Skip to content
home | our house | Kitchen Mini Makeover | Design Direction + Progress

Kitchen Mini Makeover | Design Direction + Progress

    We didn’t mean to do a kitchen makeover. Really, we didn’t.

    kitchendesignBut on the first night, while I was in another room, I heard Ryan’s drill and I knew: those cabinets were coming down.

    Let me back up for a minute and remind you of what the kitchen looked like on the day we closed:

    kitchen kitchenisland kitchentowindowsFrom the moment we first saw the house, we knew the kitchen/eating space wouldn’t stay this way. It took a bit of creativity and lots of sketching before we had a pretty good plan in place.

    What is that plan, you might ask? I’ll spare you exact details but will say it involves tearing everything out, removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room, taking out the french doors, aligning the whole kitchen along the back wall, creating a giant island, replacing all the floors and adding in as much natural light as possible.

    Needless to say, this project is not on the immediate horizon. We both decided we would live with the perfectly fine (if slightly dated and very orange) kitchen until we begin the big remodel.

    And then the drill came out (on the first night! We are crazy like that!) and Kitchen Makeover Phase One began.



    The first problem in the kitchen were those bulky upper cabinets. This house is pretty dark and the cabinets were not helping, so down those came.

    I painted the cabinets in our old house and was very happy with how they turned out so we decided to do the same in this kitchen for the lower cabinets. My default for cabinets is always white, but in this house, white didn’t feel right.

    Because we have to work with the dark tile floor and the speckled black and white granite tile, we felt like dark cabinets would be best to connect the floor and counters and minimize the contrast. If we went white, I could imagine it would feel pretty disjointed between the white walls, dark counters, white cabinets, dark floors. Grounding the bottom portion of the kitchen seemed like the way to go. Plus, the direction we’re trying to take this house is more handsome (to balance all the sweetness of the dormers and cottage-y features) and a rich charcoal was a great way to accomplish this.

    I tried three sample colors for the cabinets and decided on Iron Ore by Sherwin Williams.

    SIDE NOTE: I had the paint color matched at Home Depot in their highest quality in semi-gloss. Keep in mind that all of this will be replaced when we do the big kitchen remodel and so we’re doing our best to keep costs at a minimum. Honestly, I’ve been quite happy with the quality of paint.

    With the gray floor, cold granite and charcoal cabinets, we’re adding a bit of warmth with brass hardware. I found brass cup pulls and knobs on sale from the Martha Stewart line and they will work perfectly in the kitchen.


    There was also an issue with lighting.

    A massive, old fluorescent light hung over the island that was cased in more wood and felt very heavy. The can lights were scattered randomly and had black inner rings and off-white plates that read dirty and dark. The double pendants over the eating area were off-center and for some reason having two felt off.

    Ryan and a friend decided on a whim one night to add a few more recessed lights and to fix the placement of others so that they all lined up on a grid. The pendants came down, one hole will be patched up and the other was replaced with a leftover pendant light from our old house. It is amazing how much brighter it feels in the kitchen now with the extra cans and the clean white of the metal, rather than the off-white/black combo that was previously used.

    lightsreplacedOnce the upper cabinets came down we realized how dark the walls were painted and those got a coat of white paint to freshen up the space. You can see the contrast of the previous gray wall color on the left side of the beam. We will paint out that terrible beam and the ceiling in white once the holes are patched.


    All of the window, baseboard, doors and trim in the house is the orangy-wood that was popular in 1992. Many of you have asked if we’re leaving it (no), painting it (possibly) or replacing it (most likely).

    Again, since everything will eventually be torn out of the kitchen we are using what we already have and decided to paint the trim and doors. My default for trim is white and so I grabbed a can of trim paint from our old house and figured it would work perfectly for the kitchen.

    It looked terrible.

    Perhaps it was the wrong white? Perhaps it just needed another coat? Perhaps. But both Ryan and I agreed that white was not the look we were going for.

