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Credit: Photo: Lindsey Stewart. Design: Kitchn
Renovation Diaries

Before & After: A Very Dated ’90s Kitchen Gets a Bright New Look

updated Jun 14, 2021
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When Laurel Harry and her husband were house hunting in Utah, six years ago, the kitchen wasn’t the thing that convinced them to make an offer on their now-home. It had green laminate countertops, knotty log-cabin-like cabinets, and a very dated look. (The house was built in 1999, which doesn’t seem like that long ago, but design had come a long way in the 16 years between construction and their closing date!) The potential was there, though.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Laurel Harry

It had a great open layout, a practical island, and nice natural light. Laurel’s husband is handy (he tinkers in wood working as a hobby!) and she’s a DIYer, so she knew they could transform the space. She’s also a consummate thrifter (her husband calls her the wicker picker!) with a penchant for vintage dishes and exuberant color, so Laurel approached the kitchen with an aim of creating a bright, fresh, fun space splashed with whimsy. 

The renovation technically took three months, but as any homeowner knows, these sorts of projects are never truly done. “We started our renovation six years ago still did some work this very week,” she says, explaining that her husband added some trim to the island the Monday before our photographer headed over to shoot the space. The couple kept the footprint of the kitchen the same (saving them the expense of having to move electrical or plumbing) and used the original cabinets, which helped them stick to their $15,000 budget. What changed? Let’s take a look. First: “Here’s our 10-step program … that only took us six years to complete,” Laurel jokes.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Laurel Harry
  • Step 1: Install butcher block countertop on the island
  • Step 2: Have main countertops replaced and new sink installed
  • Step 3: Install new faucet
  • Step 4: Put up backsplash
  • Step 5: Swap in new light fixtures
  • Step 6: Have cabinets painted
  • Step 7: Wallpaper the inside of the cabinets 
  • Step 8: Install floors and a new pantry door
  • Step 9: Get new appliances (more on that here!)
  • Step 10: Add wood trim to side of fridge, range hood, and side of cabinets
Credit: Lindsey Stewart

Although the kitchen’s layout didn’t change, the floor-to-ceiling transformation was pretty dramatic. A dark and cramped-feeling kitchen has become an airy, happy space with flair that perfectly showcases Laurel and her family’s joyous personalities.

Credit: Lindsey Stewart

The first thing the couple did probably wouldn’t be most people’s first step: they worked on the island, because it was easy to tackle. While Laurel loved having an island, it needed to be a bit bigger to really become functional for her family. They went to Lumber Liquidators to get a butcher block top that was about a foot-and-a-half longer than the existing top. Her husband installed the new countertop directly on top of the old one, which also raised the height just a bit. Going with the warm butcher block counts as one of her favorite decisions in the entire reno, Laurel says. “We use it all the time … we’ll make cookies just directly on the butcher block and don’t even have to put anything down.”

Credit: Lindsey Stewart

It was very important to Laurel that they add a backsplash, because the kitchen didn’t come with one. She opted for a lovely, soft gray and white marble, which they installed in a herringbone pattern. Along with the dark gray quartz countertops from Lowe’s, the backsplash serves as segue to help the newly painted blue-and-white cabinets flow together beautifully. 

As for the cabinets (how’s that for a segue?!!), they started off looking so heavy and looming. A two-tone paint job of light blue on the bottoms and white on the tops immediately opened up the space and helped the clean lines of the Shaker-style cabinets pop. Laurel’s personality shines through with the addition of an adorable tangerine-patterned wallpaper lining the back of one of the upper cabinets. (And glass fronts showcase that wallpaper plus her colorful vintage glassware collection.)

For the floors, the couple wanted the kitchen and the adjoining living room to have a seamless flow, so they ditched the pine kitchen flooring and living room carpet, and installed a dark engineered hardwood throughout. Laurel does love how that change lent a more open feeling, but if she had to do it again? That’s definitely a regret of the renovation: “Why did we go with such a dark color?” she asks, pointing out that they have pets.

Credit: Lindsey Stewart

The stars of the new kitchen have to be the sleek, matte white GE Cafe appliances. The refrigerator came first — Laurel got it for Mother’s Day last year (“my dream fridge,” she says!) — and eventually added the coordinating range and dishwasher. They had initially bought stainless steel appliances (which cost them $2,500 at the time; again, more on that here!) and then they switched: “I’d never go back,” she says. Not only does the finish resist fingerprints from the kiddos, but “I just like that it brightens up our kitchen a lot.” The sides of the fridge are actually black, so the couple brilliantly built a range hood cover and a matching enclosure for the fridge.

Credit: Lindsey Stewart

Six years later, and Laurel is still making little tweaks to the space, swapping out cabinet hardware, replacing the light fixture, and adding temporary decals to the fridge. “Why have a white fridge if you can’t have some fun with it!?” Laurel says. True! Although, we’d like to point out that it looks like she had a lot of Fun with her entire kitchen. Capital F.

Thanks for sharing, Laurel!

See Laurel’s Full Reno Diary