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Design

A Galley Kitchen Remodel That Doubled The Size And Function (With Some Big Help From Actual LEGOS)

My husband Mark and I went on our first date when I was a sophomore in high school, and he was a senior—almost 19 years ago! While it may be true that I didn’t even know how to drive a car at the time, what I did know is that I had found a good thing, and I saw no reason to let it go. We’ve stayed together through high school and college and beyond, getting married, having kids, growing up, and evolving as a unit.

at our senior prom, circa 2005

Much in the same way that we have remained committed to our very first loves, we both fell in love with a “starter home” duplex we bought together with my now-sister-in-law in 2009. The house, which was built in 1939, hadn’t had many major upgrades since the 1970s. Each unit was one-bedroom, one-bath. The yard lacked any landscaping and was a literal urban jungle of many strange artifacts (animal bones, buried doll heads…) and weeds. But with the help of my contractor father-in-law, we were able to bring a couple of condemned staircases up to code, add in central air and heat, and in true fixer-upper cliché fashion, we pulled up ancient carpeting to reveal original red oak flooring underneath. About a year later, we added on a primary bedroom and bathroom, giving us more ample square footage and room to grow.

We both grew up in the Valley but ended up in Silver Lake by a combination of fates, one being that it was still rather inexpensive to buy here. (My fellow Angelenos likely spit out their coffee upon reading this—knowing that the median home price in our neighborhood now hovers somewhere around 1.4 million.) I truly hadn’t spent much time in Silver Lake prior to moving here. I suppose it could have gone the other way, but as it turned out we quickly fell in love with this neighborhood. Our home is perched high on a hill, overlooking much of the city with a particularly good view of the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, and the Silver Lake Reservoir (the “lake” for which Silver Lake was named). 

Kohler Faucet | Knobs | Pulls

But back to our house‚ which even with the addition was still quite modest in size—about 1,200 square feet. Things felt a bit smaller when my daughter, Eden, was born in 2014, and a bit smaller still once our second baby, Arlo, was born in 2017. But of course, the walls really closed in on us once COVID hit. It was now, as we spent months huddled up inside as a family of four, that we started to feel we had a decision to make. Either we begin to look for a larger space in a less expensive area, giving up that billion-dollar view and all that we loved about our neighborhood, or we allow our home to continue to grow and evolve with our family. I had complained about our galley kitchen for years, but suddenly cooking 21 meals a week and nurturing a newly acquired sourdough bread baking habit, the need for a bigger kitchen became much more urgent. Taking advantage of the historically low-interest rates, we refinanced our home, taking enough cash out to cover a kitchen remodel while only modestly raising our monthly mortgage payments.

With my contractor father-in-law as a resource once again, we were able to come up with a layout and design without hiring an architect. My father-in-law drilled many, many holes in our walls to find out which walls were structural, and Mark used our kids’ LEGO blocks to build 3-D models. We figured out that we’d be able to reuse almost all of our old cabinets and appliances, which meant we had a little more budget to allocate toward the fun stuff (in my opinion, at least) like countertops and light fixtures. The last time we renovated, my father-in-law was still working full time, so our project took the backseat to his paying clients and mostly came together on weekends. He retired a few years ago, however, which meant he was able to be extremely hands-on this time. He hired laborers for the demo and subcontractors for things like our flooring, electric, and plumbing, but he was there working basically every single day over the course of two months. He even personally built the new cabinets we needed! I lucked out in the in-law department for a myriad of reasons, but this is definitely one of them.

lego modeling

Runner (sold out) | Cane Basket | Woven Baskets | Counter Stools

eden enjoying her first walk-in pantry, which is now a favorite hiding place for both kids

While it turned out there was a structural column in the kitchen we did have to keep, we were able to move one side of the kitchen from the inside to the outside of said column, taking the kitchen from galley to U-shape and almost doubling it in size. This meant that we were also able to add a small walk-in pantry with a pocket door (something we never had before!). We barely lost any countertop space and gained some serious square footage in the kitchen! All thanks to playing around with LEGO blocks…

our back wall before (you may notice, we also re-stained our floors during the renovations)

