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A Lucky Reader’s Kitchen No-Demo Reno: The Challenges + Needs + Budget + Timeline

Rarely is there a post that does better on the blog than a kitchen reveal so THIS IS A BIG WEEK for you and me both! It’s what I think I just coined KRW: Kitchen Reveal Week. This time around, it’s a budget-friendly but non-DIY upgrade that I’m very excited to show you. You guys, there’s floral wallpaper, there’s dark green paint, there’s a newly blasted ceiling! SO. MUCH. GOOD.

A few months ago, we put out a call to our Portland followers for a kitchen that needed an update with some design and functional elements to make it better but in the “no demo reno” kind of way (truly my favorite flavor of makeovers). Most people simply want a kitchen with more function and yes, with elevated design, but don’t necessarily have the budget or time to do a full gut job. I know I don’t have to tell you, but y’all, a full kitchen remodel with custom cabinets can be SO expensive and often feels dauntingly impossible (speaking from experience on the other side of one—I made it out alive, but I have a ton of compassion for all future kitchen renovators). After so many good submissions, we found our reader-kitchen duo (shout out to Julie!) and this week, we will be documenting the process of how it all came together with the big reveal at the end. I know patience can be tough in this instant gratification world, but it’ll be worth it. Promise.

This kitchen project is in collaboration with Crate & Barrel as they launch a new line of kitchen islands and finishing touches. When they approached me with the partnership, I asked to see the photos of the product before signing on and was extremely impressed. It’s no secret that Crate is killing it in the design department—I myself have pieces from the Jake Arnold and Athena Calderone collections. They are extremely cool and beautifully made. It was a fast and hard “YES” once I saw the island selection. All we needed was a kitchen that checked the following boxes:

  • Could be completed in a quick timeline: It didn’t need to be faux-HGTV fast, but we had under two months and needed to be done by June (so no major permitting, engineering, etc).
  • Stylistically worked well with the island that I loved: This island honestly could work in so many different styles but we wanted to make sure that it didn’t feel plugged into the wrong house design-wise.
  • Had the right size and scale: We weren’t going to move walls so we had some size restraints for the product.
  • Within a reasonable affordable non-DIY budget: This couldn’t be a teardown—there had to be good enough existing bones for an upgrade. We had a budget of $15-20k, not the usual $100k that kitchens require these days. I say “non-DIY” because we weren’t doing it ourselves and would hire out, but honestly, most of these things could totally be done by a handy homeowner (so it could have been a budget kitchen remodel).
  • The existing island (if there was one) couldn’t have a sink or stovetop that we had to re-home. The island is freestanding with storage but no plumbing or electrical.


Clearly, this kitchen had potential and was already pretty cute. But Julie, the homeowner gave us some insight into how old it was and how it wasn’t meeting their family’s needs. Julie also is a huge antiques enthusiast (and even had booths that I’ve bought from many times!), thus having cool pieces.

Julie’s Needs

The house was remodeled in the 1990s and it clearly wasn’t bad, but some of the design choices in the space could use a touch-up. Additionally, some of the cabinets were chipped and wonky. Her biggest grievances were as follows:

  1. The appliances were old and not terribly attractive. (Although TBH, at least they were white and kinda disappeared). We split the appliance budget with her as this wasn’t an appliance partnership and those can add up.
  2. Her island was so pretty but there wasn’t anywhere for her boys to sit and hang, and she could use more storage for bigger items.
  3. She just wanted it to feel more designed and give it a point of view. Nothing is wrong with the current iteration, but it could have more color, pattern, contrast, impact, etc.


Here is the beautiful island we chose for this project and after seeing it installed in person, I can tell you that it is STUNNING and extremely high-quality. It’s made from white oak with a solid honed marble on top. It comes fully built and has so many functions such as a pull-out garbage compartment on the left, storage for a stand mixer on the right, and huge deep drawers for pots, pans and large mixing bowls in the middle. And it has a 14.5-inch overhang that can easily sit three people.

