I’ve been really wanting to renovate our kitchen for many years. As an architect and designer, I know exactly what I would do and I also know how expensive it would all be. As a result, over the past few years I decided to put the kitchen on the back burner and instead focus my time and resources on renovating more affordable areas of our home. It was a good plan. But now that I’ve transformed a lot of spaces in our home into what I want, the kitchen is really starting to bother me even more! It’s a totally different style, color palette and feel than the rest of the house now. It honestly feels like you’re in a totally different home when you’re standing in the kitchen. 

So back in February, I decided I’d had enough… it was time to turn my focus to the kitchen. I decided that I would either go ahead and renovate it and turn it into my dream kitchen, or I would update it enough that I could at least feel okay with the room until I could afford my dream kitchen. After running some specific numbers, I realized that it was going to be very expensive to turn my kitchen into my dream kitchen, and we currently have college tuition for our children to think about so it could end up being maybe 5 years before we can afford to renovate the kitchen. There was no way I could live with the kitchen we have now for the next 5 years so I needed to do something to make it acceptable until then.

I’m guessing I’m not alone. There may be someone else out there looking for a low-cost update to a space until you can finally afford your dream renovation. Well, if you are, here is my tip: Identify your focus and limits before you start. This is something I do on every project anyway, but it was particularly important on this one! 

The first thing I did was take a little time before I started to set my max budget. It’s never wise to put a lot of money into a room only to tear it all out a few years later. So the budget had to be low enough that I was okay tearing it all out at some point. I decided $1500 was my max. This budget became a limit that helped me make decisions along the way in terms of what I should replace now and what I should wait to address when we do our full dream kitchen renovation. 

The second thing I did was identify what I really hated about the room. Basically, what was driving this particular renovation to begin with? What would I need in order to be able to endure this room for awhile? (This is a different list than I would have made if I were designing my dream kitchen.)

Here’s my focus:

  1. The room needed to have a look and feel that fit with the rest of the areas in my home that I’ve already updated
  2. I wanted to improve some areas that weren’t very functional
  3. I needed to fix/remove a few things that were eyesores/damaged (including water stains on the ceiling and a nonfunctional old intercom system)

Every time I wondered whether it was worth updating something in my kitchen, I referred to this list and my budget. It helped me to focus on what was important and what wasn’t.

So my plan was to start my “limited makeover” of my kitchen in March having no idea that COVID-19 would hit then. Right before COVID, my schedule was crazy busy. The firm I work for was swamped and I was upping my hours, plus my kids had many activities and events planned for the spring, and I was also interviewing contractors to start a big project in our back yard which I would be managing during the spring. Add to that my kitchen reno that I was working on by myself, and looking back, I’m not sure how I was planning to fit it all in. Once COVID-19 came to the US my schedule was completely turned upside down. My kids activities were cancelled, events were cancelled, and the work at my firm came to a grinding halt. We put the back yard project on hold and then quarantine started in our state. With plenty of time stuck at home, I knew I wanted to focus on getting my kitchen done. And so this is what I did…

Here is what my kitchen used to look like:


No, this is not my dream kitchen… at all! I was hesitant to even share this project on the blog because there’s still a lot I don’t like about the final result. But it works for now until I can afford my dream kitchen. It’s certainly better than what I had before. And I kept the total cost to $1500! I did all the work myself, but I think it was worth all of the time and hard work.

You can see in the photos below how my kitchen connects to our Great Room and Dining Room. And now the styles of each room at least blend together. 

So here is an explanation of everything I changed…

I painted the ceiling because it needed a brighter white color plus there were some old water stains I had never gotten around to covering up that I finally needed to address. I also painted the walls and trim white and added taller baseboards and some trim around the back door. Back when I worked on my foyer I decided I wanted to do the same thing to the back door that I did to my front door so I finally got around to doing that.

I removed this old, broken ugly intercom system that had just become an eyesore. I also took out the phone jack. Now there’s a nice clean wall that isn’t filled with outdated technology.

I built side walls on our island in order to cover up the cheap laminate panels and give it the look of a custom island. I’ll share a post about this super affordable update later.

I painted all of the cabinets, some white and some light gray/beige (Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter) and added new cabinet pulls. I also added some trim pieces on the end panels of all of the base cabinets in order to give them a more finished look. Plus I installed DIY custom cabinet organization in some drawers to help make the space more organized and functional.

I painted the old stone backsplash white. I did consider removing the backsplash altogether and then installing new tile myself, but it just wasn’t worth it if I couldn’t change the countertops too (which would’ve been very expensive). So I went with a quicker and totally free option…. I painted it! So if you didn’t already know, yes you can paint natural stone tile, you just have to prep it a little. I actually like how it turned out more than I thought I would because it adds a lot of texture yet lightens up the color.

I replaced the window treatments with woven shades and added some new furniture and decor. I also made my own custom memo board for over the desk to keep track of keys and important papers. It’s a more streamlined and organized option than what I had before.

I also updated the window seat that is off to the side of the kitchen.

I changed the trim on the front of it and installed a solid maple top. I finished it off with new decorative pillows and some functional hooks on the wall perfect for our dog’s leash.

I had hoped to replace the pantry doors with sliding barn doors, but I discovered I didn’t have quite enough space along the wall to slide the doors open. There are many things I didn’t get to do because they didn’t make the cut since they were too expensive, including removing the half-wall by the great room, adding pendant lights over the island, installing a custom range hood, re-staining the floors, and replacing the desk with a beverage center. So all of that will have to wait for my dream kitchen renovation… someday!

Now that I’ve finished my kitchen, I am glad I did this “temporary” update. It was well worth the money I spent, and the room doesn’t drive me crazy anymore. I am also grateful that quarantine is over and my schedule has picked back up. I am even more grateful that my family has remained healthy through all of this. COVID-19 is a horrible situation, but I always look for silver linings in bad situations, and the time I got to be home with my family and make so much progress on my kitchen was one of them. Everyone stay safe!


  1. Avatar Sophia

    Stephanie , It’s amazing after update , that will be great if you can give more detail like colors, materials and tools list .thank you so much share with us .

  2. Avatar Jessica Voholetz

    Hey, Stephanie!

    I love the update! I like the clean lines and simplicity.

    • Avatar Stephanie @ Studio 36 Interiors

      Thanks Jessica!

  3. Avatar Amy

    I love it and what a great way to give it all a fresh look! It looks so clean. I really like the wood top on the window seat. I also look forward to reading about the update of the island. Thanks for sharing and for the great ideas on how to update a kitchen without totally breaking the bank!

    • Avatar Stephanie @ Studio 36 Interiors

      Thanks, Amy! Glad you liked it!

  4. Avatar Stephanie Zeiler

    It turned out Amazing! My husband and I are about to start a whole house remodel (well mainly replacing all of flooring, the paint in the entire interior of the house & updating trim) so it adds up so quick and our kitchen is one of those were we want to update it but don’t have the funds to make it all happen right now. This blog was so encouraging to see that we can make a decent budget go a long ways and we don’t have to wait a few years until we can do some updates. Thank you for sharing! Looking forward to seeing that island update you mentioned!

    • Avatar Stephanie @ Studio 36 Interiors

      Stephanie, I’m so glad my post was helpful and encouraging for you! It is amazing how much a little paint can change a room! Best of luck with your remodel!

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