Article Line Long1

Wait Until You See the Floors in This 1700s Kitchen Budget DIY Makeover (It’s In a Mansion!)

We recently got a copy of the new book Uncommon Kitchens: A Revolutionary Approach to the Most Popular Room in the House and were struck by one of the kitchens, an older Upstate New York Victorian made fresh and cheerful with a number of budget-friendly DIYs. We asked the homeowner-designer Jessica Rhodes to tell us even more about the project. This kitchen is one of more than 30 creative kitchens explored in this cool new book written by Sophie Dow, formerly editor-in-chief of House Beautiful and SBEH friend!

It was July 2019 and my husband and I had just closed on our new house. But it wasn’t just any new house. Eight months before we had toured a famous, abandoned, 1700s mansion in our little town on a whim, and just as spontaneously decided we needed to be the ones to buy it and bring it back to its glory. 

Priced to sell at just under $90,000, the house named Danascara Place was a great deal, with two acres of beautiful, wooded property. But there were some sobering drawbacks. There was a massive L-shaped addition in the back that had burned eight years prior and been left as a rotting shell stuck to the main, historic brick house. That would need to be removed, a heating system put in from scratch, the slate roof patched up, and all the plumbing redone. The old wood windows would need new glass and glazing, and the rotted front porch steps and floors rebuilt, along with so many other “little” problems. But the bones were good, and we knew if we could just make it “liveable,” we could slowly transform the rest of it as we lived there, room by room.

The first two rooms on our list were a full bathroom upstairs and of course, the kitchen. The kitchen was a nightmare: boarded-up windows, smoke-stained walls, rusted-out appliances, water-damaged floors, and 1990s golden oak builder-grade cabinets. I was dreaming of a full gut job, intricate hex tile floors, Victorian hardwood cabinets to the ceiling, and a work table island, but in old home budgeting, structural and maintenance projects must come before dream kitchens. So I started scheming how I could create my dream kitchen from scratch.

The term “unkitchen,” popularized by design writer Sophie Donelson, had been gaining traction as a microtrend and it was so intertwined with traditional old-house kitchens that it was all I wanted for the Danascara kitchen. I loved how if you thought of a kitchen as any other room in the house, a place to use moveable furniture, art, textiles, next door to the utilitarian tools we need, instead of the de rigeur big box uppers and lowers, cabinet front appliances, and a built-in island, the possibilities for creativity opened up. I was stuck with the big box lowers and island, but we took down the floating uppers right away. 

I wanted countertops that felt warm and substantial, like something you’d expect to find in an old house. I kept coming back to butcher block but I couldn’t find the thickness I wanted. My mother-in-law – my fellow decorating schemer – found old bowling alley lanes for sale on Facebook Marketplace and I knew they’d be perfect. Our contractors helped us install them and I sanded and stained them with a natural black walnut stain my dad made. 

A fresh coat of paint – Sail Cloth by Benjamin Moore, transformed the walls and ceiling. I wanted the cabinets to be a joyful mix of color – we chose Hale Navy for the outside and Solitude (both Benjamin Moore) for the insides. 

The list of projects we tackled is long: replacing appliances, building slide-out shelves for cupboards, framing a pantry in an old closet, refurbishing vintage lights, adding beadboard to the backs of cupboards, building antique-inspired kitchen shelf and peg rails, sewing curtains, and adding painted wood knobs. But the game changer was the painted floor.

Most of the house had beautiful hardwoods with chevron and border details. But the kitchen had engineered hardwood that had seen better days and couldn’t be refinished. Again, a floor replacement wasn’t in the budget, but luckily, I had been on the painted wood floor train for years and I knew that was the solution. We patched the damaged areas with a close-match engineered hardwood, and I got to work.

An octagon and dot pattern was the perfect twist on classic checkerboard floors, something I was confident I could create myself and a perfect opportunity to bring more color and pattern into the room.

I decided to reuse the blue in the back of the cupboards, a slightly darker (homemade) version of Sail Cloth, and Sherwin-Williams Downing Sand for the small squares. Here is the basic process I used.

First, I primed the floor with a white bonding primer to make sure the paint would stick to any remaining topcoat the floor may have originally had.

the main walkway where i started

Much like when you’re installing wallpaper, it’s important to start the pattern in the most visible space in the room. I chose the main walkway between the island and hutch-style cabinet. To get a center line, I measured between the two cupboards at multiple points and connected those with a chalk line extending from wall to wall. 

I created a cardboard template for the large squares that measured 15 inches by 15 inches (you could also use a piece of plastic or a tile for a more durable template). Because the squares would be painted diagonally, I had to figure out the diagonal measurement of the square. Did you know the diagonal of a square is larger than its sides? High school math is coming back for us. You can figure out the diagonal with a quick Google – the diagonal of a 15-inch square is 21.21 inches. 

