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beautiful kitchens(ARA) - It's the busiest room in the house and one that often needs the most improvement: your kitchen. You dream of having a culinary oasis like those showcased in design magazines, but you can't imagine having to dip into junior's college fund to get this custom look.

The truth is, you don't need to spend a fortune. Leading cabinet manufacturer American Woodmark Corporation offers some tips on how to achieve your dream kitchen at an affordable price without compromising quality or style.

Determine your budget

Unless money is no object, the first step to any renovation is to create a realistic budget. The National Kitchen & Bath Association estimates the average kitchen remodeling job costs between $15,000 and $20,000. You can easily save yourself money by doing your homework and planning ahead. Defining your budget will help prioritize items that are most important to you and prevent impulsive and costly purchases later on.

You may find that a large part of your budget can go towards replacing cabinets and appliances alone. However, home improvement centers, like The Home Depot, offer a wide variety of affordable cabinetry from American Woodmark and other companies that will help you stay within budget.

Consider your space

Once you determine how much money you have available to spend on the project, take a moment to think about how the space is utilized day-to-day.

Does your kitchen get as much foot traffic as Grand Central Station? For most families the kitchen is the hub of the home -- a place where they prepare meals, entertain guests, and do homework. Keep track of activities. They will help decide on personalized spaces you'll want to incorporate into your new design.

You may want to consider adding a home office and desk complete with a mail kiosk, file drawers, and open shelves for books and collectibles. Additional customizing options can help you create built-in pieces to accommodate your lifestyle such as hutches, baking centers, wine cabinets and islands.

"Kitchens today can be just as hardworking as they are beautiful," says Connie Edwards, certified kitchen and bath designer and author of "Beautiful Built-ins, Plans for Designing with Stock Cabinets."

"By customizing your space, you can give your kitchen a fresh, updated look, one that is welcoming to guests and uplifting to the people who will use it everyday," she says.

If your space is limited and you are looking to maximize storage, wine racks, plate racks, and glass-front cabinets display china and crystal while adding functionality and an interesting focal point to the room. You can also free up more room for cabinets and create additional storage space by installing a large freestanding range stove instead of a combination wall oven and a cook top stove.

Define your style

How do you define your style? Is it Traditional, Asian-inspired, or your own personal mixture of design elements?

"You can create an entirely new theme -- such as contemporary or evolved -- by dressing up kitchens with elaborate crown molding, decorative furniture legs on islands and work stations, and ornamental hardware on cabinet doors and drawers," says Edwards.

Once you have determined your budget, assessed your space and have a design style in mind, head to your local home center. There, you'll have access to free or very low-cost services from professional designers who are available to help you turn your dream kitchen into a reality.

For additional information and design ideas, check out manufacturer Web sites, such as or visit your nearest Home Depot.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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