Renovation Diaries

Before & After: My Kid-Friendly Kitchen Got a Sophisticated Upgrade

published Aug 20, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
A before and after photo of a renovation in a collage.
Credit: Before: Courtesy of Mary Maloney; After: Liz Daly; Design: Kitchn

I’ll say this upfront: Nothing was intrinsically wrong with our Wakefield, Massachusetts, kitchen. Back in 2001, my husband, Andrew, and I had renovated it down to the studs, removing the wall between the kitchen and the never-used dining room to create one large, 407-square-foot gathering and entertaining space.

Our attempt to introduce a bit of open concept into our 1940s colonial home served us well as we raised our two daughters over the past 20 years.

Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Mary Maloney; Design: Kitchn

By 2019 we were new empty-nesters. We decided to upgrade our living room from family-functional to sophisticated. See, Andrew is a graphic designer and artist, and I’m a writer born and raised in Puerto Rico. We love art and color and wanted a bright, plush living room with a nod to midcentury modern. Next, we decided to upgrade our kitchen.

Credit: Photo: Liz Daly; Design: Kitchn

How We Did It

To pull it all off, we turned to Mary Maloney, owner of Bee’s Knees Interior Design. Mary was a long-lost friend from my 20s with whom I’d reconnected through social media. Her aesthetic spoke to me, and I knew we’d collaborate well. She and fellow designer Kylie Bodiya (both known together as “The Bees”) first sent us rug shopping.

Andrew and I selected a multi-colored Turkish antique. The Bees took it from there, and we loved everything the interior design team proposed — neutral furniture pieces with colorful pillows and drapes in beautiful fabrics.

But the new living room palette with oranges, pinks, light blue, and Farrow and Ball’s gorgeous Card Room Green clashed with the adjacent kitchen’s bright red quartz counters, honey oak cabinets, and dark grey backsplash. The truth is, the rooms really belonged in different houses.

Credit: Liz Daly

The Bees had anticipated this problem and asked us early on whether we’d consider painting our cabinets white. We weren’t up for another renovation, nor did we exactly have the budget for a kitchen facelift. Plus, the thought of white cabinets horrified my color-loving husband and me. We declined and said, “It’ll be fine.” But we were wrong.

Credit: Photo: Liz Daly; Design: Kitchn

Meanwhile, we’d planned an epic two-week, 30th anniversary trip to Spain and Portugal for October 2020. Except Covid obliterated that dream, and suddenly we had an extra $20,000. And that’s how the kitchen renovation came to be. Andrew and I asked ourselves, what should we do in our kitchen to match the rest of the downstairs, but with minimal disruption? 

The answer brought us right back to The Bees’ original suggestion. “To stay on budget, we kept the footprint,” Mary later recalls. “The cabinets were good quality, and the layout already maximized function. Changing up the palette in a space can be transformative. By painting the cabinets, we updated them economically and in an environmentally friendly manner.”  

Credit: Liz Daly

Mary repurposed part of the existing space. “The built-in desk area had become a catch-all, and it was time for it to go. Margarita and Andrew wanted some additional entertainment space. Now the area functions as a beverage station with additional storage from which they can enjoy their coffee or cocktails,” she says. And, yes, we do indeed enjoy it!

The 275-square-foot project lasted from early June to mid-August 2020, as each step needed completion before the next one could begin.

Our Renovation in 13 Simple Steps

  • Step 1: Design and build beverage station to match existing cabinets.
  • Step 2: Find a stove.
  • Step 3: Purchase wine fridge.
  • Step 4: Demo tiles and remove counters and sink.
  • Step 5: Install new counters, sink, and faucet.
  • Step 6: Update the backsplash.
  • Step 7: Paint cabinets.
  • Step 8: Replace cabinet hardware.
  • Step 9: Paint walls. 
  • Step 10: Hang new lights.
  • Step 11: Order new mats.
  • Step 12: Add dining chair seat cushions.
  • Step 13: Install faux roman shade.

Mary put me in touch with Jodi Osborne at Cabinet Gallery, who designed the beverage station cabinets to match our existing ones, including the crown molding, which took some sourcing. We opted for frosted glass doors on top to mirror several of the doors in the other part of the kitchen and lots of pull-out storage underneath. I decided on a wine fridge and selected one to fit the small space available. 

Around this time, one of my daughters accidentally dropped a large jar of honey on our glass stovetop, shattering it. Andrew is a fantastic cook, and he’d love a fancy gas stove, but sadly we don’t have a gas line connected to our house. Kylie had raved about her convection stove, and after conducting research, we decided to purchase a General Electric Profile, which was not really part of the original budget. 

Credit: Liz Daly

Next, it was time to say goodbye to our beloved red counters. We’d gotten so many compliments on them through the years! The Bees had convinced us to paint our living room walls Benjamin Moore White Dove, and we’d witnessed how the white let the colorful furnishings shine while brightening up the space.

Credit: Liz Daly

We knew the same would be true for the kitchen, so we selected a simple glazed, white subway tile with a slight wave for the backsplash and white quartz counters with charcoal gray veining. Demo and installation took about one week, and suddenly, the space felt twice as large. 

The Bees suggested a two-tone approach to the cabinets — green borrowed from the living room built-in bookshelves and the Dove White. The cabinet painting contractor asked to be last in the process.

Credit: Liz Daly

They first removed the door and drawer fronts and took them off-site for painting, which minimized the time they spent working inside the house. Next, they carefully covered and taped all appliances, the floor, and adjacent walls and closed off the entire space with plastic sheets. Priming and painting took seven days, after which they re-attached the doors and installed new drawer fronts. 

Our dining table, which is in our kitchen space, is black. So we opted for simple and timeless black cabinet hardware and a motion-activated black faucet. I chose mercury glass pendant lights with black cords for an updated look. A faux Roman valance softened the window space above the sink and introduced the living room blue into the kitchen. Custom seat cushions on the dining room chairs added a touch of orange. 

Credit: Liz Daly

Lastly, The Bees suggested using Spicher vinyl mats by the stove and under the dining table in a vintage design that channels midcentury modern. The design and colors tie everything in the kitchen together. The mats are incredibly easy to clean, practically indestructible, and hide dirt because they’re supposed to look old. Ingenious! They’re my favorite element of the new kitchen.

Says Mary of the $22,860 renovation, “Our clients knew what they liked and made decisions quickly and efficiently. They embraced color and pattern, and most importantly, they trusted us and let us do our thing. Collaborative efforts yield great results.”

As for us? Andrew and I are thrilled with our updated “anniversary” kitchen. The first floor of our home feels unified. We truly maximized the kitchen space with the new beverage station, and the colors render the area so bright and cheerful!

Credit: Liz Daly

Thanks, Peggy “Margarita” and Andrew, for sharing and writing about your renovation!

For more kitchen makeover stories like this one, check out: