Before and After: Subtle Changes Crank the Charm to 100 in this Teeny Cabin Kitchen

published Dec 17, 2022
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About this before & after
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Kitchen before renovation
Credit: Meng Ai

If you live in a city apartment, you probably know the struggle of having a small kitchen. But fear not, Apartment Therapy has small kitchen inspiration in spades, from cool design ideas to functional finds that make food prep easier.

This small kitchen redo comes courtesy of homeowner Meng Ai and his husband, Andrew. It’s in a cabin, so it’s far from the city, but it’s still got the cozy feel and small footprint — and more small footprint ideas — Apartment Therapy knows and loves.

“Since this was a small kitchen in a small cabin, we wanted it to be stylish but not stick out too much,” Meng says. “The previous owners made some really smart design choices, which we kept. They chose the dark color scheme, opted for a built-in oven and cooktop instead of an oven range, and creatively used antique wood crates on the walls as storage.”

Credit: Meng Ai

Meng and Andrew just wanted to take the rustic vibes one step further, so they cladded the walls with shiplap. Choosing a light whitewashed wood finish, rather than painted white, offers a fresh take on the classic. To maximize the counter space in the small kitchen, Meng and Andrew downsized the sink, swapped out the existing metal one for a smaller model. The old sink was a drop-in style, with edges that could catch crumbs and grime; the new under-mount model offers a sleeker look.

Credit: Meng Ai

The counters themselves got an upgrade, too — now, they’re a darker, richer tone that complements both the crate shelves above and the deep wood of the cabinets below. Behind them is the biggest design difference in the space: the patchwork tile treatment on the backsplash, which also ups the cozy feel of the home. “We love the unevenness and organic feel of zellige tile, but since it’s usually installed without grout, and the tiles are not uniform, it makes cleaning a challenge,” Meng says. For a more practical solution, he found a zellige lookalike — a set of mismatched beige square ceramic tiles — and he loves the way they look.

“It had the organic feeling we were looking for with the variation in color,” Meng says, and as a bonus, it was a fraction of the cost of authentic zellige. Between the tiles, Meng and Andrew used a stain-resistant epoxy grout. It’s stood up well to kitchen messes, Meng says — something that’s been especially important since Meng and Andrew rent out the cabin to guests when they’re away (perhaps at their home base in Queens).

Meng and Andrew selected their grout color by choosing a match for the darkest tile squares, “providing some subtle contrast,” Meng explains. He’s learned that in tiling, it all comes down to selecting the best grout. “I think for a heavy-use area like a kitchen sink backsplash, it’s worth it to splurge on the highest quality material,” Meng says. “It saves you money in the long run not having to re-grout the tiles.”

With the new tiles, new sink, new counters, and the trusty homemade shelving from before, this kitchen is optimized for small space cooking. For more small kitchen inspiration, check out these 40-plus small-but-mighty cook spaces.