Kitchen Upgrades That Are Definitely Worth The Price, According To HGTV Stars

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Kitchens sell homes, crank out meals, and are automatic gathering points. In today's age of open-plan living, they have to be functional, inviting, and multi-purpose. Because they play so many hardworking roles, kitchens top the list as one of the most expensive rooms to renovate. Most kitchen upgrades involve some very permanent choices that are costly to change. Should you fork out for that top-of-the-range refrigerator, curb costs on your cabinets, go built-in for your appliances, or cheap out on your backsplash? What features are worth paying a premium for, and which might just be a waste of money?

At the start of a remodel, it can be super tough to decide what areas to splurge on and where you should reign in the spending. Invariably, we want the best of everything, but if you want to stay within budget, you need to isolate which upgrades are actually worth the price. Fortunately, you don't have to figure this all out on your own. Instead, why not pick the brains of some seasoned renovators and designers? HGTV's stars have decades of experience renovating, ripping out, and remodeling kitchens. They've seen what features bring the most joy to homeowners and which attract more buyers and better resale values. If you're ready to make your renovation budget work harder and smarter, read on to discover the kitchen upgrades HGTV stars swear by.

Joanna Gaines: Statement hardware

If you're working within a tight budget, pricey cabinet hardware might rank last on your must-have list. Splashing on solid brass pulls, vintage handles, or bespoke knobs may sound like an unnecessary expense, but it can be a surprisingly impactful splurge according to Joana Gaines. During an interview with PureWow, Gaines revealed that she believes "hardware plays such a huge part in the style of a space."

Often described as the jewelry of kitchens, cabinet hardware is a small detail that gets a lot of visual airtime. Just like you wouldn't haphazardly throw on cheap jewelry when meticulously dressing for an event, you shouldn't default to the most budget, run-of-the-mill hardware. It's the final decorative touch to your cabinets; one that can help tie the space together or distract from the design. Hardware is also a highly tactile element that you're destined to interact with on the daily. 

Good-quality hardware invariably costs significantly more than light, poorly machined handles and knobs made from cheap materials. A single solid brass pull from Restoration Hardware can easily run you between $20 and $30. In contrast, you can pick up packs of brushed nickel pulls on Amazon and pay just a dollar per piece. A higher price tag usually indicates better quality, however there are ways you can still save on premium hardware. If you can, shop around in person to compare options. Analyze how different knobs and pulls feel in your hands. Are they weighty, made of solid metal (not plated zinc), and nicely finished off without rough edges and seams? If you are shopping online, order a few different options, compare them, and return the ones that feel cheaply made.

Scott McGillivray: Ceiling-height cabinets

If you want to give your kitchen that visual wow factor and add extra functionality, it's worth taking your uppers to the ceiling. Chopped-off upper cabinets don't just look bad, they also rob you of valuable storage. The area on top invariably becomes a dusty grime trap that's an inaccessible eye sore. In an HGTV article on his most recommended kitchen features, Scott McGillivray said, "Maximizing storage space is always important in a kitchen. For this reason, I suggest extending the cabinets all the way to the ceiling whenever possible. It is also more visually appealing, as it will make the ceiling seem higher."

Cabinetry is costly, and the taller you go on your uppers, the higher the price. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to pay roughly 10% extra on ceiling-high cabinets. This might not sound like a huge outlay, but given that even standard cabinets can cost up to $400 per linear foot, you could be talking an extra grand just for choosing elegantly tall uppers. If you have the capital, harnessing it for additional height on your cabinets will definitely make your kitchen more functional and expensive-feeling. But there are also workarounds you can employ if money is tight. For instance, you can install false cabinet fronts above your existing uppers. This won't win you any extra storage, but it can be cost-effective, especially if you have high ceilings. If you're open to doing a DIY project, an IKEA hack could be the answer. Depending on the exact dimensions of the space, you might be able to use a BILLY bookcase as a bespoke extension to your uppers. Simply attach some IKEA doors in the style of your choice, using the pre-drilled holes, and bam! You have elegant uppers.

The Property Brothers: Honed countertops

Polished countertops have reigned as the most popular choice for so long that most of us either a) assume honed stone is impractical or b) haven't even heard of it. But according to Drew Scott, a matte marble or quartz counter is a great choice if you want to do something a little unexpected. During Season 7, Episode 8, "It Takes a Village," he shared that "a quartz countertop doesn't have to have a polished look." Honed finishes offer a fresh aesthetic that fits in perfectly with more paired-back, organic, modern design styles. In an ode to how much he loves the look of matte quartz, Scott revealed, "I have it on my perimeter counters. It doesn't have any sheen to it at all."

Because honed stone requires less polishing, you might logically conclude that the lower the shine, the lower the cost. Unfortunately, because it's a less common finish choice, matte options usually command a premium price point. If you're shopping for granite, you may find you have to pay between $5 and $10 extra per square foot for honed slabs. However, this additional cost can be well worth it if you want to make a statement with your countertops. Not only will they give your kitchen an unusual, soft, designer-approved look, but they can also be pretty practical. One of the common misconceptions about matte stone countertops is that they're less resilient than polished. Although polishing can slightly tighten up the pores of natural stone, it's the sealant that does the heavy lifting. Plus, any etching that occurs can be less obvious because it will blend in with the matte finish. 

