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Fuss-free kitchen facelift

You've heard it a million times: the kitchen is the beating heart of your home. It's the place you spend the most time, it's where you nourish yourself and your family, it's where the kids do their homework and most of us pay our bills. We get it. It's important. But what if it's also really ugly? What if your kitchen is begging to be ripped out, but open-heart surgery is just not an option right now? How do you renovate without actually renovating?

We posed this dilemma to two architects - Rory Toomey, senior project architect at Sydney's Environa Studio and director of Rory The Architect, and Stuart Vokes, a founding partner of Brisbane firm Owen and Vokes and Peters - whose residential projects have run from tiny tweaks to major rebuilds. The answer? There's a lot you can do with a small budget and a good measure of ingenuity.

Start small
Toomey suggests you get rid of ugly light fittings - even if you're just replacing them with cheap rice-paper shades, the impact will be huge. Minor electrical work isn't expensive, so you could also install dimmers on existing fixtures. When Vokes worked on his own kitchen, he replaced the ceiling-mounted fluoro light with a second-hand '30s glass pendant lamp recycled from his grandmother's house. This kind of statement piece adds personality and brings a sense of fun to the kitchen.

Cupboard redux
Re-facing or re-finishing cabinet fronts is more economical and environmentally friendly than replacing them, says Toomey. Or you could just get rid of the cabinet doors altogether. Vokes believes the most comfortable and welcoming homes are those generous in revealing their contents; those that offer a peek into the values and interests of the owner. When renovating his own kitchen, he says, he "removed a couple of cupboard doors so that people could see some of our mixed crockery".

Open up
Consider a skylight. They aren't expensive to install and in most areas you don't need planning approval to put one in. Adding natural light can completely change the feel of a dark, poky kitchen, not to mention the savings it'll bring to your electricity bills.

Tile rehab
Retiling is expensive, but old tiles can be given a fresh lease on life with a coat of specially designed paint, available at hardware shops. 

Out with the old
A few small changes can make a world of difference to the feel of the kitchen, says Vokes. "We replaced the kitchen sink mixer, some of the cupboard handles, and covered the existing salmon-coloured laminate benchtop with a skin of black laminate on 5mm plywood." 

Green thumb
Plants are often overlooked, but they're a cheap accessory and their inclusion can really change the feel of a room. "Adding some plants to a space can make it feel fresher instantly," says Toomey. "Make a note of orientation and amount of available light and air, then get advice from your garden shop as to what species will thrive in the conditions."

Bring in the new
Knock out cabinetry that doesn't work for you and replace it with a piece of freestanding furniture. "We demolished a portion of the existing cabinetry that we didn't need," says Vokes. "This allowed us to replace it with a piece of freestanding antique furniture that acts as our food pantry. It offers a personal and humble element to the composition of the kitchen."

A lick of paint
If everything else seems too much, a new coat of paint will lift tired old spaces, and bring great satisfaction without too much outlay in cost or time. Vokes adds that he painted his own country-style kitchen-cabinet doors and drawers completely white, so he could "quieten the overall composition, but still enjoy the decorative quality of the panelled fronts".

Take a leap
Don't be afraid to take on some minor building works, even if you're still stopping short of the full makeover. By way of example, Toomey says. "Turning that single door and adjacent window into one large pair of glass doors will make a world of difference."

ILLUSTRATION ANTONIA PESENTI

This article is from the April 2013 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

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OzHarvest opens Australia’s first free supermarket for people in need
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