Create a Stylish Salvage Kitchen – A Beginner’s Guide to Designing on a Budget

Salvaging and repurposing materials for your kitchen remodel is an eco-friendly and budget-friendly way to create a stylish, unique space. With some creativity and elbow grease, you can give old cabinets, counters, appliances and decor new life. Follow this beginner’s guide to designing the salvage kitchen of your dreams.

Planning Your Salvage Kitchen Design

Before hitting salvage yards and secondhand shops, plan out the basic elements of your design:


Decide on the overall layout – single wall, L-shaped, U-shaped, galley style, etc. Measure your existing space and sketch plans to scale so you can visualize the final look.


Determine cabinet footprint, height and depth. Standard base cabinets are 34-1/2″ high and 24″ deep. Wall cabinets are 12″-16″ deep. Salvaged cabinets can be adapted to fit your space.


Choose your countertop material – butcherblock, tile, concrete, reclaimed wood. Measure total square footage needed. Standard depth is 25″, but salvaged pieces may vary.

Sink and Fixtures

Select sink basin style and size. Vintage enameled cast iron and fireclay sinks have charming retro appeal. Locate faucet, soap dispenser and accessories.


Gauge appliance sizes – range, refrigerator, dishwasher etc. Look for vintage models or buy secondhand for cost savings.


Hardwearing linoleum, tile, wood or concrete suit kitchens. Schedule flooring installation after cabinetry for easiest access.


Task lighting at key prep and cooking stations is essential. Ambient ceiling fixtures add overall illumination.

Storage Solutions

Maximize vertical space with open shelves, pot racks and wall cabinets. Add pull-out drawers, lazy susans and other space-saving elements.

Finding Salvage Materials and Vintage Items

Now that you have an overall plan, it’s time to start treasure hunting! Here are some of the best places to look:

Architectural Salvage Yards

These warehouses are treasure troves for home remodelers. You’ll find cabinets, counters, sinks, lighting, hardware and decor. Be prepared to get dirty digging for hidden gems!

Habitat for Humanity ReStores

Nonprofit ReStores resell new and used building materials, appliances, furniture and home accessories donated by individuals and businesses. Inventory varies by location.

Classified Ads/Auctions

Check classifieds for home remodeling ads or estate sales. Auction houses often feature salvaged materials from building demolitions and remodels.

Antique Shops/Flea Markets

Search for vintage kitchenware, containers, signs, windows and unique decor elements at these traditional haunts.

Dumpsters and Construction Sites

Politely ask if you can take away old cabinets, sinks and other discarded job site materials destined for the landfill. Safety first!

Friends and Family

Tell your social network you’re looking for old kitchen items and materials. You never know what leads you’ll get!

Prepping and Customizing Your Salvaged Elements

With your materials gathered, now comes the fun part – transforming and customizing!

Clean Thoroughly

Give every piece a good scrubbing to remove dirt, grime and residue. Pay special attention to crevices and inside cabinets.

Remove Hardware/Attachments

Remove hinges, knobs and any other attached elements to work on cabinets bare. Label pieces for reattachment later.

Repair Damage

Fix dents, gouges and split wood using wood filler, sanding and material-appropriate adhesives. Replace broken glass as needed.

Update Finishes

Sand, prime and paint cabinets and furnishings to revitalize or change their look. Use chemical strippers to remove old finishes safely.

Cut and Combine

Saw cabinets and countertops down to customized sizes and configurations. Attach salvaged pieces together in new ways to achieve built-in looks.

Add Creative Touches

Install glass cabinet fronts, open shelving or mix color/finish pairings for eclectic flair. Display vintage kitchenware and boldly painted walls.

Budget-Friendly Countertop Makeovers

Countertops take a beating and often show the most wear. Luckily, salvaged counters can be refreshed affordably with some DIY skills.


Overlay cracked, stained concrete with an epoxy coating kit tinted your color of choice. Grind high spots first for a smooth finish.


Replace chipped formica with inexpensive laminate sheets cut to size. Use router edges for a seamless look.

Stainless Steel

A commercial look for less – attach budget-friendly stainless steel sheets with liquid nails and rivets. Finish edges with trim.


Mosaic penny tile is a hot trend. Stick over laminate or use mortar for new substrate. Grout and seal when dry.

Reclaimed Wood

A butcher block look brings rustic warmth. Attach weathered wood pieces to substrate with construction adhesive and clamps overnight.

Painted Surfaces

Prime first, then paint worn surfaces with kitchen-safe enamel paint for an instant facelift. Distressed techniques add vintage charm.

Quick Cabinet Makeovers

Your cabinetry sets the tone for your whole kitchen. Even salvaged cabinets can get a fresh new look with some simple upgrades:

New Hardware

Update knobs and hinges to modern versions in brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze or sleek black. A quick change with big impact.

Door Replacement

Swap out old doors for new flat panel versions. Pre-drilled Overlay doors simplify the process. Add glass inserts for an airy look.

Chalk Paint Distressing

Inexpensive cabinet paint kits allow you to easily transform wood finishes. White is classic, or opt for a vibrant hue.