That means the lines I drew on my floor had to be 21.21 inches apart (see diagram). Once I drew those lines across the whole room, I was able to line my template up along the lines, with two corners touching the line, and draw on the main squares.

For the small squares that make the “dot” in an octagon and dot pattern, I used a 4-inch by 4-inch square and lined it up so the corners touched the lines where 4 of the larger squares meet (see diagram). I drew those on across the room.

Then came the fun part – painting. 

I used porch and floor paint and a 1-inch angled brush and a small craft brush for along the baseboards. 

Working in small sections so that we could still use the kitchen, I painted two coats of each color, one at a time. So each section had six painting sessions with dry times in between. Let’s just say, this was the perfect pandemic-era activity.

Once I was finished with the whole room – and countless podcasts and audiobooks – I worked in sections again to apply the top coat: Benjamin Moore Stays Clear in Low Lustre. This step was the most important. Even in the few weeks between finishing a section and adding this top coat the floors developed chips and stains. For each section, I scrubbed it clean, touched up damage with a craft brush, and then wiped on the topcoat with a microfiber pad. I would wait for it to dry overnight and then apply the second coat, barricading the section with all the chairs, empty boxes, and baby gates I had to protect it from doggy paws. With that topcoat, these floors have held up incredibly well for the past three years and are so easy to vacuum and mop. There have still been chips, but just enough to add that old house character.

The biggest surprise of the process of renovating our kitchen with virtually no budget was that I now have no plans for a Phase 2 renovation in the near future. We somehow created a beautiful, character-filled, and flexible kitchen that can serve us for years and look beautiful doing it. This past fall the kitchen was put to the ultimate test when we hosted a 70-person wedding for my brother-in-law. Caterers took the room over and served a beautiful meal in our backyard and they loved the function and flow we had created in the room – the best compliment!

EHD again! Clearly, after seeing Jessica’s kitchen, this is a very special book that you all should grab! Here’s the link to get it now. xx

*Design by Jessica Rhodes
**After Photos by Elizabeth Haynes


Never miss a single post and get a little something extra on Saturdays.

45 thoughts on “Wait Until You See the Floors in This 1700s Kitchen Budget DIY Makeover (It’s In a Mansion!)

  1. This is such a fun post, but I have to make a correction. This is a beautiful example of a Victorian house from the later 1800’s, not the 1700’s. The Victorian era was during the time of Queen Victoria, at the turn of the 19th century, and was full of high, narrow proportions and towers and ornate trim. The 1700’s covered colonial (original, not revival) and Georgian architecture.

    1. Sophie’s post on instagram says the house was built in 1795. Wouldn’t the people who bought the house and have the records know?

    2. Hi all! 🙂 You’re all right…. And you can visit Park + Division for lots more detail — Jessica did extensive research! —BUT, the house was built in 1795 and then the Italianate tower (the Victorian element) was added in the late 1800s.

      1. There must have been a massive remodelling of the 1795 building, because the window headers and everything are very “Italianate”.

        Love the kitchen !

  2. This kitchen gave me butterflies! I love that it’s graceful and warm, elevated yet approachable, with strong historic vibes. Absolutely stunning. I’m an American living in Europe and I realize that many Americans will probably look at this kitchen and see elements they would consider European…but to me, looking in from the opposite side of the Atlantic, it feels so early American that it actually makes me homesick. Time to re-watch the John Adams HBO series…

  3. Wow Jessica! So beautiful and inspiring. In awe of the creativity and meticulous execution. Where can I see more of this home??

    1. Check out my IG — @sophiedow and the book Uncommon Kitchens ^^ and Jessica’s site, Park and Division esp about the house —

  4. I am so so so impressed by the final statement about not needing to change this for years to come. You didn’t spend an ungodly amount of money, you didn’t fill a dumpster. You showed how creative re use of what you already had turned out to be stunning and beautiful. You created a vision with what was there rather than creating a “dream” kitchen in your head and installing it. Nothing wrong with people getting a space and putting what they want in it, but I find this post so much more relatable and attainable for the average person who may not be able to drop piles of money on one room. From an environmental standpoint this is also so much less wasteful than the typical American way of doing things. Bravo

    1. I couldn’t agree more. I hope they decide to never replace this kitchen! I wonder if many of us are finding it harder to handle the wastefulness generated by the renovation/aspiration paradigm when the impact on our climate and environment is becoming harder and harder to ignore.

      1. I certainly have lost my stomach for a lot of it. When they do landfill studies more than half of it is building materials

  5. Wow I LOVE this and am so glad you aren’t planning a Phase 2.
    This kitchen is gorgeous and does indeed look very functional as well.

    When I saw the exterior mansion shot, my first thought was “this would be an amazing wedding venue” so I was delighted to later learn it had been! Your BIL is SO blessed you opened up your home for this! What a gift!

