Before and After: A 1997 Kitchen’s Big Reno Is “a Story of Splurges and Saves”

published Sep 5, 2023
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Ah, ’90s kitchens. You know ‘em, you love ‘em, but you might not choose one for your dream home

When Donna Talley (@homestylingworks) and Randy Schmit, a landscape designer (and former Better Homes & Gardens and Traditional Home editor) and a textile agent, respectively, relocated to Nevada, they were actually on the hunt for a dated kitchen — solely because they wanted to create their own dream kitchen from scratch. Thankfully they (and their cat!) moved into a 1997-built home with a matching kitchen that was just begging for a redo.

Credit: Donna Talley

The kitchen had good bones but wasted space.

Some of the bones of the kitchen were OK, according to Donna. “The layout was fine, so we didn’t have to relocate plumbing or the gas range,” she says. “There was ample natural light from the large window over the sink and sliding doors leading to the backyard, and there was a decent-sized pantry closet.”

Those features made the kitchen a good candidate for their dream kitchen, but Donna says there were five main issues that needed to be fixed: “All the finishes, flooring, fixtures, and appliances were over 20 years old and looked it,” she says, for starters. Plus, the island was too small for an avid cook, the existing cabinets were not high-quality enough to keep, the built-in desk took up valuable real estate, and the soffits above the cabinets wasted even more space (and potential).

Credit: Donna Talley
Credit: Donna Talley

The stove and countertops were the two big splurges.

With the help of ABC Construction in Las Vegas, Donna and Randy got to work. Their budget was about $25,000, and they weren’t afraid of doing major demo. “In order to keep our budget, we needed the kitchen to be a mix of splurges and saves,” Donna says.

Donna and Randy’s plan involved two big splurges and multiple big saves. The first of the splurges was a black-and-brass stove that resembled ones Donna had seen in France. When she found an American company that produced in the same Italian factories for much cheaper, it felt meant to be, even if it took 16 weeks for it to arrive.

The other major purchase was the countertops, another European-inspired choice. “We found a great local source for marble and decided to splurge on marble, as we didn’t have a lot of linear square feet of countertops in the kitchen.”

Credit: Donna Talley
Credit: Donna Talley

IKEA cabinetry saved money and made smart use of space.

Next, “to offset the cost of the range, hood, and vent and keep within budget,” Donna explains, the couple went with stock IKEA cabinetry. “We considered painting the existing cabinets for about 30 seconds until we realized that they weren’t high-enough quality to salvage,” Donna says. 

But she’s thrilled with her “tall wall,” as she calls it, of IKEA SEKTION cabinets with AXSTAD doors that bring the storage all the way up to the ceiling and balance out the open shelving on other walls. “We custom-fitted each cabinet with pull-out shelves in the upper cabinets and pull-out storage drawers below,” Donna explains. 

“The IKEA designer here in Las Vegas was great to work with,” she says. “I recommend going this route if you have an IKEA store in your city. If we renovate another kitchen down the road, we would definitely do IKEA again.” The total cabinetry cost was $7,500. One of the only slight setbacks in the process was that Donna and Randy’s contractor hired a sub to put together the cabinets, and the sub didn’t have experience with IKEA assembly, so it ended up taking a week longer than it needed to. 

“Our recommendation is to have IKEA’s recommended contractor put the cabinets together and install the kitchen, which is something they do every day, all day,” Donna says. 

Credit: Donna Talley

The tile and lighting were also budget-friendly. 

To save money in other spaces, Donna went with less expensive finishing touches. “We decided to run inexpensive white subway tile all the way to the ceiling along the range and sink wall,” she says. (It’s the Festival Bright White Ice Subway Tile, a 3×6 option, from Floor & Decor.)

Lighting also could have been expensive, because Donna “was adamant about removing all of the recessed can lights in the kitchen and in the adjoining family room to create a clean look in both spaces,” but Donna actually scored her new pendant lights over the island and the trio of sconces over the sink for under $45 each. 

One lesson to be learned here? Don’t let the color of lighting dissuade you from buying it if the price is right. Donna turned her over-island pendants into bold black stunners, thanks to Sherwin-Williams’ Tricorn Black. (They were originally gray, from IKEA.)

Credit: Donna Talley

The DIY island saved major money. 

The same paint color came to the rescue for the kitchen island, which is maybe the biggest budget-saver in the space. Donna and Randy were prepared to spend $3,400 on an island from Crate & Barrel when inspiration struck: “We were watching a home design show, and the designer refurbished a vintage store counter and repurposed it as a kitchen island,” Donna says. “We thought, ‘Why not try that route?’” 

They canceled their new island order and found something secondhand instead. “On a lark, I checked the OfferUp app for ‘antique store counter’ and hit paydirt,” Donna says. Their OfferUp find was the perfect size (40” x 72”), $150, and only 15 minutes away. 

“That kitchen island was a lucky find,” Donna adds. “I would recommend checking out Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and OfferUp for one-of-a-kind renovation materials (such as an island, kitchen table, unboxed appliances, and hardware).”

Randy zhuzhed up their old counter by adding new drawer fronts, repairing and patching the worn tapered legs, and priming and painting it black. He topped it with the same marble countertop as the rest of the kitchen and added champagne bronze drawer pulls. The grand total cost for the island? $750.

Credit: Donna Talley
Credit: Donna Talley

What was worth it?

In the end, in Donna’s kitchen, “a story of splurges and saves” as she calls it, there are a few areas where she’d splurge if she were to do things differently, and a few areas where she’d save again. 

For example, Donna ended up compromising on a more budget-friendly refrigerator when she’d originally wanted paneled fronts, and she’s pleased with her decision. She loves her budget-friendly lighting. She loves that they chose to go with a kitchen island that didn’t require seating, in part because those islands were super expensive, and in part because she loves the French-inspired look and feel it creates. “It’s nice to sit at the table for meals, instead of an island,” she says. And as for the meals she’s cooking up, think: homemade pasta, bread, and pizza. “We really give the kitchen a run for its money while we are at home,” Donna says. 

She says if she were to do anything differently she might splurge on Semihandmade cabinet fronts in a more fun color for her IKEA cabinet bases, and she might get a higher-quality sink that doesn’t stain as easily. But mostly, she and Randy are pleased with their final product. 

“We both love how light and bright the new kitchen is!” Donna says. “And not only is it beautiful (both during the day and at night), but it is also so functional.”

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Correction: A previous version of this article said Donna was an editor for House Beautiful. Donna was in fact a longtime regional editor for Better Homes & Gardens and Traditional Home magazines.