Renovation Diaries

Before & After: A Dark and Dated Kitchen Gets a Gorgeous Jungalow-Style Makeover

published Dec 21, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Rusty Williams, Design: Kitchn

What has mustard-colored walls, limited natural light, and strangely low upper cabinets? Answer: Jill Livick’s former kitchen. When Jill and her partner, Melvin Jewett, took a serious look at their 1977 Charlotte, North Carolina home, they knew a bunch of rooms would need legitimate work. In order to feel like they were making real progress, they started in other parts of the home before turning their attention to the most important and challenging room in the house: the kitchen.

Credit: Photo: Rusty Williams, Design: Kitchn

The 320-square-foot kitchen needed a lot of work and new appliances, but the couple’s number-one priority was to make the space much bigger. To do this, they planned to hire a contractor to expand the room through an exterior wall. In January 2021, they had a contractor come look at the space and give them a price estimate. That’s when things went sour: When the couple heard the estimate, they were totally blown away (and not in a good way). “He quoted us between $85,000 to $120,000,” Jill says. “We both laughed and immediately scrapped the plan.” 

Credit: Photo: Rusty Williams, Design: Kitchn

They decided that, if they couldn’t physically make the space bigger, they’d at least make the square footage they had feel bigger. They planned to add in a larger window over the sink and take down the wall dividing the kitchen and living room to create an open floor plan. Of course, that all hinged on whether or not the wall was load-bearing. Luckily, when they had a structural engineer take a look, the couple got the go-ahead to tear it down. 

Credit: Photo: Rusty Williams, Design: Kitchn

Jill and Melvin leaned on pros at the beginning of their project, but ended up doing the vast majority of work themselves. After the structural engineer approved their demo plans, they had someone else do the demo work (taking down two walls and moving a closet). In hindsight, Melvin says he should have saved money and done this on his own. Before they officially began the demo, they tried to sell some of the existing cabinetry. It would have been a win-win: The buyer would have had to come in and remove them, and Jill and Melvin would have made some money in return. But the timing just didn’t work.

Credit: Photo: Rusty Williams, Design: Kitchn

Jill’s Renovation in 11 Easy Steps

  • Step 1: Call in a contractor to get an estimate.
  • Step 2: Forgo the contractor and expansion plan.
  • Step 3: Have a structural engineer come check on the new plans.
  • Step 4: Demo.
  • Step 5: Install new flooring, cabinets, and countertops.
  • Step 6: Bring in new appliances and have an electrician friend put in new light fixtures. 
  • Step 7: Start tiling the backsplash.
  • Step 8: Pause tiling to install new window over sink.
  • Step 9: Finish tiling the backsplash.
  • Step 10: Hang floating shelves. 
  • Step 11: Paint the walls.
Credit: Photo: Rusty Williams, Design: Kitchn

Post demo, Melvin got to work laying the wood plank flooring and installing new cabinets. The Home Depot actually helped design the layout for the cabinets (it’s a super-handy service!). Of course, there were still a couple of unforeseen difficulties — like an uneven ceiling that made the floor-to ceiling cabinets an unfortunate measuring puzzle. Eventually, they figured things out and it was totally worth it: “We tripled our amount of storage by adding the island and taking the cabinets all the way up to the ceiling,” Jill says, pointing to her island’s wide drawers that hold her neatly organized collection of spices and small appliances.

Credit: Rusty Williams

Another one of those unforeseen difficulties? Actually getting all the materials and fixtures. Because they started the demo and installation in March 2021, a lot of vendors were recovering from or still dealing with COVID-related production issues. Things got set back a few weeks while they waited for their new kitchen window to arrive as well as their quartz countertops. “Even though we weren’t in a rush, looking back, we would have made decisions and ordered the materials much quicker, so there weren’t any weeks of downtime,” Jill says. But, eventually, it all worked out and they were able to install quartz counters on the island and a butcher block perimeter countertop, which they stained themselves. 

Credit: Photo: Rusty Williams, Design: Kitchn

The couple also worked together to install the Frigidaire and Maytag appliances and layer in Jill’s favorite part: the emerald green tile. The bold hue was inspired by Justina Blakeney‘s own kitchen. (If you’re not familiar with Justina, she’s a designer, blogger, home expert, and so much more. She’s the founder of Jungalow, a vibrant bohemian-chic style, and she even makes stuff for Target!) Although the tiling process was a bit of a mess (literally, with mortar everywhere!) the couple managed to finish it themselves with a little help from a handy friend. Speaking of friends, the couple’s electrician friend also helped them save major money when they put in can lights and a brass ceiling pendant. Designated cookbook shelves and open shelving completed the look, and Jill and Melvin filled the cool butcher block shelves with plants and pretty serving pieces. It turned out just like they had imagined, and best of all, they’re still loving every little detail!

Credit: Photo: Rusty Williams, Design: Kitchn

Thanks for sharing, Jill!

See Jill’s Full Reno Diary