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Before + After: Opening Up a Small Kitchen...While Increasing Its Green Quotient!

After having been through two monstrously painful-but-necessary kitchen remodels in our last two homes, when we downsized back to the city my only request was to not have to start from scratch for a third time. So, while it wasn't mind-readingly perfect, the basics of our kitchen definitely met my expectations, namely:

  • No 1980s veneer cabinets

  • No ugly countertops

  • Good 'work triangle' layout (fridge / range / sink)

Everything else I knew I could deal with, as the updates are relatively easy and inexpensive when the aforementioned basics are there. When I started househunting, a number of them were immediately out, like the one with the poop-colored mottled countertops like the one we got rid of on the farm, and the one with the aging Ikea kitchen (pure particleboard nightmare that can't be easily repaired). I spend hella time in my kitchen, so functionality and aesthetic are important to me.

Luckily, when I went inside the house we ultimately bought, I was pleased. Sure, I'm not keen on LVT flooring, not for one minute (thankfully the rest of the house has wood floors), but everything in the kitchen was brand new. The owner had it fully rehabbed to prep for sale, so, from cabinetry to appliances to sink, it was a brand new space. Score.

But here's the thing: I cannot STAND overhead cabinets. It cramps your workspace and makes things hard to find. My husband, a TBI survivor, has a hard time finding things and honestly, I adore a chef's kitchen where everything is easily accessible, from dishes to cooking tools to pantry items. I built our first city kitchen from scratch this way, and went exponentially bigger in our larger kitchen on the farm as well... and it made cooking way more fun! The bonus back here? Removing the upper cabinets was guaranteed to open up the space - a LOT.

Furthermore, I'm an induction stove gal. While we were fortunate this house was electrified, the new ceramic cooktop stove the seller had put in was a waste of energy, not to mention the existing under-cabinet range hood was both aesthetically and functionally weak AF. I got cooking to do, and I need it done right - and as sustainably as possible, y'all.

Based on all this, the solutions were not as hard as one might think. Here's what I did:

  • Gently removed all of the upper cabinets. They're just screwed into the wall, so it's not as tough as you might think to get them down. Put a blanket on your counter to give it something soft to land on and protect from scratches. Then I just patched up & painted the walls.

  • Replaced the upper cabinets with open shelving. You can buy poplar shelves at the big box store or go to Ikea for pre-made ones. Brackets are dealer's choice - whatever style you like. If I had to do it over, I'd do floating shelves, but this was quicker as moving in the fall meant I needed my kitchen done by the holidays!

  • Sold the cabinetry, under-cabinet range hood and electric range on Craigslist. Folks, don't assume you need to donate cabinets - brand new cabinets at a discount rate are a score for remodelers, not to mention folks adding extra storage to their basements, garages, ADUs and more. Because the appliances were new (literally still had the manual inside the range), I didn't have to cut the price too much, only about 25%.

  • Used the $1300 profit to buy the shelving, induction stove & chimney hood. My Frigidaire induction range was on sale for under a thousand bucks with free delivery & setup (sweet!). I love that it has no temperature knobs and therefore is WAY easier to keep clean, and the air fryer, which hadn't been a selling point for me, has turned out to be a pretty rad bonus as well. We found the range hood at Ikea (whose appliances are mostly Whirlpool rebrands) as that was not only the least expensive but also had the widest chimney on it, which nicely covered up where the old venting went in. Fortunately, my sweetheart was jazzed to figure out how to install one of these for the first time (my first two houses had to have the original ventilation installed by an HVAC company, here it was a matter of just connecting up existing wiring, etc., fortunately).

  • Repurposed the space by the fridge were for pots & pans. Check out my DIY posting on how these were connected to the brick. Amen to Pinterest for the inspiration!

  • Installed picture shelves for all of my dry goods, including spices, and even a few pantry items. This was a great way to use the wall space for shelving, but not have it deep, ensuring a nice workspace next to the kitchen sink. While there are a few canned items from the pantry in the kitchen, the majority are in our 3rd-bedroom-turned-larder, where I have our upright freezer and oodles of foods I love to can each year. Picture shelves can be either bought or DIY'd using scrap wood (one for the base + a thinner one for the lip, BAM).

  • DIY'd a hanging planter in front of the window. Both diffusing the light and bringing some desperately-needed color into the kitchen, this is how I did it using scrap wood, picture wire and a few tools...

  • Added cookbook shelving in an unused space. Again obsessed with repurposing picture shelving, 'cause it works like a charm (click HERE to see it up close)! What's nice as well is the color it adds to a fairly neutral space, kind of like the dry goods jars. Color is good! I added some art on the open shelving in the main part of the kitchen as well - because, why not?!

I've also shared a before & after looking in from the dining room. Remember how I said layout was super important to me? Well, our kitchen includes a stacking washer/dryer (a heat pump dryer, btw, which is A+ in energy efficency AND doesn't require venting) that's stacked behind the cookbook wall, and its placement is brilliant as we use the massive existing 'island' (okay, it's a peninsula) for both baking projects (my husband's favorite spot for making homemade pasta) as well as for folding laundry. Gotta love multi-purpose spaces!


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