Ah, a kitchen remodel. It might be the most popular renovation to tackle, but it can also be a serious source of anguish for any homeowner on a budget (and who isn’t?). Especially when you consider that even a minor kitchen upgrade has an average price tag of $22,507.
Maybe you don’t have that kind of coin. Or maybe you want to experience the satisfaction of fixing up your kitchen through your own hard work. Luckily, there are plenty of ways for renovation beginners to make their mark on the kitchen without requiring tons of time, money, or special skills.
If you’re new to the renovation game, start with one of these low-risk, high-impact kitchen projects that are perfect for beginners.
1. Change out your cabinet hardware
No experience or power tools required: Updating your hardware is the quintessential kitchen project for newbies.
“For beginners, changing out cabinet hardware such as new pulls or knobs can update the look and be as simple as using a screwdriver,” says John Milligan, product development manager for N-Hance Wood Refinishing.
Before you buy new knobs and pulls, make sure the new hardware fits in the cabinets’ existing holes, so you don’t need to drill new ones or fill old ones, Milligan says.
Then, all you need is a screwdriver to remove your old hardware and secure your shiny new knobs and pulls. Easy!
2. Upgrade the lighting
“A majority of kitchens are missing adequate lighting, especially when natural light is limited,” says Dana Hummel, project manager at Porch.com, a site that connects homeowners with renovation professionals.
Luckily, lighting up your kitchen is a beginner-friendly job. The easiest way to make an impact? Swap your old lightbulbs for new LED bulbs, which are more energy-efficient than incandescents and come in a variety of warm and cool hues.
You can also opt to install a new light fixture altogether for a more dramatic upgrade. Consider changing out your overhead lighting or your accent lighting over the kitchen sink or island. Most fixtures come with easy-to-follow instructions, Hummel says.
If you’re happy with your current fixture but could use more lighting control, install a dimmer to make your kitchen brightness customizable. This task requires only an hour or two and a few basic hand tools.
3. Paint the room, but maybe skip the cabinets
It’s true: A fresh coat of paint can transform any room—including your kitchen—and just about anyone can handle a simple paint job. To take things up a notch and add visual interest, paint a single bold accent wall, or paint another feature in the room, like the kitchen island.
“You can create a personalized look by painting your kitchen island a different color than the wall cabinets,” says Ashley Banbury, senior color designer for Dutch Boy Paints. “Tie a room together by painting the island the same color as the floor and window trim, or make your island the focal point with a fun pop of color.”
You may be tempted to paint all of your kitchen cabinets, but proceed with caution. This tricky project requires more skill and finesse than simply painting the walls, so it might not be the best choice for beginners.
“Hiring an expert to tackle your cabinet refinishing can be well worth the investment,” Milligan says. “Cabinets experience a lot of wear and tear and need to be protected with high-quality and durable finishes.”
4. Install a backsplash
For an eye-catching project that you can accomplish in a weekend, look no further than your kitchen backsplash.
The easiest way to update your backsplash is by installing peeil-and-stick tiles that come in a variety of colors, patterns, and textures. There’s no grout, no mess, and no special tools required. When you’re ready for a fresh look, you can easily swap out your peel-and-stick backsplash for something new.
But beginners shouldn’t be afraid to tackle a traditional tile backsplash if they want something more permanent, Hummel says.
“These supplies are available at local home improvement stores, and with endless patterns to choose from, it gives us a chance to be creative,” she says.
Mosaic tiles, which come in sheets with a set pattern, are a good choice for beginners; they’re easier to work with than individual tiles. Before you get started, be sure to map out your design plan and gather your tools, including tile nippers and a trowel for applying the adhesive.
5. Add (or unearth) storage space
Ready to graduate from hand tools to the power drill? Try installing simple shelves in the kitchen. For inspiration, look to blogs that abound with tutorials and step-by-step guides for creating your own open shelving in just a few hours. This DIY project can help you add kitchen storage or create the perfect space to show off unique decor.
If you’re uneasy around power tools, we get it. There are still plenty of ways to unearth storage space in your kitchen without using a drill. For starters, set aside time for deep-cleaning and decluttering your drawers and cabinets. You’ll be amazed by how much you can give away or throw out (do you really need four ice cream scoopers?), which will free up space that you can max out with drawer organizers, plate racks, and other simple storage solutions.
Keep your kitchen remodel simple—and consistent
It’s easy—too easy, sometimes—to create a laundry list of everything you want to change in your kitchen. But don’t try to accomplish everything at once.
“The best way to start a kitchen renovation is to start simple,” says Carly Waters, principal designer and founder of Carly Waters Style. “Have a plan … create a list of things needed for the update, and make sure the styles all align.”
Once you get going, don’t lose sight of the overall look and feel you’re striving for in the kitchen.
“One of the most common mistakes I see is when the selection of finishes are picked at different times of a room update and don’t quite match,” Banbury says. “Go into updates with an end design aesthetic in mind.”
Lauren Sieben is a writer in Milwaukee. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Washington Post, Milwaukee Magazine, and other outlets.