white kitchen white oak floors

Kitchen Refresh vs. Kitchen Remodel – How to Decide

I consult with clients every year who are trying to answer the question: do I completely remodel my kitchen or refresh my kitchen without remodeling? It’s a very common dilemma especially when budget and home value are primary considerations.

First, what is the difference between remodeling a kitchen and refreshing it?

I’m sure there are many opinions on the difference between a remodel or renovation and a refresh. A remodel can involve various degrees of invasiveness, but in my mind, even the simplest remodel will start with creating a blank slate by removing everything existing in the kitchen.

A remodel might also include reconfiguring the space, moving walls, shifting openings and possibly adding doors or windows. As part of the remodel, we might move plumbing or gas lines and reconfigure electrical wiring. Everything we put back into the kitchen will be new with few exceptions.

By contrast, a refresh is primarily cosmetic. It leaves the layout and major elements of the kitchen largely intact, specifically the cabinetry. A refresh can be very basic and simple or it can encompass nearly every element in the kitchen resulting in a complete transformation of the kitchen’s aesthetic.

Remodel or Refresh? How to Decide.

white kitchen white oak floors
Kitchen Remodel by Jillian Lare

There are several considerations I take into account when advising a client on whether to remodel or refresh their kitchen. I’ve also used this criteria in my own homes. We refreshed our last kitchen. In this house, we are holding out for a full remodel and bypassing the refresh. I’ll share why we made this decision throughout the post.

#1 - Budget

Budget – the dirty word of kitchen remodeling. If you aren’t sure how to determine your kitchen remodeling budget, check out my post and download my budget worksheet.

Budget will be one of the biggest determiners of whether you choose to remodel or give your kitchen a facelift. As of writing this post, I have a baseline for kitchen remodels that starts at $75,000. A few years ago, it was closer to $50,000 for a small kitchen on a budget, but this number is becoming more challenging to achieve even with DIY labor and IKEA cabinets.

Clients who are going through a full remodel often want all of the bells and whistles of a brand new kitchen, and I don’t blame them. Budget is the main reason we are waiting to update our own kitchen. We want to save the money we would spend on a refresh and keep it for a full scale makeover.

#2 - Layout

If the layout of your kitchen is optimal for your space, home, and lifestyle and does not require major reconfiguration, you might be a good candidate for a refresh.

However, if your layout is awkward, constricting, or inefficient, a remodel might be able to address these issues and improve the functionality.

A designer or contractor should be able to assess your kitchen and advise you as to whether the layout makes sense and can be improved. Sometimes the layout isn’t great and can improved by changing the cabinetry or moving walls, and sometimes there are limited options due to the architecture of the house.

#3 - Cabinetry

If the layout of your kitchen is functional, if not optimal, the next thing to consider is your cabinetry. Is your cabinetry solid? Are the boxes in good condition? Does the cabinetry configuration provide you with ample storage? Is the hardware in good condition?

There are different ways to address cabinetry in a refresh that can improve both the look and the function. But, if the boxes are poorly constructed, the hardware (which can be replaced but adds to the cost) is low quality or failing, and the storage inadequate, you might want to think about replacing them.

In our current kitchen, the layout of the kitchen works (for the most part). The cabinetry is solid oak but 35 years old now. The door style is dated, and the boxes don’t maximize storage for the size of the layout. The uppers are too short, and the base cabinets include only one drawer base yet three mostly unusable corner cabinets. For all of these reasons, I don’t think it’s worth updating their look. I would rather replace them.

#4 - Appliances

Appliances – their size and location in your kitchen – are a major determinant for deciding whether to remodel or refresh. In a remodel, you have the opportunity to relocate appliances.

Depending on the new layout, you might be able to increase the size of your appliances and add different appliances. If you’re working with a decades old kitchen as I am, the options for appliances are much more vast than when the kitchen was designed.

In our current kitchen, we have a 30″ slide-in electric range, a microwave over the range, a dishwasher, and a 36″ counter-depth refrigerator. When we remodel, we will upgrade to a 36″ induction range, a 42-48″ refrigerator, replace the microwave with an Advantium oven and actual hood that vents to the exterior. These improvements aren’t possible if we keep our existing cabinetry.

#5 - Flooring & Countertops

Flooring is a lesser decision in deciding whether to refresh or remodel but it still bears some weight. Flooring can be updated without changing your cabinet layout; however, this is a decision that should be weighed carefully.

Once your new flooring butts up to your existing cabinetry, it can be challenging to patch in and repair that brand new flooring should you decide to update your cabinetry in the future. 

If you refinish your wood flooring, a future layout change may mean you need to refinish all of your wood floors again. This is happening to a client of mine right now.

Replacing a major element like flooring or countertops while keeping existing cabinetry can leave a client feeling like they made a mistake. One client installed brand new granite on 40 year old oak cabinets (before calling me). The new stone emphasized how tired and dated the cabinetry was. They ended up doing a full remodel and couldn’t reuse the granite, which had cost them thousands of dollars.

