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How to Update Your 1990s Kitchen (Case Studies)

Posted on February 3, 2024 by KylieMawdsley
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Modernize Your Outdated 90s Kitchen

If you have a hankerin’ for sponge-painted walls, forest green, burgundy, and cathedral-style oak cabinets, you must’ve loved the 1990s. However, for those not so inclined, shedding the 90s style is a slow and expensive process; usually starting in the kitchen.

And let’s be honest, it’s hard to get inspiration when our Pinterest and Instagram feeds are full of beautiful, fully-updated, modern kitchens. Sure, the IDEAS are there, but it’s hard to relate them to your original 90s kitchen. Lucky for you, you have a little Ginger in your back pocket (who pinches upon request).

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While updating your kitchen can give you the biggest bang for your buck, it can also cost a small fortune. However, do it right, and it’s a room that adds huge value to a home.

But how do you update your outdated 1990s when you’re on a budget? Where do you even START?

Right here.

I’ve spent 20+ years in updated, outdated, and dilapidated homes and kitchens. I’ve seen it all – the good, the bad, and the fugly, and I know just what to do with it.

oak kitchen before being painted

Believe it or not, this kitchen has some great bones!

Let’s start with a list of things you might see in the average, outdated 1990s kitchen…

THE AVERAGE 1990s KITCHEN

  • oak cabinets, either raised panel or cathedral-style OR thermofoil cabinets (that are likely peeling by now)
  • laminate counters that look like granite (a lot of brown-tones)
  • granite counters started showing up mid to late 90s, including black, Butterfly Green, and Baltic Brown (later you’ll see a blog post link to update these)
  • forest green laminate counters, as well as slightly more colorful blends
  • gold cabinet hardware (a lot of brass knobs) and exposed hinges
  • white and black appliances
  • 12×12 tile floor, beige, or a blend of colors
  • 4×4 diagonal backsplash tile installations (or no backsplash at all)
  • counters with a wood front edge
  • narrow strip hardwood flooring, usually oak, but the odd exotic wood popped up here and there (same goes for me dating in the 90s)
  • if you’re lucky, you might’ve even inherited a fluorescent light cloud reminiscent of the 80s
  • full-height cabinets weren’t a big thing, so you got a low of shorties or staggered layouts

I’m sure your kitchen has some of the above features and you might even add a few to the list.

fireplace and kitchen before (3)

Just LOOK at the treasure trove of 90s gems in here! 

The challenge is to prioritize what matters the most. And what matters is different for everyone…

  • Which finishes in your kitchen are the most dated or worn-out?
  • Which finishes do you like the least? They might be in great shape, but you might be over them. 
  • What type of budget do you have? If an expensive finish is worn out, but you don’t have a budget, replacing it isn’t an option, regardless of want or need. 

This is why I’ve come up with a general list – not in priority order. You can pick and choose what best suits you, your home, your budget, and your sanity.

 

1. LET’S TALK COUNTERTOPS

While the options might’ve been limited in the 90s, these days you have a TON of choices, both pricey and affordable!

Oak kitchen cabinet update ideas before being painted white with island colour, baltic granite counter

Baltic Brown surfaced in the 90s and stayed around into the early 2000s.

IS YOUR 90S COUNTERTOP WORTH SAVING?

While there aren’t many ’90s countertops that stand the test of time, a few give it a good shot. These might not be counters you’d install in today’s modern home, however, as transitional finishes (until you can do a full kitchen remodel), some are easier to update than others.

Sometimes you have to work with what you have, even if you don’t love it. 

Most of the time, granite countertops are easier to update than laminate counters. Not only is it the particular color palettes of some granites, but it’s also the quality – it’s harder to justify replacing ‘perfectly good if not slightly outdated granite’. On the other hand, if you update your old laminate counters with new ones, the cost is more manageable and there are great modern options that add more esthetic and actual value to a home.

Where to place paint samples, Samplize, with countertops. Kylie M tips and ideas (1)

This is a GREAT granite to play with! 