Goblets (vintage) | Picture Light | Florish Sconce

We were also able to push our back wall out a couple feet onto our deck, and while a structural support column remains from the old wall there as well, this meant we could install folding Panoramic Doors along the entire length of the wall, something we had talked about doing for years. This opened our entire back wall up to our deck, for a truly dreamy indoor-outdoor living situation. I will share that the Panoramic Doors were not cheap. These doors slide along a track and then only flip out at the end, which means that, unlike typical bifold doors, they do not encroach upon your deck space until the very end of the track. The doors ate up about half of our entire reno budget, but I have zero regrets there. We enjoy them every single day.

Florish Sconce | Kohler Faucet

Countertop and Backsplash | Knife Block | Pastel Knives

When it came to fixtures and finishes for the kitchen, I played around with a Pinterest mood board that ended up evolving into a whole PowerPoint presentation, and also consulted Sarah Sherman Samuel via The Expert toward the end, when I felt like I could use a professional opinion on things. We chatted on Zoom for less than an hour, but it was extremely helpful! I totally recommend that as a great option for my fellow amateur designers who love the hands-on process of designing their own space, but still have a few questions or need a second, more experienced, set of eyes. I sent Sarah my PowerPoint ahead of time so that she could look through it if she had time, and then came prepared with a set of questions I was still pondering: “Will an arched shelf work in our space, if we don’t already have arches in our home?” and “Should I do a tile backsplash or have our countertop slab continue onto the backsplash?” She gave me her opinion and reasoning behind each answer and suggested some specific products that were still TBD—like a plug-in pendant light for over our dining table. (I somehow hadn’t even thought to look at Urban Outfitters for that! Ours is sold out, but they still have a great selection.) I also just wanted to make sure she didn’t see any red flags with the design we had planned (luckily, she did not!).

the beginnings of the arch

Switch Plate Cover

Picture Light

My favorite design element is the open arch shelf. I love a good arch and was excited to see that idea come to fruition. My husband and father-in-law originally doubted the idea since arches were not already an “architectural feature” in our home, but everyone ended up admitting I’d been right about that one. (Plus, Sarah was on my side!)

Here are some before and afters:

If you’re curious to see more of the process, I saved a “Renovations” highlight on my Instagram profile. And of course, I am more than happy to answer questions. 

P.S. We also may be looking to do a home swap in London for a few weeks in July, so if you might be interested in trading spaces and coming to L.A., feel free to let me know!

*Design by Ilana Saul
**Photos by Stephanie Todaro

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Appaloosa
5 months ago

Beautiful! May I ask what color the cabinets are? The blue is stunning.

Kj
5 months ago
Reply to  Appaloosa

Her Instagram said “The lowers are Wolf Gray by Benjamin Moore and the uppers are Carrara by Dunn Edwards.”

Cavin Cunningham
5 months ago
Reply to  Kj

I love the lights- no cans!!

Nina
5 months ago

very nice!

iLa
5 months ago

Beautiful kitchen! I love the light and the brilliant colors!

this is so beautiful. and that VIEW! wooooo-weeeee! my dream California life!

Dena
5 months ago

This is beautiful! You really did add so much space! I would love to see your dining room with your plug in pendant as am in need of something similar. We have a solar tube light right over our dining table and while we could remove it and install a chandelier or pendant, I really like it during the day. Thanks!

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Dena

Here is a shot of the pendant!

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Dena

Here it is

SaulKitchenRemodel-18-resized.jpg
jane
5 months ago

Perfect in every way! The colors, the view, the doors are all fabulous.

Kari
5 months ago

So beautiful! Well done! I would love baking bread in that space.

Jenni
5 months ago

Wow! The transformation is amazing. You did a wonderful job using the space thoughtfully and expertly. This is definitely my favorite post on this site in a long time!

K
5 months ago

Would love to hear more about your outdoor umbrella/shade!

Looks like such a smart use of space and it feels cheery!

Emily
5 months ago
Reply to  K

Yes! I need to know more about those shades!