Joanna Gaines: Creating a custom place to hide your microwave

There's nothing quite like hidden, integrated appliances to make a kitchen look custom and high-end. But going this route will assuredly set your budget back by a cool $1,000 or more. Not only are built-in microwaves more costly to install, but the units themselves are pricier. Maintenance can also wind up being more expensive, as integrated appliances are harder to access. Fortunately, Joanna Gaines has a great middle-of-the-road option for getting unsightly microwave ovens out of view. In her book "Homebody," Gaines recommends storing your microwave "away in the pantry or a cabinet along with any other small appliances that aren't used every day."

On the surface, this might sound like an impractical idea, but not if you go the Gaines way and install an outlet in close proximity. Getting an extra outlet put in isn't the cheapest undertaking, and may cost you anywhere from $150 up to $350. But this still beats what it can take to install a built-in microwave. To give you an idea, just having your cabinets customized to fit an integrated oven can put you back between $400 and $500. By installing an outlet, you can not only tuck away the microwave, but if space allows, you can also house other small appliances nearby, creating an ad hoc gadget garage. Housing small appliances in your pantry or cabinets doesn't just look better; it also frees up countertop real estate and cuts down on clutter.

Leanne Ford: Double sinks

Leanne Ford often installs double sinks for clients, and during an interview with Delish, she shared that a double sink is the unsung hero of a good host's kitchen. She explained, "It lets you throw dishes in one and go back to the party, or you could fill a sink with ice and load it up with drinks." Having two sinks means you never have to pause the dishes, suds dripping from your fingertips, so a family member can wash their hands. Or pack a jumble of dirty pans back on the counter just so you can run a sink full of water. 

If the double sink life is calling your name, here's how it will impact your remodel budget. As you might imagine, double sinks do come with a higher price, but definitely not double that of a single bowl. Labor expenses dependent, with installation, a 33-inch single sink can cost between $375 and $550 on average, while a double of the same dimensions will probably run you between $475 and $675. You will need to pay extra for the installation because running two drains can be complicated and requires more labor. The main reason that most double sinks aren't much pricier is that they aren't necessarily bigger. Instead, they're partitioned into two bowls. While this will eat up less counter space (and room within your cabinets), it does have a drawback. Depending on the dimensions, you might struggle to soak large pots. If pot soaking is a priority, you'll need to look into a generously sized 36-inch sink. You might also want to opt for one that has a 60/40 configuration, like this undermount double sink on Amazon, which will give you one larger bowl.

Emily Henderson: Soft-close drawers

If you want a sensorial experience of luxury in your kitchen, Emily Henderson says you should consider carving out a place in your budget for soft-close drawers. In a recent Instagram post, the HGTV host and designer shared a few things she considers crucial in a kitchen island, asking, "Does it have soft-close drawers? (These will change your life!)" Soft-close drawers are one of those small luxuries that can make a big impact. Or rather, lessen the impact of slammed drawers on your ears, the contents, the mechanisms, and even your fingers. Through a hydraulic mechanism, soft close drawers require just a gentle nudge to shut, but, as the name suggests, if you accidentally exert too much force, they still close softly. As a result, the drawer slides take less strain. Items in drawers are less likely to get bumped out of place, and there's zero chance of little (or large) fingers getting pinched.

If you want to wave goodbye to the sounds of banging drawers, here's how hard these nifty slides will hit your wallet. Standard slow-close drawer slides aren't super pricey. You can easily pick up a pair of side mount slow-close slides with good reviews on Amazon for under $20. However, if you hire a carpenter to install them, expect to pay between $40 and $100 per drawer on average for labor. Depending on the dimensions of your drawers, they might require customization. Your carpenter may also have to make modifications to the inside of the cabinets. However, if your drawers are standard sizes, you could install the slides yourself and save on carpentry costs. If you're redoing your kitchen, putting in slow-close slides is a no-brainer. 

Nate Berkus: Top-notch appliances

Appliances can eat up a sizeable portion of your kitchen remodel budget, typically equaling around 10% of the total cost. Whether you're kitting out a kitchen with all-new appliances or simply replacing your dishwasher, it can be very tempting to cut costs by going with a cheaper model. But Nate Berkus advises against this route. In an interview with Driven by Decor, he said, "I would say that you need to invest in the best appliances that you can afford. It doesn't matter how much time people like you or I can spend researching the perfect backsplash tile or the perfect brass knob, if you have a hungry family and your refrigerator doesn't work, it's over."

This makes sound sense, but how do you find the funds for top-of-the-range appliances when you're trying to juggle expenses and stay within budget? The average cost to replace all of your appliances sits close to $11,000. But if you want high-end models, this could rise to over $24,000. To keep costs reasonable and still get great longevity, look for well-built models, sans any over-the-top bells and whistles. For instance, if you rarely put ice in your drinks, consider skipping that snazzy refrigerator with the built-in ice maker and go for a simpler model from a trusted brand with a good guarantee. You can also follow Berkus's advice by beefing up your budget for appliances and instead opting for cost-effective finishes. 

