Before and After: A Small 1940s Duplex’s Kitchen Gets a Smart New Layout and a Fresh Look to Match

published Oct 29, 2022
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Credit: Jenna Marlar

Small kitchens can be challenging when it comes to design — and day-to-day use — but there are plenty of examples on Apartment Therapy that prove you don’t need massive square footage for an effective food prep space. See this small 1940s kitchen, this tiny NYC-based one, and this petite one in L.A. for inspiration.

Jenna Marlar’s (@cozy.happy.home) kitchen is another example. It’s on one side of a duplex she owns that was built in 1949. “The kitchens on both sides were not homey or charming by the time we moved in,” Jenna says. “They were outdated and had been rentals for a long time.”

Credit: Jenna Marlar

The approximately 9-foot-by-9-foot kitchen had aged vinyl floors that looked dirty no matter how much they were cleaned, cabinets that were painted white on the outside and dark on the inside, and green laminate countertops.

Overall, the kitchen had a “a strange layout,” Jenna says. “The stove stood alone in one corner with no cabinets next to it or above it. The storage overall was lacking, and there was only one window and an exterior back door that thankfully had a window in it, too. There was one flush mount light in the middle of the kitchen.”

Credit: Jenna Marlar

Jenna decided to knock out the wall behind where the small range originally was to have a bit more space to work with. From there, the entire transformation took about four months. The result is a brighter, more modern, and open cook space.

Credit: Jenna Marlar

“We started with the demo, which we hired a local team to come in and do,” Jenna explains. Her advice is to hire professionals, if you have the budget, for the areas where you feel less confident. “The work will be done more efficiently and with fewer mistakes,” she says. “It’s your kitchen, and you’ll be looking at it every day. You want it done right.”

During demo, the wall was knocked down, the wood floor where they were extending the kitchen was cut back, and the old cabinets were taken out. Then, the pros put in new sub-flooring and drywall. “We were removing everything to the studs and starting from scratch,” Jenna says of the kitchen.

Credit: Jenna Marlar

The kitchen also involved some DIY work on Jenna and her husband, Luke’s, end. “I assembled all of the cabinets myself, as they arrive to your home in individual boxes,” Jenna says. (The couple ordered cabinetry, a range, and a built-in-dishwasher from IKEA.) “We made a couple little mistakes when installing the IKEA cover panels, but only I really notice it,” Jenna adds.

Jenna and Luke hired professional plumbers and electricians to help them move and install the sink, stove, and refrigerator into the new L-shaped layout that knocking down the wall allowed. They also hired tradespeople to install the white quartz counters and new tile; the stacked white tile backsplash is one of Jenna’s favorite pieces of the renovated space.

Credit: Jenna Marlar

“Our vent hood is a simple wall-mounted vent that we built a DIY cover for,” she adds. Following this tutorial, she and Luke built a box frame around the hood and then tacked plywood to the sides and front and painted it white for a sleek, modern silhouette.

Credit: Jenna Marlar

Jenna and Luke also installed a faux wood beam in the center of the kitchen to add a bit of texture and warmth but also to cover the space where the new-construction drywall ceiling butted up to the 1949 plaster ceiling. “It looks just like wood, but it’s actually made out of foam!” Jenna says. “They sell them online at Home Depot, and you can stain them yourself, like I did, or buy it pre-stained. It’s super lightweight and easy to install.”

Jenna says both the DIY hood and the faux beam were easier to pull off than expected. “Thankfully, we didn’t have any major setbacks on this kitchen,” she says.

Credit: Jenna Marlar

The space feels complete thanks to floating shelving from IKEA, modern barstools, and organic-looking decor throughout. “Gosh, it’s so hard to pick one thing that I love most,” Jenna says. “I just love how the space feels. It is calming, bright, modern, minimal, and it makes me happy every time I walk into it.”