Can you remember the last time you were at a family gathering or a party at a friend’s house? Close your eyes and visualize the party and the home. Go ahead, take a second. I’ll wait.

Now, what did you see in your memory and what room were you in? Chances are, you visualized the plethora of people jam-packed into the kitchen, even though the living area was just a few steps away. I don’t know why, but this happens at my house every time! I try to put food in the living room to encourage people to spread out. I even have a dining room table now, but everyone chooses to cram around the smaller table in the nook of the kitchen and bring over chairs that don’t even fit the table!

What is it about the kitchen? Well, if food is the way to the heart, then the kitchen must be the heart of the home – the gathering place of family and friends, the place from where aromas of comfort food permeate the home, the rendezvous point at both the beginning of the day and the end, the one place in the home that belongs to everyone and where everyone belongs.

Considering its role in the home and family, both emotionally and technically, it makes sense that the kitchen can be your biggest investment when building your home. The variables of space, appliances, cabinets, countertops, islands, and pantries ensure that you can pick and choose the kitchen that fits your exact needs.

The question is, where do you save and where do you splurge to get what you want within the budget you have?
To give you some ideas, we’ve gathered photos of several kitchens on Houzz, and rated them from Level 1, least expensive, to Level 5, most expensive, and explained where costs come from on each.

Click on the tiny arrows in the bottom right of the image to view the next image, or visit our Kitchens Ideabook on Houzz for easier viewing and reading.