A Tiny Kitchen Remodel - Before + After

1:18 PM

The finished product.
Two years ago we bought our small townhouse with two bedrooms and a slightly funky layout. I am 100% in-love with our home! We have made a lot of changes over the few years, but the biggest upgrade has been our kitchen.
Our kitchen is sort of a one-sided galley kitchen with a slight "L" shape. Originally it had minimal light and whenever more than one person was in the space it was claustrophobia inducing. I wholeheartedly admit during family events, with everyone crowded around, screeching "get out" or sending furious texts for my husband to do yet another tour of the house just to get everyone out of my way for a few minutes.

With those challenges in mind my husband and I set out to build a kitchen that felt:
  • light
  • large yet cozy
  • more functional than our current set-up 
  • slightly like an old London Tube station from the 40s (I love the tile work)
Knowing this isn't going to be our forever home, we worked to make smart investments by balancing resale value, comps in our area, and what would have the biggest impact. Although I do have a pinterest board around 120 pins deep of my dream kitchen, which resulted in a few splurges here and there.

Our biggest learnings were:
  • bright colors are key to making a space feel bigger
  • Don't paint your own cabinet doors unless you have access to a spray painter and are also going to carefully seal them. Buy new ones instead.
  • Think about those one or two things are critical for the function of your space and splurge on those items. For me the critical item was our awesome Bosch slide-in stove.
  • Little changes can have a huge impact. Our space feels so functional and large with redoing the entire laytout. 

The nitty gritty details:
This is where we started. We painted the entire kitchen the same color as the rest of our first floor. The goal of this was to: 1) lighten the space 2) give the first floor a feeling of consistency, cleanliness, and consequently spaciousness. We used Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray for the entire space.

The boxes of our cabinets were still in good shape, but the pressboard wood doors had to go. Previously, we had painted the cabinet doors ourselves in a full weekend DIY. Man is hindsight 20/20. Within a few months it was pealing and because we brushed the paint on, it always resembled a DIY gone slightly wrong.

After consulting our handyman we decided to order new doors. The current doors were not a standard size and therefore were not readily available from ikea or another vendor. We found the best and actually cheaper solution in BarkerDoors. We measured the existing doors (I made my husband double-check my measurements), picked the new door style we preferred (westminster), and placed the order online. It was incredibly simple and their staff was great about answering our questions (caution: hinges can be tricky and are oddly complex). We went with all white doors in Sherwin Williams Pure White (you can buy them pre-painted and sealed from BarkerDoors) to help brighten the space.

After about a month the doors arrived and we had a handyman help us hang them (we had to replace a few of the hinges which made things a bit more complex). If you have good reusable hinges you could easily do this yourself because the hole size is typically standard.

Custom Touches 
Before the doors arrived we had to paint the parts of the cabinet boxes that were visible (the underside and sides visible near the sink and window). We took advantage to do some "higher end" upgrades to make the kitchen feel custom.

The upgrade I am most proud of is are the "frames" we built around the visible areas of the cabinets. We bought flat trim pieces and used a miter box and saw to cut four lengths to the right size and with 45 degree angles. Then after careful arranging we used a bit of wood glue and a brad gun to create the custom sized frames in place on the cabinet sides. The biggest advantage of this custom look is that the frames covered large screw holes from the cabinet construction.

I have an odd love of toe kicks! We used a simple step pattern (it was easier to cut out). These were installed by screwing down from inside the cabinet into the wood pieces. You can find some great toe kick inspiration on Apartment Therapy (the gold toe kick is gorgeous).

The final step was spackling and painting. The spackle was key to make the frames and toekick look like original features. They now seem apart of the fabric of the cabinets instead of add-ons. Once the spackle was sanded down, my husband and I painted the frames, toe kick, and any part of the cabinet frames that would be visible in the exact same color as our future doors. We did this with a paint brush and it took us three coats. Again, if you had a spray painter this would probably have a slightly more professional look, although ours look pretty fantastic if I do say so myself. Because it is the sides and undersides of the cabinets, it doesn't experience as much wear and tear as the doors and isn't as visible.

We also hung an open white wooden shelf over the nook that houses our fridge. We used white closet shelving from the hardware store and asked them to cut it down to size. Then hid a few brackets farther into the "nook" to support the shelf weight without being visible. The white was close enough to the cabinet doors but not directly next to it so we were able to get away without having to paint the open shelf as well.

