10 mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen

10 Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating a Kitchen

They say the kitchen is the heart of a home – a haven to create culinary delights and to enjoy them with friends and family. To make new memories and to remember old ones. To engage in meaningful conversations. To laugh until you cry or maybe cry until you can laugh. The kitchen becomes the memoir of a home, and consequently why it is the primary selling point. Here are 10 mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen to stretch your dollars and create a beautiful retreat packed with the power of practicality.

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Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #1 – Delaying Your Dream Design

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen

Most of us do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars in our kitchen renovation budget, but this does not mean you need to delay your dream design. Before you embark on renovating your kitchen, make a list of the top 10 things your dream kitchen would include, choose 3, and make them happen. There are many tips and tricks in this post to make your dollars stretch. There is little worse in the renovation world than spending thousands of dollars on an end product that still hasn’t fulfilled any part of a dream. It does not need to be all or nothing. Choose 3 items on your dream kitchen list, and make them happen.

Be creative. Do your research and read on!


Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #2 – Keeping Your Old Cabinets

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen


Kitchen cabinet refacing has become a popular alternative to gutting the old cabinetry and starting over, but I feel that this often ends up contributing to mistake #1 – delaying your dream design. When comparing the price tags, many women choose to put up with a layout they don’t love to give their kitchen a coat of lip gloss instead of a professional makeover. The truth is, with some research and a lot of planning, you may be able to get closer to your dream design than you think by getting rid of your old cabinets.

**As a note – if you are renovating an investment house than this may NOT be the way to go. We have flipped two houses – the first kitchen I gave a complete makeover, and the second kitchen I added lip gloss. We profited over $50,000 on resale both times. You need to know your market, and where to put your money in order to make your money.**

For those of you who are settled in your home, by getting rid of your old kitchen cabinets you will likely be able to change your work zones to better suit the flow of your kitchen.  If you missed my article on Designing an Efficient Kitchen Around 4 Work Zones check it out here!! This may include a coffee bar or an island, approximating your dinnerware to your dishwasher, creating an appliance garage, and maximizing your dirty landing zone while minimizing kitchen foot traffic.

You are thinking, this would be great but remember that thing called money? What if I told you that you could buy brand new, solid wooden kitchen cabinets with soft close doors and drawers for half of what you think you would pay? Keep reading.

Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #3 – Waiting to Organize Your Cabinets


You are renovating your kitchen and installing new cabinetry. You have allowed someone else to design the layout, with input from you here and there, but ultimately you trust that your current kitchen inventory and day to day flow will work within this newly designed space.

What happens when you realize you can’t fit all of your most frequently used dinnerware into the cabinet above your dishwasher? Or the garage for small appliances only comfortably fits your mixer, but not the blender you use to make your family  smoothies every morning? Or your baking ingredients fit better in the cabinet on the other side of your prep zone?  (Read about designing kitchen work zones here).

The point is, you will be more satisfied with your new kitchen if you stage the cabinets BEFORE they are installed. Get out your pencil and paper, or the professional design draft you’ve been given, and make sure you take a full inventory of your current kitchen cabinets and organize that inventory into your cabinets on paper.

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen
Does not have to be fancy just useful!


Pay attention to the sizes of the cabinets and compare to what you are currently using. If your current lower cabinet that holds your bakeware is 18″ wide, and you are sick of having to take 5 things out in order to access the correct baking sheet, then make sure your new plans include a lower cabinet that is 21″-24″ wide and is the right size for bakeware dividers or peg board organizers. Organize your new kitchen cabinets before they are finalized to make sure they will hold everything you currently use and that they are better designed to fit your needs.  Also consider investing in a project binder to organize your renovation.  This is the exact 3 ring project binder I use for our French Country home project.  When I meet with a contractor, however, I bring a smaller, more professional appearing notebook such as this leather bound pro notebook to take notes, store applicable documents etc.

Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #4 – Planning for Bigger Instead of Better

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen
Image courtesy of RTA Cabinet Store

With that being said, we move on to mistake #4 which is planning for a bigger kitchen instead of a better one. Maybe you are building a new house, and you are so excited to design your dream kitchen with two islands, two sinks, an industrial-sized refrigerator and enough square footage to host your entire neighborhood x 2. To clarify, if you are planning on hosting your neighborhood x 2 once a week, then this is probably the best option for you! But I have been in these kitchens, and do you know how many steps it takes to walk around two islands or how many minutes add up walking half a mile to put your dishes away each night?

