Modern design’s two guiding principles are “form follows function” and “less is more.” Modernism – as a design aesthetic – began in Europe in the 1920s and its influence is still felt today in kitchen design. Modern kitchens have a clean, uncluttered look. Unadorned, frameless cabinets dominate. Counter space is ample, appliances are readily accessible.

Whatever your kitchen looks like now, there’s a chance that it can be made more “modern” with some modest alterations that fall well short of a complete gut and rebuild. Here are six of them:

Modern looking cabinets
The look of modern cabinets is distinctive: unadorned and clean, thus representing a profound departure from the ornamental style traditionally used by American woodworking cabinetmakers. Because they’re so visually dominant in kitchens, making a change to cabinetry can provide a huge step forward in style. Unfortunately, you really can’t achieve a modern look by adding a handle to an old-style door cabinet: you must replace the cabinet door faces covering the cabinet frame, therefore achieving the “frameless” design characteristic of modern style. This process is called “cabinet re-facing” and has the advantage of not requiring you to rip out structurally-sound cabinet frames while nonetheless achieving a thoroughly modern look. Talented DIYers can likely pull this job off, but for most homeowners, choosing a qualified contractor with experience in cabinet refacing is the way to go.
Modern faucets
The first modern kitchen designers were influenced and inspired by the efficiencies of the compact, efficient kitchens of railroad dining cars. Functionalism and industrial design are at the heart of modern design, so changing out your faucets to a more industrial/functional style can be a good way to promote modernism in your kitchen. Sadly, many “modern-looking” faucets deployed in years past now look a bit dated. So, replace that old chrome space-age bulbous monster with a functional faucet that wouldn’t look out of place in an industrial kitchen.

Color is a key element in modern design and in the modern kitchen. The original Frankfurt Kitchen – a watershed development in modern kitchen design – featured color (strong blue) as a unifying element. Changing the color – or a texture – of a backsplash can make a kitchen “feel” more modern, and so can painting wall space or cabinet work. Unless you plan on replacing your major appliances, you’ll have to work around the color palette you’ve got already (probably white). Going “all white” in order to completely match your appliances will make your kitchen very bright, but perhaps, a bit “antiseptic” (as many early modern kitchen designs were). Choosing a strong blue, black or red may provide new, more interesting possibilities for a striking modern look.

Lighting fixtures
Old-fashioned chandeliers or stock brass lantern-style lighting fixtures will never cut it in a modernist-inspired kitchen. Recessed high-hat lights and spots remain good choices. Under-cabinet lighting, because it improves the usability of kitchen counterspace, is inherently a nod to the ergonomic focus of modern kitchen design. While modern kitchens often incorporate dark colors, their workspaces should always have plenty of light!

Expanded storage options
The modern minimalist aesthetic militates against even the hint of clutter, so the ability to stow small appliances, cookware, utensils and foodstuffs is key to pulling off the modern look. Take a look at whether there’s wasted storage space in your base and wall cabinets. Making more efficient use of this space through a cabinet organizer or other storage-maximizing accessory can often make a big difference in terms of reducing the clutter that – in the course of the kitchen’s daily operation – can thwart the design aspirations of modernism.

A more modern layout
It’s one thing to design a modern kitchen – and quite another to operate it on a day-to-day basis. Modern designs are inherently ergonomic, taking into account the way you actually will be using the kitchen on a day-to-day basis. Cramped kitchens may need some serious redesigning by an experienced professional before they can be considered “modern.” Needed alterations may involve the removal of spurious island base cabinets and even walls – before the space becomes truly usable. However, don’t despair: it’s possible your kitchen can become more modern – and more usable – by simply adding some counter space, cabinet space or wall storage, or, conversely, removing work areas that – in practice – have proven themselves to be nothing more than glorified storage areas.