Renovating a kitchen is the most disruptive and costly home project there is, other than major add-ons. And yet, for a busy family, this is the space where everyone meets and eats at all hours of the day and night.

You may have a dream kitchen in mind; however, how and when to accomplish the turnover is simply too daunting a task. If you are frustrated by working in a poorly planned, out-of-date kitchen, there are ways to improve it one or two changes at a time. Your reno budget will be divided up over a few years rather than months, and time out of the kitchen while repairs are taking place will not be as onerous.

Begin with a list of fix-ups placed in order of urgency. If the fridge or stove doesnít work, appliances will be at the top; if the floor is grungy or the countertops are stained, chipped or damaged, then those will be the first to go. This list will become your long-range plan.

Hereís one way to order a long-term reno that offers tangible improvements you will enjoy every step of the way.

Lighting is usually the last item we think about, but itís so important and beneficial that itís worth moving to the top of the list. New wiring will be required; install ceiling pot lights with a dimmer for overall brightness, task lights under the counter and a stylish pendant light or two if you have a table or island. This is a good time to investigate rope lighting or energy-saving LED lighting, now available in undercounter strips.

A fresh coat of paint on the ceiling and walls is a powerful decorating tool. Be sure to degrease surfaces before you paint. Add to this a new backsplash, and the character of the kitchen will soar. The backsplash design can be as simple and as modern as subway tiles laid end to end horizontally or vertically, or set at angles to produce a diamond pattern.

Highlight plain white tiles by inserting a few glass or metallic tiles as trim or in a set pattern. Take your time and investigate all the tile options. You can produce your very own work of art for this prominent area.

When itís time for the new countertop, it makes sense to replace the kitchen sink and faucets as well, as the new dimensions and hole locations are required for cutting and fitting the counter.

Solid-surface materials are a good countertop choice. The cost is midrange, between laminates and stone.

Colors and patterns permeate the thickness of the counter, they are nonporous, and seams are bonded to eliminate cracks.

Choose from sink styles that sit flush or under the counter and a modern do-it-all kitchen faucet.

Good-quality cabinetry can be refaced and redecorated with new handles to achieve a fresh, up-to-date look. If old cabinets are in poor repair, then replace the lot.

Thereís a good range of cabinets in different price points. The door styles and finishes provide a wide scope of design possibilities.

The inviting family kitchen shown on Page D1, designed by Kitchen Craft, features all the elements Iíve discus- sed and could have been pulled together over time as budget and circumstances dictated.

Well-made, high-quality features never go out of style.

Debbie Travisí House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Email questions to house2home@debbietravis.com. You can follow Travis on Twitter at www.twitter.com/debbie_travis and at www.debbietravis.com.