Egypt Sherrod: Smart pantry storage

HGTV's stars aren't just about impactful before and afters. They know that great kitchens need to function like well-oiled machines. The right storage solutions play an indispensable role in this. Egypt Sherrod is all about going big in the kitchen and consistently installs double ranges, both in her own and clients' homes. But where she advises you to really double down is on your pantry storage. According to the "Married to Real Estate" star, "Pantries are huge for resale value, especially for families." A well-laid-out, functional pantry space can be crucial, no matter the size of your household. The more you cook and prepare at home, the harder your larder has to work.

As Sherrod said, buyers love pretty pantries, so you may be able to recoup some of the initial outlay one day when you sell your home. The exact amount it will cost to implement smart storage in your pantry depends on how big it is and how well (or poorly) the current setup suits you. If you hire a professional organizer, expect to pay an hourly rate of between $55 and $100. If you want to remodel a pantry, this can cost anywhere from $1,100 up to $5,000 if walls need to be shifted. However, if you have an existing pantry space and some basic DIY skills, you can spruce it up with some pretty smart storage solutions that don't cost the earth. For instance, you can whip up some pull-out shelf units with just an IKEA GERSBY bookcase and a few appliance rollers, such as these $24 heavy-duty ones from Amazon.

Galey Alix: A ceiling-height backsplash

Galey Alix is not afraid to tackle big installs with limited time, and she is a certified fan of ceiling-height backsplashes. After remodeling her own kitchen, which aired in Episode 7 of her new show "Home in a Heartbeat," the star took to Instagram, saying, "Run backsplash ALL THE WAY UP to the ceiling. Always. No question. Give me a reason why one should not." As the image with her caption beautifully depicts, ceiling-height backsplashes add impact, drama, and attitude. They feel very finished off and can even make your kitchen look taller. By taking backsplash tiles to the ceiling and not chopping them off after a few inches, you can create an uninterrupted area that pulls the eye upwards. 

Now, there is one reason that keeps backsplashes low, and this is budget constraints. Depending on labor and material costs, you can expect to pay around $1,000 on average for a kitchen backsplash installation. A ceiling-height backsplash is going to cost double, triple, if not quadruple, the price, depending on how tall your walls are. It might sound crazy to fork out for so much extra tile that isn't going to be, well, splashed on. But because uber-tall backsplashes have such a strong visual impact, they can pay themselves off in sheer style alone. If your kitchen needs a focal point, taking your tiles to the ceiling is a simple, chic solution. What's more, there are savvy ways you can save to make financial room for this splurge. For instance, if you were toying with the idea of handmade zellige tile, consider going with cheaper subway tile and laying it in an interesting pattern like soldier stacks or chevron.

Leanne Ford: Appliances that aren't stainless steel

If you want to give your kitchen a custom, designed feel, consider veering away from run-of-the-mill stainless steel. During an interview with Delish, Leanne Ford revealed that she's been noticing a move toward colorful appliances and even bronze finishes. She shared, "These refrigerators are super glossy, super clean, and cool and modern. They blend in better with white kitchens, too." After being dated for decades, white appliances are experiencing a return, as well as retro-style pastels. Red fridges are also a hot trend, while bronze and champagne finishes are the sophisticated newcomers that are turning heads. Not only are bronze appliances novel, exciting, and current, but they also pair up with the general return to warm color palettes.

White fridges, freezers, and dishwashers are still relatively common and cost-effective, but you can expect to pay significantly more for pastel appliances, especially if you go with an iconic brand like Smeg. Most of their '50s-style fridge-freezers retail for over $3,600. If you're thinking of biting the bullet for a bronze appliance, be prepared also to pay a premium. Bronze-toned appliances aren't actually made of bronze, but they're still expensive thanks to their novelty. According to Ford, "They'll come down in price, eventually," so don't give up hope if you have your heart set on the finish but can't justify the extra cost.

Taniya Nayak: Multi-functional sinks

If you want to take Leanne Ford's advice on double sinks to the next level, Taniya Nayak has another hot take. She recommends you look beyond a simple double bowl, and consider one with extra functionality. During an interview with Apartment Therapy, the seasoned designer and HGTV host said, "There are these amazing sinks out that are workstation sinks — a larger sink in a smaller footprint. It has a slider on top with a butcher block where you can chop your vegetables and dump the scraps right into the disposal to the side, or it has a strainer built in, or you can use it as an oyster bar. There are a million different options that you can use the station for."

If counterspace is in high demand in your kitchen, a multi-functional sink design can be a game-changer. While you may slightly pay more for a unit that comes with snazzy extras like cutting boards and racks, the main cost comes into play if you're thinking of replacing your existing sink just for these features. If you're remodeling, picking a sink that can double as a workstation makes total sense. But swapping out a sink just to get extra cutting space could be a bigger expense than it's worth. If you're not really in the market for a new sink but love the idea of getting extra mileage out of the space, look into some renter-friendly solutions like over-the-sink cutting boards which you can find on Amazon for under $60.