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10/20/2015 09:22 am ET Updated Oct 23, 2015

Easy Kitchen Upgrades That Make A Major Impact

These updates and organization tips can help you create a gorgeous backdrop for your favorite family moments, no major renovation required.
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OK, not the kitchen itself -- just enough of its fantastic design ideas to give the heart of your home a fresh new look.

The surprising secret of a kitchen upgrade: Focus on the little innovations, not the major renovations, say Jesse Carrier and Mara Miller, the husband-and-wife team behind the New York City interior design firm Carrier and Company, which designed this stunning kitchen in Southampton, New York, along with project architect John David Rose and kitchen designer Rick Raffel of E.T. Raffel Cabinets. "Life changes quickly and often unexpectedly," Miller says. "Better to personalize your home with possessions than capital improvements." Carrier and Miller have a client list full of boldface names, including fashion designer Jason Wu, photographer Annie Leibovitz, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. But some of the tips and tricks the duo has learned in their combined 38 years of experience are as applicable to a cozy apartment as they are to a grand estate. Here are some of their favorite ways to spice up a kitchen, no general contractor required.
 
1. Easy Upgrade: Paint
 
Stay in neutral territory. Red walls may be tempting, but white, gray, and charcoal shades are your best bet. "Go calm and light -- you're in the kitchen all the time, and you can grow tired of a bright color," says Carrier, who prefers whites with gray undertones like the paint on these cabinets. Stark white can feel institutional, he says, and beige can look dirty.

 
2. Major Impact: Backsplash
Again, keep it simple and classic. "We aren't fans of the glitzy backsplashes you often see on the design and renovation TV shows," says Miller, who likes white subway tiles or square tiles in a soft glaze that blends with the cabinet color. (Her tip for clients on a budget: Visit high-end showrooms for inspiration, and then head to a big-box store to see what you can replicate.) "Trendy tiles ultimately date a kitchen or compete with the appliances."

Backsplash, Country Floors.
 
3. Easy Upgrade: Cabinet Knobs and Pulls
If you can use a screwdriver, you've got this. Replacing drawer hardware can change the entire look of a kitchen with little effort. "The feel of the knob is important: Too thick and they're hard to hold; too skinny and they can feel cheap," says Miller, who recommends Restoration Hardware, Rejuvenation, and IKEA as sources. "Generally, cabinet hardware should match the faucet. Polished finishes in nickel, chrome, or brass look clean and luxurious."

Knobs and pulls, The Nanz Company.
 
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4. Easy Upgrade: Slipcovers
 
If you want to update your dining area, too, slipcovers are a low-commitment way to get a new look -- plus, you can change them seasonally. "Choose a washable fabric," says Carrier, "and they can go straight into the laundry."

Custom slipcovers, Carrier and Company, using Boussac fabric.
 
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5. Easy Upgrade: Bookshelves
 
Keep cookbooks in the kitchen for inspiration -- and a pop of vibrant color. No built-in shelves? No problem -- a freestanding unit does just as nicely.
 
6. Easy Upgrade: Rugs and Runners
 
"Rugs are an easy way to add cheer and interest to a kitchen," Miller says -- and indoor/outdoor styles can handle heavy traffic and spills. Her go-to retailers: Pottery Barn, West Elm, and Crate & Barrel, as well as DashAndAlbert.com ("They make fun and affordable striped cotton runners"). Just remember to use a rug pad to prevent slipping.

Jute rug, Studio Four NYC.
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7. Easy Upgrade: Faucet
 
"A new faucet can make an elegant design statement for not much money," says Miller, who recommends eFaucets.com and Home Depot for inexpensive options. When shopping for your replacement, consider what will fit your countertop; bridge faucets (the style shown here) can require two holes in the countertop instead of the usual three.

Faucet, Barber Wilsons & Co. Ltd.
 
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8. Major Impact: Countertop
 
You'll need a professional for this one -- but a new countertop can really transform a kitchen, says Carrier. "If you want things to be pristine all the time, pick a man-made material like Caesarstone quartz, which is nearly impervious to heat or stains. If you prefer a bit of patina that will change over time and are fine with a few scratches and spots, you can go with soapstone, marble, or zinc" (like the island countertop in this kitchen).
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9. Easy Upgrade: Pullout Shelves
 
Specialty inserts for pullout shelves, trash bins and racks will help keep you organized -- and happier. "Pullouts not only make it easier to keep things neat, but they also ensure you'll never have to get on your hands and knees to get to a pot at the back of a cabinet," says Carrier, who recommends Rev-A-Shelf products.

Pullout drawer, E.T. Raffel Cabinets.
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10. Major Impact: Appliances
 
If you're ready to invest in a new refrigerator, stove, or dishwasher, choose a classic finish like stainless steel, especially if you'll be replacing other appliances over time and want to make sure they'll match.

Refrigerator, Sub-Zero
 

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