Before & After: A “Cramped” Dated Kitchen Completely Transforms with This Gorgeous Mega Island

published Mar 18, 2024
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Kitchen with neutral wood cabinets and island.

When professional DIY-er Nicole Pankopp’s family bought their Denver home, they were living across the country, and she knew she’d have to reimagine the kitchen’s design sight unseen to make it the heart of the home she envisioned.

“I didn’t actually see the house until closing day, so I designed our kitchen renovation based on the listing photos. It was a bit dated for our taste, and I knew it would require an update,” Pankopp shares. “The original kitchen was very small with low ceilings. While I don’t love to cook, I do love to entertain! I wanted to create a kitchen that was open and conducive to hosting family gatherings.” 

Having three “always hungry” sons may be one factor contributing to the need for the redesign, but Pankopp says that no matter what, the kitchen is always the space where people come together. “As we learned in our previous home, it doesn’t matter where you intend for everyone to gather — we all end up hanging out around the kitchen island,” she explains. “So I based my kitchen design around having a large island!”

Before moving in, she drew up an outline of the kitchen she envisioned, which included that large island, a pantry wall, clever storage spots, and smart ideas for cabinetry, backsplash, and countertops. Pankopp’s no stranger to home projects, but she knew she’d have to work with a contractor for most of the updates. The contractor removed the non-load-bearing walls, moved the appliances to fit Pankopp’s proposed layout, and then repaired the damage from moving the walls. When she moved in, the kitchen was a blank slate — ready for her to make her mark.

Pankopp picked ready-to-assemble bottom cabinets in a light gray paint shade that she put together herself, and built cabinet boxes and used red oak material for the upper, wall, and island cabinets. She also ordered red oak shaker cabinet doors and stained and sealed them herself. 

“After trying several different stain combinations, I came up with one that softened the red undertones of the wood without removing the warmth of the wood,” she shares. 

Pankopp had her heart set on a dark stone for the countertops, but didn’t want it to be polished or natural, as her sons would likely “put it through a lot of wear and tear.” She selected a honed quartz countertop reminiscent of soapstone for the space. 

Because the countertops and the cabinetry were darker colors, Pankopp wanted something contrasting for the backsplash. “I chose to stick with a light-colored tile, but I added some depth and dimension with zellige tile,” she explains. 

The kitchen took around four months to finish, but it’s now, unsurprisingly, the heart of the home — just as Pankopp originally envisioned. Her favorite part of the space? The massive island. “Just as I had hoped, we have plenty of space to congregate when we are entertaining,” she says. “I also love seeing the island full of food! It allows us to have a nice spread of appetizers when we host.”

While the kitchen is gorgeous, it’s also extremely functional. Pankopp created an appliance garage with a tambour door to keep items like her toaster and mixer off the kitchen counter. After moving the kitchen sink, another storage hack opportunity presented itself. 

“Based on the cabinet layout, I had a really small opening that could not fit a standard cabinet. After considering all of the options, I decided to make an oversized serving tray,” Pankopp shares. “I love large serving trays, but they are harder to store. I made both a custom tray and storage cabinet to store it — I absolutely love how it turned out, and we use it all the time!” For more smart cabinet storage ideas, check out these ingenious small kitchen and cabinet storage ideas.