Before and After: A Home Stager Brought This Tiny Kitchen “Trapped in the ‘80s” to the Present

published Nov 10, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Before: Kitchen with wood cabinets and hanging pots and pans

When the majority of the homes you professionally stage wind up selling within a week, that’s a pretty darn good record. It’s also a testament to the talent of Darla DeMorrow, owner of HeartWork Organizing near Philadelphia, and her crew, who have been organizing and staging homes for more than 15 years.

Take this recent project for example: a four-bedroom, three-bath house in Wayne, Pennsylvania, which sold at full asking price before even officially hitting the market.

One of the trickier spaces of the 2,131-square-foot multi-level home on a cul-de-sac, which had some pros like hardwood flooring and a recently renovated bathroom, was the tiny kitchen “trapped in the ’80s,” DeMorrow says.

“It was the first of two rooms that you saw as you entered the house. There wasn’t anywhere to hide, so we had to make this space draw the buyers in from the front door. The existing kitchen was dated, dark, and cramped.”

Specifically, the primary issues were DIY projects gone bad (including unsafe lighting), dated wood cabinets, busy and drab brown linoleum, a broken refrigerator ice-maker, and a stainless-steel dishwasher that clashed with the older appliances. Although the real estate agents called the room a “tear-out,” DeMorrow didn’t think such an extensive investment was necessary for the kitchen.

“What we needed was a facelift, not open-heart surgery,” she says. “I knew that we could make this space shine by leaning on the farmhouse trend.” 

First, to free up some space in the already cramped room, she downsized to a counter-depth refrigerator.

“The client agreed to purchase a new counter-depth fridge, which made a huge difference,” DeMorrow says. “The old fridge appeared to stick into the doorway, but after, you could clearly see from the front door through to the kitchen window unimpeded.”

To match that new fridge and the existing dishwasher, a stainless steel range was purchased, “presenting an updated look for the entire kitchen,” she says.

Next, the aforementioned DIY light fixture over the stove was removed, and the single cabinet was moved up to the ceiling.

“This made way for an over-the-stove microwave, which freed up a huge amount of counter space,” DeMorrow says. “Already, the room was starting to open up.”

Other lighting changes included installing a single pendant light over the sink as well as a center-ceiling semi-flush fixture, while ensuring that the room’s one window remained uninterrupted to bring in natural light. And, of course, paint can instantly brighten up any room.

“We chose a popular two-tone suite, with a naval blue on the base cabinets,” she says. “We were stuck with the backsplash, so we needed to simplify the palette as much as possible, which is why painting the uppers the same as the wall color made sense. This bright and bold treatment is tons of fun.”

Then, simple, inexpensive brushed-nickel drawer pulls add a bit of shine, like” jewelry for the room,” DeMorrow notes.

For a quick fix, the old vinyl floor was covered with a layer of sheet vinyl.

“This bright upgrade isn’t expensive compared to other flooring options and requires nearly no prep or downtime,” she says.

By far, the most cost-effective updates were refreshing the grout and adding faux marble film to the countertop, she says. First, DeMorrow had the backsplash tile professionally steam-cleaned; then, she and her team hand-painted all the grout to make sure it was bright and clean.

“Next, we added the faux marble film to the existing laminate,” DeMorrow says, noting that the color is Turkish cream faux marble. “This product is magic! For less than $200, we get a fresh, on-trend surface with shine for miles. It doesn’t require sink installation and wears well for years under normal daily use.”

Details like a contemporary roman shade and clear and blue jars on display shelves by the sink add the perfect finishing touch and draw the eye to the back yard—not that you’d rather spend more time outside than in this charming updated kitchen.