Back in February, we went through more than 2600 applications that poured in over 48 hours for a makeover, sponsored by Lowe’s. It was our second time traveling anywhere in the country making over one of your spaces in a weekend, although this year was a little different. Last time we ended up on Long Island, transforming an entry/sitting area, but the stakes were a little higher this year as all of the entries were bathrooms and kitchens. The decision was not easy or quick, and included a lot of discussion around, “Could we really do this in 3 days?!” but we found ourselves enamored with a small, early 1900s kitchen in a Baltimore row house and knew that it was the perfect candidate for our weekend refresh.
Over the weeks that followed, we spent hours upon hours designing the space, collecting measurements, picking out and ordering everything from Lowe’s and Skyping with the homeowners to try to get the best possible feel for the space without ever stepping foot in it. Lowe’s also allowed us the absolute privilege to assemble a small team to help us execute our vision in the allotted time. We chose the detail-oriented and connoisseur of old home style, Daniel Kanter of Manhattan-Nest.com, the upbeat, driven and beyond-talented DIY duo Kim and Scott Vargo of YellowBrickHome.com, and Chris’s ultra-handy, can-build-anything brother, Brandon Marcum (what can we say, it runs in the family) to join us in Baltimore.
At the end of the weekend, and on a small budget (we’ll get to that in a minute), we presented the homeowners with their new, refreshed kitchen!
How Much Did it Cost?!
A lot of times, during a renovation, you can have it budget-friendly or you can have it fast. In the case of this kitchen refresh, we were able to accomplish both by focusing our efforts and budget on a few standout items. After tallying up our receipts, the entire renovation came to a grand total of $4555.35–including new appliances!
Wanting to create something similar in your home? Here are our biggest takeaways, budget-friendly details and DIY projects we included here (plus! we’re sharing every last source at the bottom of this post):
If you scroll from the before to the after photo, you might notice the ceiling looks…taller? In the first hour of arriving, while demo-ing out an old pantry next to the window and soffit above the upper cabinets, we discovered what they thought was their ceiling was actually a drop ceiling, 1.5′ lower than the original and completely empty! Usually a drop ceiling could indicate there’s HVAC or something up there, but we were greeted with some beat up tiles on top of furring strips in great shape. We counted our lucky stars and down it came!
Although the higher 9.5′ ceilings definitely gave the smaller 10×13 kitchen some breathing room, this ceiling treatment is one that would enhance a ceiling of any height! We used these budget beadboard sheets from Lowe’s and trimmed out the seams with pre-primed 1x4s. We finished the project with caulk and satin paint (color matched it to the in-stock upper cabinets from Lowe’s) for an ultra-chic look.
The Brick Wall
The homeowner’s mentioned in their application for the makeover that there might be a brick wall under the plaster. Their next door neighbor’s had completely exposed theirs and it was something they would definitely be interested in doing. One weekend, after they had been selected, they chipped away a small section of plaster and sure enough!–a brick gold mine. Removing the plaster covering the brick wall was a homework assignment we gave them to do before we got there and it took a good portion of one weekend, plus a little more, while we were there, after we raised the ceiling.
Major Save: In-Stock Cabinets
Lowe’s has in-stock cabinets in a variety of sizes, depths and finishes and they are extremely affordable (often $100 or less!) and can be used for a variety of applications. We re-used the homeowner’s existing sink cabinet, but purchased three 30×30 white Shaker upper cabinets, one 24″ base cabinet for the island and two 24×30 upper cabinets for a coffee station. Keep in mind, upper cabinets are generally a more shallow depth than base cabinets; 12″ compared to 24″ respectively.
For starters, we made the cabinets look more custom by cheating the upper cabinet above the fridge out (creating a simple mounting box out of 2x4s above the cabinet will do the trick!) so it was flush with the front of the fridge. Not only will this allow the cabinet to be more usable–how horrible is it trying to reach into an above-fridge cabinet waaayyy back there?!–but the varied depths also create interest and dimension that you’d find in a high-end, custom kitchen. Box in the sides with sheets of MDF, paint to match, and no one is the wiser.
