A month or so ago, we did a call-out on Em’s Instagram for your design agonies. We deeply understand the mental torture that a design agony can induce so we love helping! There were so many awesome submissions that I decided to break them up. Today is all about kitchens and one dated bathroom that I think A LOT of you will relate to. But don’t worry, I (someone who has never remodeled anything) won’t be dishing out the main advice. My dear friend and design sister (and EHD Lead Designer Alum) Julie Rose was consulted heavily so everyone can feel extremely taken care of:)
I decided to pick kitchens and bathrooms as the first post because we know a lot of you are renovating those spaces (and I think we’ve said that a thousand times this past year but IT’S TRUE). And as I am sure like me, most of you feel they are extremely intimidating spaces to make decisions on. More than any other space those decisions feel so permanent and ARE more expensive. Making a mistake doesn’t feel like an option. So, by helping these wonderful reader’s agonies, hopefully it will give the rest of you some solid insight and confidence to get that kitchen and bathroom the way you want:) Let the problem-solving being…
Kitchen Remodel While Keeping Meaningful Spanish Tile Floors:
“Here’s my design agony: We’re about to finally do a kitchen remodel in our 1900 farmhouse in Massachusetts, a farmhouse with terracotta tile with Mexican tile accents and I have no idea what color cabinets and countertops to apply to the remodel. It’s been four years in the decision phase because I still don’t know how to incorporate the current tile. The previous owners put in a terracotta floor with Mexican accent tiles back in the 80s. While I’ll admit this floor is one thing that drew me to the home when purchasing, it is quite beautiful and unique (despite the fact it belongs nowhere near a farmhouse), it’s been a huge thorn in my side while trying to design a kitchen upgrade. We cannot afford to replace it because the tile is not only in the kitchen, it connects to an entrance hall, another hallway where it is in three rooms (laundry, pantry, and bathroom) as well as two landings of a stairwell. Plus, after meeting the owner of the tile shop who installed it, it would break my heart to have it removed (it was apparently his favorite floor he’s ever worked on and one of the tile shapes is no longer made).”
“What color cabinets and counters would you do with this flooring? As you can see in the detailed tile that’s scattered throughout, the main colors are royal blue, orange, green, and yellow. I’m not a primary color person, but want to be sure we do this properly as it’s a huge expense and can only be done once. It’s currently a very cavelike room with the dark cabinets and soffits – but doing it all white may make the floor pop too much? Do we try to blend the floor or do we forget that it’s there? My favorite rooms are those with pops of color, which sums up the rest of my house aside from a darker cozy tv room which is off the kitchen.”
Julie’s Solutions (with Jess Commentary):
- Green lower cabinetry with white uppers – We know that this is a beautiful combo because it’s what Emily did in her LA house. This way, there’s color with it still being bright and happy just the way she wants it.
- Keep the white countertops, they will be a nice contrast to the green cabinetry – If she wants to replace what they have then great. However, Julie (and I agree) think that staying with white is the way to color color-wise.
- Keep wood tone on the back of the island, it adds another layer of texture & character to the space without being an overwhelming design element – I mean it’s beautiful so don’t spend money where you can save! Plus it makes it feel more “farmhouse”.
- Replace the floating shelves with natural wood tone to match the back of the island, if the uppers are painted white – To help with balance and continuity Julie thinks that switching out the white for a natural wood would look really pretty & add some more texture to the space.
- If possible continue the white stone backsplash to match the original one behind the range at approx. 30″H and then add in some natural wood tone paneling above it similar to the back of the island. (reference image below) – This is where the “Julie magic” really comes in! The idea to extend the white backsplash for visual continuity and then add pretty wood paneling on top of that is farmhouse without screaming “FARMHOUSE”. Let’s look at her inspo pic…
Yep, it’s beautiful and is such a great idea! I really hope that this helps with some of Jennifer’s indecision.
The Classic Kitchen & Trim Agony:
The Agony(s) and Plea(s):
“1. Paint! I can’t decide if I should paint our trim? We have gorgeous trim and I’m struggling with painting it dark so it stands out more and my walls can be white… painting my walls darker so the white trim stands out… or painting the walls and trim the same color and being moody and fun. Another issue is that the trim goes all over our first floor including on pretty glass doors- so I feel like I have to commit for the whole house.
2. Our kitchen! This is my least favorite room in the house.. and where I spend 1/2 of my time. It’s dated, has no storage, is small, and generally blah. Here I’d love any thoughts on how to make it feel bigger (how to make it bigger? Fairy godmother?), what colors to paint at least the lower cabinets as well as a basic palette that might work, and how to get more storage. Also, what do people do with this awkward space above cabinets?? The cabinets are in great shape so I don’t want to replace them but ughhhh.”
