Before and After: A ’90s Kitchen’s Makeover Stylishly Maximizes Its 88 Square Feet

published Sep 27, 2023
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Even if a kitchen is already functional, there’s a benefit to decorating it to suit your tastes. After all, it’s difficult to summon the motivation to cook from home if your kitchen is less than welcoming.

Take it from Virginia Chamlee (@vchamlee), the author of “Big Thrift Energy,” who’s a master at finding vintage treasures. Unfortunately, the dark, bland 1996 kitchen in her condo in Florida wasn’t one of those treasures. In fact, the space lacked any sort of vintage charm. 

Instead, the kitchen just felt dated and drab, with brown walls, fluorescent lighting, and white appliances that were “too large for the space” which clocked in at about 88 square feet. Those elements made it seem even smaller, Virginia says. Virginia, who lives with her boyfriend, adds that the couple cooks about 95 percent of the meals they eat, so they wanted to work to maximize the square footage.

“It was hugely important that my kitchen be both beautiful as well as functional,” Virginia says. “I love to cook, so I wanted enough space that two people could be in the kitchen at the same time, and I hoped to double the counter space.” Here’s how she made the most of her small kitchen.

Credit: Cole LoCurto

The cabinets and backsplash draw the eye upward.

Virginia worked with Kitchen Envy, a custom design firm, to help navigate the redesign, which began with a complete demo. Her cabinets are custom-designed, and the walls are painted Sherwin-Williams’ Extra White to match.

Selecting a bright white color palette helped brighten the entire room, and selecting tall, slender cabinets with un-fussy fronts made the space appear taller — and more contemporary. 

One other element that makes the space appear more elongated is the semi-translucent quartz backsplash, which matches the countertops for a seamless look that isn’t disrupted by lines or patterns. The quartz was a splurge from Wilsonart Mehndi. “I wanted to ensure the project felt fresh but with some touches that seemed classic, like darker stone and rich wood,” Virginia says.

One other way Virginia thought vertically? She added small sconces above the cabinetry to add more light.

Credit: Cole LoCurto

Zig-zagged drawer pulls add personality.

Virginia says even the littlest details made a big difference in her small condo, like the new drawer pulls. “I had an idea for the drawer pulls, so those were custom-made,” she says. “I knew exactly what I wanted — an almost ‘toothed’ look, but couldn’t find it anywhere.”

The wooden zig-zag pulls add contrast and texture to the kitchen. You can find similar ones from Etsy, although you might have to DIY a dark stain for them.

Credit: Cole LoCurto

Euro-sized appliances save on space. 

One other aspect from this kitchen reno that small-space dwellers, especially, will want to steal is the fact that Virginia seemingly created space out of thin air by opting for smaller appliances. 

“We got rid of the existing appliances and replaced them with a European-sized fridge and dishwasher,” she says. “The result is that I now have double the counter space and, frankly, the smaller fridge has forced me to be more forward-thinking about how I shop for groceries.” (For more smart, small kitchens that make Euro-sized appliances work stateside, check out this A-frame’s kitchen and this one.)

Finishing touches make the kitchen feel homey.

Virginia finished off the space with porcelain tiles that look like wood, an added a pendant light above the revamped island (now with storage), and thrifted odds and ends. “My home is full of vintage treasures,” she says. For example, the turquoise bowl on the kitchen island is actually signed by the famed Mexican artist Felix Tissot. “His work is featured in museum collections, and I found it at a thrift store for $3,” Virginia adds. (Did we mention she’s a thrifting pro?)

The result of all of Virginia’s thoughtful planning is a totally stylish, space-savvy kitchen. “I’m not sure there’s much I’d change,” she says. “It functions perfectly for me, and I’m really happy with it.”