A full kitchen replacement consists of demolishing and removing everything in the room, including the sheetrock, so that the walls are open and the plumbing piping and the electrical wiring are exposed.

You then begin building the room back up, often replacing the infrastructure as well as all of the finishes and equipment.

Such an undertaking averages between $40,000 to $50,000 and results in a return of approximately 68 percent on that investment, according to Remodeling Magazine's 2011 Cost vs. Value report.

A kitchen "face-lift" is not so invasive or expensive. This generally consists of upgrading just the things that you can see.

Often new countertops are installed, along with a sampling of further improvements that could include new appliances, a new sink/faucet, new cabinet doors, new flooring and new lighting.

While you are limited to your current sizes and location of appliances and plumbing fixtures, you can still get some good bang for less bucks as you bring your kitchen into the 21st century.

Doing less than this in a kitchen is tricky.

Of course, you can always paint and change the window coverings, but making a smaller change in the function of a kitchen is difficult because — as they say — "one thing leads to another."

Nowhere is this truer than in a kitchen!

Recently, one of our architects attempted to undertake such a "minor change" in her kitchen.

Here's how that went:

In her 1928 home, the back door enters into a small landing. To the left, the stairs go down to a basement apartment. Straight ahead, three more stairs take you up into the kitchen proper.

To the right, up some very non-standard stair treads, was a very small powder room that had been sandwiched in during some previous (not so successful) remodeling attempt.

That small bathroom was abandoned when the architect moved in and became sort of a storage closet in no man's land. It didn't really belong to the apartment because it was at the top of the stairs, nor to the house since it was in the entry area to the apartment.

This closet was adjacent to the main kitchen, which was lacking in storage.

The architect — who has plans for a complete kitchen gut "some day" — had the bright idea that by simply adding a door to the closet from the kitchen, a pantry could be created that would be useful and easily accessible from the main house. How hard (or expensive) could it be to patch one door and add another?

Simple, right?

Because this architect is now old enough to know that all projects don't have to be do-it-yourself adventures, she hired a handy-man company to do the work.

The crew showed up and began to remove the lath and plaster wall where the new door was to be placed.

Surprise!

There was no end to plumbing pipes and stacks in this small wall area.

Who knew?

So, the door had to be relocated about two feet to the north. Not a big deal, except that the existing shelving in the closet now had to be removed and would not fit in the other end of the space since the wall jogs a few inches for some unknown reason.

More work, and more expense, as the budget slowly crept up.

Then there were the "while we are at it" add on projects.

The kitchen had a ridiculous little peninsula counter that was a previous owner's attempt to create a seating area in the kitchen. It was obstructive and impractical so, of course, it had to go.

Naturally, the flooring didn't fully run under the counter, so it had to be replaced as well. (Fortunately, it was not possible to match the hideous cream and pink vinyl sheet flooring that had seen better days, to say the least.)

Since this is not the dream, "forever" kitchen, the layout could change when the big remodel takes place at some unknown future date, so installing a lovely wood or tile floor was not on the agenda.

Instead, she installed a simple vinyl composition tile layout. It was a solution that would keep the purchase cost down and was simple enough to be a do-it-yourself project.

The really terrible 1970s cabinets did not warrant the expense of new doors, so they were painted a neutral color.

Finally, the awful fluorescent lighting in the dropped ceiling was removed.

Though the budget did not allow for raising the whole ceiling at this point, the former lighting box was finished and painted to give at least the suggestion of a higher ceiling.

The final addition of some fresh wall paint and new curtains gave closure to the whole effort.

So, the project took 12 weeks instead of two (due to the owner involvement), and cost $3,000 instead of $400, but the original goal was realized.

There is a simple little pantry right off the kitchen that makes the homeowner happy every time she opens the door, and though nowhere near a dream kitchen, the whole area is cheery and bright, as well as more functional.

The moral of the story is that some design and remodeling is better than suffering year after year because you can't get it all right now.

Think small but creatively, and you may be able to figure out a mini-kitchen remodel, too.

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.