Emily
5 months ago
Reply to  Emily

(I mean the horizontal umbrella thingies) I’ve been looking for something just like them.

Caitlin
5 months ago

What a bright and happy kitchen to work in and
for your kids to grow up in! Any chance you and your father in law can start a side business redesigning kitchens? You really have a great eye!

Shannon
5 months ago

Gorgeous renovation! And you’re a great writer, too!!

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Shannon

Thank you so much, that means a lot!

🥰 Rusty
5 months ago

Ilana, this iscreally lovely.
It’s fresh, light and airy, but cozy and warm at the same time.
Lucky you, to have a FIL with those skills!!!
Deloghtful!🤗

Heidi
5 months ago

Oh my! So beautiful and clever. Thanks for sharing..

Erin
5 months ago

Good lord this is an amazing renovation! Sounds like you were incredible efficient and thoughtful in your process, and the results show! Also way to go on the dreamy door situation.

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Erin

What a nice compliment! Thank you!

5 months ago

Turned out fabulous! I love the arch shelves and the counter stools. Reminds me a bit of a cantina

Roberta Davis
5 months ago

What a great improvement in every way! I love the LEGO model! 🙂

Patricia
5 months ago

Impressive. Award for most inspiring use of Legos in a remodel.

Jenny B
5 months ago

Love this! My recent college grad son moved to Silver Lake from the SF Bay Area, and it blew me away. I love it so much! Definitely one of my favorite LA neighborhoods. This remodel is brilliant, just moving the kitchen to the other side of the structural wall was genius. And love your style.

Lea
5 months ago

Love, Love, Love!

Julie T
5 months ago

Dang that is gorgeous! I love the view as much as the kitchen! Can I ask about some details: the vent / grate covers and the outlet covers?

Kj
5 months ago
Reply to  Julie T

The covers are linked above (search switch plate cover). The vent cover might be this one: https://ventandcover.com/products/scroll-aluminum-vent-cover.html

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Julie T

Yes, all the switch plate covers are from Rejuvenation! I’ll have to do some digging for the grate covers, because we got those years ago before the remodel.

DeniseGK
5 months ago
Reply to  Julie T

They look similar to Reggio Registers which can be ordered from the company and Home Depot carry some models. I searched for “black iron scroll vent covers”.

Ashley
5 months ago

INCREDIBLE job! This was a perfectly nice kitchen to begin with and you turned it into a FANTASY KITCHEN.

Julie S
5 months ago

What a truly inspiring rejigging of the space! I’m very very impressed. One of the most thoughtful and clever kitchen remodels I’ve seen.

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Julie S

Thank you so much!

Erin
5 months ago

It is awesome that you worked with the space you already had and completely reimagined the hardest working room in the house. You didn’t need a bigger home, just more space in your kitchen. I love that you were able to salvage your cupboards and that your arched nook also enabled you to keep a few of those bricks. 1000x agree on the doors!

Jenna
5 months ago

While they look like a nice color now, those bare pine shelves are going to yellow quite quickly as they age.

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Jenna

Funny(ish) story. I had planned to shop for some dream reclaimed barn wood shelving… and then my father-in-law installed some pine Home Depot 2x4s one day randomly without asking us. (We have it pretty good, but working with family isn’t always perfect I suppose!) He said it would take a whole day to replace them so we decided just to keep them for now since everyone else who has seen our kitchen in person actually loved them. I may still stain or paint or replace one day…

Emma
5 months ago

Is nobody else going to comment on the side-eye drywall cutouts?

Ashlea
5 months ago
Reply to  Emma

If you are talking about the arch and niche in the peninsula, what is wrong with them? I personally like them… but perhaps you see something I don’t?

Alison
5 months ago
Reply to  Emma

I know what you mean! It’s a literal side-eye looking face on the before photo of the deck doors!

Ashlea
5 months ago
Reply to  Alison

Ah!! I see now… totally misread the comment and assumed Emma was “side-eyeing” the dry wall cut outs/niches. I interpreted that as not liking them. Whoops.

