We’ve Seen the Small/Cool Contest Winner’s Kitchen and It’s OMG

published Jun 23, 2022
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If you’re a big fan of Kitchn and our sister site, Apartment Therapy, then you may already know that the grand-prize winner was just announced this week for the annual Small/Cool Contest. Hundreds of people entered, but only one winner came away with the coveted title.

The competition was fierce, but it was a well-deserved win for Emily Sermons of Charleston, South Carolina! Of course, we wanted to know E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G about her sophisticated-yet-charming condo kitchen! Luckily, Sermons sent us photos, including a few Before and Afters!

Credit: Emily Sermons
Emily Sermons, Apartment Therapy's Grand-Prize winner of the 2022 Small/Cool Contest.

Sermons and her partner, Jay, first moved into the 610-square-foot condo two years ago. The couple lived in New York City but decided to move south to Charleston to be closer to family. Their hope was to find a starter home with good outdoor space near downtown.

Soon enough, they spotted a condo unit on the third floor of a converted hotel building from the 1920s. “It just had beautiful, homey elements that were really classic … it checked all of our boxes,” she told Apartment Therapy. They took the plunge and decided to make a few changes to make the space their own. “It’s always been a goal to design a home that I loved,” says Sermons, a product manager at a startup.

So what exactly is her winning design strategy? The answer she says began before she even started changing the home. Sermons explains that she really took her time to learn about the city, its history, and how she and Jay would best function in their new small space. As for the kitchen, the previous owner had already renovated a few things. And while the design is definitely still in progress, Sermons says they made two easy swaps with a huge payoff.

New Light Fixtures Add Traditional Elegance

One quick change was the kitchen’s pendant lighting. Originally, Sermons says the kitchen had what she describes as Mason jar-type lights with a farmhouse feel.

The farmhouse pendant lights before.

The existing lights were installed up into the support beam, so Sermons brought in an electrician to install the new lights. She ended up replacing the lights with ribbed milk glass pendants from West Elm. “I’ve used these fixtures in other homes and they are my absolute favorite lights,” says Sermons, who loves how the exposed wood beam and larger pendants help separate the living and kitchen spaces. This change alone made such a difference to their kitchen, she gushes.

“Charleston is a city of very old meets new,” Sermons explains. “You see a lot of that in my home.” After all of her initial renovation research, her inspired result is a “very traditional, layered sophistication” mixed with funky accent pieces and bright colors. “It’s beautiful and elegant, but has this sense of playfulness,” Sermons says. “It doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

The milk glass lights add a more modern touch.

Black Cabinets Are Always Chic

The other key takeaway? A reminder that a simple paint job can do wonders. The couple decided to switch out the kitchen’s vinyl gray cabinets for a darker shade. “We wanted our cabinets to be bold yet classic, so we stripped the gray vinyl and painted them black,” she says.

The existing gray cabinets.

By changing the color, the couple was able to evoke a more modern feel in their tiny nook. Plus, the black now pairs nicely with the frosted glass cabinets. Sermons says she likes to save her minimal cabinetry space to hide pantry food items and her collection of Tupperware.

Easy fix! Black painted cabinets give the kitchen a whole new look.

Sermons also adds that the kitchen is still evolving. “I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like it’s quite done,” she says of the condo’s design. Eventually, the couple hopes to add floating shelves to store white plates and bowls to make a little more room in their cabinet space.

We can’t wait to see how it turns out. (Send us photos, Emily!)

Are you inspired by this small space kitchen? What do you love most? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.