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How to make over your kitchen on a budget

By Mikaela Fowler

When The Block 2014 winner Shannon Vos renovated his fairly basic kitchen he didn’t spend a fortune – just over $5000. But he estimates he managed to add a whopping $15,000-$20,000 to the price of his apartment when it sold a few weeks later.

“I think that renovation definitely helped the sale,” he explains. “The rest of the house was looking fresh and all we had to focus on was painting and fixing the floors. The kitchen was the one space that took a bit of effort.

“We spent five, maybe six, thousand dollars and did a lot of the work ourselves, but I think it really paid off.”

Shannon looked into local building bylaws and found he didn’t need a permit for minor work, saving them considerable time and money. With the help of brother Simon, who down from his home in Coffs Harbour to lend a hand, Shannon updated his cabinets, replaced his benchtop, added LED strip lighting and updated his sink and cupboard handles – and that was it!

“We kept the cabinetry skeleton and the cabinets and just did the benchtops and breathed new life into the space,” Shannon explains.

“It was a very dated kitchen, but going for a monochromatic colour scheme and a little bit of timber really opened it up and brought it to life.”

Here’s how you can do something similar:

Choose one main element to invest in

“Invest in a hero,” Shannon explains. “For us, that was our composite stone benchtops – that was our big ‘spend piece’ and everything else was pared back.”

If you invest in one showstopping hero piece, everything else in your room can refer back to that, tying everything together.

“If you walk into our kitchen, that lovely stone benchtop is the one thing you focus on – there’s nothing else fighting for attention,” he explains. “If you just invest in one piece like that, you can save a lot of money elsewhere.”

Shannon invested in a composite stone bench as the hero of his kitchen.

Leave your layout alone

Layouts are expensive to change – avoid moving things around if you can help it.

“If you are looking to do something on a budget – and stick to that budget – layout is the last thing you should consider,” says Simon, who estimates he saved a huge amount by opting to work with what was already there.

“Because we are in a strata block it was a suspended slab, and access would have been near impossible underneath to run in services like water and gas,” he adds. “Plus, if you are mucking around with the layout, you’re going to have issues with your [existing] flooring.”

Paint, don’t replace

If the hinges on your existing cabinetry are in good knick, consider painting cupboards rather than replacing them.

“No one ever needs new cabinetry, really – a lick of paint can do a lot of work,” Shannon explains.

And you don’t even need to invest in specific cabinetry paint – ”just make sure you use a hard-wearing trim paint,” he explains.

“Talk to your paint shop and find out what is a suitable product.”

And don’t forget – preparation is key.

“Kitchens can get quite greasy and dirty, so it’s a good idea to wash everything really well first,” says Shannon, who used sugar soap before he began.

“Sand it all as well – take your cabinetry off and move it to somewhere else to paint, so you’re in a dust-free environment.”

Shannon used existing cabinetry, painting the doors and replacing handles.

Replace your handles

“A new handle will totally change the look of your cabinetry,” says Shannon. “If you have got a 15-year-old kitchen, chances are you’ve got a stainless steel handle that is not really shiny and a bit greased up and tarnished. If you find a handle with the same set-out, this is an easy Saturday morning fix.”

Shannon opted for timber handles he found at a local company called Kethy.

“They just look beautiful,” he says. “They give it a little bit of a seventies vibe, I reckon.”

Add timber shelving

If storage is an issue, an easy fix is custom making a timber shelf for one of your walls.

“I took my handles to a cabinetmaker who has a shop around the corner, and said, ‘Hey, can I buy some timber off you? I just want to try and match this.’ And he sold me a big slab of timber,” says Shannon, who asked his handy brother Simon to help him install it.

“It was that easy,” he says.

Don’t spent a fortune on professional gear

Everyone loves a shiny, whiz-bang appliance. But ask yourself – are they really necessary?

“I think you can get lost in appliances,” says Shannon. “It’s nice to have a nice induction cooktop with a self-extraction fan and all that cool stuff, but really, at the end of the day – who needs it? It’s not a necessity.

“If you are trying to do your kitchen on a budget, unless you are a professional chef and you love entertaining, spend your money where you are actually going to use it,” he says.

Think about your lighting

You don’t need to spend a fortune on lighting – be smart about your choices.

LED lights installed under the overhead cabinets add warmth to the space.

“I think this is pretty important,” says Shannon. “We installed two adjustable black spotlights above the kitchen cabinetry and then amped up the lighting by installing an LED strip underneath the shelf.

“You just stick them down with double-sided tape, and plug them in.

“We ended up getting an electrician to put a nicer switch in it, but you can hide the light in a cupboard with a powerpoint.”

It provided an instant mood lift.

“Our kitchen is south-facing, and it didn’t have a lot of light so it always looked dated,” he adds. “If you can get a nice warm light – always warm, never cool – into your kitchen, it helps transform it.”


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