Before and After: A Garden Apartment Kitchen Gets a Light, Bright Glow-Up

published Oct 7, 2023
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An apartment kitchen with white cabinets next to a dining table with pink chairs.
Credit: Courtesy of the Brownstone Boys

For Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum, aka the Brownstone Boys, the renovation of the kitchen in their garden level apartment was a long time coming. When they moved into their 1899 Brooklyn brownstone, they lived with the existing finishes, fixtures, and cabinetry — which appeared to be the work of a quick flip some 20 years prior — while they remodeled the upstairs of the home, which was to become their primary residence.

Once that work was complete, though, and their dear friend Kimberly moved into the garden unit, the couple knew eventually they’d need to give the kitchen some love. “While the cabinets were decent, there was a huge lack of storage because the upper cabinets had a lot of space above them, and they didn’t stretch the entire length of the kitchen,” says Bordelon. “Every time we talked to Kimberly about the apartment, the one thing the apartment lacked [for her] was space and storage.” 

Credit: Courtesy of the Brownstone Boys

The duo toyed with the idea of simply extending the cook space by adding a bank of cabinets opposite the current working side of the kitchen. Because the Brownstone Boys take on professional design projects and create inspiring home renovation content for a living, they decided to pretty much gut the space and start over from scratch, while keeping the floors and the basic layout mostly intact (although they opened up one wall a bit).

“A big goal was to add color, storage, and a beautiful design feature, as the kitchen is in the heart of the apartment,” says Slocum. Fortunately, they had a fairly large — at least by New York City standards — footprint to work with. At roughly 200 square feet, the garden apartment’s kitchen accounts for about a quarter of the total square footage, which is approximately 750 square feet. 

Because the kitchen was likely the building’s original one, the couple knew unknowns could be lurking in the walls and elsewhere in the room. Luckily, though, they got through the demo process relatively unscathed. Budget was important to them, so the plan was to use new IKEA SEKTION cabinetry and bring in Semihandmade doors from the Sarah Samuel Sherman collection to personalize them. Selected in an agave colorway, the SSS Beaded cabinet doors add texture and brightness to the space and quickly became the jumping-off point for the look and feel of the entire room. “The agave color is a beautiful light summer tone, and with the low ceilings of the garden kitchen, we wanted to add color but not a bold color that would make the room feel smaller,” says Bordelon.

To keep the room feeling extra light and airy, the duo decided to forgo upper cabinets, opting instead for a marble open shelf that extends upward from the slab style marble backsplash and countertops. “You can use it to display those decorative, beautiful items, but it’s also sturdy enough to hold ceramics, plates, and more,” says Slocum. They brought in matte black hardware from Rejuvenation’s Massey collection. One of their tips for a designer touch with hardware? Don’t feel like you have to choose just knobs or pulls; they actually used three different Massey pieces total in the kitchen. As long as you keep the finish and collection constant, mixing will create visual interest that still feels cohesive. And you don’t have to match your hardware to your faucet; the duo used a shiny silver finished gooseneck faucet that plays nicely with the stainless steel elsewhere in the kitchen.

Credit: Erin White

Speaking of stainless steel, new KitchenAid appliances were installed to bring the kitchen into the 2020s. As far as focal points go, the boys created a custom-look range hood above the stove with just drywall and paint, which ended up being a fairly easy and affordable DIY. They also sourced a statement wall sconce from In Common With, a local Brooklyn maker. The marble used, too, is another eye-catching element of the remodel and where the duo splurged. 

As far as upping the storage potential of the space went, most of that work happened on the wall opposite the original cabinetry. “Pre-renovation, the entire side opposite the open kitchen was wall, and it became primarily used for dropping all items,” says Bordelon. “In order to avoid this, we really needed to create usable storage. So we installed a bar area to give some room for storage underneath. From there, we added the two large pantry closets on the pantry side for additional large storage spaces.”

The entire renovation took about five weeks. “One of the setbacks we came across was having to alter one of the cabinets to account for a bump out in the corner,” says Slocum. “We had to build around it and made cabinets on sight to fit.” That’s a great lesson that the duo will take forward with them into future projects; standard-size stock cabinets can be finessed a bit to fit an older home that might have its quirks. You just have to solve for some of those things in the moment. 

Now the garden apartment kitchen is clean, modern, and far more functional for Kimberly and any future tenants. As a whole, though, the room still maintains a classic look, thanks to the striking marble and those Semihandmade beaded cabinet fronts that recall the past but push the design conversation forward with what the boys call a breezy “perkiness.”