A few of the more popular granite counters (from the 90s…not now) include Giallo Ornamental, Baltic Brown, Peacock Green, and St. Cecelia. These popped up in the 90s and continued into the Tuscan trend of the 2000s, especially Giallo and Cecilia. And while they aren’t always EEEEASY, they’re definitely contenders for an update…

Benjamin Moore warm white cabinets, granite countertop, travertine tile backsplash, beige tile floor, stainless steel appliances, kitchen update ideas with Kylie M

See a list of my favorite white cabinet colors HERE

 

In the IDEAL world, the above backsplash would be partnered off-white or light-depth beige cabinets. However, in a space with mixed finishes, sometimes you have to find a happy medium – and we did!

This next laminate countertop is one of the few that can handle an update or two…

wood walnut tone cabinets, laminate granite look countertop, handpainted subway tile backsplash, stainless, Kylie M Interiors best paint colors

My client saved money by hand-painting a cream subway tile! Peel & Stick tiles are fab too. 

But of ALL the countertops, hands down, black granite is the easiest to work with when modernizing a kitchen. Sure, the flecks in them can give you a run for your money, but assuming any flecks/veins are subtle and even slightly flexible, there are updates to be had!

Peacook Green, black granite countertops. Ideas to udpate and modernize the kitchen or bathroom. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, best cabinet paint colours

Now, to best explain these updated ideas, we’re going to do quick case studies. The challenge is that I don’t always have the AFTER photos, as not every client hires me for this exact purpose. All the same, you’re bound to get some great ideas for your kitchen.

So, without FURTHER ado, let’s get this party started…

This first kitchen has awesome bones (not quite as nice as Ryan Gosling’s bones, but right up there)…

Oak cabinets orange hue, wood floor, red cherry wood island, black granite, Putnam Ivory beige paint color on walls.

  • solid oak cabinets in a moderate enough stain color
  • no exposed hinges
  • crown molding and a valance (the piece beneath the upper cabinets to hide undercabinet lighting)
  • dark, almost black granite countertops (this one is called Tan Brown)
  • oak flooring

black granite tan brown update ideas

Ideas to Update Older Granite Countertops from the 80s & 90s

Now, let’s talk about how you might update the above kitchen (if you wanted to) without blowin’ the bank.

 

LET’S UPDATE THIS BAD BOY

1. BACKSPLASH. Install a 3×6 subway tile backsplash in a color that speaks to the flecks in the countertop – not as pinkish, and a bit more taupe-ish (neutral).

Many kitchens from the 90s can’t handle a bright white subway tile.

pink, rose toned granite countertop, 2000s coordinating with a new subway tile backsplash

While the above tiles are for a different home and countertops, they’re along the right lines. 

2. HARDWARE. Change the cabinet hardware to not have swirls or decorative details. It shouldn’t be too modern, but a more moderate style will transition this kitchen better.

3. MICROWAVE. If possible, move the microwave to a pantry. Or, remodel a cabinet/drawer area in the island to support a microwave (we did this in one home and it was awesome). Install a more simple rangehood that coordinates with the appliances.

4. THE ISLAND. While you COULD paint the main cabinets, they’re pretty. I would be more inclined to paint the island a dark taupe, or maybe a dark green-gray to accent the flecks in the countertop. The cherry stain of the island clashes with the floor and the main cabinets. I might also restyle the supports to be less…curvy.

5. LIGHT FIXTURES. Update the light fixtures to be less ribbed (I know they’re supposed to be ribbed for pleasure, but I’m not getting any pleasure from these). I might even change to two, slightly larger pendant lights.

6. PAINT THE WALLS! Oh, you had to see this coming. Refresh the walls with a more modern shade of light taupe.

7. REFINISH THE FLOOR. This is more of a pipe dream as restaining can be pricey to hire someone and labor-intensive on your own. However, a fresh, lower sheen, a slightly more brownish stain would be fabulous (learn how to coordinate wood stains).

Of course, I hope that the owners (who hired me to help with the wall color) will see this blog post and think, ‘Wow, what great ideas!‘, implement a few, and send me some photos! A girl can dream.

ideas to udpate a kitchen with oak wood cabinets, black granite and 4x4 backsplash tile

The great thing is that you can do ALL of the above with minimal muss and fuss – you aren’t even touching the bones of this kitchen (cabinets, flooring, countertop – aside from my pipe dream of fresh floor stain).

