Kitchen Renovation Tips HGTV's Hilary Farr Swears By

Kitchens are the most popular rooms to renovate, according to a 2022 report by Houzz — but they're also the priciest. Besides carrying a hefty price tag, kitchens need to pack a big punch on the functionality front. Homeowners have to think carefully about the layout, what type of appliances to choose, how to integrate enough storage — the list goes on and on. Besides getting all the practical things right, you also need to make sure your finishes play well together, have longevity, and won't look dated in merely a few months.

In short, there's a lot on the line when redoing a kitchen. Unless you're a serial renovator, you probably don't have oodles of (if any) practice in this area. So what do you do when faced with a challenging task and minimal experience? Take tips from the experts, of course. And who better to turn to than HGTV's Hilary Farr? With over 200 remodels and counting under her belt, this seasoned renovator has a thing or two to share when it comes to kitchens. From which order to choose your backsplash and countertops to using color and creating a budget, Farr isn't afraid to say it like it is. Ready to learn from the best? Pull up a chair and be prepared to take some notes.

Buy the best appliances possible

Unless you already know exactly what you want, picking out appliances isn't easy. How do you choose between budget options that are easy on your wallet versus premium versions? According to Hilary Farr, you don't. She advises that homeowners always opt for the best when shopping for kitchen appliances. "Kitchens are the perfect example of blending beauty and function. Now start with function and choose the highest quality appliances that you can possibly afford,"  the HGTV star told Desert Financial Credit Union.

For avid home cooks, this approach may make particular sense. If you're thinking of selling anytime soon, high-end appliances can also make your home more attractive to potential buyers. However, shelling out for the fanciest French door fridge isn't necessarily going to net you a tasty return. Research from the National Association of Realtors reveals that homeowners only recoup around 75% of the cost of a full kitchen remodel when they sell. If your main focus is on resale value, you'll want to consider the overall value of your home. "Unless your home is in the high-end market, don't go over the top when purchasing appliances," Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, told Apartment Therapy.

If you're working within a tight budget but still want to get quality appliances, see if you can save by opting out of fancy features you don't really need. For instance, if you hardly ever put ice in your drinks, why shell out a few hundred dollars extra for a fridge with a built-in ice maker? And unless you're seriously into Sauvignon Blanc, installing a wine cooler will probably be a waste of both space and money. 

Choose timeless cabinets

Unless you're doing away with any uppers, your cabinets are one of the most prominent features of your kitchen. New cabinets will also make up a considerable chunk of your renovation budget, costing anywhere between $4,000 and $13,000 and above. Therefore, this is not the time to dabble with anything too trendy. "Make sure that the cabinetry is timeless and will do the job of hiding all the clutter that should not be on your countertops," Hilary Farr told Desert Financial Credit Union.

Of course, there are lots of different ways to interpret what "timeless" means when it comes to cabinets. But simple, tried-and-true designs will probably be your best bet. For instance, regular shaker fronts are less trendy than beadboard takes on this classic cabinet style. Glass-fronted cabinet doors are another classic option, but the type of glass you pick could determine how well the look ages.

You should also give some thought to the overall architecture of your home. Is it a clean-lined, modern building? If so, you'll want to keep your finishes and profiles very simple. Think slab cabinet doors without ornate hardware. A true farmhouse, on the other hand, will almost certainly be suited to shaker-style cabinets. If your home was built during or before the 1930s, it might already feature some original stained glass, in which case incorporating similar designs into glass-fronted cabinet doors might make sense.

Pick the correct countertop for your needs

Countertops are another key kitchen element that has a big impact on both the overall aesthetic of your space, your total renovation cost, and future upkeep. "[Countertops] can define a kitchen as much as any other element in it," Hilary Farr said during Season 1, Episode 5 of "Tough Love" (per HGTV UK). "[They're] a big-ticket item, but there are lots of different products out there in different ranges of price and look, so choose the one that's right for you." According to Farr, you should pay attention to quality and potential maintenance.