    One day, while I was out and about, Ryan texted me with a “don’t hate me, but …” message and sent a photo of the window trim half painted in the dark cabinet color. I loved it! So did he. So dark trim and doors it is in the kitchen. At least for now. Or maybe for always and throughout the house because we really do like how it looks.


    I didn’t realize the sink was a problem until we moved in and starting using the kitchen. While it is large (33″ x 22″), the split basin and off centered faucet made it difficult to wash dishes. We had a single-basin sink in our old house and I am forever and always a fan. I love being able to fit a cookie sheet or my gigantic cutting board into the sink to wash it and that wasn’t possible with this sink and faucet combination.

    oldsinkSince we’re trying to keep this makeover low-cost, we opted for a stainless steel sink which are typically less expensive than porcelain or enamel/cast iron versions. The one we chose is huge, square, so minimal and gorgeous.

    Fun story about the faucet: I was on my computer searching on one website, Ryan was on his computer searching on another site. I said, “ooh, I like this one“, turned to him and he had just clicked on the same one. It was faucet-destiny.

    Okay, ready for some progress shots?!

    Here’s how the kitchen looks today:

    eatingkitchenback kitchenfaucetkitchenisland kitchensinkHopefully this week I’ll get going on painting cabinets and finishing up the rest of the trim. We’re still on the hunt for the perfect wood to use for open shelves and thinking through a few different art options to bring in some warmth.

    So far, this little makeover is making me so happy and feels absolutely worth the time, money and effort.

    Now that I really think through it, it makes total sense for us to make a few changes to this most-used space in our home. Sure, we could just wait until we do the big remodel but I don’t always believe in that. We live in our homes and sometimes making incremental changes to make a space into something you can use and enjoy now is just as valuable as saving and planning and doing it all at once later. I want this home to feel like us and mini-makeovers might be just the way to get there.


    pendant light | single basin sink | faucet | brass knobs | brass cup pulls | dish towel (coming to my new shop next week!) | rug | chairs | barstools

    102 thoughts on “Kitchen Mini Makeover | Design Direction + Progress”

    1. It looks great! With the brass hardware what are you doing with your hinges? I have wanted to switch all my knobs to brass but then what about the hinges?

    2. Hi Emily. Ilove following you and all your ideas you come up with on remodeling.

      I have a question and was wondering if you could help. I have kitchen cabinents that I had painted off white. MY floor tile is beige. The countertop is mosty black with some beige it is a laminanted countertop that looks like marble.

      I was thinking of painting my cabinents white and try to paint the countertop in some beige tones.

      What would you do?

    3. I had to scroll back and forth so many times in disbelief that this was the same house! Great job lightening it up and bringing it back to life!

    4. I love, LOVE, L-O-V-E the dark window trim! It just WORKS. As I was looking at the pictures of your kitchen, I was thinking, “Those two random cabinets on the back wall would look better NOT there” ; ) I love that you’re leaving it all open. I have dreams of a kitchen with no upper cabinets (I’m too short to use all but the bottom shelf anyway! LOL!), so I love it when people are brave enough to step away from the “traditional” kitchen setup.

      It’s look great. Love that you painted the back doors too. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing the same to mine to hide fingerprints. Have you noticed that it shows dust more? I have alot of dust that blows in.

      I’m in the process of painting my own kitchen cabinets (going from “orange” to white). How do you keep your painted cabinets from chipping? I can’t bring myself to use polurethane indoors (I’m sensitive to the chemicals in it), so I’m thinking a finishing wax (which still smells, but it reminds me of shoe polish, so I can handle it — shoe repairman’s daughter here!).

    5. Hi Emily

      It all looks beautiful as always. What color is the trim? I understand you will paint the cabinets iron ore but wasn’t sure what color the trim is.

    6. I love the new look! Based on those photos it`s going to look amazing once you finish painting! I especially love that dark grey on the cabinets and trims!

