Ever notice that everyone seems to gather in the kitchen, despite the fact that there’s dedicated seating in the living room or elsewhere? It’s an un-explainable phenomenon. It’s also the reason kitchen remodeling consistently ranks as one of the most popular remodeling projects.

There are lots of ways to create a more inviting and functional kitchen — even when you’re working within a tight budget and building or space restrictions. Here are some simple ways to improve your kitchen.

Update Appliances

New appliances can update and unify a room, whether you choose to go with stainless steel or a trendy, brightly colored suite.

Keep energy efficiency in mind when purchasing home appliances. The energy efficiency of similar-looking appliances can vary significantly, and it’s more cost-effective to purchase household appliances with high-efficiency ratings.

Also consider built-in ovens, microwaves and small appliance storage to de-clutter your kitchen. If you entertain regularly, you might want to think about a built-in wine refrigerator or a small counter-top version that will conveniently keep a few bottles properly chilled for guests.

Increase Counter Space

It’s hard to make a meal in even the biggest kitchen when there’s inadequate counter space. Cover as much of your kitchen as possible with counter-tops. If the difference in floor space is a matter of a few square feet, plan your design with deeper counters.

Granite, marble and stainless steel are the most expensive options, with laminate falling at the lower end of the spectrum and everything else falling somewhere in between.

If you use your kitchen frequently, understand that some materials are better for cooking and baking than others. Marble and granite, for example, offer cool surfaces for handling dough while a butcher block makes it easy to chop and prepare food. If you like both, combine counter options to create a unique look and a more functional kitchen.

Incorporate Storage

Squeeze as many cabinets into your design as possible. Think about the placement of cabinets in relation to appliances. Deep cabinets are good for storing plates and should be located near the dishwasher; large cabinets with slide-out drawers should be placed near the oven. The fewer unnecessary steps needed to complete a task, the smoother the function of your kitchen will be.

Waist-high sliding shelves will store small appliances like mixers and toasters out of sight while keeping them easily accessible. Built-in food and bread storage cabinets will also give the kitchen a cleaner look.

Install a Roll-Out Pantry

If there isn’t enough room in your kitchen for a closet pantry, consider a roll-out pantry. These fit into an area about 18 inches wide by 5-1/2 feet tall. If there isn’t room for any kind of pantry, consider converting a closet outside of the kitchen to a storage area for fine china, large pots and infrequently used items.

Invest in Good Lighting

Good lighting is often overlooked. Install under-counter lighting and clean halogen lights to make your kitchen appear larger and more comfortable.

Small Kitchen Solutions

Expand the Sink Area

A large sink will make it easier for you to clean large pots and pans, and it provides a great place to stash the dirty dishes before you have a chance to rinse them. If you live in an apartment or a small house, a large kitchen sink can do double duty as a utility sink too.

Small Kitchen Solutions

Other Ideas

• Fasten wire baskets to the inside of cabinets to hold trash bags and other frequently used items.
• Mount an instant hot water heater on the sink.
• Install a tile backsplash on the walls above the counters, stove and sink.
• Update cabinet pulls and drawer knobs.