Budget-Friendly Fixes Add Wow Factor to This Kitchen Makeover

A renovation novice embraced what worked in her kitchen, reserving her budget for the switches, rehabs, and additions with major impact.

Jennifer Smart-Abbey, a doctor living in Baltimore, knew the original layout of her townhome's 300-square-foot kitchen worked. But the plaid wallpaper, coarsely veined countertops, and wood cabinets with ornate iron hardware felt a little dated. "The kitchen had a strong personality that wasn't mine," she says. "I wanted something light, airy, and feminine." To make the transformation, she found local interior designer Elizabeth Lawson on houzz.com.

Person standing in kitchen with bar seating
Helen Norman

Once she hired Lawson, Jennifer's kitchen update took about three months from concept to completion. More of a facelift than a total overhaul, the physical work took about six weeks. A crisp paint job sets the tone for the renovation. Benjamin Moore Decorator's White brightens the walls and upper cabinets. Farrow & Ball Pigeon grounds the bases.

Lawson sifted through Jennifer's Pinterest board of ideas to determine where to spend on statement pieces and what to limit to facelifts. Twin bell-shape pendants replaced a single fixture over the island. At $400 each (plus labor), the switch was pricey, but their prominent placement justified the splurge.

Lawson estimated new cabinets would run close to $15,000, so Jennifer opted to paint hers. The job, which cost $6,000, required a few gallons of eggshell and pro painters, who also stripped the wallpaper and patched and painted the walls and ceiling. The existing appliances were in good shape; no upgrade needed.

Kitchen with blue cabinets
Helen Norman

New brass pulls and knobs did almost as much to modernize the cabinets as the paint. Lots of cabinets meant lots of hardware, though, so the cost added up to $1,500. New counters were not on Jennifer's list, but once she saw the freshly painted cabinets, for $7,000 she replaced the dark granite with veined white quartzite.

Elizabeth Lawson, designer

Switching out the countertops was our big bang. But if we’d done marble, it would have cost even more. Quartzite is less expensive and easier to maintain.

— Elizabeth Lawson, designer

For high-use items like a faucet and draw pulls, prioritize durability. This clean-lined brass faucet matches the Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. hardware. Choosing inexpensive subway tile ($250 total) offset the $3,000 installation fee.

Editor's Tip: Labor costs will vary by region. A local designer will be able to recommend reputable professionals and help calculate costs.

Dining area with bench and woven chairs
Helen Norman

Pushed against the wall, a leather bench takes up less space than additional chairs, minimizing the footprint of the breakfast area. Keeping the original floors maintained the flow with the rest of the house. A floral rug defines the space.

Updated by
Helen Norman
Helen Norman is a freelance photographer working in the fashion and lifestyle industries. She has more than 20 years of experience shooting photos for commercial fashion brands such as L.L. Bean and publishing lifestyle photos in magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens and Southern Living.
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