This island truly looks custom-made, but again, it comes fully assembled, including the stone at $4,999. If you’ve done custom cabinetry before you’ll know that an island this size would typically be a lot more expensive, not including the stone. With this island, you are saving time and money. The slab on top is extremely impressive and beautiful (that veining is perfect, and mixed with the white oak looks so beautiful and classic and can go with so many styles.

THE DESIGN TEAM + Major Players

I hired Sarah Weldon (former PDX assistant, currently in design school) to be the design lead and project manager on this. I used to have an in-house design team but I don’t up here so I was SO HAPPY she said “yes.” We designed it together, but she was so instrumental both in ideas and especially in execution. After choosing the paint color, wallpaper and accent finishes, she went to town on the renderings and calculations.

I also hired my brother to be the contractor (he just got his license). This was a great first project for us because the scale of it was pretty darn manageable, but the timeline was fast. He was in charge of executing all the work, booking the subs, and being on-site for quality control, etc. It was SO FUN and pretty darn seamless working with him and Sarah. Emily M. and Gretchen (two of my Portland team) helped with content and the production of the shoot day.

We needed to create a labor and non-Crate & Barrel prop budget which is always hard without exact quotes, but we did our best. Here is what I initially mocked up:

Our Labor And Non-Product Budget:

  • Appliances: $10-15k (our budget covered half and Julie was happy to pay the other half to get what she wanted.
  • Demo: My brother did this in a day, so this was wrapped up in his fee.
  • Refinishing the ceiling: $4-6k (you can see this in tomorrow’s post)
  • Carpentry: i.e. shelving, any beadboard and trim work repair/replacement, and closing up the pass-through window.
  • Paint cabinets: $4-6k?
  • New cabinet fronts for new panel-ready appliances + upper cabinet above new fridge + new hood: $2-8k (I literally have no idea)
  • Random non-Crate & Barrel necessities (appliance pulls, pot rack, new faucet): $2-3k
  • Contractor fee: TBD but somewhere between $3-10K (huge range, I know)
  • Wallpaper + wallpaper install: $1-2k

All of these were very padded and I left a lot of room for nuance. We were under on some but went over on others. There were some additional unexpected costs (per usual) like needing to cut the stone behind the old range to fit the new one, and having to hire an electrician because there were some issues being an older home that we didn’t predict when we installed our new lighting fixtures. We ended up coming in at $23k (not including any of our time, including Sarah’s rendering and project management time) and not including the Crate & Barrel product. Even no-demo reno kitchens can add up because labor or anything custom is very expensive these days, but I think a lot of this could have been DIY’d by a handy and patient homeowner.

Timeline With A Firm Deadline

Nothing like a booked photoshoot with a huge crew flying in to light a fire under your hood. I don’t remember the exact date we started but I think we had seven weeks before the shoot. It honestly felt really doable and safe (and we had such a great kitchen for it). We wanted to do an excellent job and meet the deadline, so one of the reasons that some of our costs were higher than they would normally be is what I like to call a “desperation and urgency” tax. We didn’t have the luxury of time to get multiple quotes, so if our first felt a little high but they could start immediately, we booked them to check the box. It’s such a domino effect and some people couldn’t even quote for weeks. A huge credit to my brother Ken for having a lot of connections and being so friendly that people want to work for him, even on small-ish jobs like this.