      When we moved about seven years ago the previous owners had just remodeled the kitchen and we liked it. But over the years I have noticed what things don`t work and what our family would need. We don`t have money to redo the kitchen, but nothing stops me to doing little tweaks here and there – we should be able to enjoy our home and make it look like us! You gave me courage to really start planning a mini makeover :) Thanks!
      Best wishes from Finland!

    7. Beautiful! I’ve been looking for the wood shelves you will eventually use for my own kitchen. What are some good sources for those?

    8. I am so curious about your process for painting the cabinets. We stained ours and the sanding took forever! I would love to paint them now but the idea of doing that sanding all over again overwhelms me. How do you do it or do you use a social kind of paint?

    9. Ooh! It went from granny panty to SEXY HUNK in just a matter of weeks! I live the way you & your hubster do it together. Inspirational on so many levels! LURV

      1. I painted inside of the cabinets in our old house, but I will not in this kitchen. Just the inside of the cabinet doors. If we were going to use the cabinets long term I might … but it is a lot of extra effort if these will be torn out in a year or two.

    10. Absolutely LOVE everything you are doing here and can’t wait to see more! Thanks so much for sharing! It is a privilege and inspiration to watch it all unfold and become your own.

    11. Beautiful!! I also just had my kitchen remodeled and did my lowers in a charcoal stain, I love it. Single basin sinks are such an upgrade! I purchased a Blanco Silgranit in Anthracite-I love the off center drain, and even better it can be mounted under or over and it’s huge!

      Beautiful job, love the dark trim!

    12. I feel sooooo unproductive!, how do u do what u do with little kids?? And so well! I got to say, as I read your post I was like, “I don’t know about dark cabinetside? I amean thinking white…..but low and behold it’s gorgeous! I am a creative artist, but I have so much to learn from adventure, taste makers like yourself. Thank you for being so inspiring. OK gotta go and be be be productive!!

      1. I’m pretty tired :)

        Actually, we really love doing all of these projects and while it is an absolute juggling act and things take much longer than we wish, things get done eventually.

    13. Did you replace the sink yourself? I have my new sink (same issue as you – hate the divided bowl) in my garage, but the plumber wouldn’t touch removing the old sink from the granite. I have the name of a granite contractor, but he’s not calling me back! That reminds me to leave him another message…

      1. Ryan pulled out the old sink and had to cut the granite slightly to fit the new sink. He did it one evening while I was out and said it wasn’t too difficult. The pins that came with the sink, however, did not work with our countertops and that took him forever to get it all secured in there.

    14. I’m so glad you’re doing this mini makeover! It’s so much harder to produce a beautiful room on a small budget but you are someone that can show us how. I really like the cabinet color and especially like that color on the window and door trim.
      If you can spare the storage, I would leave the walls around the 3 windows open, and only put open shelves to the left and right of the single window. It sounds like you will be moving to an all window wall anyway when you do the big reno. I have always wanted a bank of windows above my kitchen sink.

      1. We’re going to start with shelves just on the wall next to the refrigerator. I do like having those walls empty next to the three windows so we’ll leave them blank for now!

    15. Hi Emily!
      Your kitchen updates look fantastic. I have basically the same counter-tops. However, our cabinets are builder-grade off-white. They seem to have a plastic “sticker” coating that is peeling off from age. Any advice on how to update without replacing completely….not opposed to painting, but I’m not sure how to paint the plastic covering. Thank you so much and have a great day!

      1. Hmm. You might want to take in a cabinet front to the paint store and see what the experts say. I know there are paint formulas that work on anything and maybe yours will work to be painted!

    16. As someone who “lived with it” in a house for 6 years, then had to fix things up to sell, I would say to anyone to do what you’re doing. Fix it to make it completely liveable and make yourself happy. Even if that means spending some money you really think you should hold on to. I’ll spare you all the details but it’s sooo worth it to just spend a few thousand dollars to get things livable, because you just never know how long, or if that renovation will ever come. Your kitchen is looking awesome! It definitely has that Emily touch now!

