Before & After: A No-Demo Kitchen Makeover Transforms This “Sterile” White Space

published Dec 25, 2023
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About this before & after
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Minimalist design ruled the 2010s, but contemporary trends encourage people to add warmth and color to their homes. However, living in a home with modern, builder-grade amenities can make personalizing your space a challenge. That’s the dilemma that DIYer Kiju Lee (@homeleebuild) and her husband, Chang, faced when they moved into their house in 2022: The kitchen was bright and up-to-date but had “no character” and “no personality.”

“I wanted my kitchen to feel cozy and inviting,” Lee says. Having an open floor plan with a connected kitchen and living space can be tough to navigate, and Lee hoped the kitchen could pop and “be the heart of the home,” she says.

Credit: Kiju Lee
Credit: Kiju Lee

Get Cozy on a Budget

Lee says she loves color, so she wanted to add some to her “sterile” original kitchen. Rather than spending potentially tens of thousands of dollars switching out the kitchen’s plain gray countertops or replacing the neutral tile backsplash, she and her husband decided to spend $2,000 adding character to what they already had. 

Lee painted the island a dark green color (a mixture of Sherwin Williams’ Rosemary and Ripe Olive) — she had a hunch it would make the countertop look lighter. “It worked!” she says. She also warmed up the kitchen’s white cabinets using Sherwin Williams’ Taupe of the Morning. “The color scheme is the most important [element],” Lee says. “For my project, it was important to have this theme of ‘warmth’ and match all the color scheme around that.”

Credit: Kiju Lee
Credit: Kiju Lee

DIY Design

Pretty much every kitchen DIY that Lee undertook was new to her. She learned to build cabinets, adding four new ones above the kitchen’s existing storage. Lee customized her builds with glass doors and interior lighting. The hardest part was adding shiplap and a large beam to her 10-foot ceiling, which she initially attempted to do solo. “The nail gun I had on the ladder fell on my oven and it shattered the door completely,” she says. “We all make mistakes, but sometimes we do need help,” Lee says. Her husband helped her finish up the job, and having two people work together made it so much easier.

Lee gave her pantry a bold makeover using a mixture of black paint and plexiglass. “I cut a hole in the middle of the door with my circular saw, fitted a plexiglass, and painted everything black,” she says. “It makes such a big statement!” 

She also added pendant lights for a personalized touch and installed a surround to close the gap around the fridge opening.

For any fellow DIYers, Lee says to “work with the pain points,” calling out her kitchen countertop as an example. “I considered ways to improve it rather than immediately giving up on it,” she says. “Not only did I save a lot of money by not buying something new, but people also reach out to me now to ask what kind of countertop I have!”