An Early 2000s “Nightmare” Kitchen Gets a Bright, Airy Makeover (Without Changing the Layout!)

published Jun 18, 2024
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If you spend a lot of time in your home (and especially a lot of time in your kitchen), it can be nice for the kitchen and living space to seamlessly blend — for conversation to flow from the sofa to the sink if someone’s preparing a meal. 

Although it’s not always possible — especially in smaller galley kitchens — a little bit of DIY can make a big difference. For instance, you could create a pass-through bar, create a little overflow kitchenette in another part of your home, or remove a set of upper cabinets to make things more free-flowing. That last option is what DIYer Lauren Nichols (@northparknook) and her husband selected to drastically make over their San Diego condo’s kitchen. 

“The cabinets were a weird 1990s orange-y stain, the ‘backsplash’ was a textured limestone accent tile, and the wall was a light beige,” Lauren says of the before. “It felt dark and like it hadn’t been updated since the 2000s.”

However, she saw potential in the room’s Shaker-style cabinet doors and natural light. “I wanted to take this warm-toned, early-2000s nightmare and turn it into a modern dream,” she says. A couple of major changes took the kitchen from a dingy 2000s artifact to a 2024 stunner.

Color changes made a big difference.

Lauren set about brightening the existing kitchen, from replacing the limestone backsplash tile with a white tile backsplash (a first-time DIY project) to repainting the walls a fresh white (Sherwin Williams’ Snowbound).

According to Lauren, though, the freshly painted kitchen cabinets were the real stars of the show. She and her husband went with a clean black-and-white color palette. They hired pros to paint the upper cabinets using Sherwin-Williams’ Snowbound and the lower cabinets using Sherwin- Williams’ Tricorn Black.

“Once the cabinets were painted, it looked like a totally new space,” Nichols says. But paint wasn’t actually the first step.

The upper cabinets had to go — instantly.

Lauren and her husband’s very first order of business was knocking out the cabinet separating the condo’s kitchen from its living room. “On the day that we got the keys, we knocked out the upper cabinet,” she says. “It instantly opened the space up. It allowed the natural light from the kitchen window to fill the entire living and dining area.”

Merging the two rooms also helped her and her husband enjoy some much-needed quality time between meals. “By taking out the cabinet, we’re able to carry on conversations or watch TV while he cooks,” Lauren says.

In total, the kitchen redo cost $8,000. 

Everything after was “just finishing touches,” Lauren says. Those finishing touches include new pendant lighting, a flush mount, and new hardware — plus secondhand finds and lots of IKEA buys. Lauren and her husband set aside $10,000 for their kitchen redo and ended up spending about $8,000. 

“Overall, we just like spending more time in the kitchen, and it helps our small space feel more welcoming and shared,” Lauren says of the “after.”