How to design a stylish kitchen on a budget

It is possible to create a kitchen that has a luxurious, high-end feel on a tight budget. Discover how with our expert guide, which (unbelievably) includes bespoke, handmade designs

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When it comes to planning a new kitchen, there is often a huge gulf between budget and expectation. An installation is made up of many smaller elements, aside from the units, that when you start adding on the price for labour, appliances, worktops, tiles and other extras, costs quickly escalate.

To add to the confusion, ‘off the peg’ suppliers and bespoke manufacturers can offer similar-looking cabinets for wildly different prices (as much as £5,000 versus £50,000), which makes it difficult to know where to begin.

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How much does a budget kitchen cost?

As a very rough guide, it is sensible to spend a maximum of five per cent of the overall value of your house on a new kitchen to avoid losing money if you sell. 

At the lower end of the kitchen cost scale, expect to pay upwards of £3,000 for good quality units for an average sized kitchen. On top of this, you'll need to add worktops, which cost upwards of £100, appliances and fitting, which can vary from a few hundred pounds to more than £2,000, depending on the kitchen's complexity.

When pricing up your furniture and worktops, be aware that estimates will vary quite widely depending on the quality and level of design you are after, but expect to pay:

  • From £17/m² for standard off-the-shelf units and work surfaces
  • Up to £144/m² for bespoke units and design service

On any budget, it is wise to first factor in the cost of any known quantities to help you cut the cost of your new kitchen. These include appliances, decorative finishes and necessary electrical works to add extra sockets and lights, for example. Deduct these from your total budget before choosing how much to spend on the units and fitting. 

To cut the cost of your new kitchen, you could paint the kitchen cabinets yourself. You could also save over £1,000 by installing the kitchen yourself, but you will compromise the finish if your DIY skills are not up to scratch. Budget even lower? Check out our feature on designing a kitchen for under £5,000.

Bear in mind that fitting a cheap and cheerful kitchen can have a negative impact on a home's value, which makes your choice of cabinets and finishes so vital. You will have to invest carefully to get a beautiful finish on a limited budget.

red veddinge Ikea kitchen with Metod units

Veddinge kitchen with Metod units, Ikea

(Image: © Ikea)

Which kitchen cabinets should I buy on a budget?

If you have a total budget of between £5,000 to £10,000, you may be surprised at the quality of cabinets you can afford. The majority of kitchens within this price bracket will consist of flat-pack carcasses with doors mounted on to the front using hinges screwed into the chipboard. The units are generally all the same on the inside – although some are made sturdier than others with an 18mm frame – with the look dictated by the style and colour of doors and decor panels.

The cheapest way of getting a kitchen with a solid wood finish is to buy affordable off-the-shelf carcasses, such as from Ikea, and then get a joiner to make solid wood door fronts. You can even order them online – try Superfront, which makes doors, handles and legs for Ikea frames, or Shaker Doors Oxford.

The beauty of this type of kitchen is that it can recreate the look of a more expensive in-frame design for less, which can then be dressed up with luxurious fixtures and finishes, such as a beautiful Belfast sink and bridge tap. Smart kitchen storage solutions, such as pull-out carousels, can also be installed into the units at a fairly low cost.

Ikea's Hittarp Scandinavian-style kitchen

Ikea offers a great range of stylish cabinets at affordable prices. Get the look of this design with Hittarp door fronts and Metod base cabinets

It is possible to purchase a bespoke solid wood, traditionally jointed in-frame kitchen, where the doors sit within the frame, for about £5,000. Try Old Creamery Furniture and Pineland, which offer painted, solid wood freestanding units at a very reasonable price. As there are no units to put together, this reduces the time, and cost, it takes to install too.

Also look at British Standard by Plain English. Plain English sells bespoke kitchens with an average price of £50,000 to £60,000 but, through British Standard, offer a more affordable range of quality cabinets – from £5,000 for a complete set-up. These have solid wood doors and carcasses made from white melamine faced European birch ply, with beech shelf lippings and traditionally dovetailed drawers.

British Standard kitchen

Kitchens from British Standard by Plain English are made using traditional construction methods, but are produced to standard templated designs and available off-the-shelf, making them a more affordable option

Buying the best worktops on a budget

The best worktops can make or break the look of a budget kitchen.

When it comes to finishes, premium worktops will lift the look of the whole kitchen. Granite and quartz surfaces are a real investment, at several hundred pounds per 3m run, but durable composites, which replicate their intrinsic character and sparkle, are much more cost-effective.

