See How ’90s Shaker-Style Cabinets Get a “Dramatic, Earthy” Makeover

published Feb 6, 2024
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After more than a decade in the food industry, food stylist, cookbook author, and Studio A La Carte owner Diana Yen knows her way around a kitchen. But when she moved into her earthy Ojai home, the kitchen didn’t feel like the most conducive space or layout for her and her work, which was going to be important. She knew some changes had to be made. 

The kitchen was last renovated in the ‘90s with shaker-style cabinets and dark countertops, which were typical of the period. “I’ve gotten used to kitchens that look like this, but nothing about it felt like a place I was inspired to cook in,” Diana says. “The appliances were old and run-down and never at the right temperature. There were outlets all over the place and light switches that didn’t turn anything on.”

Cooking isn’t just Diana’s job — it’s also her passion, so she wanted to be very hands-on in the transformation of her kitchen. She chose not to work with a designer, so she set out to find new appliances and materials, making design choices and coordinating with her contractor. Yen even found ways to save money throughout the process. Here’s how she transformed her run-of-the-mill kitchen into a dramatic, moody space.

Credit: Diana Yen
Credit: Diana Yen

The cabinets got a two-tone paint job.

Before beginning the kitchen renovation, Yen had to ensure the updates would cost around her budget of $12,000. “I found that keeping and painting the existing cabinets would save me a lot of money, and I wouldn’t be out of a working kitchen for too long, so I went that route,” Diana explains. “I tore out some of the upper cabinets to make room for a vent.”

Having worked in the food industry for many years, she developed relationships with brands she partnered with to cover some material and product costs. For example, instead of replacing her kitchen cabinets, she painted over them to save money. She worked with Farrow & Ball to pick the shade Jitney for the upper cabinets and walls, and London Clay for the bottom cupboards. 

Credit: Diana Yen
Credit: Diana Yen

New appliances — including a “bank vault” fridge, make the kitchen more polished.

Diana’s neighborhood has all electric appliances (not gas), and she says she spent a lot of time researching what options would work (and look!) best in her new space.

“I decided to change my stove to a Big Chill induction model,” she says. “I loved that it was traditional in style but environmentally friendly, and there was a cool matching fridge that looked like a bank vault.”

Credit: Diana Yen

The new countertops and sink are practical yet chic.

Another area where Diana made sure to research was with the countertops — in fact, she visited over 10 showrooms to find the perfect quartz option that looked similar to marble but didn’t require much maintenance. “I planned on real marble, but after finding out about the special care it requires, I went with quartz. I was advised by professionals that if I were to resell the home, people would prefer that,” she explains.

Because of her work in the kitchen, Diana also needed a big sink to house dirty dishes that are “always a big pileup at the end of a work day.” She chose Native Trails’ black farmhouse sink, which complements the new appliances.

Credit: Diana Yen

Brass finds finish off the kitchen.

“And for sourcing the rest of it, I used Etsy a lot,” Diana explains. Her brass faucet and brass light switch panels from Etsy. She also found cabinet door handles on eBay. Her new sconce is from Mitzi. Her space-maximizing hanging rails are from DeVol.

It’s hard to believe that Yen’s kitchen looked so basic and dull before. Now, it’s a dramatic, earthy, and functional space for a pro to thrive in. “The finished kitchen is so chic and compact and functions beautifully,” Diana says. “I have always loved English country kitchens, so it has a touch of traditional but the appliances are very modern in functionality.”  

If you love the look of this kitchen, you have to see the rest of Diana’s home (especially the DIY terracotta-colored lime wash living room walls!). Visit the full home tour on Apartment Therapy to see more.

This post originally ran on The Kitchn. See it there: Before & After: ‘90s Shaker-Style Cabinets Get a “Dramatic, Earthy” Makeover