Decor & Styling

An Interior Designer Shares Her Best Tips for Upgrading Your Kitchen


Interior designer Jessica Nelson knew from a very young age that she wanted to design things one day. When she was a child, she’d rearrange and rework her bedroom as often as allowed. After college, however, she went to work at Nordstrom designing apparel, rather than spaces. But when she and her husband bought their first home — a fixer-upper — Nelson returned to her first love, interiors, as she and her husband worked their way through as many of the projects in their new house as they could.

Shortly thereafter, when Nelson was pregnant with her daughter and realized that she didn’t want to go back to her 9-5, she founded Jessica Nelson Design, an interior design firm based in the Seattle area. Here, she shares her top tips for approaching a kitchen redesign, applicable whether you’re moving into a new space and don’t know how to start making it your own, or you’re ready to rip everything out and start from scratch.




1. Even if you think you don’t need a big remodel, you might need to do more than you think.

Unfortunately, because the layout of a kitchen is perhaps more important than the layout of any other room in your house (a hot take, I know, but you have to be able to do real work in there), that might be what has to be changed in order to make your kitchen look and function the way that you want it to. And those kinds of changes can require quite a bit of money.

“I always advise [people] to save up and wait until you are ready to do a full renovation, as opposed to doing little [bandage] projects that you end up changing later,” Nelson said. “I think the overall layout is super important and can really make or break your kitchen. That’s why having a designer over to even consult about the options of your space can be super helpful. I have even moved entire kitchens to an opposing place in the house to get them to feel right and utilize the space better (this is actually less expensive than you’d think).”

You have to get that layout right in order to get the rest of it right.




2. Figuring out the architectural style of your home can help you decide what comes next.

Just because you love arched openings, barn doors, or a huge, open layout doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for the style of your house. So figuring out what that style is can really help you make decisions later on.

“I love to try and save a lot of the architectural details that are present in the home,” Nelson said. “Arches, trim, details — those are all so important to make your remodel feel right for your space. I would suggest looking up the style of your home online and then using some of those details in your space. A huge open floor plan isn’t right for every type of home, but there are ways you can still open up the space preserving arches, widening cased openings rather than eliminating, adding windows that match your home, etc.”

Work with the style of your home, rather than against it.



3. Working with a designer can help you find your overall aesthetic more easily than trying to go it on your own if you’re unsure.

“I think listening to clients is the most important thing,” Nelson said. “A lot of clients come to me unsure of their overall aesthetic, but knowing bits and pieces of things they like. Asking a ton of questions and helping them hone in on their style is one of the most fun parts of my job!”

That’s right, your designer wants to help you sort through all of the thoughts, ideas, and inspiration swirling around in your head. You don’t have to know exactly what you want when you start working with someone.

“It’s like we start with a fuzzy picture of what they love, and as we move forward it becomes clearer and clearer,” Nelson continued. “I do a whole round of inspiration boards to help this part of the project too. These are four to five images and a color palette that define our direction before we jump into the overall design.”




4. Don’t overlook the power of lighting and hardware.

You likely spend an awful lot of time in your kitchen. Even if you, yourself don’t cook, it tends to be a gathering place in many homes, so you want it to look great. Rather than splurging on cabinets (which you might think warrant that extra spend), Nelson advised that you consider spending a bit more on things like lighting and hardware.

“Lighting and hardware are the jewelry of your kitchen and I wouldn’t be afraid to splurge a little here,” she explained. “This is one of the best ways to dress up a kitchen and are oftentimes the things that make a big impact.”



5. Follow the kitchen design rules.

“All these do have their exceptions, but I would say no more than two cabinet colors, generally,” Nelson said. “If you are mixing cabinet colors, I would tend to stay with one countertop stone/material. I would also try to avoid a range in the island at all cost. I would also try to stick to two metals when mixing hardware and focus on combining like hues. Chrome is cool, nickel is warm, brass is warm, black goes with anything.”

As Nelson said, these aren’t strict, hard-and-fast rules, but keeping guidelines like these in mind will help you from overdoing things and keep your finished design from feeling messy.



6. Developing a solid plan before you begin is super important.

Nelson said that one of the biggest mistakes she thinks people make when renovating or upgrading their kitchen is jumping in too quickly. Make sure that you know what you’re planning on doing before you start. Yes, unexpected things can sometimes come up, but they’re a way bigger headache if you had no plan at all going in.



7. If a full remodel isn’t in the budget quite yet, make sure you’re considering the future when swapping things out in the meantime.

There are so many reasons why a full remodel might not be something you can afford at any given time. But if you plan to do one in the future, you can still make smaller changes now — as long as you keep that future transformation in mind.

“I would focus on changing out things that you can save when you do the big remodel,” Nelson explained. “Find lighting and hardware that you love and that you can reinstall once you are ready to do your full remodel. Also, painting your cabinets can be a good option if they don’t have much wood grain to them.”