    17. You should wrap that beam in cedar or similar to what you choose for your wood shelves. Many people pay big bucks for exposed beams, your already half way there!

      1. The beam is currently wrapped in sheetrock which we will remove eventually. It just runs at such an awkward place. We’re hoping that by painting it the color of the ceiling it will recede a bit.

    18. It looks so great! You have me thinking we should do a mini makeover in our (orange wood) kitchen instead of just holding out for the big one… It is so disjointed from the rest of our house — which is especially a bummer since it is mostly open.

      And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this, but I can only get to the most recent blog posts (starting with the fall fashion one) by accessing the direct links. They don’t appear when I go to your homepage.

    19. Hi Emily
      I love the transformation and the dark gray makes very good with the white walls! There is a trick that ime crumpled, when I saw the new tap on Instagram, I said owl, they make a reminder with golden copper, to match the golden furniture !! But the furniture has changed color !! It’s beautiful and I love it! But I would not have put a gray sink with a golden tap. For me, it does not go together !! But the taste and the colors, this is not discussed !! Sorry to be direct!
      It seems to me that the details are important, I would put copper mat or shiny for the handles of the windows, the doors of the low furniture … In short, I would do the same for the sink! I find the faucet superb but the sink to my mind do not go with it! That said I understand the choice of the model because it is necessary that the sink is super practical.
      Congratulations for this super fast renovation and good luck for the rest!
      Marie-Maguelone from France

    20. Krystal Wight Armstrong

      PS- Could you do a post one day about how you pick your perfect indoor ferns? I never see such pretty ones like the great little pots of greenery you dress your rooms with.
      Help on what kind to look for, where, and how you keep them so nice would be so great. : )

      1. Of course! Although it is not very special :) I just buy ferns from the hardware store, nursery or sometimes grocery store flower department. The hanging ones are typically less than $20. I just pull off the plastic hanger things and pop them in a pot. To keep them alive, I water at least once per week, sometimes dropping in a few icecubes mid-week. The great thing about ferns is that they usually do well for a few months (at least) and when they start to look sad, you can either bring them back to life with new soil and fertilizer, or go buy a new one! I figure for the price of one flower bouquet that lasts less than a week, I get a fern that lasts much, much longer!

    21. Krystal Wight Armstrong

      Man, you do *so* much in so little time! I’m so impressed and in awe…it’s amazing looking! I can *totally* see why it’s making you so happy. It’s making ME so happy for you/vicariously through you. ; )

    22. I love your creativity. I would always default to a white cabinet but you are so spot on with the dark in this kitchen. Such a great eye for design. I always learn so much from reading your blog. I can’t wait to see how it will turn out.

    23. How wonderful to start enjoying your kitchen now while you wait for more permanent changes! It looks beautiful. I’ve had charcoal interior doors/trim in my last three homes – I love the richness it brings and has a very European feel. Great choice!

    24. You were the first blog I started following years ago and now that we have finished building our own home, I am so excited to see you taking on a new home because I miss the process so much! We did the same faucet in our single basin stainless sink and had our island and huge floor to ceilings windows painted black. People looked at me like I was crazy but I couldn’t be more in love!

      1. Sure! The rug is from Crate & Barrel. It is their sisal rug in Linen color. We had it in our living room and it actually works even better in an eating space!

    25. You guys are amazing! I LOVE how the grey ties into the floor and counter. The trim is really the finishing touch…can’t wait to see the floating shelves. I love that you just say ‘Ryan moved some cans around’ like it’s normal for people to do electrical work and rewire lighting. HA! You two are truly inspirational!! Love the progress pics…keep them coming. :)

    26. Beautiful! and I love love love the dark trim!

      I’d love some advice…we just moved into a house that we know will be a temporary home–a couple years at the most. I’m dying to paint our orange-y brown cabinets, but the counter tops are baltic brown granite–seriously ugly! I don’t want to spend on new counter tops since it’s not a forever-home. What color would you paint the cabinets? (Floors are light-colored, wood-look laminate.)

