How can I update the look of my kitchen without gutting it?
Personally, I would hire a hot young male chef and call it a day.
But if you're talking reality, I would first assess the cabinetry: If it's good quality, change the finish, applying either a high-gloss lacquer or stripping it down and finishing it with tongue oil for a nice dull sheen. Installing new hardware (polished nickel is my favourite) is an easier and more affordable way to give old cabinets new life.
You could also replace the counters with matte black granite or shiny stainless steel, depending on your desired effect. Then there's the obvious: new appliances. I never hide the appliances in my kitchens, especially if they have a lovely bronze or brushed-steel finish.
Finally, bright pot lights may allow you to perform open heart surgery on a chicken, but they aren't flattering to the doctor. Put in a dimmer and install some spotlights under upper cabinets. If you have to cook, you should at least look glamorous doing it.
Architect and interior designer Dee Dee Taylor Hannah is the president of Taylor Hannah Architect Inc. in Toronto. Have a design question? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.