Kitchen Refresh with Zenith Design Build

Zenith Design Build Kitchen Refresh Des Moines Iowa
Zenith Design Build Kitchen Refresh Des Moines Iowa
Zenith Design Build Kitchen Refresh Des Moines Iowa

We recently consulted on a Zenith Design Build project that included a kitchen refresh. The family had just purchased a new home and loved the layout of the kitchen but not the dark cabinetry, countertops, and hood. They painted the cabinets, installed a new custom-built hood, and updated the hardware and countertops.

The kitchen looks completely fresh, new and pretty, and it reflects their style and personality. Nicholas and his team did an awesome job bringing the vision to life. You can see more photos from this project on Zenith’s website.

I hope this post helped you determine whether a kitchen remodel or kitchen refresh is right for you. If you need more help or advice, schedule a free discovery call to learn more about how we can help with your kitchen project.

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20 thoughts on “Kitchen Refresh vs. Kitchen Remodel – How to Decide

  1. Excellent post, Jillian, on the difference between a refresh and a remodel. And a really clear explanation of what the determining factors should be in deciding which to choose!

  2. Jillian: This is such a great post. I loved seeing the examples of each: remodel and refresh, and understanding the different aspects of each decision.

    Thanks for another really educational post!

  3. Great items to think about, kitchens are the most important room in the house!

  4. Wow, great tips to consider so you don’t go down the wrong path and spend alot more money than you need to to get a beautiful and functional kitchen.

  5. Very good tips! You gave us a lot to think about.

  6. Jillian, you have done such a great job at explaining the differences. You are so right with the many decisions that need to be thought of ahead of time.

  7. Jillian, this is such a great post. For many homeowners, a refresh is a good option and you have carefully laid out how to know if this is the best option or if you might make a bigger investment.

  8. These are some great tips!!

  9. Excellent post Jillian. You lay it all out really well the difference between a remodel and refresh. We are keeping our cabinets because its just too costly to replace. But everything else we’re replacing. I hope to improve the functionality of our cabinets with Rev-a-shelf insides and pretty hardware.

    I can’t wait to see your full kitchen remodel!

  10. Great post, Jillian! Thanks for sharing. We enjoyed working with you on this project!

  11. The first thing I’ll touch on is that I can’t believe that couple had to give up that brand-new granite countertop because it couldn’t be used with the old cabinets. That has to suck big time. Granite is generally an expensive countertop material, so I feel for them on that purchase.

    In my opinion, a kitchen renovation or a kitchen refresh will cost a lot of money. You’re going to spend thousands, and that’s on the low end of the spectrum. So, if you’re going for it, aim big (within reason of course), and just redo the thing. It’s going to help you in the long run.

    Studies show that renovated kitchens help home value, and, ready for it?…. It also gets people cooking more. Not surprisingly. When you have a beautiful kitchen, all you want to do is be in it. But again, just my 2 cents.

    You’re posts are simply amazing, I enjoy reading them, a lot. Insightful, detailed, and to the point. No fluff. I’m going to keep reading more of your stuff.


  12. Nice Article…Very interesting to read this article. I have learned some new information. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Great article! Planning is so important to the process of renovating. It’s important to know exactly what you want so you can estimate the budget and get the design you really want.

  14. Hello there. Thanks that I have landed here on your post. I am happy to see this really. This is very inspiring. I like the before and after transformation of the kitchen.My husband and I are planning to have our kitchen renovated and kitchen remodeling providence ri to make it more updated, we mostly worry too much about the aesthetic, that’s why I’m currently looking for a granite countertop and modern cabinet. We all want to know which brands we should choose, since our friend in Ri area has recommended some brands, i hope you can you pull it off with such ease Keep on posting. Thanks again!

  15. I am okay with moving walls and changing the space in a remodel. That would really make my kitchen stand out. But only if I can get a professional to help me out with it and do it properly.

  16. Thanks for the info about kitchen renovations. I need to renovate my home, which I plan to do next year. I’ll look for a contractor who can help me with renovating my kitchen.

  17. I like how a renovation means that everything put back into the kitchen will be new. That sounds completely worth it. I’d love to get a renovation done in my kitchen.

  18. Great differentiate thanks for sharing with us.

  19. Great info! Thanks for sharing this in-depth post!

  20. Thank you for explaining that depending on the layout, the size of your appliances could be different from what they are currently. I’ve been wondering if I should choose our new appliances based off of the things we have now. I’ll be sure to consider our layout to help with determining the right size appliances for our new space.

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Jillian Lare Des Moines Interior Designer

About Jillian

Welcome! I’m a Des Moines based interior designer, boy mom to one, avid reader and always aspiring artist. I started this blog when I moved to Iowa in 2008. Currently, I write about life in Iowa, personal development, and my creative journey.

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