The Design Plan

We had the homeowner’s wants and a rough (but firm) budget. In terms of everything we had to get done in just under two months’ time? Here’s what we were aiming for:

  • Refinish the ceiling. Ice blasting? sanding? Walnut blasting? Come back tomorrow and see!!
  • Remove uppers to open up the space + install floating shelves.
  • Hire a cabinet maker to make panels for the new panel-ready appliances. Fridge, dishwasher, hood, and upper cabinet above the fridge to look more integrated.
  • Close up the pass-through window that they didn’t use. This would give us more shelving space.
  • Repair and replace trim and beadboard where needed.
  • Paint existing cabinetry boxes on site and all beadboard. All fronts were taken to a studio and sprayed.
  • Source panel-ready appliances (and hood) with literally NO lead time. These needed to be in stock in Portland.
  • Change out the faucet.
  • Change pendant over island.
  • Change out all hardware. This required new holes. Our painter patched the old holes before he painted.
  • Order wallpaper and hire an installer. Timing was sensitive.
  • Shop and style it all out.

It sounds like a mountain to climb but it really did feel so doable, maybe in even under a month. I’ve done this so many times, though, that I knew that if we didn’t pad the timeline, we’d be in trouble if we ran into any hiccups or anything needing the luxury of time to troubleshoot. So much of it has to do with labor availability and we aren’t in control of that. Again, kudos to Ken for pulling it off. We actually got done a week early and we had so much time to style and play before the Crate executives and photographers showed up.

The Design Board

This isn’t the final design plan because I want to keep it a secret until the reveal on Thursday, but here you can get a sense for the direction we were headed and get a peek into what you are about to see later this week.

The final design is full of color, so fun and modern, and with a lot of whimsy. The transformation is real and high impact, all in seven weeks.

Sneak Peek!!

You know it’s hard for me to hold onto final images for too long, so here’s a little look into the final design but not the full colors (YET). Tomorrow, you’ll read about the ceiling refinishing (it’s a thing and our first go around did NOT turn out as we had hoped so it’s worth a whole post). And then come back Thursday for the full kitchen reveal. We are OBSESSED with how it turned out. It’s honestly so sweet and full of personality (like Julie). It has such a point of view now and it seemed like the homeowner couldn’t have been happier with her kitchen. She was so fun and easy to work with and the whole process was so seamless. I CAN NOT WAIT TO SHOW YOU.

A huge thanks to Sarah Weldon and Ken Starke for all their work on this, and Crate & Barrel for giving such creative freedom. T-minus TWO DAYS before the reveal of this kitchen. I think/hope you’ll love it as much as we do. xx

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11 months ago

As a Chicagoan, I love that you’re partnering with C&B, a consistently high-quality company. Julie’s kitchen really is so pretty to begin with—at first I thought it was a C&B ad and her island was part of their new line. Cannot wait to see how you “kick it up a notch!”

Roberta Davis
11 months ago
Reply to  Shannon

I fell in love with C&B when I got out of college and moved to Chicago in 1981! Still in love!

Cris S.
11 months ago
Reply to  Roberta Davis

I really miss the 4 story C&B on Michigan Avenue! Emily – you need to do a Chicago meet up with all your readers from here.

11 months ago
Reply to  Shannon

I think C&B was the first company, I’ve seen in the US (I first saw it in 2002-2004 when it first showed up at wood field mall in Schaumburg) that had more modern, less chunky and equally timeless pieces, that were more similar to what I grew up with in 1980-1990 Europe. Glassware was high quality, very clear, yet not too heavy. Furniture had a simple look, and not as bulky as American furniture of the 1980-2000. I loved it then and I love it now. I have a number of things from them. They now have a lot of chunkier pieces for the ever growing square footage of American homes and they also bought into the modern farmhouse look, but they still have a lot to choose from. It’s one of my favorites furniture and homeware companies.

11 months ago

It’s funny – I loved the ceiling as is. I am sure the whole thing will be beautiful – I love the new open storage near the sink. It seems like the area above that long wall of lower cabinets could also be a place to put open shelving.

11 months ago
Reply to  Jenni

I am not so sure about the trend of exposing your joists and sub-floor! From a sound and insulation perspective this seems wild to me. I would throw up drywall and insulation in an instant.

11 months ago

Cant wait to see it.

Having a wood ceiling to start with. Gorgeous.

