Renovation Diaries

Before & After: A Tiny Builder-Grade Kitchen in a Historic Condo Gets Transformed into an Airy and Bright Sanctuary

published Oct 23, 2021
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Credit: After Photo: Petra Ford, Before Photo: Laurie Jones

Of all the places across the country that designer Laurie Jones and her family have called home, their current residence — a 1,250-square-foot condo in a historic 1891 building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood — is by far the smallest. It’s just one-fourth the size of the Indianapolis dwelling they lived in two houses ago. (As serial movers, the family has lived in a total of 15 houses while moving from state to state as a result of job commitments.)

When the Jones family moved into the condo in late 2019, they considered Chicago — with its world-class shopping, museums, and restaurants — as the home’s extended footprint, a mindset that softened the self-imposed challenge to live within the confines of such a small space. Compound the cramped quarters, which Laurie shares with her husband, Drew, and their 8-year-old son, Cooper (their grown daughter Sloan lives nearby in Wrigleyville), with lockdown life, and the inspiration for a renovation was bound to strike.

Credit: Laurie Jones

“The old kitchen was fine,” says Laurie, with a sigh. “But it read flat to me.” It may have looked fine-slash-flat, but it wasn’t really all that fine. First, there was the condo’s ho-hum, builder-grade appliances and the time-worn quartz countertops, not to mention the copious kitchen cabinetry caked in crud.

Credit: Laurie Jones

Plus, there was the whole issue with the appliances. See, back then, with restaurants suddenly closing their doors as a result of the quarantine, the faulty installation of their stainless-steel stove (lots of strangely burnt yet undercooked meals!) just wasn’t going to suffice for a drastic uptick in pandemic home-cooking. What’s more, the kitchen sink was only bar-sized! One day when Laurie filled it with water, as one should be able to do, it crashed through the counter. Yes, that meant water went everywhere, even daring to trickle in the condo unit below. Installing new fixtures and appliances was a no-brainer — the idea for an all new look for the 150-square-foot space came soon after.

The kitchen’s saving grace was the east-facing morning light pouring in through a charming garden window, original to the building. The natural spotlight was there — it just needed a showstopper kitchen to shine upon!

Credit: Petra Ford

Laurie’s Renovation in 10 Simple Steps

  • Step 1: Craft the hand-cut, lime-weathered facade fashioned with thin brick shingles (the most labor-intensive, noisiest, and messiest task)
  • Step 2: Order appliances, counters, sink
  • Step 3: Tear out old subway backsplash tile, remove cabinets above the sink
  • Step 4: Clean all cabinet surfaces to get ready for painting
  • Step 5: Paint cabinets, install new hardware
  • Step 6: Install backsplash
  • Step 7: Paint walls and backsplash
  • Step 8: Put up open shelving and spray paint the rods to match appliance knobs and pulls
  • Step 9: Hire professionals to install countertops and appliances
  • Step 10: Style new kitchen with family keepsakes and potted plants
Credit: Petra Ford

To start, Laurie and Drew knew they had to fix the appliances. “I’m just so sick of stainless steel,” says Laurie, who made the decision to go with matte-white from the Café appliance line by GE, including a double-range, six-burner stove and a French-door refrigerator. The brushed, bronze knobs and handles add a vintage luster to the space that’s echoed in the champagne-bronze utensil rails above the new, now-roomier quartz sink, a seamless fit with the quartz countertops.

Credit: Petra Ford

If the new appliances were “a hard check to write,” as Laurie describes, the reimagined sink area turned out to be a comparatively budgetary boon. A simple backsplash of vertically installed wooden planks from The Home Depot replaced chipped subway tile. Two open shelves from IKEA break up the monotony of the cabinetry. “The kitchen was basically a room of cabinets,” says the designer.

On the kitchen’s shelving areas, Laurie proudly displays beautiful potted plants, candlesticks from Jayson Home, and a small oil painting by her uncle. “I love to display things that I use a lot, like my scrubber and pruning scissors,” she says of the pretty tools hanging from the metal rods. “I think there’s beauty in that.” For less-presentable items — surplus sponges, for instance, or cleaners used in generous amounts to prepare the once-grimy cabinet faces for a fresh coat of Creamy Mushroom paint by Behr — Laurie had a flouncy, pinstripe skirt sewed to conceal under-sink storage.

Credit: Petra Ford

To ground the kitchen’s newfound airiness and femininity is perhaps the renovation’s pièce de résistance, even if it’s meant to blend in: a lime-washed wall of thin, brick shingles (more on that here!), hand-sawn by Drew on site so he could custom cut around electrical outlets and the door. The messy project — which utilized a pre-existing wall and was then covered with thin, kiln-fired clay brick shingles — was an ear-splitting racket that was saved for the weekends to preserve the nearby neighbors’ workweek peace. “I still find brick dust everywhere,” says Laurie, for whom pre-cut veneers — lacking a rough, unpolished style — would have been completely inauthentic to the era. “I just wanted the wall to feel like it’s always been there.” Beneath it, Drew also constructed a built-in bench with hidden storage for extra pantry ingredients, while a family relative sewed the patterned cushion covering from a Target shower curtain.

While each family member is certainly reflected in the new kitchen — especially in the very personal gallery wall, pictured below, that includes Cooper’s rainbow-hued handprint; Sloan’s cross-stitch of Mount Rose, a peak in the Sierras; and the lyrics from a song treasured by Laurie and Drew — the space is unequivocally the domain of the designer. “It’s just so pretty that I don’t mind cooking or cleaning. I’ll even watch a movie on my laptop while I’m doing those things. But the rule is when I’m cooking or cleaning, everyone has to get out,” says Jones. “It’s my ‘me’ time!”

Credit: Petra Ford

Thanks for sharing, Laurie!

See Laurie’s Full Reno Diary

Credit: Kitchn