Renovation Diaries

Before & After: An IKEA Kitchen Gets a $40,000 Gut Renovation with Skylights, Cabinets Galore, and a Flip-Out Window

published Dec 24, 2022
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Graphic showing before and after shots of Alicia Ragonese's kitchen
Credit: Erin Derby

When Alicia Ragonese and her husband, Joe, bought their 1930s lake cabin in New Jersey in 2014, it needed some love. Put differently? “It was trashed,” she says. But the home was within walking distance of several family members (with a backyard that bumped up to her aunt’s home) and they were ready, willing, and able to take take on the challenge.

Credit: Alicia Ragonese

One surprising decision? They left the kitchen as it was for the first few years, a choice Alicia highly recommends. Even though she describes it as a falling-apart IKEA kitchen, learning how they used the space and what they needed from it — especially as they grew from a couple to family of five plus two dogs — really helped drive her decisions when it came to how the new kitchen would function. 

Credit: Alicia Ragonese

Finally in May 2022 they got to work. They took the kitchen down to the studs, rerouted electric and plumbing, added windows and skylights, and converted an old closet into a pantry. And they did all this under(!) their $45,000 budget, clocking in at $39,200.

Alicia and her husband did a lot of the work themselves, relied on family members in the building and trades industries to pitch in, and even bartered when they could for services like plumbing. Alicia served as project manager and designer, while her uncle, a general contractor, collaborated with her on running the job. 

The budget was a strong driver of a lot of decisions, she says, because there simply wasn’t an option to increase it. So when she couldn’t get something she may have liked, like some higher-end cabinets that would have blown the budget, she adapted. Thanks to her next-level research skills and unerring ability to know what she wanted, she was able to find exactly what would work.

Here’s how they did it.

Credit: Erin Derby

How they did it

Alicia liked that the kitchen had a good amount of space; it was just being underutilized. After living with it for so long she had a great handle on what worked and what didn’t, so she sat down with a pen and paper and a plan.

“I drew a design,” she says. “It wasn’t to scale. It was very rough. But I drew something for me that I felt would be functional. And then we built off of that.” 

That plan included adding even more natural light through skylights.

Credit: Erin Derby

And putting in loads of cabinets galore for storage.

Credit: Erin Derby

And connecting the kitchen to an under-used patio outside through a large flip-out window.

Credit: Erin Derby

She designed the space with a modern farmhouse aesthetic, nothing “too country,” she says, but appropriate to the age and rustic vibe of the house. She wanted a family-friendly, welcoming kitchen that didn’t feel too precious, like you couldn’t touch anything, she says.

Credit: Erin Derby

Starting with the floors, they found a surprise waiting below five layers of old flooring: original pine hardwood! Working nights after work, she and her husband got every bit of old floor removed until it was just the pine. Their neighbor, who refinishes floors, helped them restore them to their original glory. After he was done? “He couldn’t believe how nice they were!” she says. “It has nicks and marks and I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world,” she says.

Credit: Erin Derby

Next they focused on bringing the inside out and the outside in. They added the skylights, trimmed out in rough pine — another family contribution, as her father-in-law works at a local millyard — and a giant, five-foot flip-out window, allowing them to pull up seats at a bar counter on the patio outside. It was a splurge, she says, but “it’s a big piece of what I love about this kitchen.”

They added some two-dozen cabinets, making the decision to go darker on the bottom to help hide fingerprints. They chose quartz counters, kept the new appliances they’d already installed in the kitchen, and turned to Alicia’s uncle for help on the range hood. While she’d hoped for a custom one, she settled on having him frame a hood in with more of that rough-cut pine to tie in with the skylight. 

Credit: Erin Derby

For the backsplash, Alicia opted for a classic subway shape but with a wavy, intentional imperfection to it. An apron-front sink, small bar sink, and the best, affordable pot filler she could find finished out the main kitchen.

Credit: Erin Derby

And then she turned to carving out a mudroom that features a live-edge slab counter and even more storage.

Credit: Erin Derby

All in all, the renovation took about four months, plus a little extra time to finish out the mudroom. And it was absolutely worth it — especially the big window, the best decision of the whole project. “That just makes the kitchen. It’s fun. It makes you want to be in there,” she says. “It just feels like it was always meant to be this way.”


Cabinets: $12,000
Countertops: $3,400
Big window: $5,500
Skylights: $1,500
Floors: $1,000
Sheetrock spackle: $3,000
Spray foam: $1,500
Paint: $500
Sink: $500
Sink 2: $80
Plumber: $1,500
Electrician: $4,000
Tile: $1,500
Kitchen faucet: $250
Bar sink faucet: $350
Range hood (labor): $600
Range fan: $300
Microwave: $300
Pot filler: $370
Lights: $50
Pantry cab: $1,000
Rough-cut pine: FREE

Total: $ 39,200