Kitchen Update: From Boring to Beautiful

When we bought our 90-year-old bungalow in  the Garden District it had been mostly updated. There were no major electrical issues or plumbing nightmares, but the kitchen, although perfectly fine, was just not my style. I lived with it for years, thinking that I couldn’t possibly justify the expense of a kitchen remodel for a space that was “good enough,’ but late last year I got an itch to make a change and found myself prying tiles from the wall while cooking dinner.

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In addition to the cosmetic details that were more a matter of taste, one of the big problems with our kitchen was that it wasn’t very functional. The lighting was bad and there wasn’t enough storage, especially after we had a kid.

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Case in point: the pantry. The bifold doors took some serious muscle to open and close and the layout of the shelves made inefficient use of the available space.

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The first thing I did was remove the tile backsplash and paint the walls a lighter shade (Quail Egg by Valspar). This helped the room feel much brighter and broke up the sea of beige that had been counters+tiles+walls.

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Next my husband and I put up a new backsplash using beadboard paneling. We cut it using an inexpensive jigsaw, then used caulk and trim to finish the edges and joints.

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After the backsplash was complete I installed some shelves using inexpensive brackets and wood boards that I’d cut and stained. The lower shelves keep the dishes we use every day within easy reach and the upper shelves display more rarely-used items that are easy on the eyes. I found attractive ways to store useful things nearby–salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar are corralled on a tray on the left, and on the right a flatware caddy holds measuring cups and spoons and a tall cylindrical container holds cooking utensils.

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I added lots of pretty little things to make me happy, like new curtains made inexpensively from fabric I bought online, colorful towels, and a pretty glass cruet for dish soap.

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I tried hard to reorganize things in a way that made the kitchen easy to cook in. For example, all of my baking supplies are in the cabinet above the mixer, and the cutting boards are in a drawer near the knife block. Fresh fruit is next to the sink so it can be easily washed.

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Whatever dishes don’t go on the shelves near the stove are housed in the cabinet right over the dishwasher. Below that is a silver tray full of canisters holding snacks, tea, etc. The larger canister next to the sink contains dishwasher detergent. And of course I made room for wine and glasses! You can also see in these photos that I switched out the cabinet hardware–it’s a small change that went a long way toward making the space feel more my style.

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The biggest bang for our buck probably came from the pantry. We ripped out the bifold doors and built new cabinet-style doors fitted with storage on the backside, added two new shelves plus baskets for all of our toddler’s dishes, and moved the microwave in here to free up space on the counters. Still on my to-do list: hire an electrician to add an outlet in the pantry. My microwave has been plugged into an extension cord for the last six months.

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Last but not least, we replaced the lighting. The old fixture was really pretty and actually pretty cool, but it just wasn’t working for us. It shined light directly downward, casting the countertops in shadow, and although it was intended to double as a pot rack it was unable to serve that function hanging in the middle of the room. We took it down and put up some inexpensive track lighting instead. The increased headroom and light have made a huge difference.

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We did all of the work on the kitchen ourselves (mostly me, though my husband did help throw some muscle into bigger tasks, like hanging the backsplash and installing the pantry doors). We’re not that handy and we’re not rolling in cash, so we took it one step at a time and spent about $600 total over several months. There are some things I’d still like to tackle, like replacing the outdated stove vent, adding an electrical outlet in the pantry for the microwave, and hiring a maid to cook and clean every day, but even as it stands this kitchen is a HUGE improvement over what we started with. So if there’s a room in your house that you’re thinking about changing, don’t be afraid to just dive in! I’m so glad I did.

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Have you done any remodeling in your home?

Charlotte is mom to two-year-old Jack and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She works part time, sells vintage wares on Etsy, and also maintains a personal blog, Living Well on the Cheap, where she writes about creating a full, rich life and a beautiful home without living beyond her means. Decorating, blogging, and thrifting were the creative outlets that helped her cope with the emotional demands of her career as a social worker, and they still serve her well now that she spends most of her time caring for her son. She and her husband, Nick, both grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans, but met at LSU in 2006 and never had the heart to leave Baton Rouge. She is happy to call the Red Stick home and loves connecting with other moms.

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