5 Things We Can Learn from This “Ugly Duckling” Cottage Kitchen

published Mar 23, 2015
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(Image credit: One Kings Lane)

I’m about to show you one of my favorite kitchen types. It’s what I like to call the Ugly Duckling kitchen — the kitchen with vintage cabinets, dated countertops, basic appliances, or other uninspiring details. The Ugly Duckling kitchen is often found in rentals, and likely hasn’t been updated in a few decades. On the surface it really doesn’t look like much.

But Ugly Duckling kitchens? They’re beautiful in the hands of the right person, no gut renovation needed. Here’s one example.

Via One Kings Lane (Image credit: One Kings Lane)

A few years ago, graphic designer Whitney Leigh Morris bought a quaint 1924 Craftsman-style cottage in Venice Beach, California, with her husband. The 362-square-foot home is full of charm, and has been impeccably documented on Morris’ Instagram account. Of course, I was drawn to the tiny kitchen, which you might recognize from The Kitchn’s Small, Cool Kitchens contest two years ago, or from this House Tour on Apartment Therapy.

When I stripped away all the styling and looked at the bones, I realized the kitchen has classic “ugly duckling” details — vintage, 1960s-ish cabinets in the original wood finish (which many people choose to rip out or paint over), pebbled countertops, and basic appliances. There was no fancy tiled backsplash or flashy wall color.

And yet, Whitney reveals the true qualities of this “ugly duckling” kitchen — a kitchen that’s quaint, lovely, and so appealing — without painting the cabinets, installing new countertops, or doing any major renovation work.

So how did she do it? Here’s what I noticed:

1. Display your white dishes.

White dishes are endlessly versatile. They transcend styles and trends, go on any table and with any meal, and in this kitchen, also double as decor pieces. Crisp and classic, they’re a no-fail way to make any kitchen, no matter the size or style, look a little more pulled together. Whitney knows this, which is why she chose to put her white dishes on display, while hiding glasses and packaged food in the cupboards.

2. Use cutting boards as countertop and burner covers.

Not a fan of your countertop? Put a cutting board on it. Need a little more work space? Build a burner cover. Whitney employed both of these tips in her kitchen. Using wood cutting boards in this way not only gives her more workspace, but also ties in the natural wood cupboards.

3. Opt for easy-to-clean art that doubles as a backdrop.

To give a little punch to your kitchen, especially if you’re working with open shelves or cubbies, hang a piece of art in the back of a shelf. It adds color and dimension, and creates a nice backdrop. Just make sure whatever you hang is easy to wipe down.

Via Whitney Leigh Morris’ Instagram (Image credit: Whitney Leigh Morris)

4. Hooks are your friend.

Hooks can improve any kitchen. In this case, hooks hold mugs under the center cabinet, utensils on the backsplash wall, an extra cutting board on the side wall, and even an apron on the refrigerator! For such small, cheap things, they really make quite the impact!

They also enable you to …

5. Dry herbs right on your refrigerator.

Yes! Did you notice the DIY herb-drying rack in this kitchen? Whitney hangs her herbs upside-down from a twig looped through two magnetic hooks on the refrigerator. Clever, practical, and pretty!

Via Whitney Leigh Morris’ Instagram (Image credit: Whitney Leigh Morris)

So great, right? What else did you learn or notice from this kitchen?

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