Before and After: This $15K Kitchen Reno Lives Up To Its Open, Airy Potential

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Catherine S. Vodrey)

This kitchen was super cozy and sun-soaked, and it boasted an ample and intriguing island/peninsula hybrid—pretty sure that’s what an isthmus is—but it had a few shortcomings: The finishings were getting worn, and the freezer was a full 70 years old. Now it’s light and airy, and full of personal charm and quirky objects.

Reader Catherine S. Vodrey of OutspokenWomen.Org shares what the kitchen was really like, pre-renovation:

I designed our entire house and a local friend built it in 1994. The kitchen is cheerful and sunny, with a skylight and both northern and eastern exposures. Layout-wise and size-wise (about 15 feet by 17 feet), we still loved the kitchen, but our appliances were really getting old and everything was looking pretty dated. The dishwasher had been in death throes for a couple of years, the ovens and cooktop were original to the house, the fridge was old and we were still using my grandparents’ 71-YEAR-OLD chest freezer (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP). So it began with needing new appliances and evolved into “let’s update and refresh everything else, too.”

We really needed a new dishwasher and then ALAW went into effect! ALAW is the term our contractor uses meaning that you start with one thing and then you start saying to yourself, “As long as we’re… [fill in the blank].” Hence ALAW. So desperately needing a new dishwasher evolved into “let’s get other new appliances too because everything we have is 15-plus years old” which evolved into “let’s renovate the entire kitchen.” We also wanted to have a stand-alone, full-size freezer, as I cook a LOT—we have 40 pounds of homemade tomato sauce in there right now—make homemade ice cream, etc.

Seventy-one years old! I assume it was an icebox and that Catherine had weekly deliveries from an iceman (sorry, there were no icewomen 71 years ago) who cut chunks of ice from a frozen lake and packed them in sawdust. Oh, and I love the casual mention that Catherine designed the house—so cool!

(Image credit: Catherine S. Vodrey)

This is lovely! Now that the lower cabinets are painted, the wood window frames stand out more, acting as frames to the beautiful outdoor views. And as we discussed last week, I appreciate when a kitchen goes from mostly mid-tones (beige, brown, grey) to higher contrast. The new dark countertops and pale cupboards contrast nicely, and also play quite well with the black-and-white checked floor. Meanwhile, the removal of the two upper cabinets makes this kitchen live up to its open, airy potential.

Here’s a glimpse into Catherine’s vision and process:

We wanted an update that kept the wonderful hard-working, sunny, spacious aspects of the kitchen while modernizing it and making it subtly prettier with a serene, quiet color scheme. The cabinetry is a lovely, subtle blue-gray that wouldn’t be out of place in a home somewhere in Scandinavia. Given our unique site—half a mile deep into the woods of eastern Ohio—we wanted art tiles that would depict plants and animals in our area, and we found them right here in Ohio, designed by Ohio artisan and ceramicist Emily Ulm of Emu Tile.

We didn’t want to spend the money to get a new toaster oven or microwave, as ours were still going strong, so we asked the contractor to build a shelf for our pantry and put them in there. They look kinda cruddy but still work well, and they aren’t taking up any real estate on the counters!

The only thing we’d do differently is to keep better track of switchplates. They turned out to be like socks in the laundry! We’d removed them so I could prime and paint them, and now we can’t find one-third of them.

The idea of tiles featuring local flora and fauna is so good—see the charming results below—and just one of the many ways they personalized the kitchen to make it more them.

(Image credit: Catherine S. Vodrey)

Just look at that gorgeous light streaming in from the skylight! This photos gives us a view of a little more of the house, and the kitchen fits in perfectly.

Catherine was kind enough to share the financial details of this project:

The whole process took about five and a half weeks and we used local professionals: Contractors I’ve known since childhood, a tile guy and painters.

Not including the appliances, we spent about $15,000. Included in this cost were:

  1. Replacing the existing Formica counters with a dark grey granite countertop with “leather” finish.
  2. A coffee station to the left of our freezer with granite countertop and three shelves of interior storage for mugs and other essentials.
  3. Two new faucets and deep stainless sinks (yes, sinks plural—we have the luxury of a small veggie sink at the end of our peninsula and a larger kitchen sink).
  4. Cleaning, priming, and painting the existing kitchen cabinetry.
  5. New ceramic penny tile from Penny Bar that goes three-fourths of the way up the kitchen walls.
  6. New decorative art tiles creating little scenes above the dishwasher, the cooktop and the coffee station.
  7. Widening the doorway between kitchen and dining room from 36 inches to 72 inches. Painting the kitchen walls, ceiling, and up into the skylight.

I keep a massive vegetable garden and do a ton of canning, and I’ve perhaps never been as jealous of something as I am of Catherine’s veggie sink.

(Image credit: Catherine S. Vodrey)

A glimpse of my favorite things about this kitchen: the adorable folk tiles, and all the quirky ceramics.

(Image credit: Catherine S. Vodrey)

The penny tiles are delightful, and this open shelving adds visual interest as well as actual storage. My favorite things in this photo are the ceramics (again), all the pretty glassware, the lack of aggressive styling, and the missing outlet cover. Catherine wasn’t exaggerating!

(Image credit: Catherine S. Vodrey)

Let’s admire this fascinating tilework by Emu Tile that was installed above the stove as Catherine shares well-earned renovation insight:

Remember to draw a bright line between “need” and “want.” I WANTED to replace our peninsula with an island, but doing so would have added thousands more to our costs. You may not have to go “all new.” For instance, despite the fact that our checked sheet vinyl flooring is 24 years old, it’s still in terrific shape (thank you, Armstrong Flooring) and we opted to keep it. We also decided to keep the layout and existing cabinetry in order to keep costs down. And keep track of your switchplates!

Good advice for all of us!

Thank you, Catherine S. Vodrey!