  6. Oooooh, I’ve been dreaming of painting our kitchen floors in a similar pattern. Thank you for the step-by-step tutorial.

  7. The kitchen is dreamy. I love how you made the kitchen full of character. It really does look custom and special. I often see some renovations where people decide to replace all the kitchen cabinets and make it more current, but the end result is not special or better, it’s just different. Yours isn’t different, it’s much better than it was.

  8. I love this kitchen soooo much. It’s one of my favourites in Uncommon Kitchens – and there are a lot of great kitchens in there. You did a fabulous job.

    Sophie’s book is a welcome addition to the interiors conversation. The short essays in the book are good, too – so much encouragement for working with what you have and not jumping on the hedonic treadmill of more more more. Do we really need pot fillers and specialty ice makers etc. etc? This kitchen reminds us that we don’t. Thank you Jessica.

  9. I love following Jessica’s IG account. She is great DYI-er (she redid that table and chairs, did a mattress for a daybed in the living room, put a wallpaper on the ceiling in her hallway, etc) and does the best thrifting out there. So much love shown to that house. Great to see her featured here.

  10. Those countertops are GORGEOUS! I love how much patina they already had. The whole kitchen looks fresh, but also maybe it’s just really well kept up from decades ago??? LOVE the sweet colored dishes and I hope you use them regularly, not just as decor. I even love the little brass curtain tie back with the bow – so sweet.

  11. What incredible fun – the kind of amazingly-creative-and-also-hard-work thing I would never do, but can sit back and marvel at. Phenomenal!

  12. I’ve been working on a furniture refinishing project in the garage for the last week. I’m listening to the audiobook, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, by Diana Gabaldon.
    The book takes place in 1779, during the Revolutionary War. That’s only 10 years before Sophie’s house was built!
    Something I love about the Outlander series of books is the descriptions of ordinary life 250 years ago. How families gathered together, preserved food, hunted gathered and gardened, feeding small and large groups of people.
    In this book, Claire and Jaime are building a large house. It’s interesting to hear why they’ve decided to include certain rooms, and spaces. In those days, you might unexpectedly have guests, family or otherwise, that need to stay with you for months at a time. If there was a reason to celebrate or mourn, there might be dozens or more to host and feed.
    The rooms were built for function first.
    I think that it what Sophie and her husband have hit upon here. The kitchen is functional, pleasing to the eye, and uses materials that they had available to them. The pride of ownership shows in the beautiful floor, and the display of pretty plates, and other useful objects. It is exactly what a kitchen should be!

  13. This is just thoroughly charming! And so pretty – it ‘feels’ like sunlit mornings and fresh air. And all very thoughtful – thank you for sharing, and really interested in the rest of the house as well.

  14. Ahhh this is so GREAT! We are renovating an Eastlake home built in 1882 (late Victorian) and in researching kitchens, it’s interesting to see how different they were and how kitchen design has evolved through time. I have been dreaming of a kitchen using similar principles seen here with incorporating furniture, drawing inspiration from European kitchens, looking for ways to outfit it without sinking 100k into the home, etc.

    You have done a beautiful job! Thank you so much for sharing with us. I definitely need to go check out that book!

  15. This is stunning. So full of warmth and character, and such a beautiful nod to the house. I hope they keep it this way forever.

    I’d been feeling a little bummed that I have almost zero budget for my own kitchen redo, but I’m so inspired now to work with what I’ve got. Thank you so much for sharing with us!

  16. Love posts like these. I know they make less profit for the blog ie employees, but would be overjoyed to see more of them.

  17. I went to her blog and Instagram there is so much more information in how she and her husband renovations it’s really interesting! It’s extremely inspirational for those of us trying to do renovations ourselves

  18. Very beautiful! This kitchen is more formal/fancy than what I would choose for myself, but I really admire how you honored the style and time period of the house and how you were so resourceful in making it. It turned out so perfect! It’s cool how sometimes constraints (like budget constraints) can lead to greater creativity.

  19. Question: How is a comment applauding Sophie’s great reuse, upcycling and repurposing to beautify a home NOT approved?!?
    Please explain. Very confusing.

  20. This is amazing. The room is so beautiful and also functional. I’m looking forward to digging into the Insta posts! Thank you for bringing this to us!

  21. Your dedication to restoring this old mansion is truly inspiring! The kitchen transformation is remarkable, especially using bowling alley lanes for countertops. It’s amazing to see how creativity can turn a tight budget into a dream space. Keep up the fantastic work!

  22. I’m supposed to be doing something else – but instead I just spent close to an hour on her Insta page! Unreal. My favorite kind of design!

  23. Umm can we have a whole post on amazing CURTAINS like this room has??? I’m LOVING the excessive use of curtains trend going on right now 🙂

Comments are closed.