One Room Challenge

Before and After: A “Dark, Small Cave” Kitchen Keeps Its Same Footprint But Gets a Brighter, More Open Look

published Sep 5, 2022
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About this before & after
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Before: a kitchen with wooden cabinets and a small rectangular dining table
Credit: Michelle Van Der Water

Kitchens in small apartments — or kitchens that are visible from the living room or entryway, no matter the size of the home — can really drag the style of a whole home down if they look dated.

In apartment owner Michelle Van Der Water’s kitchen, the reddish-brown cabinets created an unfortunate focal point visible from most of the unit. “The cupboards and appliances did not sit flush, so the boxiness of the cherry wood cabinets was accentuated,” Michelle says. “It was the biggest eyesore of the whole apartment!”

Overall, her kitchen “felt like a dark, small cave,” she says, because of its lack of natural light and singular florescent fixture. That, in addition to a leaky faucet and old, loud dishwasher, made the kitchen highly impractical. “I love to cook but felt so uninspired every time I went in there,” Michelle says.

Credit: Michelle Van Der Water

For nearly a month, Michelle worked to make her kitchen a space she looked forward to using every day, a project she completed for the Spring 2022 One Room Challenge. Although she would have loved to tackle a full-on reno that opened up the kitchen, Michelle decided to make aesthetic upgrades for the time being. Her work proves that even no-demo changes can go a long way in transforming a space.

Credit: Michelle Van Der Water

Seeing as her old cabinets were still in good condition, Michelle hired a painter, Carlos, to redo them instead of ripping them out. He painted the cabinets in a frosty grayish white color for $3,500, a change that suits the silver appliances much better. “While the doors were getting painted, I tried to sell the fridge in the meantime, thinking that it was too large for the space,” Michelle says. “But after the painting was complete, the fridge looked like it fit much better, I think because of the new color scheme.”

Credit: Michelle Van Der Water

Michelle considered adding a tile backsplash, but to save money she decided to paint the area above the counters with Behr’s Little Black Dress, a matte black that she chose to disguise the existing textured wall from 1987. “The darker color also made the cupboards pop and created some depth,” Michelle says. She also updated the cabinets with IKEA brass knobs and installed a new (non-leaky) brass faucet.

Credit: Michelle Van Der Water

But the project didn’t end there. The breakfast nook next to the kitchen got its own little revamp with a natural wood table and chairs set and a peel-and-stick patterned wallpaper behind the bar, both of which Michelle selected to help tie in her existing beige counters. Her advice to anyone upgrading their kitchen is to “work with complementing your existing countertops unless you have the budget to change them.”

Credit: Michelle Van Der Water

To match the boho vibes of her new wallpaper and dining set, Michelle also added a woven covering to her ceiling fan to help disguise its clunky chrome.

She says if she could change one thing, she’d still probably switch out the fridge so that the oven door doesn’t hit the freezer handle on the way down, but she’s really proud of how far the kitchen’s come for $4,500 total.

“The kitchen now feels light, airy, and more spacious — the complete opposite of before,” she says. “I got incredible results just with some paint and hardware changes.”

This project was completed for the Spring 2022 One Room Challenge, in partnership with Apartment Therapy. See even more of the One Room Challenge before and afters here.