I am exaggerating, but only a little. I am a firm believer in quality over quantity.  For example, instead of trying to make the footprint of your kitchen bigger – consider replacing your current cabinetry with upper cabinets that reach the ceiling and trim them out with crown molding. You will gain storage space and will visually make your kitchen look bigger when you take it to the ceiling.  White cabinets as opposed to darker cabinets will also give the illusion of added space.  For more tips on designing quality square footage instead of adding square footage read  How to Design an Efficient Kitchen With These 4 Work Zones.

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen
Image courtesy of RTA Cabinet Store


Sometimes bigger is better, but just be sure that you are stepping out the space that you are designing. If your new kitchen dimensions are significantly bigger than what you have ever had, then it is important to find someone’s kitchen that is closer in size and imagine your layout in that space.  Do you need it that big if you are planning an open layout anyway?  What else could you spend the extra money on that may check off another ticket item from your list?? The French Country home that I am designing is not a double-island, prep sink, wash sink, and pretty sink kind of a kitchen, but it will have a 44″ Lacanche Range custom-made from France (P.S. you will not regret clicking on that link if not to simply feel inspired to get into your kitchen and cook something). For me as I design my dream kitchen, this is the answer to mistake #1, but consequently, does NOT apply to mistake #5! Read on!


Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #5 – Overspending on Appliances

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen
Image courtesy of RTA Cabinet Store

You can save thousands of dollars on appliances. The Sears Outlet online, for one, offers discounted appliances all over the country. My favorite way to buy appliances is from scratch and dent stores. These are often smaller family-owned stores, and the best way to find them is to Google “scratch and dent appliances in (your) city, state.” If a big box store gets a stove that has a dent in the side of it, then they cannot place it in their inventory at full price because it is considered blemished.

Enter the scratch and dent market.

Most of these dents are hidden by cabinetry or can be touched up with an appliance marker. These appliance markers are also an easy way to make your current appliances look nicer if they have already suffered some bumps and bruises! You can save thousands of dollars on scratch and dent appliances. Compare deals in your area, and don’t forget to consider if they include warranties!


Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #6 – Buying Retail Instead of Wholesale

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen
Image courtesy of RTA Cabinet Store

This ties into the previous mistake of overspending on appliances. Again, unless you have money to burn or you are building your new home with the understanding that you are not trying cut costs in the kitchen, then buying wholesale is the best option for any DIYer or when you are renovating your kitchen on a budget.

What is the difference between retail and wholesale prices? I am a cabinet maker (the producer). I sell my cabinets to a big box store at wholesale price because they bought them from me in bulk. That big box store then up-charges my cabinets and sells them to the consumer at retail price. What you want to look for is a cabinet company that sells their cabinets at that wholesale price. They will not have as many cabinetry options, but you may be pleasantly surprised how many options they do have!

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen
Image courtesy of RTA Cabinet Store

For those of you uncertain if you have one in your area (again try Google), a great online wholesale cabinet company is the RTA Cabinet Store. You will find solid wooden cabinetry in a variety of options for half the price, painted or stained, with accessories such as pull out trash cans, cabinet dividers, etc. Note these are RTA (ready to assemble), so if you are looking to build some sweat equity this is a very easy way to do so! They do have the option to buy them already assembled.  Our first kitchen makeover (see DIY Victorian Kitchen Renovation on a Budget here) I built all of the RTA kitchen cabinets myself from another awesome online cabinetry company called Lily Ann Cabinets, and I promise you do not need to be super handy – just able to read directions and use a screw driver. You can do it!


Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #7 – Too Little Lighting

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen

I understand lighting to fall into 3 categories – ambient lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting.

Ambient lighting is what you use when the sun goes down, so this would be your chandelier over the kitchen table or the pendants hanging above your island. Unless you live by Scrooge’s motto that “darkness is cheap” and you like it that way – typically ambient light is the first switch you turn on when walking into a room. We don’t usually forget to design this one.

The second category is task lighting which is pretty self-explanatory. This is the light you use for specific tasks such as the pendant hanging above the sink that you might turn on to get a closer look at the pot that you have been scrubbing for the last 20 minutes and still doesn’t look clean (or am I the only one??). This could be a light mounted under a cabinet that illuminates your kitchen desk or a particular work space. Canned ceiling lights on a dimmer switch can function as task lighting or accent lighting depending on the moment (convert your kitchen light with this dimmer switch). Sometimes we forget these areas, but typically we at least include a pendant over the sink.

The third category, accent lighting, is most often overlooked, but I believe essential to creating the beautiful haven that we want to be our kitchen. Accent lighting is what gives us the ability to highlight or “lowlight”a given area. I would argue it is the ability to lowlight your kitchen that can especially make it showstopping. Accent lighting would include lights in your upper glass cabinets that runs along the ceiling or under-cabinet lighting as in the picture above.  A design tip is to install these lights on a timer that turns them on in the evening and turns them off in the morning. This is an elegant way to accent your cabinetry and create that soft evening glow for a dinner party or provide  a night light for your 2 am snack.  Another tip to use accent lighting is to create an art niche in your kitchen wall.

mistakes to avoid when renovating your kitchen
Image courtesy of ifinishedmybasement.com

To install one in an existing wall, find the space between two studs, frame out the niche, and refinish with a small accent light at the top.  Excellent DIY tutorial here.  You can place a favorite picture, highlight a kitchen antique, or place a piece of art in this wall niche. You can put this little light on a timer as well or integrate it into the same run as your other cabinetry accent lights. I highly recommend timed lighting, because what is the point of investing in decorative accents if you never feel like flipping the switch on and off every night? Invest in LED bulbs, and the electric footprint should hardly be noticeable.  Dimmable LED Vintage Edison bulbs are also available for exposed bulbs that you want to give a vintage air.


Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #8 – Skimping on Storage

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen
Image courtesy of RTA Cabinet Store


I am not a professional designer by trade, but if I had to give it a shot, I would guess that this ranks at the top of the most commonly made kitchen renovation mistakes. I think this also ties into mistake #3 on this list when you wait to organize your cabinets until after they are installed.  The simplest storage solution when replacing old cabinets is taking your upper cabinetry to the ceiling if they weren’t already.  Install that extra run of decorative cabinetry along the top to house holiday dishes, goblets, or punch bowls you infrequently use. Also an option is to make your single upper cabinet much taller. If you have an 8ft clearance from floor to ceiling, then you could do 42″ high uppers to go to the ceiling or 39″ uppers and add 3″ crown molding along the top. This will give you plenty of extra storage if you did not have floor to ceiling cabinetry before. Another often overlooked possibility for the standard 10x10ft kitchen layout is an island. See mistake #9.


Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #9 – Ignoring an Island

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen
Image courtesy of RTA Cabinet Store

There are a lot of men and women out there who look at their current kitchen and assume there is no way they could fit an island into their new renovation. If you are that person, then I would say, “You might be surprised!” The bottom  line is that you need 39″ minimum of floor clearance from base cabinet to base cabinet to comfortably get around your kitchen. I would argue that as long as you can fit 39″ of floor space around an island that is no less than 2ft deep by 2ft wide than you can fit an island! Kitchen island carts are typically about this size which is also a great option if you would like to be able to move it.

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen    mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchenmistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen

Whitmor Supreme Microwave Cart  Linon Kitchen Island Granite Top  Seville Classics Pro Cart

So if one of your kitchen dream list items is to have an island, then get out your tape measure, graph paper, and pencil and get creative! FYI – a 2×2 ft island is basically a 24″ wide base cabinet with decorative paneling on the sides and back to match. Find your base cabinet options, and design from there!


Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating Your Kitchen #10 – Dismissing Granite Counter Tops

mistakes to avoid when renovating a kitchen

The final mistake addressed in this list is dismissing natural stone for your counter top.  It is still a common misconception that natural stone counter-tops are only for the double-island with 3 sinks kind-of-kitchen budgets. Granite counter-tops have become much more competitively priced over the years and, at times, can be cheaper than high definition laminates. Companies often have a handful of standard color options that will be offered as part of a “package deal.” (If you are building your forever home I would not sacrifice your dream counter-top to maximize these deals, but for most homes this is the best bang for your buck as granite counter-tops are often considered a valuable home improvement due to their longevity and quality.)

When renovating our first kitchen (post here), I found a package deal that said if I bought x amount of square feet in one of their standard color options, the deal included a stainless steel sink, a granite cutting board, and travertine tiles for our back splash (which we installed ourselves). To find packages in your area, Google “granite counter-top packages in (your) city, state.” The best deals will often be a paid Google advertisement that will populate to the top of your search. Certainly compare this to other local options, but do not prematurely dismiss this as an option – especially if it hits one of your dream kitchen items from mistake #1!!

I hope you have found this information to be helpful and inspiring. Share this post with others as we all work to make our kitchens a memoir of home.


4 thoughts on “10 Mistakes to Avoid When Renovating a Kitchen

  1. Great tips, Ahna. I didn’t realize granite had become so competitive in price, and I love that fact that you shared about not procrastinating organizing cabinets! Wonderful info, and I’m pinning to my Kitchen Inspiration board. We are blessed to have you at Tuesday Turn About… Hope to see you this Tuesday!

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