Before & After: Adding Character to a Bland Kitchen

An old, bland kitchen undergoes major improvements without putting a cramp in the budget. See how these homeowners put their math and carpentry skills to the test.

Before: Bland and Uninteresting

David and Ginger Flesher's home in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, is a former Quaker Meeting House, built in 1841. Their kitchen, though decent, seemed bland and uninteresting compared to the rest of the house. Plus, its lighting and seating were inadequate. The couple wanted to add more character while making it function better.

After: A Work of Art

The doors and windows take on a Federal character -- more in keeping with the home's age -- with the headers and moldings that David added. Along with the illumination from downlights in the ceiling, there are lights inside the display cabinets and from small lamps on the countertops.

Before: Stark and Poorly Lit

All-white cabinets looked stark, and the ceiling, while high, was just another broad expanse of white. Window and door moldings were ordinary and there was no crown molding around the perimeter. The chandelier was fine for ambient lighting, but failed miserably to illuminate the working areas.

After: Small Additions Produce Big Results

Small touches create a custom kitchen without adding greatly to the expense. For example, the arch at the top of the window repeats the curve at each corner of the island countertop, while new shades on the existing chandelier echo the warm color of the walls. The countertop overhangs the island to provide extra seating.

After: Old-World Revival

This old-world island began as a stock white-laminate island from a home center. David applied new drawer fronts and trim, including corbels, proving that transformation is often only skin-deep. The custom-made butcher-block top is Santos Mahogany, an exotic hardwood. In the background, a mosaic made from broken tile and pottery shards is a charming departure from a plain backsplash.

After: Coffered Ceiling Embedded with Lights

To avoid tearing out the ceiling, Ginger suggested putting small downlights in a grid of hollow beams to conceal the wiring. As a math teacher, she worked out the optimal spacing on graph paper. David, an excellent carpenter, built the coffered ceiling. Painting color in the spaces between the light-colored woodwork adds instant interest to the previously unremarkable area.

After: Reused Cabinets Mold the Space

Deciding to work with their existing cabinets and appliances helped free the Fleshers' budget for simple upgrades that would improve the looks and function of their kitchen. David slightly reconfigured the cabinets, also adding spacers, embellishments, and more substantial moldings. Ginger used her painting and glazing skills to blend old and new wood in the cabinetry and to add rich color to the walls.

After: A Well-Deserved Rest

A broad window seat, Ginger's favorite part of the kitchen, offers extra seating while disguising the radiator and letting heat through metal grillwork. She made the cushion from fabric that coordinates with the richly colored walls. David replicated columns by tacking on short lengths of half-round molding with rounded ends.

After: Something Old, Something New

The old cabinets, newly embellished with applied moldings, decorative plinth blocks, and a painted-and-glazed finish, bear little resemblance to their former selves. The Fleshers made the wooden countertop surrounding the bar sink for only $40, using pine boards, pretty trim, and "many, many coats of Polyshades [a one-step stain and finish]," Ginger says.

After: Invest in a Conversation Piece

Ginger and David pulled the existing sink cabinet forward for a high-end offset effect. They saved money by buying copper sinks through two different venders on an online auction site. When one sink arrived damaged, they had to wait for a replacement before ordering custom-made granite countertops.

After: Convenient Pullout Storage

Reusing their existing cabinets to keep to their budget, the Fleshers augmented them with narrow spice cabinets that pull out for easy access. The new pullouts were unfinished when purchased, but now look like integral countertop supports -- David split an island leg lengthwise and attached half to the front of each one. A matching paint treatment and grape drawer pulls complete the look.

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