By the way, there’s an awesome product called MUSSELBOUND where you can tile over existing tiles without mortar. I haven’t tried it myself, nor am I an affiliate for them, but I’ve heard great things. LESS MUSS, LESS FUSS!

Let’s touch quickly on this next kitchen as it’s a great example of a 90s update…

Maple or oak kitchen cabinets before being painted with edesign (2)

Great bones including painting maple cabinets, black granite counters, and solid wood flooring…

Painted wood maple cabinets. Pure White and Iron Ore, Sherwin Williams Kylie M Interiors online virtual paint colour and decorating advice

While I would update the pendants over the island to be more modern (frosted white shades or fabric), the overall look is SO much better and brighter!

Painted wood maple cabinets. Pure White and Iron Ore, Sherwin Williams Kylie M Interiors online virtual paint color and decorating advice. Black granite countertops

 

WHAT ARE THE BEST COUNTERTOP UPGRADES/UPDATES?

A lot is going on in the countertop world right now regarding trends. BUT, this isn’t a bad thing, as it gives you a ton of OPTIONS!

Laundry room mudroom with Formica laminate countertop Carrara Bianco, marble look. Pure White walls and cabinets. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour blogger

This marble-look laminate is a popular choice (shown in the ‘marble’ blog post listed below).

 

IF YOU HAVE WOOD CABINETS & UPDATE YOUR COUNTERS

If you have 1990s wood cabinets that you aren’t painting, two countertops in particular look great with them.

  1. Black quartz or laminate countertops that look like marble or soapstone.
  2. White quartz or laminate counters that look like marble.

While there’s the odd non-white/black counter, they’re few and far between for the most updated and TIMELESS look for your oak or maple cabinets.

This next home is more 1980s than ’90s. But all the same, look at how beautiful the wood cabinets look with a white quartz countertop and a simple marble subway tile backsplash…

Red oak wood kitchen cabinet update, white quartz countertop, marble backsplash tile, island, wood trim, white oak floor.

 

2. UPDATE OR ADD A BACKSPLASH

If you don’t have a backsplash, it’s time to put your game face on, as you’re getting one. And yes, I am a bossy little Ginger, but not having a backsplash looks like you or the builder ran out of money (which is quite possible). On the other hand, you might have a tile backsplash, it just might be outdated and need a refresh. Either way, let’s see what you could do.

In this next kitchen, the maple cabinets strike me as being installed in the 2000s…

Maple kitchen cabinets BEFORE painting with edesign, beige laminate countertops

Apologies for the quality – I take what I can get and am grateful to my clients and followers for what they send! 

However, while the cabinets nod at the 2000s, the oak narrow strip flooring, laminate counters, black appliances, and 4×4 tile backsplash scream 90s louder than me in acid wash jeans, a baby tee, and a scrunchie (while doing the Macarena).

Here’s what it looked like mid-way through the remodel…

Maple kitchen cabinets BEFORE painting with edesign

And while it might be hard to believe, my client updated this kitchen for UNDER $4000…

Gray greige painted kitchen maple cabinets. Marble island and beige laminate countertop. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Agreeable Gray, Classic Gray

Kitchen wood cabinets painted Sherwin Agreeable Gray, Classic Gray walls. Kylie M INteriors Edesign online virtual paint color advice blog

See the ENTIRE PROJECT HERE

UPDATE IDEAS TO STEAL FOR YOUR KITCHEN REMODEL

This kitchen got a face-lift on a budget. Let’s see what the homeowners kept/replaced to stay on budget while modernizing their space.

  • Added molding to the bulkheads above the cabinets so they look full-height.
  • Moved the over-the-range microwave and made a DIY hood.
  • HAND-PAINTED the ceramic tile backsplash to look like Zellige Tile.
  • Kept the original beige, laminate countertop.
  • Found a piece of marble at the local scrap yard for $100 (affordable ways to design with marble).
  • Replaced the old hardware with a more custom, vintage-looking set.
  • Kept the black stove, saving a ton of money, but replaced the black fridge with a stainless steel one.
  • Removed the raised bar/two-tiered section of the island and finished the end with moldings.
  • PAINTED all of the cabinets a beautiful light paint color with coordinating wall color.
  • Took the cabinets beside the fridge out and replaced them with a more homey pantry-style, free-standing cabinet.
  • Installed a budget-friendly light over the kitchen island.
  • Filled in the glass door of the pantry and added decorative moldings.

This next kitchen has the best of many worlds as far as 1990s kitchens go…

Blue painted kitchen cabinets, Benjamin Moore Bachelor Blue, butcher block, white quartz, backsplash tile. Kylie M Interiors CLIENT PHOTO

The Best Medium-Depth Blue Paint Colors

  • new, trendy white quartz countertop
  • marble tile backsplash
  • ORIGINAL 12×12 tile floor
  • ORIGINAL cabinets painted in a fabulous shade of blue that coordinates with the new backsplash

This leads us to our next topic…

 

3. PAINT YOUR CABINETS

You might think this is at the top of my list, but you’d be wrong – I LOVE WOOD CABINETS. However, as I’ve said since I started this lil ole blog…

Just because it’s wood, doesn’t mean it’s good. 

Now that is a blog post unto itself, but if you’re not sure if you should paint your cabinets or not, this QUESTIONNAIRE should help. But in the meantime, check out this next kitchen, looking super gorgeous in a medium-depth shade of green…

Benjamin Moore Caldwell Green, modern green on painted wood kitchen cabinets, cathedral, arched door style, white quartz countertop, subway tile backsplash, floating shelves, oak floor

The 15 Best Medium to Dark Green Paint Colors

While these homeowners saved tens of thousands by keeping and painting their oak cabinets, they spent smart money elsewhere…

And that’s the coolest thing about painting your cabinets.

Sure, you help save the earth, but you also free up a ton of cash for updates that add huge value, both for personal enjoyment and resale.

My client, Jenna Christian (blogger and Instagram girl), wanted to paint her cabinets while keeping the original black granite countertops and 4×4 backsplash – GREAT IDEA!

kitchen oak cabinets before, black granite, oak floor

Painted white kitchen cabinets, black granite countertop, beige taupe backsplash tile, Sherwin Williams Alabaster cabinets, Kylie M and Jenna Christian

I linked Jenna’s Instagram above, but here’s her blog! Sherwin Williams Alabaster is the color we chose. 

Jenna’s done even MORE amazing things with her home since she and I worked together, so be sure to check her out. And seriously – LOOK AT HER KITCHEN! Oh, the power of paint (and great styling).

This next kitchen was a plethora (which is a great word, btw) of 90s glory…

maple cherry kitchen wood cabinets before being painted

  • 12×12 beige tile floor laid diagonally.
  • Dark espresso-stained maple cabinets.
  • 4×4 travertine-look backsplash tile installed on the diagonal.
  • Busy and dark granite counters.
  • And look at that light fixture winking at the 2000s.

I bet the above kitchen was either late ’90s or early 2000s. But regardless of when it was designed, it gained a decade with its mini-remodel shown below (cabinet paint really is the botox of the kitchen world)…

Painted maple cherry cabinets in off-white, walls Sherwin Balanced Beige. Green granite, beige tile. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour advice blog

The Best Modern Beige & Tan Paint Colors

  • ORIGINAL granite counters, cabinets, backsplash, and tile floor.
  • Cabinets are painted in a soft, popular off-white paint color.
  • Wall color coordinated with the tiles and cabinets
  • New furnishings, light fixtures, and hardware.

 

4. PAINT ONLY YOUR ISLAND

Of course, this only works if you HAVE an island.

It can be scary to commit to painting all of your wood cabinets, especially if you love them and are maybe feeling pressure from friends and family to toss some paint on them. So, how about painting just your island?

This next kitchen has super bones – oak cabinets with a great door profile and moderate stain, along with an awesome square island…

oak kitchen cabinets stained, not painted, before new countertop and backsplash

oak kitchen wood cabinets before kylie m, island, laminate counters, white appliances, oak floor

HOWEVER, it also had…

  • Outdated laminate countertops in a grayish tone with a burgundy trim (wooooof, and I can say that because they didn’t like them either).
  • NO BACKSPLASH – THREE SLAPS WITH A WET NOODLE!
  • Outdated lighting.
  • A lot of wood on wood…on wood. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some hard wood, but at some point, you get ‘too much of a good thing’, which is what I keep telling my husband (wink wink).

Let’s see what a little makeover love did for this lovely home…

Golden oak kitchen cabinets with white q

The same BEAUTIFUL oak cabinets! 

  • New quartz countertop.
  • Subway tile backsplash.
  • Island painted a darker shade of gray, to break up all of the wood cabinets with the wood floor, letting each come to life a bit more!
  • New light fixtures (I might do a frosted white glass shade of white fabric shade for a bit more softness).
  • Stainless steel appliances, which lowers the contrast between the stove and the cabinets (much better).

Here’s another of my favorite oak kitchens with a painted island and updated countertop and backsplash…

Ideas to update kitchen with oak wood cabinets. Quartz countertop, white subway tile backsplash, painted island. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, blogger diy advice

In all of this, did you notice a few recurring themes?

1. When the counters were updated, they opted for white or off-white quartz over a dark countertop or laminate. This being said some FABULOUS laminate counters can update a kitchen in a hot minute for a fraction of the cost of quartz.

2. When a backsplash was added or updated, almost everyone chose subway tile as it’s the most TIMELESS choice (which also happens to be trendy). 

3. Whether they had tile or wood, NOBODY had to replace their floor.

4. NO CABINETS were replaced in these budget-friendly remodels – they were kept as-is or painted! 

 

6. ONE MORE CASE STUDY

This last case study is one of my favorites. Why? Because it’s the kitchen in our old home – TWO HOUSES AGO (seems like yesterday!)…

maple kitchen before cabinets were painted and new countertop and backsplash

This kitchen was a hot mess of bad 90s decisions…

  • Racing stripe mosaic tile detail
  • 4″ raised laminate countersplash
  • The hardware was industrial brackets with a weird handle attached, it was the WORST.
  • Black, high-contrast appliances (of course, stainless wasn’t a thing in the 90s).
  • Maple cabinets that were good from far but far from good.

However, we were on a tight budget and had no money for a full gut. Instead, we took a middle-of-the-road approach…

Maple cabinets painted Cloud White, Gray paint colour, quartz, hexagon subway tile cream backsplash and soapstone formica countertops

Maple cabinets painted Cloud White, Gray paint colour, quartz, hexagon subway tile cream backsplash and soapstone formica countertops

HOW DID WE  SAVE MONEY ON OUR REMODEL WHILE ADDING VALUE?

  • Updated the backsplash to a gorgeous hexagon tile (now, I would do a subway tile).
  • We chose an affordable but beautiful laminate countertop (Formica Soapstone Sequoia – see it HERE).
  • Coordinated the laminate countertop with a quartz island to balance the cost a bit.
  • Had Delea of Details Painting paint the cabinets Benjamin Moore Cloud White.
  • Changed the hardware, using knobs and handles.
  • Moved the over-the-range microwave to a usable cabinet space in the island.
  • Painted the walls a gorgeous, medium-depth shade of gray (Benjamin Moore Steel Wool)

See the FULL REMODEL HERE! 

While I could go on and on about kitchen updates, I hit the high points with this one. If you’re looking for more tips and ideas – keep on reading!

RELATED BLOG POSTS

Ideas to Update Your 1990s & 2000s Granite Countertops

Subway, Zellige, Herringbone – What’s Trendy in Backsplash Tiles?

Ideas to Update Your 1980s Kitchen

Get the Online Paint Color & Update Expert that DESIGNERS Hire! 

The best paint colours for any room from Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams. Popular Edesign blogger Kylie M Interiors. Diy decor and design advice. Market

Kylie M Interiors Edesign, signature, online paint colour consultant using Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams paint colours. DIY update advice ideas



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