Before and After: This Cheerful, Retro Kitchen Redo is Full of Small Space Upgrades to Steal

published May 17, 2022
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Credit: Chelly Tavss

Even if you can’t do major demo in a small kitchen, you can rely on new hardware, new appliances, and/or surface switch-ups to spruce things up. You can also make decor and small-space furniture work to your advantage.

Credit: Chelly Tavss

Homeowner Chelly Tavss did all of the above to her small 1940s-footprint kitchen to take it from “dark and cramped” to “a bright and happy place.” Before, the teeny cook space was overwhelmed by dark cabinets and a dark brown floor.

Credit: Chelly Tavss

But thanks to some smart swaps and some strategic use of color, Chelly was able to totally transform the look of this once-blah space — all without changing the total square footage. “It’s still a small space, but it feels so much bigger, and I will just hang out there admiring the space,” Chelly says. Here’s how she got her cheerier, larger-feeling new look.

Credit: Chelly Tavss

First, she swapped out the existing blackish brown cabinets for a gray-green IKEA SEKTION setup. This involved adding new cabinets next to the fridge and removing the upper cabinets from before, which were “pushed so high up the wall they were basically unusable for an average-sized person,” Chelly explains. Where the upper cabinets once were, Chelly now has stylish open shelving and a peel-and-stick Rifle Paper Company mural that draws the eye upward.

“The biggest challenges were the regulations of the community I live in,” Chelly explains. “I am in a co-op, so all major renovations have to be approved by the co-op board, and then the project has to be inspected along the way.” Her peel-and-stick mural and floors (a peel-and-stick checkerboard vinyl tile) are both non-permanent but majorly stylish solutions that up the retro playfulness in the space.

Credit: Chelly Tavvs

Chelly also got a new fridge, range and hood, and (expertly camouflaged) dishwasher, which work much better — the old ones “were gross and unmaintained,” Chelly says, with rust and broken pieces. The white finish and retro-influenced design feel right at home in her vintage space.

Credit: Chelly Tavvs

Lastly, Chelly added brass hardware to her cabinets in the space for a bit of sparkle. Other noteworthy small-kitchen musts from Chelly’s kitchen? Her portable prep space on casters, her spices stowed behind the stove’s rear control panel, and her wire fruit baskets, which could sit on shelves or hang, depending on what works best in your space.

Credit: Chelly Tavvs

In total, Chelly’s redo cost about $8,000. Her advice to future small-space renovators is to make a mood board, make a shopping list, get to ordering, and go from there. This will help you create a space that works for you functionally and stylistically, and it will help you stick to budget, she says.

Her wallet-friendly swaps help her small kitchen sing, and even selecting one or two of these upgrades — like a show-stopping mural or pretty gold hardware — could improve your own space.

Chelly’s been able to achieve a kitchen that balances practicality with a bit of her own style, too. As she says: “Now I have a space that is distinctly me and works for how I function in the kitchen.”

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly said the dishwasher was underneath the sink. It’s actually to the right of the sink.