8 Tips to Avoid a Cheap Looking Kitchen

It is possible for even the most high quality kitchen cabinets to end up looking cheap and nasty.  Without proper care and attention, beginning at the design stage, it is a steep and slippery slope from kitchen magic to kitchen tragic.

Some of these points relate to easy updates that can be made to your existing kitchen. Others relate to things to keep in mind during your kitchen design process.

We asked our kitchen designers what they thought made a kitchen look cheap:

Designer 1

Ill-fitting cabinets/poorly designed space

We’ve all seen it. It’s like my constantly growing kids wearing jumpers that are too small – short on the arms and showing the midriff. While kitchens don’t tend to have a midriff, or arms come to think of it, cabinets that don’t fit stick out like a sore thumb.

Nothing screams cheap kitchen like cabinets that run 50mm short of doorways or a blank space that looks like it was unplanned or non-deliberate. It just doesn’t look right and devalues the overall kitchen.

There is no wrong amount of space to leave between the end of the kitchen and another architectural feature – as long as it looks deliberate. If you design carefully, it won’t look like you compromised or tried to fit a pre-built kitchen into an existing space.

There must be an awareness of space. Areas of space in a kitchen are just as important as what you fill your kitchen with.

High quality kitchen - country style with butler's pantry by Smith & Smith

Carefully designed kitchens are built for the space they are in. Note the mirroring of cabinets in the kitchen and the entry of the butler’s pantry. A bulkhead above the kitchen also gives a truly built in look.

Designer 2

Narrow benchtop depth

450mm benchtops used to be fairly standard! These days we enjoy 600mm as standard benchtop depth. Island benches, however, need a little extra again.

A 600mm island bench can look very narrow without a wall to balance the effect. Adding 300mm to your island benchtop means you’ll have a 300mm overhang (cabinets are 600mm deep). The wider benchtop feels like it sits much better within the room.

With this newfound under-bench space, you can add stools to create casual meals area or under-bench display cabinets to show off your style.

High quality kitchen - Balwyn modern deco vibe by Smith & Smith

A wider benchtop on your island or peninsula bench affords additional under-bench space. Here that space is used for additional storage, including a display cabinet.

Designer 3

Lack of styling

Fabulous kitchens can look drab and vacant if no thought is given to styling. A vase of flowers, herbs planted in a decorative pot or fruit in a beautiful bowl all add to the homely vibe of a kitchen. For tips on styling, have a look at our previous blog post here.

Designer 4

Mish-mash of styles

While some are adept at doing the postmodern style mix-up and get it looking right, not all homes are able to pull it off. Familiarise yourself with the various styles that are in fashion and save pictures online or in a scrapbook, when you have decided on a style, talk with your designer about how to incorporate it into your home and whether it is the right style for your home.

High quality kitchen - Clematis country kitchen style by Smith & Smith

This country kitchen is sure of its style. It references its leafy location and meets the needs of a growing family.

Designer 5

Visible poor quality workmanship

Benchtops that don’t meet the wall, lop-sided cupboards, gaps in shelving – these are all signs of poor quality workmanship. The only way to improve upon this is to hire a reputable company to build and install your kitchen. A high quality kitchen needs high quality installation to finish the job properly.

Designer 6


Light coloured kitchens that aren’t kept clean can get a grey haze around the edges of doors and benchtops; this quickly makes them look old and tired.

I’m going to come out and say it – I don’t love cleaning! In our house, I prioritise the large appliances, doors and benchtops for a good wipe of fingerprints and cooking splashes to keep it looking ship shape. Even a quick once over is better than nothing.

If your kitchen is near painted walls, it may be worth applying another coat occasionally to keep it looking fresh and clean.

Designer 7

Peeling edge tape

Nothing looks cheaper than peeling or chipped edge tape. Laminates are well known as a hardwearing, cost effective kitchen door covering. But the edges have been prone to chipping and peeling.

Finally there is a solution to this. Smith & Smith’s new laser edger (one of only a handful in Australia) applies edging in such a way that makes removing it very difficult. Methods of edging still used by most other kitchen companies can peel if in an area in close proximity to steam or heat (i.e. most of the kitchen). Laser edging looks so neat that the joins are practically imperceptible.

Designer 8

Blown light bulbs

This is a really cheap problem to fix! Some light fittings make it frustratingly difficult to change bulbs. If you are renovating and updating light fittings, make sure the bulbs are easily changed and that the bulb itself can be purchased!

High quality kitchen - Balwyn Modern Kitchen by Smith & Smith

The striking brightness of this kitchen would be darkened if globes were blown.