        1. We just did this – orangey wood cabinets, brown granite counters, beige-y backsplash. Just painting out the cabinets to match the rest of the trim in the house (white) made the rest stop bothering me nearly as much.

    27. You guys are so efficient!! I think I just keep getting lazier. We also have orange everywhere but I’m tired and the thought of painting all of it sounds daunting. (We did quite a bit in our first house in my defense). ? We plan on a major remodel/possible addition some day…hoping sooner rather than later. Your progress looks awesome tho! Thanks for the inspiration.

    28. Love what do guys did! We moved into our “forever” home 10 years ago. I never loved my kitchen and thought we would fix it some day. It never happened and now it looks like we may have to move :( So happy you just went for it! Enjoy it NOW – even if you will redo the whole thing down the line!
      Question: I hate having a dish drying rack on the counter so I love a big divided sink and keep my rack there. If you have a single basin where do you dry you pots, etc?

      1. I just lay out a towel on the counter and let the dishes dry. It is sort of my routine … load the dishwasher with dinner dishes, start the dishwasher, hand wash pots/pans/knives/etc and let them dry overnight. In the morning I empty the dishwasher and put away the dishes.

      2. I was going to ask this exact same question! Now I’m wondering if we don’t have a drying rack in the second sink and instead dry them on the counter if we will maybe put dishes away faster ;) When they are in the sink, they are hidden and the counters look clean so there isn’t always the rush to put them away (I admit – I will even just use those same dishes again, rewash, and repeat….)

    29. I’m curious to see how the gray on the cabinets turns out! We are in the planning stage for redoing our kitchen and we are wanting to do a dark-ish gray on the lowers, but picking grays is hard! We think we have one, and then see it against something else and it looks really green, or way too blue, and I’m afraid to get too dark. I just want a nice charcoal gray! What were the other grays you were looking at? I’ve practically got all the SW gray names memorized :-)

      1. I just painted our dining table (I got it used for very cheap so I didn’t feel bad about painting it) Urbane Bronze from sherwin williams and really love it!

        1. Urbane Bronze was my first choice for the cabinets. In fact, the one you can see in the straight-on photo is painted that sample color. It has such a warm richness to it … but it is not quite right with the floors and counters :( I can guarantee I’ll use that color somewhere else in the house, though!

      2. We loved LOVED urbane bronze – but it is more of a warm gray with green undertones. Another option we tried was Celestial sky (I think) and it was much more navy. Iron Ore is just a really great, deep true charcoal.

    30. Loving the progress – great decision on the dark trim! Good for you to make it aesthetically pleasing in spite of having to wait for the complete reno. We are currently living in a rental house while we build a new home and the rental has a kitchen that looks very similar to yours with the orange cabinets. It is killing me that I can’t do anything to make it “cuter” however, we are moving out in a week and a half already! Yay!

    31. Curious as to what you did with your microwave? We are installing an undercabinet hood vent and are looking for ideas on where to put the microwave.

      1. We have a microwave in the pantry – just like we did in the old house. It is not something we use regularly, so having it out of the way and out of sight works for us!

    32. This is just what I needed today. We moved into our home almost 2 years ago, and knew when we bought it that we wanted to re-do the kitchen. We have the same yellow/oak cabinets (and an awful countertop). I keep going back and forth on whether we should keep saving until we can rip it all out and start fresh, or jump in to make it more ‘us’ in the meantime. This is definitely inspiring!! One question- can you tell me about the bench at your table? Did you make that slipcover or was it purchased like that? Would love something similar for our table.
      Good work!!