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Emma

Ha! Yes, those were based on illustrations from one of my kids’ favorite children’s books (The Circle, Square, and Triangle series by Jon Klassen). We had huge holes in our walls for a couple weeks while my father-in-law was drilling holes in things, so we decided to cover them up with some art 🙂

Kelly
5 months ago

Such a fabulous makeover! The pantry is such a great use of space and the arch adds so much character! One question on the refrigerator placement as I’m considering such a placement. Does it limit how far the door can be opened?

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Kelly

It does not! Our previous fridge placement DID however, so we made sure it wouldn’t this time.

Julia
5 months ago

I love this! We’re planning to redo our countertops and backsplash. Do you mind me asking how much continuing the countertop as backsplash cost (in comparison to using tile)? I’m thinking of doing the same because I hate cleaning tile. Would love to hear why you ultimately went with the quartz.

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Julia

We cook a lot! I wanted to be able to spill sauce, chop beets, etc. without having to worry about staining my countertops or resealing them every few months. It also likely saved us at least a little money compared with a marble slab, although the Cambria quartz isn’t the cheapest manmade material. As far as extending it to the backsplash goes, I mainly just loved the look (and again, easy cleanup), but I think we would have needed two slabs regardless and the install fee probably wouldn’t have been that much cheaper without the backsplash, so I suppose it made financial sense too!

Julia
5 months ago
Reply to  Ilana Saul

Thanks Ilana! We cook a lot too; good point about the install fee

Stacey
5 months ago

Your thoughtful planning really paid off , the kitchen seems 100% more functional now. I am longing to see the rest of your place. That view is stunning, but with the LA heat, is it harder to keep the space cool with the panoramic doors?

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Stacey

No, they are pretty well run insulated!

HJ
5 months ago

We did this with our son’s Lego stash and it was definitely useful in helping us think through a kitchen renovation -seeing the space from all angles, playing with elements, etc.

893E84F4-582A-4869-AC40-9F610B6FF0AD.jpeg
Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  HJ

Ha, love it! Great minds think alike.

Sarah
5 months ago

So good! Those chairs re so perfect for the arch shape and cabinetry color and that sconce 👏👏👏

5 months ago

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Hadilly
5 months ago

Would you mind sharing which brackets you used to support the counter? Also, how high did you run the stone up on the wall to the left of the pantry?

I’m about to do a mini kitchen remodel, new counter tops, new cabinet doors and dropping the breakfast bar to the be same height as the rest of the counter. Your kitchen is inspirational!

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Hadilly

6 inches high to the left of the pantry.

Angie RS
5 months ago

Just here to fully affirm your door decision. Phenomenal! You’re able to fully appreciate the spectacular view from the inside and the outside. Money well spent, says I.

Lynn W
5 months ago

That’s an amazing reno!!! So much more space and being able to open the doors all the way is fantastic😊. Enjoy!

Sylvia
5 months ago

Wow wow wow! I love everything about this kitchen, especially the arch shelving.

Kate
5 months ago

So light and bright! I have red oak floors that are very yellow and love how you refinished your floors to get that white washed scandi look. Could you share how you refinished the floors?

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Kate

It was a silver toned floor stain that looked that way on the red oak. Trying to find the name…We tested a bunch before committing!

Kate
5 months ago
Reply to  Ilana Saul

Thank you so much! If you find the name let me know please.

Kim
5 months ago

I looooove what you did here. Heck, my aspirational kitchen is your BEFORE kitchen — and then the way you thought so creatively to give yourselves more room, add the charm of the niche, and bring then outdoors in even more is SO beautiful.

love the sculptural quality of the glasses — I swear those amber ones are the ones my aunt still uses !!

everything about this is delightful. Going to check out your IG now.

Sarah Jackson
5 months ago

I love this so much I almost wish I had a galley kitchen to rebuild! But I am really inspired by your walk in pantry and fridge cabinet and wondered whether you could share the plans for that piece? Also, do both your fridge doors open fully so you can get to the crisper drawers or has that been an issue? Again, love this so much and am really inspired by it!

Ilana Saul
5 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Jackson

Yes they do open fully! They did NOT on our old kitchen layout so we made sure we had those extra couple inches this time.

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