this is a much more desirable solution for a mid-century kitchen. When you’re trying to make it feel larger and more practical. Either opening shelving or simply your upper cabinets without their doors are a fun way to show off vintage dishes, hand appliances, or style your shelves with inexpensive. Colorful storage containers, which can give a modern nineties era, kitchen, a more vintage vibe.

If you can manage a screwdriver and Etsy, you can replace the cabinet pulls. This is really fun way to splash out and while they can add up in expense, if all you’re replacing about your kitchen is paint, color and cabinet pulls, you have a little bit more budget leeway to spread around. In fact, you could replace just about every detail. With a little elbow grease, a few basic tools and access to YouTube, you could replace your faucet, your light fixtures, the vent cover you name it. I challenge you to give it a try. 

You have still a few places to paint. When you’re looking at the floor, you can use a sturdy, well primed paint and paint the floor from the linoleum you don’t love to a color you do. You can roll out a kitchen rug, something that’s easy to pick up and clean, or you could lay down a new floating floor, like an engineered click lock cork in a color you like better than what you’ve got. That [cork] also can make the kitchen feel cleaner and fresher and nicer under foot. Win, win, win. 

Sometimes a level one remodel just means buying things. You don’t have to do any installation whatsoever.

You could replace your new appliances with vintage ones or old broken appliances with new ones. I’ve had a couple people asked me about the pros and cons of working with vintage appliances and while I’m no expert, I do think in general, well, I know that in general appliances designed and sold before even 1990 were generally better hard-wearing, longer, lasting and easier to repair than modern versions. There was just a little bit less planned obsolescence. Although, as we heard in the second episode interview with Sarah Archer, there was still planned obsolescence appliances from the beginning.

But if you can get your hands on a retro refrigerator and then find either a local repairman in your town or somewhere you can ship it to, to get it updated. I think that might be well worth the cost. And it might end up being less expensive than a brand new top of the line and refrigerator. I think the choice to spend on something like that really depends on how much you think you’ll pay attention to it. Some people wander into the refrigerator without ever really seeing it, but for others, it could be a focal point.

If you are cursed with sort of a big boxy nineties era refrigerator, that’s still humming along, but you don’t love it – that’s another place to paint. Uh, I don’t need to give you advice on that there are a million YouTube videos. I highly recommend being bold. Especially with things if you’re in the situation of you’re going to be remodeling and replacing everything in a few years, paint your refrigerator right now, where’s the harm. It might be really fun. 

Another magic purchase you can make for your quick kitchen update is a butcher block; a freestanding island basically. I have had a butcher block in every kitchen I’ve ever cooked in. I think my mom had one that she got from a Scandinavian import store in the seventies. She still has in her current kitchen. Thing weighs a ton and could probably withstand a nuclear blast. It’s very solid. Mine is much more lightweight from Ikea, but it still works really well. This is a great way to add to the counter space.

One of the complaints I regularly hear is not enough counter space, not enough work surface in mid-century kitchens. You can easily add four or eight square feet of work surface with a simple butcher block. This is a good place to invest to get one that has, um, thicker top end grain, if possible. And learn how to take care of it with proper sanding and oiling techniques. But really this is something that you could take with you from one house to another, or that could be in your current un- remodeled kitchen. Then you can find a new home for it when you do plan a bigger update.

In general, appliances aside, when you’re wondering about the question of vintage versus retro modern, don’t be afraid to go old school. There are some concerns about lead in old dishes, or maybe an older appliance won’t work as well, I generally think things were built to a higher standard of sturdiness in the era before plastics. So if you find it in a resale shop or restore and it still purports to work, give it a try. I think it will only add to the sort of retro charm of your mid century kitchen. 

Bottom line don’t be like me and wait four years to remove a color you dislike. Especially from one of the main rooms in your house. Don’t sleep on your quick kitchen update. The best day to paint your kitchen, either a neutral or a color you love, was the day you moved in. The next best day is tomorrow. If that feels like too much, choose one small mid-century style item. This could be a new kettle, a dish towel, something from an Etsy shop. Order it tomorrow that will get the ball rolling. 

You can join the Mid-Mod Remodel, Facebook community, and post pictures of your progress. I love to see these. Speaking of which that Facebook group is a great way to keep your home remodeling fires burning over the next month. I’ll be taking a little break from the podcast in July. That doesn’t mean you’re on your own with Mid Mod Remodel. Make sure you’re on our mailing list. I share weekly advice, motivation, and inspiration to get your mid-century home the way you want it. And if you need more help than an email, an Instagram DM, or a Facebook group can provide, you can just drop me a line directly. 

You can always get in touch with Mid Mod Midwest through our website midmod-midwest.com. 

One last thing that really pulls together all of your disparate one at a time DIY updates, especially in a level one, remodel is having an idea of what style you’re aiming for. And you can do that easily yourself with a style guide. Grab the style guide workbook from midmod-midwest.com/styleguide, or find it in the show notes at midmod-midwest.com/508.

If you’ve enjoyed the season, but you haven’t left a review on your podcast platform of choice. I would love it. If you could pause what you’re doing and share your thoughts now, if you’re not driving, of course. We value your thoughts and advice so much for what we do next with the show. Help us craft our next season. So long for now mid mod remodelers. See you in season six.