It's no surprise that the HGTV star loves a good quartz counter. Quartz costs roughly as much as granite, but it's maintenance-free, you don't have to re-seal it, it's pretty impervious to stains, and comes in a huge array of colors and faux stone looks. However, it's not heat-resistant, nor is it a natural material — meaning you might encounter repeat patterns in the stone-looking product. 

If you're stuck on the fence, here are some factors to consider: Will your kitchen see a lot of action? If you're thinking of installing marble countertops, are you someone who can't handle the stress of potentially marring the material, or having to remember to re-seal? If so, quartz is a great option. On the other hand, maybe you really value natural materials, and you view stone counters almost like a piece of art. If you also like the idea of things telling a story as they age, genuine stone could be something to think about.

Don't make a statement with your hardware

Often referred to as the "jewelry of a kitchen," interior design advice typically touts cabinet hardware as a key element to focus on. However, Hilary Farr feels that homeowners shouldn't go hard on statement hardware. "I rarely want to make kitchen hardware a feature, especially if it's open concept, because it becomes distracting," Hilary Farr told Apartment Therapy. This might feel far out if you've been fed the idea that hardware has to pop, but just like you wouldn't want your jewelry choice to overwhelm an outfit, you don't want knobs and handles having all the attention in a well-appointed kitchen.

So instead of browsing blingy bars and oversized half-moon handles, keep your eyes peeled for streamlined, simple pulls and small knobs. Edge handles are a good option if you want something very discreet. You can also have integrated hardware installed, but this is usually more costly and complex to install. If you're going for either a contemporary or modern look in your kitchen, you can even consider opting out of hardware entirely and using push latches instead. Whichever option you choose, keep in mind that just because hardware might not have to be the visual star of the show, that doesn't mean you should compromise on quality. Cabinet hardware is a very tactile element, so you want to make sure it feels good in your hands.

Be generous with your budget

Most things in life (even simple undertakings) take triple as long and cost twice as much as we initially estimate. When renovating a kitchen, it's critical that you correctly budget from the outset. You don't want to run out of money midway through or suddenly have to cut corners on important elements. "There's no money that is too much to spend on a kitchen; it's the room you use every single day of your life, and you'll get that money back when you sell," Hilary Farr told Desert Financial Credit Union.

So if you're wondering whether it's really worth investing in your kitchen, the answer is probably yes. According to data from Opendoor, a full kitchen remodel can increase a home's value by 4.8% on average, or $15,000. However, this doesn't mean you should financially overextend yourself, or pour in money that's not proportionate to the property's value. As a rough rule of thumb, you should be spending between 5% and 15% of your home's value on a kitchen remodel. More than 15%, and you're not likely to recoup much of the costs. Less than 5%, and you could be devaluing your home with cheap finishes. If tackling an extensive kitchen remodel is going to put you in debt, cost you a lot in interest, or place a financial burden on your family, you might want to rethink the project or postpone it so you have more time to save. 

Be careful of using too much color

After more than a decade of dour minimalism, colorful spaces have become the new craze. But beware of jumping on this trend too quickly, especially while remodeling. Kitchen finishes are pretty permanent, and this is not the place to make risky decisions you may grow to hate. Kitchens bursting with color may look magnificently eye-catching online, but a bright yellow backsplash can be a lot to take in in real life. Hilary Farr feels that color shouldn't compete for attention in a kitchen. "I like bringing color in, but too much of it is going to disrupt the main design of the concept," the veteran renovator told Apartment Therapy.

Not sure how much is too much? One approach is to think about your kitchen as a conversation. You don't want one element "shouting" over the rest for attention. If you've always loved color, there's no harm in incorporating bolder or unusual hues into your design, but think about the longevity of the space. Will you still love that shade of teal in ten years? If you aren't a die-hard, time-tested, certified lover of bright tones, you can still dip your toes into the dopamine decorating trend through smaller pops of color that are easier (and cheaper) to switch out. For instance, a row of cherry red tea and coffee canisters can create a similar vibe to a burgundy tile backsplash, but at a far lower price point.

Always incorporate a pull-out trash can

Are you on the fence about whether or not to pony up for a pull-out trash can? Hilary Farr feels this particular kitchen staple is a must-have. When a homeowner balked at the idea of a built-in trash can for her cabinets during Season 2, Episode 1 of "Tough Love," the HGTV host said, "Why would you choose to have it out in plain sight, when you can have it in a cabinet?" According to Farr, "Nobody likes trash cans sitting out in the kitchen. It's ugly, it's smelly, and it just doesn't work," (via Realtor).

As the episode illustrated, trashcans can actually be quite a polarizing point in kitchen design. Most modern, upscale kitchen renovations usually include pull-out waste disposal units, but this doesn't mean everyone is a fan. In line with Farr's advice, we'll try to convince you anyway: Pull-out trash cans allow for a more seamless feel, look sleeker, help reduce visual clutter, and are harder for pets to get into. While cleaning can be trickier and pull-out bins tend to have smaller capacities, which means more frequent emptying, the upside to a pull-out trash can is that you're less likely to wind up with unwanted smells in the kitchen.

Do you have your heart set on a pull-out trash can, but are worried about the expense? You may have to pay several hundred dollars for an integrated disposal unit. To save some cash, you can go the DIY route by ordering a pull-out mechanism system, such as this one from Rev-A-Shelf. Then order the door for the cabinet unattached, install the unit, and mount the door onto the front with the included hardware.

Pick your backsplash first

Picking out finishes for your kitchen can sometimes feel like a chicken-and-egg scenario. All of your choices need to be cohesive, but where do you begin? While countertops are a common starting place, Hilary Farr thinks that homeowners should start with the backsplash. "When choosing a countertop, you have to have already decided what your backsplash is going to be," Hilary Farr said during Season 1, Episode 5 of "Tough Love" (via HGTV UK). This makes sense, given that the backsplash is what you tend to see more of. As Farr mentions a few minutes later in the same episode, when you view potential slabs, they're stacked upright, so you're seeing them head-on. But once the stone is installed, it will be lying down.  

Backsplashes are often visible from all areas of the kitchen (and even the living room in open-plan spaces), so it makes sense to pick them first, especially if they're so attention-grabbing. During this "Tough Love" episode, Farr chose a patterned tile, which meant she needed a more minimal slab. "My backsplash is quite complex and is going to make a big design statement, so I want to pull back on my countertops and make them very simple," she said. But what if you're going in the opposite direction and instead want your counters to do the talking, with graphic veining, lots of movement, or dramatic undertones (hello, viola marble)? In this case, you'll want to pick your slab first and then find the perfect tile and paint tones to complement it.

Consider incorporating pop-up outlets

Outlets are unfortunately an ugly necessity, and they're so often located right in the middle of kitchen backsplashes. If you're renovating, now could be your chance to position them in a less prominent place, and Hilary Farr has a smart suggestion. During Season 2, episode 2 of "Tough Love," Farr was faced with a unique design challenge. Thanks to some large windows, a lot of the countertop area in the homeowner's new kitchen didn't have any backsplash behind it to install outlets. Enter pop-up outlets. "Because we didn't have the space and I did not want anyone to see an electrical outlet, which is a necessity, we have pop-ups," the "Tough Love" host said (via Realtor).

Pop-up outlets will give your kitchen an upmarket look, but they have a price tag to match. Just the outlet alone can cost you over a hundred bucks, and installation can also be pricey, as you will need to pay for a professional to not only wire the outlet but also carefully cut out a hole in your countertop. If you're looking for a cheaper solution that doesn't involve cutting into your counter, consider an under-cabinet power strip, such as this one from Legrand Wiremold, which is available on Amazon. If you already have outlets located in your backsplash, there are also clever ways to make them less of an eyesore. For instance, companies like SimpliCover make outlet covers that are designed to be disguised as backsplash tile.

Go open-concept

Open floor plans have been a favorite of interior design since the '50s, but after a 70-year run, the pandemic put a dent in their uncontested popularity.  According to real estate experts, post-2020 homeowners were experiencing an increased need for separation and multifunctional spaces. However, Hilary Farr says the perennially popular floor plan is still a smart choice. "Everyone loves a great kitchen. While you're at it, open things up, do the open-concept kitchen living space. That's the way we all live today," the "Love it or List it" star told Today.