We used the two shallow 24″ wide upper cabinets as base cabinets to create a small coffee station. The slimmer profile allowed us to keep the kitchen feeling airy while still injecting storage into the space. We created a base for the cabinets out of 2×4’s faced with plywood for a toe kick, and painted the cabinets the same color as the rest of the base cabinets in the kitchen., a beautiful green/blue gray called Valspar’s Beguile.
DIY Open Shelving
Above the coffee station cabinets, we knew would be a great spot for additional storage. We came across these heavy, steel brackets on Lowe’s.com and decided to use them for a refreshing take on open shelving–apparently you can also use them for desk legs! When they arrived, we spray-painted both plain steel brackets with flat black Rustoleum spray paint for a powder-coated look.
We cut project boards down to depth and painted them black to blend seamlessly with the brackets, as if they were all one piece. Although the brackets had holes to attach the shelving, they didn’t have holes to attach it to a wall. We used this step drill bit to drill through the steel and attached the shelving directly into studs.
Above the sink, we added an additional 9.5″ deep open shelf, also made of project board–except this time we painted it white and attached it to the tile with these brackets. It’s the perfect spot for spices, a cooking timer, or a handy spot for easy to reach glasses.
The Budget-iest Butcher Block
Counters can easily cost as much as our entire budget, so we had to get creative. A member of our team, Daniel, used Lowe’s project boards as countertops in his kitchen with great results, so we were confident using the same product here. Project boards look a lot like butcher block countertops you’ve seen, they even come in a variety of ready-made widths. However, they are only 3/4″ thick and we needed an extra deep piece for the island.
We remedied these problems by using a Kreg jig to join two pieces together underneath to achieve our desired depth (we went with a 10″ overhang) and then wood-filled and sanded the top and you’d never know! To make the thickness a little more beefy, we attached pine 1×2’s to the perimeter of all the countertops.
To achieve a rich, these-countertops-have-been-here-for-100-years look, we first applied a layer of wood conditioner, which helps the wood (especially pine) accept stain more evenly. We followed up with a light coat of Minwax’s Provincial Stain, immediately wiping the excess and finished with 3 coats of water-based Polycrylic sealer, sanding with a 220 grit sanding block in between each coat.
Trim Trim-ity, Trim Trim-ity, Trim Trim…
If there was one place we splurged, it was on trim. And it was worth every penny. A simple plywood rectangular vent hood cover we whipped up, became a statement piece by adding two types of molding around the top. We used this smaller chair rail molding where the cabinets met the filler piece we added to bridge the gap to the ceiling. And this substantial crown molding near the ceiling. We had the crown meet a 1×4 for extra oomph!
To save, we only applied the chair and crown molding to the cabinetry and range hood, and opted for a simpler 1×4 treatment around the rest of the ceiling. The baseboards are simple 1×6’s, topped with rail molding, with shoe mold at the base. Trimming out the window and pantry door did wonders, and injecting special details like rosettes at the corners and adding a window sill (made from a stair tread to save time!) went a long way in bringing this room back to its historic roots. Not a splurge per se, but applying the same inexpensive beadboard we used on the ceiling, to the island and the side of the coffee station cabinets is an easy way to dress up cabinets with little effort or money.
Can’t Forget Details: Lighting, Flooring, Tile and Hardware
Subway tile is a classic choice that will never go out of style, and fortunately, the one we used is only 22 cents a tile! These don’t even require a spacer, so the job was quick and adds just the right amount of shine to the back wall. We used the lightest warm gray grout, Silverado, to allow the tile to pop ever so slightly.
With a medium wood countertop, we knew we didn’t want the flooring to be anywhere close in color as they could easily clash. So we opted for this light oak, click-lock Pergo flooring from Lowe’s is beautiful, durable and the wide planks are swoon-worthy, plus only about $3 a square foot!