Wallpaper Covers

Use prepasted wallpaper or contact paper with decorative patterns to give cabinets a custom look. Great for temporary makeovers.

Trim Addition

Frame cabinet fronts with molding strips stained, painted or given a distressed finish. Lends a furniture appearance.

Coastal Cool

Paint cabinets a soft blue or seafoam green and add hardware with an antique brass patina for a breezy cottage vibe.

Choosing Your Sink Style

The sink is your kitchen’s centerpiece. Salvaged models bring loads of character to match your unique space. Consider these sink styles:


An enameled apron-front version provides rugged vintage styling. Popular in a fireclay material with a clean white look.

Double Basin

Two basin sinks maximize workspace. Look for a divided antique version or install two matching single bowls.


Ideal for small spaces, corner sink bases utilize awkward areas. Requires only one custom faucet installation.


Secondary prep, bar or utility sinks round out kitchen functionality. Small wall-mount or porcelain enameled models work well.


Add a pop of color with a retro mint green, pale pink or sunshine yellow sink. Inexpensive way to personalize.


Choose classic cast iron, old-fashioned porcelain enameled steel or a stone composite material like granite, quartz or concrete.


Restaurant-style sinks have industrial appeal. Stainless steel and stone are hardwearing favorites.

Creative Uses for Salvaged Materials

Don’t limit yourself to expected kitchen uses for salvaged goods. With an adventurous DIY spirit, you can incorporate these unique repurposed elements:


An old window hung vertically on a wall or horizontally above lower cabinets makes a brilliant display area. Flowery leaded glass versions add charm.


Painted cupboard doors attached to the wall provide pretty open shelving. Or use sturdy old doors for dining tables, desk surfaces or extra counter space.


Closeable shutter doors add architectural detail to lower cabinets. Hinged models function as space-saving fold-down work surfaces.


A vintage ladder gets new life as hanging pots and pans storage. Or lean one against the wall for open spice rack shelving.

Crates and Boxes

Wooden crates make great rustic floating shelves. Perforated metal shop lockers or old file storage boxes are perfect for organizing.


Vintage advertising and restaurant signs add nostalgic flair. Display your family name in salvaged letters or your favorite foodie quote.

Farm Implements

Worn rakes, shovels, pitchforks or scythes grouped as wall art make wonderful focal points over cabinets or dining nooks.

Effective Lighting for Salvage Kitchens

Proper lighting transforms any kitchen design. Combined with your unique salvaged elements, it creates the perfect finishing touch.

Task Lighting

Bright under-cabinet strip lighting or low-hanging pendants illuminate food prep surfaces effectively. Use warm 3000K LEDs.

Ambient Lighting

Flush mount or semi-flush ceiling fixtures provide overall illumination for the full space. Vintage-style Edison bulbs are on-trend.

Statement Lighting

Colorful stained glass lanterns, sculptural vintage pendants or an old neon sign over the sink create striking focal points.

Natural Light

Supplement with adjacent window placements or skylights. Solatubes are great when ceiling height allows. Consider white translucent window shades.

Accent Lighting

Use recessed or track lights to spotlight open shelving displaying glassware and dishes or wall art areas. Draws the eye to unique elements.

Dimmer Switches

Allow adjusting fixture brightness as needed. Dimmers work well on overhead ambient lighting. Choose compatible bulbs.

Salvaging Successfully: Key Tips and Takeaways

Creating a stylishly salvaged kitchen takes patience, an eye for potential and some elbow grease. Keep these pointers in mind for your unique remodel:

  • Have a solid plan and accurate measurements before starting your material search. This will save you time and mistakes down the road.
  • Be flexible! Salvaged pieces are rarely perfect sizes and configurations. Make adjustments to your layout as needed to creatively incorporate materials discovered.
  • Set a total budget and stick close to it for the biggest cost savings. Prioritize essential elements like cabinetry and top choices that excite you most.
  • Prepare for a process. Salvaging and repurposing materials into a cohesive new kitchen will take time, physical work and some trial and error. Enjoy the experience!
  • Mix old and new intentionally for a layered look. Highlight salvaged focal points, then balance with new organizational elements like drawer sets and pull out shelves.
  • Add vintage-modern blended style with industrial wire shelves against exposed brick walls or a marble-topped metal worktable island paired with bright subway tile.
  • Incorporate small original vintage details like painters’ pulls for cabinet knobs, a worn farmhouse-style cutting board as decor or an antique kitchen scale for displaying fruit.
  • Look to commercial restaurant pieces like wire storage racks, roller carts and stainless steel prep tables for an sleek utilitarian feel.
  • Choose a warm, organic color palette that complements the natural patinas of woods, metals and stone often found with salvaged goods. Charcoal, brick red and olive green are earthy examples.
  • Don’t be afraid to remove or alter elements that don’t function in your new kitchen. Salvaging is about creative reuse – not necessarily keeping things entirely “as is”.

Whether rustic and charming, industrial chic, retro or contemporary, creating your unique salvage kitchen ultimately comes down to your vision and style preferences. Follow the tips above, unleash your creativity and enjoy the process. You’ll wind up with a comfortable, eco-friendly kitchen that reflects your personality.