Renovation Diaries

Before & After: A Gut Renovation Takes a Victorian Kitchen from Drab to Dramatic for $50,000

published Nov 18, 2022
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A graphic featuring 'before' and 'after' images of Dana McMahan's kitchen renovation.
Credit: Before Photo: Diane Deaton Street; After Photo: Andrew Kung Photography; Design: Kitchn
Renovation Diaries

When my best friend, Mike, and I decided to take our shared love of old homes and passion for renovation and design and tackle a project together, we didn’t intend to buy the first house we saw. But then my realtor told us about a cheap Victorian in need of some love in our home of Louisville, Kentucky. It was a behemoth of a house with several decades of deferred maintenance, and a time capsule of a kitchen — complete with a jukebox. When the owner plugged it in and it played a scratchy 45, we were all in.

Mike and I dubbed the house Sleeping Beauty because we knew that hiding behind the overgrown snarl of shrubs devouring the house was a gorgeous home waiting to be revealed. Our plan: Bring the house to life and sell it. While this was a whole-house reno, down to the bones, the kitchen is what made us fall in love with the house — and we knew that the kitchen would be what would sell it. So that’s where we devoted the lion’s share of our energy, attention, and budget.

Credit: Diane Deaton Street

All together, the kitchen took 22 months and $50,000 to renovate, including new mechanicals as well as appliances, counters, and cabinets; floor installation; and painting. That was a lot more time and money than we ever imagined it would take. Tears and Champagne probably flowed in equal measure on bad days and good, and there were times along the way we wondered if we’d ever be done. But we just kept picturing the kitchen the way we knew it could be, taking turns reassuring each other that it would be worth it, and in the end it was everything we dreamed and more. 

How We Did It

Typical for a Victorian-era home, the kitchen was at the back of the house; atypical for a Victorian kitchen, the space was actually huge. Too big, in fact. Because there was already a dining room, one of our first decisions was to cut the kitchen in half.

Credit: Diane Deaton Street

Another big decision? Taking the kitchen down to the studs and floor joists. With only a couple of windows, lowered ceilings, bulky soffits over the very vintage cabinets, and a combo of worn red linoleum tile and brown carpet, it just didn’t entice. So, away we went, bringing in a demo team to get the job done.

With a blank slate, we could see that the high ceilings and newly exposed brick from the chimney could set the stage for what we envisioned as a nostalgic-glam kitchen, heavy on drama. Farrow & Ball’s deep and saturated new Scotch Blue called to us, and even though we knew the dramatic shade broke every rule of real estate, we designed the color palette around it, choosing clean, warm whites and greys elsewhere. 

Credit: Andrew Kung Photography

Despite these bold choices, it was important to us to keep the feel of an old (maybe even Old World) kitchen. We had baseboard custom-made in the same size (more than nine inches tall!) and style as what was originally in the house, and our wonderful painter was able to restore most of the other woodwork.

The result is a new kitchen that is still absolutely appropriate for the era of the house. In fact, the nicest compliment we’ve received was from someone who said it didn’t look like a gut-job reno, but like a kitchen that’s evolved over the years.

Credit: Andrew Kung Photography

At the heart of the kitchen is the range. From the beginning I knew I wanted a matte white gas stove, ideally Bertazzoni (because I’m obsessed with the Italian range in my own kitchen). I thought the 36-inch Master Series all-gas range would elevate the kitchen from lovely to a showstopper — and that it did.  

We set the stove in the island, bucking the more typical placement of having the sink there (because I hate that at my house the cook’s back is to the room). As for the island itself, Mike and I found a happy compromise that allowed plenty of room to walk around the island but still have a generous prep area.

Credit: Andrew Kung Photography

Not everything was settled so amicably, however. We ended up bringing in an interior designer friend to mediate on a few additional points of disagreement. In the upper cabinet debate, I acquiesced to her pronouncement that buyers would want uppers — my fear was they would close the space in and make it feel dark. Spoiler: They did not, but I won on the Farm sink debate. I write for Kitchn — I know how much we all love our farm sinks! 

Credit: Andrew Kung Photography

Aiming for a sophisticated-but-still-warm-and-welcoming feel, we chose Shaker-style cabinets in a color called Platinum from Cabinets To Go as a reasonably priced alternative to custom cabinets, but splurged on gorgeous marble counters that pulled everything together with its veins of deep blue.

Credit: Andrew Kung Photography

For the floors, we loved the idea of large-format tiles I’d noted as a trend when I attended the CERSAIE ceramic tile show in Bologna, Italy. A friend in the industry generously provided two-foot-by-four-foot tiles for us as a test case for a new product line, and we convinced the installers to please install them even though they turned out to be quite difficult to work with. Setting them on a diagonal was a lot of extra work and material, but made a world of difference.

Credit: Andrew Kung Photography

The day the kitchen was officially finished, the two of us cooked a meal together to celebrate our creation. Imagining the future owner doing the same, and knowing we had truly given the kitchen everything we would have in our own homes (and then some!) truly did make it worth it.

Dana and Mike’s Kitchen Renovation in 12 Steps

  1. Demo down to the studs and joists.
  2. Add a new wall to reduce the kitchen footprint.
  3. Replace electrical and plumbing.
  4. Put in new drywall, ceilings, and subfloor.
  5. Install can lights in the ceiling, and entry light fixture.
  6. Install cabinets and sink.
  7. Repair trim around doors and windows.
  8. Install tile and custom baseboard.
  9. Install countertops.
  10. Paint.
  11. Install appliances.
  12. Repair brick (for a second time; the first time was done incorrectly) and clean!

Bar shelf: Anthropologie 
Entry light: Mitzi
Champagne glasses: IKEA

Framed art photograph: Kate Tillman
Backsplash: Ragno Eden Bianco

Cabinets: Cabinets To Go