The same warm, champagne bronze knobs pepper the room. We added two to the faux drawer above the sink (as a rule of thumb, any drawer longer than 30″ could use two pieces of hardware) and two to their original bi-fold pantry door. It’s an easy trick to make any bi-fold door look a little less bi-fold and a little more luxe.
Center stage, we hung this stunning, allen + roth aged bronze large glass bell fixture from Lowe’s with gorgeous curves and a soft glow, for just $119! It comes with these charming, vintage-inspired bulbs, but you could easily swap them out if you wanted something a little brighter.
And don’t forget to check the bathroom lighting section if you’re looking for a great wall sconce. We found this allen + roth aged bronze cone double vanity light, perfect for lighting up the coffee corner for $54.
The homeowners were present for the first day and a half of renovation, but then we ushered them into relaxation mode elsewhere so we could keep the reveal a big surprise. And surprised they were! Surprised, excited, grateful and we were all a little teary-eyed watching them take in their new renovated kitchen.
Special thanks to Lowe’s for sponsoring this project and asking us to head up a makeover again this year–it was an unforgettable and rewarding experience. And thanks to our fabulous team for helping us pull it off–we couldn’t have done it without you. All photos are by Kim Vargo.
Sources are listed below, or you can hover over the photos below for direct links.
Wall Color: Valspar Promenade 7006-3
Base Cabinet Color: Valspar’s Beguile
Upper Cabinet + Trim Color: Color matched to Lowe’s In-Stock White Cabinets
Upper Cabinets / Base Cabinet / Coffee Station Cabinet: Lowe’s In Stock
Cabinet Hardware: Brainerd Champagne Bronze Round Cabinet Knob
Flooring: Pergo Portfolio Modern Oak Plank
Countertop Stain: Minwax Provincial
Refrigerator: Frigidaire 18-cu ft Top-Freezer Refrigerator (EasyCare Stainless Steel)
Range: Samsung 5-Burner Freestanding 5.8-cu ft Self-Cleaning Gas Range
Range Hood: Broan Undercabinet Range Hood
Dishwasher: Whirlpool 55-Decibel Built-in Dishwasher
Faucet: VIGO Stainless Steel 1-Handle Pre-Rinse Kitchen Faucet
Pendant Light: allen + roth 16.02-in Aged Bronze Vintage Single Clear Glass Bell Pendant
Wall Sconce: allen + roth Hainsbrook 2-Light 7-in Aged Bronze Cone Vanity Light
Large Steel Brackets for Open Shelves: Plain Steel Federal Brace Universal Shelf System
Small White Brackets above Sink
We designed the Charly line of sofas, chairs, and ottomans with perfect proportions for comfort — with wide arms, a loungey depth, and stylish and practical lumbar pillows. Available in 70 kid-friendly, pet-friendly fabrics, this line was created with families in mind.
Our wood grain Shaker cabinet fronts were designed for busy, high-traffic homes like ours. Clad with durable textured thermofoils, this line is compatible with Sektion, Akurum, Godmorgon, and Besta cabinets from IKEA. It's the perfect, practical way to add the warmth of wood to all the rooms of your home.
We have teamed up with Loloi to create a line of rugs that are as affordable as they are beautiful. This collection houses a great mix of traditional and modern rugs, in cottage-y colorways, as well as vintage-inspired beauties that you’ll want to roll out in every room.
We partnered with Stuga on a line of hardwood floors — The Ingrid is really livable, and the color is very neutral. It doesn’t lean warm or cool, it’s that just right in-between. We have really loved putting it everywhere in our house. It’s the best jumping-off point for design, no matter your interior style. In addition to being beautiful, Ingrid is really durable — we have three kids, and we always have a home construction project going on. Ingrid stands up to it all.
Looking for our favorite things? A place to shop our home room by room, or just catch up on what Julia's wearing / loving right now? Browse the CLJ shop.
Befores, afters, mood boards, plans, failures, wins. We’ve done a lot of projects, and they’re all here.
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