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Traditional kitchens don’t have to be boring — here’s how to liven up your decor

For generations, people have been comfortable in their traditional kitchens. The furniture-style cabinetry with raised panel doors in muted colors blended easily with the neutrals or earth tones that dominated most homes. The stone countertops (quartz or granite) were easy to take care of, and they gave a luxurious feel to the kitchen.

Perhaps you, like more and more homeowners, want to step a little out of the traditional kitchen comfort zone. You can still hold on to the traditional kitchen ideas (which are very functional) while breathing some new life into the room.

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modern kitchen with painted trimCabinets

Painting cabinets can be fairly extensive and expensive. Not only do you need to find the correct paint (depending on the finish), but you will also need to take the doors, drawers, hinges, and hardware off before you can even begin painting.

Once those steps are complete, you may need to add a second coat of paint and sealer. Then you have to put all the doors and drawers back on and replace all the hardware. As you can see, it’s a fairly time-consuming process, and your kitchen won’t be fit for guests or entertaining for quite a while.  If painting all the cabinets is too much, you can just paint the kitchen trim for a fresh look.

That being said, new hardware is the easiest update you can make for your kitchen cabinets. All it takes is a screwdriver and some patience to replace the hardware. They don’t necessarily have to match the finish of the faucet, but some finishes, like gold and brushed nickel, don’t play as well together as matte black, chrome, and oil-rubbed bronze.

Some cabinet hardware companies will send you one or two pieces as a sample to try out the look if you are unsure whether they will look nice against your cabinets and other finishes. You can step a little outside the box but still be traditional if you replace some of the knobs with crystal knobs. Crystal knobs look especially good on cabinets that have glass fronts.


Open shelving is in. Some people go all out and remove their upper cabinets and replace them with floating shelves. This will open up your kitchen and give it a new look. Put decorative plates and platters, cookbooks, artwork, and plants on the shelves for added interest.

You can do open shelving in one area, such as taking the upper cabinets down on either side of the stove, or you can emulate the look by taking the doors off the upper cabinets leaving the shelves exposed. Carefully remove the hinges, patch the small screw holes with wood filler and get color-correct paint from the paint store.

You can also paint the back insides of the cabinets a different color. Add an accent color or have a paint store mix the same color as your cabinets, just several shades darker or lighter.

open shelving in kitchenBacksplash and lighting

If your current backsplash is less than ideal, or if you don’t have any backsplash at all, add subway tile for a crisp, clean look. These days, you can find backsplashes in peel & stick options, so you don’t have to commit to something that will be there “forever.” If you hate it, you can change it. 

New pendants lights over the island and updated lighting, in general, are a good way to breathe new life into your kitchen. That heavy look of track lighting is out, and newer lighting will provide better and more energy-efficient illumination. To brighten things up even more, you can place puck lights or LED lighting under the cabinets.

industrial kitchen islandUse your imagination

Who doesn’t love a kitchen island? A small island will add prep space, not to mention more seating. The best part is, you don’t have to match it to your cabinets. If you want some contrast in your kitchen, this is just the way to do it. Place a butcher block or stainless steel on top, and you’ve just upgraded your kitchen beautifully. To add more color, use a bright tray or metal serving tray to organize all your frequently used spices and oils, and place it right on top of your new island.

If you have space, add a coffee bar or a wine bar. Hang mugs under the upper cabinets and add a rack to hold stemware. And don’t forget plants! Plants and herbs add a fresh, organic flare to a traditional kitchen and can be placed anywhere the light will reach them.

You don’t need a $20,000 kitchen remodel to update and refresh your kitchen. Put some artwork on the wall, have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and enjoy your “new” kitchen.

Kathleen Ostrander
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kathleen has worked for United Press International and she's written about everything from style to pets for newspapers…
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