Lighting + Faucet
The space needed a lot more light so we picked larger fixtures and fixtures from the same decor family to ensure minimal contrast. We stuck with the white again here and the lights have a silver detail that mirrors the angular shapes of the cabinet doors, custom frames, toekicks, and backsplash.

Ceiling fixture can be found here

Over sink fixture can be found here

 For the faucet we ended up buying from a fantastic company called Signature Hardware. Instead of buying one of the brands that you see everywhere, Signature Hardware creates their own high quality fixtures. By removing the middleman, the price is much cheaper and their items have an incredible look and durability. This is the faucet we ordered.

I love subway tile! When this project started we had just returned from a trip to London. A fantastic city that I love. It may sound strange, but I adore the old tube stations with their weathered original subway tiles often in deep and rich colors. My husband is also a public transit enthusiast and was completely aligned to this idea. The tile we chose was a gorgeous gray that looked like a handmade terracotta subway tile. For grout we went a bit lighter. I was so in-love with the tile we had them take it all the way up to the top of the window. Anywhere I could find to put the tile I did! We hired a handyman for the tile installation because of all the cuts needed in our small kitchen.

Knobs + Pulls
This was the most overwhelming part of the process for me. There are so many options and such varying price points. We ended up splurging a bit here as well and chose lucite knobs for the cabinets and matching lucite pulls for the drawers and pantry drawers. Again, I wanted it to feel open and the lucite gives it a pop of glam without seeming to take up any extra space.

I think we read every consumer review, visited every online store, and most of the Chicagoland appliance dealers. After a trip to the Sears outlet we decided to go with Abt. I was a little traumatized by the expense of badly dented appliances at the outlet.

We knew we needed to upgrade the early 2000s black appliances to stainless, but were at a total loss of where to begin. I love to cook so the appliances were very important to me. There are so many options, but planning to stay for 5+ years we wanted something that was good quality and could stand up. We ended up going with Bosch for our microwave, dishwasher, and range. For each of these we upgraded slightly to the more durable options.

  • Microwave - Abt was having a floor model sale and so for the same price as a standard microwave we were able to buy a convection microwave (helpful for hosting bid family meals). Similar found here
  • Dishwasher - The cost to upgrade to the all stainless interior was only about a $100 and from everything we read that can makes a large difference in the life of the dishwasher. Similar found here
  • Range - There was a big discussion and a lot of number crunching around this. The basic Bosch range was $1,000 cheaper than the slide-in. In our small space I felt very strongly that a slide-in would make our kitchen feel larger and would provide me with that chef grade stove top experience I wanted (my dream stove right now is a Bertazonni). Initially my husband and I were really struggling with the price until we realized that no matter what we had to buy a new range so that was a sunk cost. So instead we look at the price differential and asked if it was worth that $1,000 difference over the next 5+ years. The answer was an obvious yes and I am in-love with our Bosch slide-in range. Please note this decision was made in our car in the Trader Joe's parking lot after around two hours of discussion and a lot of TJs snacks. Similar found here.
  • Fridge - based on the small space of the "nook" we were pretty limited. We ended up going with a Samsung and were initially concerned about the size, but it is so well designed it functions far better than any fridge we have ever owned. Similar found here

Pantry Doors
What isn't really visible in these photos is the pantry/HVAC closet directly opposite the stove. We replaced the doors to be totally flat panels and painted them the same color as the wall. The results were pretty staggering. The space felt much larger!

A Note on the Countertops
I would have loved white quartz with a marble look, but we were concerned we wouldn't get that money back and had already splurged on the stove.

This is my dream kitchen for now, although I do still plan on a large island and Bertazonni stove one day in a future home.

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  1. Wow what a difference! looks great!
    XO Ellen from Ask Away

    1. Thanks so much Ellen! We are really happy with it! Any reno plans in your future or DIY projects?

  2. When I was single, I lived in a tiny 500 square foot condo and did all I could to make the best of the tiny kitchen. Soon after my husband and I were married, we bought a house together. While the kitchen is way larger and much better, it doesn't have white cabinets. I absolutely love the look of white cabinets right now. I am thankful to read your insight on the brush strokes showing. While our cabinets are well constructed wood, I am still concerned about painting them. Just the other night we talked about the options of renting sprayer.

    Thanks for giving so many details! Your insight is helpful! And you have a beautiful kitchen!


    1. Hi Kelli
      I bet your kitchen now is gorgeous! There are so many pros and cons to a tiny kitchen, but I am really learning to love it. The white has made it feel so much more open.

      Do you have plans to make any changes to you current kitchen?

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