Solid oak work surfaces can be ordered online for as little as £100 to £120 per 3m run; try Worktop Express

If opting for a high-quality laminate, choose a good depth with a squared edge, and overhang it slightly at the end of unit runs for an elegant finish.

Mix and match worktop materials, for example a granite island against timber topped units, for a bespoke finish. This also allows you to use a cheaper and more durable material where you do most of your work and prep, then inject a bit of luxury with a breakfast bar or plinth in something more high-end such as quartz.

Pineland Shaker-style solid wood painted kitchens are a great choice if you're on a tight budget

Pineland’s kitchens are made bespoke to order from solid pine using traditional construction methods. They can be left unfinished or spray-painted at extra cost. The average kitchen costs £4,500 for furniture supply and delivery. You’ll also need to budget around £1,500 for worktops, sink and tap, plus extra for tiles, appliances and installation, although the units come ready to install

How to choose a kitchen sink on a budget

The style of kitchen sink you choose will be dictated by how much space you have available and what will work with the look of your kitchen. Most sinks are inset into a hole cut in the worktop, so they are easier to fit and tend to be cheaper. Sinks can also be under-mounted (fixed to the underside of the worktop) which creates a cleaner finish and works well if you choose to have draining channels cut into the adjoining work surface.

When it comes to choosing a material, you main choices are stainless steel, stone/composite or ceramic.

  • Stainless steel is low-maintenance and tends to be the cheapest option – here's how to clean stainless steel.
  • Composite sinks can withstand high temperatures and come in a variety of finishes. They can be pricey, but are a good investment as they are hardwearing.
  • Ceramic sinks tend to come in styles most suited to period homes. However, they are prone to staining and chipping, but still a good choice if properly cared for.

Devol Real Shaker kitchen on a budget

The base cupboards, sink and brass fittings in this Real Shaker kitchen cost just over £5,000. Thanks to a bit of clever upcycling for the taps and worktops, the owners were able to work with kitchen manufacturer deVOL to create a truly beautiful kitchen for a very affordable price

Choose the best budget flooring

Choosing kitchen flooring? Ideally, you might pick out beautiful kitchen floor tiles, but if these are beyond your budget, it's really worth investigating the latest laminate flooring and vinyl flooring designs. Both can be created to mimic wood flooring or tiles convincingly, both are tough and suitable for kitchens, and both are budget-friendly.

Kitchen tiles and splashbacks for budget kitchens

Kitchen splashbacks needn't be expensive but, since they cover a large area of wall, will make a big impact. Beautiful tiles are an obvious way to lift the look of a budget kitchen – and needn't be expensive. Use hand-finished tiles sparingly to give an artisan look to the space. You can then use less-expensive tiles for greater expanses. Try mixing in plain tiles in two or three different tones, such as grey or sage with cream, for a characterful country look.

Stainless steel or glass splashbacks are easy to clean and add interest to a tiled wall. Kitchen suppliers have a number available, but consider looking online too. Some companies provide made-to-measure splashbacks at a fraction of the cost you would expect.

Tile Trader Country Sage wall tile

These characterful Country wall tiles in Sage are priced just £24 per m² at Tile Trader

Affordable ironmongery options

Do not neglect smaller details: ironmongery makes an enormous difference to the overall look and feel of a kitchen. Invest in characterful cup handles for drawers, and mix with elegant nickel knobs on doors. Alternatively, turned wood knobs are a more affordable option that look perfect in a traditional Shaker-style kitchen.

A run down cabin in Ireland has been transformed into a stylish holiday home


(Image: © Philip Lauterbach)

Top tips for saving money on your kitchen renovation

  • Plan the order of works well so that you don’t have to redo or undo work. Wiring and plumbing issues need resolving before you start installing cabinets, flooring and wall finishes.
  • Salvage as much as you can from the existing kitchen. Sometimes the carcasses of your cabinets might be fine, but just need new doors.
  • Antique shops or even charity shops are a great place to find old Welsh dressers and other freestanding furniture. These can be refreshed with a lick of paint or varnish.
  • Take on DIY tasks that you feel confident with, but leave anything that involves the cutting or adjustment of expensive materials to a professional.
  • Ahead of your project, keep an eye out for deals on big-ticket items such as worktops and appliances.

More tips for creating the best budget kitchen: