If your kitchen is looking a little shabby, there's still time for quick and inexpensive upgrades before the holidays arrive. Here are five ways to spruce it up to make it easier to work in and more inviting to guests.

1. Give Cabinets a Fresh Face

If your cabinets are plumb, square, and sturdy, there are two ways to update them for a fraction of what it would cost for replacements: refacing and refinishing. Refacing offers more choices; refinishing requires more work but costs less.

Refacing involves adding new “skins” to cabinets and costs $150 to $300 per door opening, including materials and installation. Or refinish your cabinets with a new coat of paint. First clean them with a degreasing agent, rinse, sand, and prime, and then give them a top coat or two. If your house was built before 1978 and you think the cabinets are original, the finish may contain lead, in which case you should leave the paint job to a pro.

2. Add a Bright Spot

Use color to energize your kitchen. A few well-placed accessories, such as boldly hued mixing bowls, flowers, or even fruit, can instantly create a focal point. An island offers another opportunity to introduce color. Just paint this gathering spot in an attention-grabbing shade, first taking care to choose the right type of paint.

You’ll want a semigloss or high-gloss formula for easier cleanup on this high-use area. "With the best paints from our tests, anyone can get great results," says Enrique de Paz, who oversees CR's paint tests. "Just be confident and take your time." 

And don’t forget that light fixtures can add accents of color. Check Lighting Universe and Progress Lighting for reasonably priced options or go to flea markets and thrift stores. Even if you need an electrician to rewire your find, the price may be right. When you’re ready, see the results of our lightbulb buying guide.

Go to 
Consumer Reports' 2017 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more. And be sure to check our Daily Gift Guide.

3. Add an Island

A custom-built island adds convenience—but often at a hefty price. Save by opting for an unfinished or ready-to-assemble prep table and doing part of the work yourself. You’ll find a wide variety of doors, drawers, and countertops in different configurations. A 36x24-inch unfinished island topped with a wooden counter starts around $300 at Unfinished Furniture Expo.

More on Remodeling

For a high-end look, consider an island topped with stainless steel. Or choose one with a granite top. Look for convenient features, such as rolling casters and storage shelves. When staining or painting an unfinished piece or choosing a finished model, go for a wood tone or color to complement—or provide dramatic contrast to—your kitchen cabinets. And be sure you have enough room to fit the island comfortably. You want a 36- to 48-inch clearance on each side.

4. Add Splash to the Backsplash

A relatively easy and inexpensive update is to install or replace a tile backsplash. George W. Edwards, a certified kitchen and bath remodeler with A&C Kitchens and Baths in Chester, Pa., says the average cost is about $3 to $5 per square foot, though decorative inlays and trims can cost more.

Whether you do the job yourself or hire an installer will depend on the state of your existing backsplash and how much time you can commit to the job. The key, Edwards says, comes at the start of the project, during the demolition of the existing backsplash and preparation for the new one.

If the existing tile was installed over drywall, removal should be relatively easy. The tile and drywall can be pulled off with common household tools, including a utility knife, a pry bar, or a hammer and screwdriver, and new drywall can be patched in.

It’s much trickier to cut out a tile backsplash laid over plaster without damaging the wall surface. Plus the plaster may be a different thickness from the drywall, so using shims and/or an additional layer of drywall may be necessary to make the new surface flush.

5. Mix Up Materials

For decades, kitchen design favored uniformity: one cabinet type, one countertop material. But nowadays designers are creating excitement by combining a wide range of materials and finishes. That's good news, because it means you don’t have to worry about everything matching perfectly in your makeover.

Choose pricey glass-doored cabinets above but bargain wood or laminate-front units below. Stick your expensive slab of granite or marble on an island—where everyone will see it—but go with basic laminate around the perimeter. Instead of a built-in island or built-in storage, use freestanding furniture to add prep space and storage.

And don’t buy appliances as a suite; choose the models with the best performance and best prices, regardless of brand. (Odds are against anyone noticing the slight style differences.)

Editor's Note: This article was adapted from Consumer Reports Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide.