They say kitchens and bathrooms sell homes.  And that kitchens are the heart of the home.  It would be so wonderful if we could all afford to create spaces perfectly tailored to our needs, wants, and taste throughout our homes.  Ah but then the equalizer enters the picture – The Budget.

Most of us tend to view the budget negatively, limiting our projects and requiring us to make decisions about what we cannot do.  In reality, it’s a positive thing – it determines how much we CAN do & whether we can go custom vs. semi-custom.  And when it dictates that some items on the wish list are unrealistic, the budget can spark innovation and creativity.

Besides, sometimes it’s better to go semi-custom instead of fully custom (like when over-improving can negatively impact your bottom line).  Here are a few tips on how to do semi-custom right without feeling “deprived”.


  1. Decide on 1 or 2 big impact changes. Already have great appliances?  Then just update the cabinets and/or counters.  Love your soaker tub?  Try updating the tile surround and coordinate it with your shower.  If you decide this up front, it will be much easier to avoid scope/budget creep (and disappointment) throughout the project.
  2. Keep what you can.  For example, if your cabinets are in good condition, there’s no need to replace them.  Upgrade by replacing the countertop ($$$), backsplash($$), hardware ($), painting/refinishing ($$) or a combination.
  3. Rethink and reuse.  Get a completely custom look, without paying a fully custom price. Try  reusing an old (but sturdy) dresser in the bathroom as a vanity.  Your contractor can retrofit it for you.
  4. Think INSIDE the box.  Big box stores, that is.  Consider purchasing items at stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s or online retailers.  Then “customize” pieces by adding your own flair.  For example, purchase stock cabinets or vanity and change out the hardware ($) or splurge on great faucet(s) ($$).  Or consider buying discounted tile and creating your own custom pattern.
  5. Use your contractor for discounts.  Contractors and designers almost always get discounted prices on materials.  Use this to your advantage whenever possible.
  6. Learn a new skill or build upon an existing one.  In other words, do some of the work yourself (like painting).  If there is no part of the project that you can do completely on your own, ask your contractor if you can help complete a task with minimal direction (so as not to disrupt the project).  If you work with someone regularly and have a good relationship, this is usually doable and can save you lots of money.
  7. Last but not least, realize that you don’t have to do everything all at once.  You just have to do things in a logical order.  You can take as long as you want to completely revamp your kitchen or bath by doing mini projects along the way.  Just make sure you do things in order, cabinets before counters before backsplash in the kitchen for example.  You can purchase your cabinets and have them at the ready when you’re ready to purchase your counter tops.

I have used most if not all of these tips with clients and in my own home. When we finally decided to replace our own kitchen counter tops, I set a very tight budget.  It may have been too tight for what we wanted but once we decided on what the end result should be, I set about the work of getting it done.

The counters ate up almost all the budget and we didn’t have a backsplash for over a month.  And life went on as normal.  We finally found tile combinations that fit the original design, but then wavered on the placement; we also weren’t ready to pay the contractor yet.

When we were ready, we got it done and couldn’t be happier with the results AND the budget.  AND we actually enjoyed (almost) every minute of it!

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