The Smartest Updates You Can Make to Your Kitchen in 2021 (Plus, 2 to Avoid)

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Renovating your kitchen can be a slippery slope: A minor remodel tends to net the best return on your investment, and the more you upgrade, the less you stand to recoup when you finally decide to sell your house. FYI, A minor kitchen remodel (defined as new cabinet fronts, appliances, countertops and paint) retains about 78 percent of its value, while a full-blown, upscale reno hovers around 54 percent, according to Remodeling’s 2020 Cost Vs. Value Report.

With that in mind, it can be hard to know where to start. Which upgrades seem worthwhile? And which are a total waste of time? What do you want, as a homeowner? And what’s desirable to potential homebuyers down the road? Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but we’re here to help. We’ve talked to the pros and scoured industry trend reports to uncover smart ways to update your kitchen—without totally blowing your budget.

The Best Kitchen Updates to Consider:

best kitchen updates margaret wright photography houzz
Margaret Wright Photography/Houzz

1. shaker-style Cabinets

If your cabinets are in solid condition, you can get away with simply replacing the panels and drawer fronts. Shaker-style doors remain the most popular pick among homeowners, with flat-panel a distant second, according to Houzz’s 2021 Kitchen Trends Study. If you’re finishing things off with a fresh coat of paint, you can’t go wrong with white, though more people are gravitating toward nature-inspired colors, like dark green and ocean-inspired blues, notes Stephanie Pierce, director of design and trends at Masterbrand Cabinets.

docking drawer kitchen

2. hidden Charging Stations

The kitchen tends to be everyone’s hangout (it’s where the snacks are, after all), so it only makes sense that demand for extra outlets and discreet charging and docking stations are on the rise. It’s a trend Pierce has watched climb over the past few years, and given our tech-driven lives, it’s a safe bet that it’s not going anywhere. (On that note, Docking Drawer’s kits—which turn any drawer into a charging station—are so popular they’re sold out until April.)

Our Pick: Docking Drawer 15-amp Outlet

best kitchen updates hero
Cavan Images/Getty Images

3. high-contrast Islands

If you’re thinking of repainting the entire room, consider going bold with your kitchen island. While neutrals remain popular for the walls, a rich navy or forest green can make this space the focal point of the room, giving it more dimension than the typical all-white space. To make things pop even more, one in four homeowners are choosing contrasting colors for their island countertops. White has been the most popular shade, according to Houzz, with mid-tone wood coming in second. (Plus, Butcherblock is particularly sought after for a high-contrast look.)

best kitchen updates tile
Bulgac/Getty Images

4. tile Floors

It’s official: Tile floors are making a comeback. The look has started to rise in popularity over the past year, overtaking hardwood as the most desirable flooring among renovators, Houzz reports. However, if you’re looking for a more affordable option, don’t sleep on vinyl—it’s quickly climbing up the ranks, too, up five percent from last year.

best kitchen updates backsplash
Yin Yang/Getty Images

5. extended Backsplashes

If you’re installing a new backsplash, go big or…get it outta your home. Ceramic and tile are by far the most popular picks here, but the key thing to consider is height. The backsplash should extend to the upper cabinets or hood, if not the ceiling. This draws your eye up, making the kitchen seem larger and grander.

best kitchen updates organizer jessica cain houzz
Jessica Cain/Houzz

6. a Pantry That Makes Organizing Easy

Blame it on COVID, but more time at home means an increased need for food storage. Pantries are more desirable than ever, particularly ones with built-in organizers. Specialty pull-out drawers to stow trash cans and recycling bins were especially coveted among homeowners, Houzz found, as well as organizers for baking sheets and spices.

Our Pick: Baking Sheet Organizer, Wayfair

And Two Updates to Avoid:

1. Over-Upgraded Appliances

If you’re remodeling to sell your house, drop everything and log onto your real estate app of choice. Search homes nearby, and look at their kitchens: What kinds of appliances do they have? This will give you a good gauge of the brands to search for, says Beatrice de Jong, consumer trends expert at real estate listings service OpenDoor. It’s easy to get so caught up in wanting the best for your home that you splurge on high-end appliances that won’t recoup their value when it comes time to sell, simply because people in your area may not be as interested in luxe, cheffy ranges or dishwashers.

2. Calacatta Marble Counters

They’re gorgeous—and so pricey. Not to mention, rather high maintenance. (Yes, you can seal them to protect against staining, but they can still get scratched and scuffed easily.) If you really like the marble look, you can find similar styles in quartz, which tends to be both more affordable and more durable. And if you must have marble but can’t stomach paying roughly $180 per square foot, Cararra and Makrana tends to be much cheaper.

RELATED The 7 Pieces of Furniture (& Surprising Book) Real Estate Experts Swear By for Boosting a Home’s Value

candace davison bio

VP of editorial, recipe developer, kitsch-lover

Candace Davison oversees PureWow's food and home content, as well as its franchises, like the PureWow100 review series and the Happy Kid Awards. She’s covered all things lifestyle...