Having something functional is critical in kitchen design. The island is going to be awesome for the family

Roberta Davis
11 months ago

How fun! And I am probably one of the biggest Crate & Barrel fans alive, going back to 1981. SO many things in my house are from Crate & Barrel, and they have held up so well over the decades. Looking forward to the reveal!

11 months ago

I already know, I will love this Reno/update. I like the elements and descriptions of the project and of course the preview photo says it all. This type of transformations is what I like to see and do myself. It’s much easier for me to take the current space and “fix” and improve it than to design from scratch. It also seems to give more character to the space as opposed to a new Reno that sources everything at the same time. Can’t wait to see the full reveal.

Cris S.
11 months ago

This is awesome, both entertaining and educational. I’ve both renovated our (old house and now rental) kitchen and had a new large one built from scratch in our gut reno (my husband keeps insisting it was around $100000 but my mind refuses to believe it was that much, but he’s probably right) and am now visiting my parents and renovating their small older kitchen in my head everyday during my month long visit out here. Really looking forward to this week! Can I say something to your brother as he starts on this general contractor path? You can’t be so nice that the trades walk all over you and your clients. It is helpful not to be a complete jerk, but you also can’t be a pushover. About 1/3 of the way through our gut reno (in which we took an older one story home down to just the outside walls and then built a new ground floor and second floor) I was standing near the plumber while our GC talked to one of the other trades. He turned to me and said “the problem with Tom is that he wants to be everyone’s friend and he’s scared to piss… Read more »

11 months ago
Reply to  Cris S.

This is a good *general* reminder, but your GC asking you to have contentious discussions with the subcontractors is 100% inappropriate because it is, in fact, asking you to do his job. GCs exist so you do not have to manage the trades yourself as the customer – I would have gotten a new GC for sure. And I doubt Em’s brother needs this reminder if he is at all a responsible worker/GC/human. The construction debris issue is a WHOLE other fakakta situation…

11 months ago

Exciting! I wanted to enter soooo badly, but I have a galley kitchen without room for an island. Maybe one day you’ll do another one of these for someone in Portland with a 50’s galley kitchen with so much potential 😊 I’ve also been inspired by your velux skylight partnerships and my dream future kitchen reno will include vaulting the ceiling and adding skylights!

11 months ago

I’m hoping the cabinet reveal covers what paint was used to limit chips. I have painted cabinets and the chips drive me up the wall, so they need to be redone, and I’m hoping to find a paint that really won’t chip so much!

11 months ago
Reply to  Lisa

Same here!

11 months ago

Pretty bland before. Glad to see some pattern in the final result! Still don’t like open shelves, though.

Bonnie Lagerstrom
11 months ago

More posts like this please! I can’t wait to read about the process and to see the final reveal😀

11 months ago

curious if the cabinets are Ikea and what’s involved in spraying them so the paint stays and remains durable!

11 months ago

I entered this but, looking at the size of the island, my space wouldn’t have been able to accommodate it 🙁 If you’re ever interested in revamping an ADU, for a future Airbnb, please let me know – I have a very outdated ADU that I want to get up and running in NW Portland. I have the space but not the creativity!!

11 months ago

I’m chucking because like others, I’d keep the ceiling as is. I’d also ditch the white plate display that is being kept. Looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

11 months ago

Can’t wait to see the final product!!! Love the approachable renos. We spent $50K on a brand new kitchen with mid-range applicances and semi-custom cabinets. It is a gorgeous finished product – looks like it cost at least twice as much – but we skimped and used a non-licensed friend as a GC, who was trying to get into the business and did it as a “favor” to us. It was total hell and ruined not only the experience of renovating (which was already stressful), but also our friendship. She had the problem this commenter described – since she had so few connections in the industry, she could not afford, nor did she have the expertise, to question their judgment. It was so tough. MAJOR lesson learned there!

11 months ago

Yay so fun!