Renovation Diaries

Before & After: A Dark, Generic Kitchen Gets a Total Redo and the Result Is So Romantic

published Jun 25, 2022
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A before and after image of a renovated Kitchn titled "renovation diaries".
Credit: Before: Catherine Leavitt; After: Candace Palfreeman; Design: Kitchn

When Sarah and Mike Tang bought their first home — a circa 2000s ranch style in Atlanta, Georgia — it was for the neighborhood more than the house itself. Mike, who is a product manager at a start-up, and Sarah, a freelance graphic designer, were struggling to find a home for their family of four in Atlanta’s hot market. 

They decided to put down roots in a neighborhood that was cute, homey, and full of charming houses. And while “there was so much about the house that we loved,” says Sarah, the dark and narrow kitchen felt so inconsistent with the rest of the space that it did not even feel like part of the same home.

Credit: Sarah and Mike Tang
Renovator: Sarah and Mike Tang Location: Atlanta, GA

This was the couple’s first home purchase and renovation project (during a pandemic, no less!), so they weren’t exactly sure how to realize the kitchen’s potential. That’s when the Tangs decided to enlist Atlanta designers Catherine Leavitt and Leah Owens of Friday & Co. Design

Credit: Catherine Leavitt

First, the duo assessed the space and their clients’ style. The 200-square-foot space “was a dark and generic wood kitchen,” says Owens. It had plenty of storage, but it definitely didn’t represent their aesthetic. “After several meetings with Sarah and Mike, we knew they were drawn to luxe materials and charming details — something they definitely weren’t getting in their current kitchen,” says Owens.

Credit: Catherine Leavitt

The number-one goal for Sarah and Mike was to brighten up the place and bring in a more modern but timeless look. They even thought about punching a hole in the side of the house to add a window, Sarah says. But thanks to their designers’ help, they achieved everything they wanted and more without going to those extremes. 

Credit: Catherine Leavitt

They found inspiration in one of Sarah’s favorite goblets: Made of a beautiful fine crystal, it “shimmered with multiple colors when held up to the light,” says Owens. It reminded Owens of a mercury glass pendant (Lorford Smoke Glass Lantern from Circa Lighting to be exact). “I knew Sarah would love [it] … and we were thrilled to use [it] in a space. The lighting inspired our kitchen design and added a layer of romance that captures Sarah perfectly!”

How They Did It

In order to stretch the budget — which, all told, rang in around $43,000 — they stuck with the original floor plan and with the existing hardwood floor, which needed only minimal patching. But absolutely everything else went, starting with those looming cabinets. “The original kitchen was a solid wall of heavy wood cabinets,” Owens says. And because they were all the same size, they “added to the cave-like feeling of the space.” 

After demoing the kitchen, electrical and plumbing were updated, and they added custom cabinets. Painted in Sherwin-Williams White Flour and built to ceiling height, they instantly made the room feel taller, Owens says. “Mixing in both glass front doors and open shelving helped bring an airy and spacious feel to the room.”

Sarah and Mike’s Renovation in 9 Simple Steps  

  • Step 1: Hire designers and demo the kitchen.
  • Step 2: Update electrical and plumbing.
  • Step 3: Add custom cabinets, mixing in glass front doors.
  • Step 4: Paint the kitchen an airy white.
  • Step 5: Install marble countertop.
  • Step 6: Work on tile backsplash.
  • Step 7: Design a narrow, custom kitchen island.
  • Step 8: Include warm wood elements and brass touches into the kitchen’s design.
  • Step 9: Splurge on the Italian stove.

The rest of the room was also treated to an airy, white color palette with clean, white honed Carrara marble countertops and white walls, along with square white tiles for the backsplash that have a handmade vibe. Sarah hoped for a romantic, Old World, European feel, so to warm up all that white, “we added layers of stained wood,” Owens says.

“Originally, we considered some antique pieces for a kitchen island but we really needed something quite narrow in the space,” Owens explains. “We also wanted an island with open shelves to help the rather narrow space feel larger. Ultimately, we went with a custom kitchen island made of rift-sawn white oak, darkened to a rich brown by fuming it with ammonia, a traditional technique.”

Because this would be the central prep area of the kitchen, the designers decided to distress the top and sides to make it feel less precious and more lived in. Additional wood elements were introduced with a drip lip below the farmhouse sink and wooden shelves. They also added beadboard details throughout.  

Adding brass touches throughout the space, such as the details on the oven (more on that below!), the “weighty cabinet knobs, antique hardware on the island, kitchen faucet, and the gorgeous gallery rail on the open shelving also helped to lighten the space,” says Owens.

The stunning 40-inch Italian range by Ilve was definitely a splurge, but the couple is thrilled with it. Seeing the stove in the space, it’s hard to imagine anything more perfect than the nostalgic detailing and antique white color. They also love the marble counters even more than they expected. Based on everything she’d heard about marble, Sarah was a little scared, but says it’s been remarkably easy to take care of. 

The renovation took a couple of months while they were still living in the house, but it was totally worth it for Sarah and Mike. The space is now as light and bright as they hoped (no removal of walls needed!), and is a happy, welcoming place to hang out and entertain as a family.

Thanks for sharing, Sarah and Mike!

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