9 Ways to Completely Transform Your Kitchen
Center Island vs. Peninsula
Choose a Center Island If: You want your kitchen to become hangout central. “An island lets you cook and talk to people at the same time,” says Rebekah Zaveloff, a kitchen designer in Chicago. Generally, there should be at least 3 feet between the island and opposing cabinetry to ensure all doors, drawers, and appliances can be opened completely.
Choose a Peninsula If: You have a smaller kitchen. An L- or U-shaped peninsula can serve the same role as an island, offering just enough extra prep room in a tighter space. To amp up its charm, treat a peninsula like you would an island—paint the base or add architectural details, like corbels.
Wood vs. Lacquer Cabinets
Choose Wood If: You want a flexible option that can be restained, refinished, and repainted. Wood holds up best to daily traffic, says Amity Worrel, a designer in Austin, Texas. It gives a kitchen a warm, cozy feel and works equally well in rustic, country, modern, and retro kitchens—making it an ideal choice for homeowners who may want to change up their style or those looking to sell in the near future.
Choose Lacquer If: You have a contemporary kitchen and want a sleek, high-end look. Lacquer cabinets are easy to clean but less forgiving than wood. If the finish gets chipped or damaged, the entire door will likely need to be replaced.
Paint Vs. Wallpaper
Choose Paint If: You have a small kitchen that could become overwhelmed by a busy pattern. Paint is generally a foolproof way to add character to a kitchen, as long as you get a formula that can resist moisture and has a wipeable sheen—eggshell and satin are best for walls.
Choose Wallpaper If: You want a trendier look or you live in an older home that has walls with imperfections, like hairline cracks, as wallpaper will help hide them. Just make sure to use a vinyl-based wall covering, which will withstand steam and splashes better than a paper-based one. If your kitchen feels bland, says designer Vern Yip, author of Design Wise, “wallpaper is a great way to inject pattern into a space that usually doesn’t have much visual interest.”
To buy: Wallpaper, from $140, hyggeandwest.com.
Cabinets vs. Open Shelves
Choose Cabinets If: You don’t want to spend a ton of time neatly stacking dishes after dinner. “In a kitchen, you’re dealing with a lot of components that can create visual clutter, so some closed storage is a must,” says Yip. To give cabinets a bit of the airy feel of open shelves, paint them a color that matches or is a tonal variation of your countertops.
Choose Open Shelves If: You are very neat and have pretty kitchenware you want to show off. Open shelves can also make a space appear bigger by eliminating the bulk of upper cabinetry. If you love the look of open shelves but need the storage that cabinets offer, mix in a few of each to get the best of both worlds.
Quartz vs. Granite vs. Marble Counters
Choose Quartz If: You need a tough-wearing surface that can handle hot pots and spills. Because it’s an engineered surface, quartz tends to cost less than marble or granite (about $20 to $90 per square foot installed, compared with $20 to $150 for granite and $25 to $150 for marble). And since quartz never needs to be resealed, you’ll pay even less in the long run.
Choose Granite If: You want a solid stone that has a variety of color and pattern options and is heat-resistant. But you will typically need to reseal this porous surface annually to help prevent staining.
Choose Marble If: You want a high-end look with beautiful veining. “Marble, especially white varieties like Carrara and Calacatta, has such an elegance about it,” says Seattle-based kitchen designer Candace Nordquist. But be prepared: The delicate surface is susceptible to scratches and stains and will need to be resealed every 6 to 12 months.
Stainless Steel vs. White Appliances
Choose Stainless Steel If: You want a timeless look and modern amenities. Some brands now offer stainless models with new technology, such as a built-in screen that lets users play music or manage the family calendar. The silver finish does attract smudges and fingerprints, so be prepared to wipe it down often.
Choose White If: You want a less expensive, fingerprint-proof appliance option. “White cabinets look great with white appliances—especially if you have a small kitchen—because they help visually expand the space,” says Los Angeles–based designer and contractor Karl Champley. You can also strike a happy medium between the two choices with a white and stainless combination (like the White Ice collection by Whirlpool).
Undermount vs. Apron-Front Sink
Choose An Undermount Sink If: Your style skews more modern. “It’s a little sleeker-looking than an apron-front,” says Zaveloff. Some manufacturers offer a variety of basins and accessories to make prep and washing up easier: Think sliding cutting boards and built-in drain boards.
Choose An Apron-front Sink If: You gravitate toward a vintage, country, or cottage style. Because the lip sticks out slightly past your cabinets, there’s a deeper ledge behind the sink, which is handy if you have a big faucet or the sink is on an island, since you get more surface area.
Hardwood vs. Laminate or Tile Floors
Choose Hardwood If: You’re looking for something timeless that can withstand a ton of wear and tear and be refinished many times over. But wood floors are not cheap. Expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $15 per square foot, depending on the variety of wood. Champley likes engineered hardwood, which has a plywood base topped with a thick veneer of solid wood. Some can be refinished several times and are slightly cheaper than solid hardwood.
Choose Laminate or Tile If: You want a durable and scratch-resistant floor covering. Laminate can cost as little as $3 per square foot. “Although you can’t restain and reseal it like wood, laminate is very durable,” says Champley. Some laminate and ceramic tile options can look nearly indistinguishable from real wood.
Banquette Seating Vs. Chairs
Choose A Banquette If: You have a lot of kids to squeeze in or a limited amount of space for chairs. Banquettes make use of what’s often empty wall space and can contain hidden storage. But as Worrel notes, unless they’re well designed—which means the back has the right pitch, the seat is cushioned, and the length is just right for your table—they can become a literal pain in the butt.
Choose Chairs If: You want comfortable options for everyone. Chairs will always allow you to fit more people around a table.
To buy (similar): Marlow II wood dining chair, $329; crateandbarrel.com.