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Credit: Photo: Petra Ford, Jennifer Maxcy. Design: Kitchn
Renovation Diaries

Before & After: An Uninhabitable 1950s Ranch Gets a Cool, Scandi Kitchen Reno for $12,000

published Aug 17, 2021
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“I can definitely work with this!” That’s what Jennifer Maxcy said when she and her husband first saw a 1958 post-and-beam ranch, located just half an hour outside of Los Angeles. 

There was no power — not even electrical wiring. In fact, the house was “red-tagged,” meaning it was uninhabitable. While the house was vacant in the sense that nobody lived there, it was full of … stuff. Lots and lots and lots of stuff. What’s more, a previous inhabitant was in construction, “and I put that word in air quotes,” Jennifer says, because they had to undo most of what he did, including some very perplexing choices. Needless to say, there were a lot of issues with this house. 

“But when we walked inside,” she says, the bones got her. “The ceiling and the layout … it’s all very light and bright. I think the house is actually a copy of a Cliff May design.” (That’s an architect known for suburban dream homes post-WWII). 

This was not their first rodeo: With renovations on their home and an Airbnb under their belts, Jennifer and her husband were looking for something they could buy to use as another Airbnb and a site to rent out for photoshoots (there are benefits to being so close to LA!). So Jennifer was undeterred — even by the outdoor paver stones (!!!) that were used as flooring in the kitchen.  

And so they bought the house (including all the junk). In a move that shows how very resourceful Jennifer is, “we had an estate sale and, in three days, we made a good chunk of money,” she says. Unfortunately that money went directly to paying for the seven dumpsters to haul away what was left! (A not-so-fun fact: It took two months just to get rid of all the stuff. The couple worked quickly, though, and they went from closing to renovated in less than four months!)

Luckily, Jennifer loves working on a budget. In fact, she’d rather have parameters than a blank slate and unlimited funds, she says. It helps that a guiding principle for her renovations is to work with what’s there. And with that, let’s talk about that island!

Can you spot this home's future kitchen island?

We’ve established the house was overflowing with, well, a lot of junk. But you know the old saying about one person’s junk and another’s treasure … well, Jennifer unearthed (literally; it was buried!) an old work bench in the yard, along with some wooden planks. Some people might have tossed these things in the dumpster. Her creative eye saw an island. And that’s exactly what it became with some elbow grease and paint. In another stroke of brilliance, they put it on wheels so it’s even more versatile. 

Credit: Petra Ford

The island became the focal point of the new kitchen — anchoring the space that they opened up by taking down a center wall, and making a connection with the living space opposite the kitchen. The key here: Jennifer didn’t want to make the kitchen too kitchen-y. “When I design an open-concept kitchen in smaller-scaled homes, I like them to feel like they fit into the rest of the living area,” she says. “And for them to not scream typical kitchen.” 

The Renovation in 10 Easy Steps

  • Step 1: Clear out the stuff.
  • Step 2: Tear out a center wall and undo the questionable work the previous owner did (including removing the slate pavers and grinding out the grout).
  • Step 3: Build the island with the rescued work bench and planks from the yard.
  • Step 4: Clad the center pole.
  • Step 5: Move the gas line and rearrange the appliance layout.
  • Step 6: Install new flooring.
  • Step 7: Paint everything a fresh white.
  • Step 8: Buy and install cabinets, backsplash, and shelving.
  • Step 9: Install new lighting.
  • Step 10: Add final touches.

Painting the high ceilings the same crisp white (Behr White Pepper) as the rest of the house was a smart way to meld the spaces. The couple also tore out the slate flooring and replaced it with a budget-friendly laminate floor that spanned the full house. They moved the gas stove from the center of the room to a new home off to the side. They kept the cabinets to a minimum, opting to skip upper cabinets. And they went for a “backsplash” that deviated from the traditional tile.

Credit: Petra Ford

“I wanted something uncommon and earthy, and that felt a bit modern,” Jennifer says. So they used pole wrap. Pole what? Basically it’s like a sheet of flexible wood paneling that’s used to wrap around support poles in basements to make them a little more attractive. Pole wrap is also extremely affordable (think: less than a couple hundred bucks for an eight-foot by four-foot panel!). “The warmth that the backsplash provides helps to give the space a big hug and help to connect to the other wood elements in the space. While I love tile, adding tile to this space would have felt quite different.”

Credit: Petra Ford
Credit: Petra Ford

Speaking of budget-friendly solutions! Jennifer had to stick to a modest-by-most-standards budget of about $12,000. So, she put her thrift and vintage skills to work, finding affordable cabinets on, sourcing inexpensive outdoor lights to use inside, shopping Chairish and thrift shops for second-hand pieces, and enlisting her husband to construct the refrigerator surround and the door next to the stove that hides the washer and dryer. (He’s not a carpenter, she says, but if he doesn’t know how to do something, he figures it out!)

Credit: Petra Ford

All of that and the result looks incredibly high-end. The kitchen is definitely a mesh of styles (her Instagram handle for the house is @therusticmidcenturyscandiranch, which attests to that!) and it achieves one of her main goals: not wanting something that looks like every other kitchen on the internet. Instead, what she’s created pulls inspiration from all the styles in her handle (the rustic island, mid-century accessories, Scandi vibe of that backsplash) all in an effortlessly flowing, open-concept ranch. It’s warm, inviting, comfortable — everything anyone could ask for in a kitchen. Kudos to you, Jennifer! We can’t wait to see what you tackle next.

Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!

See Jennifer’s Full Reno Diary