      1. It’s a weird balance between doing the things now that make it feel more like you and waiting to do the whole thing … I totally get it. If you can find a few inexpensive things to do now that makes you live better in the home as it is, I’m all for it.

        As for the bench, we bought it several years ago from CB2 and I made the slipcover. I need to make a new one and I’d like to find a fabric that has more masculine mood to it. The ticking is a go-to for me, but looks a bit cottage-y and sweet in the kitchen. Time to manly it up!

    33. (Ignore previous request–just found the info about paint type/color.)

      I did want to thank you, also, for inspiring us to plan more family road trips. As our son gets older I realize that as much as we love our home, now is the time to explore the world together, and your 4-month road trip reminded me we just need to do it! First trip: Sequoia & Yosemite. Yes!!

      1. AMAZING AND INSPIRING!!!! We are house-hunting and this helps hugely to see past a dated kitchen and how simple it can be to update in the short term. Well done!!!

    34. I love your blog and kitchen looks great. Based on some of the art you seem to like, you might check out Keri Rosenthal’s work, especially her black and white works on paper.

    35. I love that your husband and a friend just decided on a whim to add additional lighting. I would know aliens abducted my husband AND any of his friends if they conspired to do anything remotely handy. Your kitchen looks great and I can’t wait to see what else you all do on a whim or otherwise ?

    36. Beautiful! You two have inspired me to get [temporary] changes going here! We have lived in this amazing mid century modern home for 3 years, waiting for the day to budget out the big changes. I want to jump in this weekend and peel off wallpaper in the main bathroom, and paint the same orangey cabinets the color you are using! It even makes your kitchen floor look beautiful! Is it a stain or a paint? I checked your source list, but did not see a brand or color name. Thank you so much for the inspiration!!!

      1. We used paint for the cabinets. Sherwin Williams Iron Ore in Semi-gloss (color matched at home depot). I just lightly sanded the cabinets and went straight to the paint. It took two coats on the trim, so I’m expecting the same for the cabinets. This may not be the most durable way to paint kitchen cabinets, but we’re not necessarily looking for long term. If you are, I would highly recommend getting the best quality paint you can afford and try the hybrid mixes that are now out on the market that go on like latex but dry like oil.

    37. Looks awesome
      You have any way of posting drawings of what you are going to do, or inspiration pics? 8
      I’m interested in seeing the wall down btwn rooms and what you would do with the space as we had almost same set up. And what is your plan with the French doors will you add a wall of doors instead? Your info is great!!

      1. We will definitely post ideas for the kitchen as we get closer. Ryan and I drew out our ideas on paper. I’ll have to figure out what I did with those … :)

        Our plan is to remove the french doors and just add an entire bank of counter to ceiling windows along the back wall. We have another set of french doors out the dining room and with the wall down between the dining and kitchen, that door will work fine for back yard access.

    38. Wow, this is fantastic Emily! We just moved this summer too and our whole house has the lovely orange wood trim. The thought of painting all that wears me out! But your progress looks so good – I just need to bite the bullet and get started. Love your mood board too!

    39. Wow! I love the colour that you painted the window trim and lower cabinets. The colour you chose really ties in the floor and the countertop!

    40. Looks absolutely amazing!!! Quick question: are you painting all interior doors black or just the kitchen? Just curious as we are deciding the same…Thanks :)

      1. We haven’t decided yet. I love a dark door … but I also love classic white. So we’ll live with the kitchen doors and see what we think for the rest of the house.

    41. I really love how you and your Hubs have the same taste in things for the most part. The kitchen is adorable and I am going to laugh when 3 years down the line it is exactly the same. Love it! ;)

      1. It is SO helpful that we both have similar tastes and a direction for this house. Don’t be fooled – we still disagree on things, but it seems like when we compromise the results are always best.

    42. Wow! Looks amazing! And you’re absolute right — why wait to make it “perfect”?! Enjoy it now. A lesson I need to continually tell myself! :)

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *