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Easy Updates for a Crowded Kitchen

Adding a coat of paint or swapping cabinet doors can increase your home's value


We are all spending more and more time in the kitchen, as it is often a lively central spot to gather while we create more and more meals from scratch. Consider eliminating inefficiencies and outdated gear to make it more inviting and easier to cook.

spinner image three before photos of kitchens with tight spaces cramped storage and outdated counters and cabinets
Courtesy Mary Henderson, Dian Holton, Lesley Palmer

Problems: Tight kitchen, cramped storage, old cabinets

AARP members and staff sent photos of crowded cupboards, appliances from the harvest-gold era and one claustrophobic galley with “only room for one butt at a time,” as member Mary H. noted. “Let's agree that everybody's sick of being in the kitchen in 2020,” Jonathan says. And that's from a guy whose girlfriend loves to cook and bake. “I'm very lucky,” he admits. “Zooey makes fantastic meals.”

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$ Budget

spinner image design sketch for a kitchen
Amber Day

Try a coat of paint. “A super dark ‘70s kitchen will look night and day if you just paint it out white,” Drew says. “Use an oil-based acrylic, something with a semigloss or a sheen that finishes nicer than latex, which sloughs over time.” Mount a pullout organizer under a pantry shelf (or attach a rack behind a cabinet door) to add functional space to what Jonathan calls “the condiment gap” above squat spice bottles sitting alone on a shelf.

$$ Mid-Range

Old melamine cabinets are harder to paint, so swap out cabinet doors with paint-grade maple and some brushed steel knobs or decorative handles. “It will look way more current and increase home value, too,” Drew says. Adds Jonathan: “You might need a professional, but our mom is 75 and she just replaced her cabinet doors herself.” Look for concealed European-style hinges that adjust with a screwdriver along three axes, so you can align the doors more easily. “If you can measure, you can probably do it."

$$$ Splurge

Rethink the layout. “A fat fridge at the entryway creates a bottleneck,” says Jonathan, so consider moving appliances for easier flow. (It likely means tearing out walls and rewiring.) Counter-depth fridges add cost but look sleeker and can be surprisingly roomy inside. “A lot of people also waste space with big cavities in their lower cabinets,” Drew says. He recommends retooling them with pull-and-lift shelves for better organization and access. Hide appliances behind a retractable roller door and “you have an appliance garage” for stand mixers and the like, Drew says.

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