Even in the age of remote working, Farr's advice still holds. Zillow reported that while some homeowners are seeking more divided spaces, the most important division seems to be doors on home offices, which, frankly, sounds like an all-around sensible option. And according to Fixr, 90% of people surveyed still prefer an open floor plan.

Knocking down a wall between your kitchen and living area can create a more spacious feel and give you room to incorporate an island, but open floor plans do have some inherent challenges. It can be hard to define each area. To prevent the space from feeling like one large room with a collection of furniture knocking around in it, look for ways to visually demarcate each zone. For instance, a large area rug can ground living room furniture or define your dining area. Painting exposed beams in contrasting, dark colors to delineate where one space ends and another begins can also be an impactful trick. Pendant lights over dining tables can help make it feel like they belong instead of randomly floating around.

Farr says blue kitchens are forever

If you're wondering what colorway to rock in your kitchen, here's Hilary Farr's favorite: "I adore blue in a kitchen. It's very chic, it's very French. It is very calming," the designer shared during Season 2, Episode 8 of "Tough Love." According to Farr, it's also a long-lasting choice. "I just think it's forever and ever and ever. It's classic," she said (via Realtor).

Not only is blue a potentially timeless option, but it also happens to be quite trendy. According to a report from Magnet (via the National Association of Realtors), light blue kitchens are in. "As people look for more contemporary takes on classic palettes alongside brighter environments, we are seeing lighter shades of blue kitchens grow in demand," said Jenn Nash, senior design lead at Magnet. Dark blue tones for cabinets have also become increasingly popular over the last few years.

Blue is a very versatile hue, pairing perfectly with a variety of design styles — from coastal to traditional, contemporary, and everything in between. It's also almost tailored-made for transitional looks, toeing a beautiful balance between historic and fresh. If you're looking for inspiration, here are some blue kitchen ideas to get you started. One of the most low-commitment options is to simply paint your walls. Paint is cheap and relatively easy to redo if you get cold feet and find that blue isn't for you. If you don't have commitment issues, consider opting for navy lower cabinets for a classy two-tone look, choosing to paint both uppers and lowers, or double-down with a monochromatic scheme featuring multiple shades of blue on your walls and cabinets.

Give some thought to your countertop edges

If you're tackling a major kitchen reno, it's easy to gloss over smaller details, but here's one that you should pay particular attention to: The edge on your countertops. The countertop you choose can make a big design statement, and the edge profile isn't something you should leave to chance. "The selection of edges can define the design aesthetic you want and creates interest to the countertop," Hilary Farr told Supply House Times.

Some of the most common countertop edge styles include straight edge, eased edge, bullnose, half bullnose, and ogee edge. Straight edges offer the most modern look, but their sharp profile can be a safety concern for some households, such as those with small children or elderly family members. If you're after a contemporary look with softer angles, an eased or pencil edge might be the way to go. According to Farr, "The pencil edge is a great option for creating the stone look in any kitchen design." Going for a more traditional, old-world feel? If so, consider soft, intricate profiles such as bullnose, beveled, or even ogee edges.

Get the scale right

Are you busy drawing up plans for an updated kitchen layout or shopping for new appliances? Because kitchens are such hard-working zones, it's critical that you nail the scale of each area and element. As Hilary Farr shared with Supply House Times, "It's all about form and function. For example, designing to accommodate an oversized appliance, especially in a small kitchen, is very difficult." So before you go out and spend hard-earned dollars on that double-door refrigerator, take a step back and analyze your kitchen as a whole. Does it fit the total footprint, or are you better off with a slimmer, single-door design? Per Farr's recommendation: "First, assess the whole area and then select the right products to provide optimal storage and workspace."

While a double sink might look delectably upmarket, it can eat up extra counter space, which could be an issue. The National Kitchen & Bath Association's "Kitchen Planning Guidelines with Access Standards" state that sinks need to have a landing area on either side, measuring at least 18 inches and 24 inches respectively. The same principle applies to ranges, which require at least 15 inches of landing space on one side and 12 inches on the other. If a 6-burner range is going to subtract from this area (or leave you with less prep space), you might want to reconsider and opt for a standard 4-burner stove instead.