Julie’s Solutions (with Jess Commentary):
- Let’s start off with painting the lowers a classic navy blue color to add some contrast to the light wood tone flooring & save some dollars by leaving the uppers as is – Now you don’t know this but Erin lives in a historic neighborhood in Portland, OR. So a navy and off-white combo would be very appropriate and extremely pretty. Emily also did this combo in her Glendale home (even though the colors were brighter and it was meant for a midcentury modern vibe…it’s all about the right tones!).
- Consider replacing the cabinet hardware with a brass finish for some added warmth – Brass is always going to warm up a space and if they choose to go with a more unlacquered finish, it’s going to bring A LOT of soul.
- Swap the sink faucet with a taller gooseneck one for that extra “drama”, plus it’s always convenient to have your faucet a bit more out of the way when washing those larger pots & pans – Who doesn’t love some kitchen drama!? Well, the good kind at least. It’s small decisions like this that make a kitchen feel more designed and intentional.
- Possibly replace the countertops along the u-shape space with a clean white quartz option since there is already a fun patterned tile backsplash – That island butcher block is stunning! But the other counters look like a refresh would really make this kitchen sing.
- Now let’s address the gap above the upper cabinets, if possible talk with a carpenter about removing the existing crown moulding & add a flat piece of wood that meets the ceiling to enclose the gap. And since no home is perfectly squared off you can add a crown trim at the very top to cover up any unlevel areas. There will be a “seam” or “gap” between the original top of the uppers and the new flat piece of wood but that can easily be covered up by using a half-round trim piece like this one! – Something I wouldn’t have thought of but LOVE!
- Beware of going dark when painting trim. It can either take a lot of your time to paint or it can be pretty expensive to have professionally done since it requires a lot of precision to mask off & cut in especially around windows. Another thing to consider: going dark and then wanting to go back will take more “layers” of paint & primer to get it to that crisp white look & if you have trim with more design details it can lose its look with paint build-up if not done correctly. – Basically, how much time and money are they willing to invest???
- On the other hand, bright white trim will never go out of style – SO true. And if Erin ever plans on selling this home that’s for sure something to consider.
- A good first step could be to play around with slight or drastic contrasting wall colors in a warmer tone similar to the dining area. That way you can get a better idea if the space feels like it should go all dark, trim included. – This is obviously a preference because if drama is what Erin wants then drama is what she should go with. But playing around with a softer contrast might also allow for some really fun darker decor pieces that otherwise might be “too much” with the heavy contrast of wall and trim colors.
Vintage/Dated Blue Tile Bathroom Agony:
What do I do with this vintage all-blue bathroom!? How do I modernize it without ripping out the tile?
Julie’s Solutions (with Jess Commentary):
- When you walk into the room your eye focuses more on the two different scaled square patterns & the thick dark grout lines are what is keeping it feeling dated. There is a way to lighten grout colors or you can replace completely but in the end it might be worth swapping out the shower tile for a different pattern to break up the design – This is a question of how much time and/or money is Tracey willing to invest but very doable!
- The floor tiles are a pretty standard tile so an easy fix could be to use a latex or oil-based paint. Also, consider lightening or replacing the grout for a lighter color because painting tile can be tricky to upkeep in high moisture areas (aka a bathroom). Temporary floor tiles is another quick fix option as well! – If Tracey isn’t interested in the grout option, painting or putting in temporary floor tiles is such a great and maybe a cheaper way of updating the floors.
- If possible, removing the glass shower door and adding a shower curtain would add a soft texture to the space and make it feel more like a spa – Taking the door off might not be a possibility but if so I also think that would really help! But she could also just put a shower curtain up to hide most of the door:)
- Try painting the vanity and medicine cabinet either white or for more drama & contrast to the rest of the space a dark blue. For additional drama, let’s add a fun wallpaper pattern to lean into that vintage feel – Let us not forget the INCREDIBLE no renovation transformation from Allison Pierce‘s beautiful home (see below). I vote for heavy drama:)
- Add some hardware! – Don’t be afraid to make some new holes if you are a homeowner! I also think it would transform the space in a very cool way. Here is a great post that Julie did about hardware placement.
- Replace the lighting, towel bar, and faucets with more modern (aka clean line) fixtures – Yes, yes, yes:)
All Wood Kitchen with Skylight:
“Let’s call this design agony “I have a perfectly fine, high quality, super functional kitchen that I hate”. As much as I love the idea of tearing out our perfectly fine, high-quality, super functional kitchen, filling up a landfill with its corpse, I’d much rather… not?
1. It’s incredibly wasteful and as a family we have always tried to take steps to be conscious of our impact on our environment.
2. We all know kitchens are a beast in terms of budget and I’d much rather spend that money on something more worthwhile like, say, the kids’ college fund, travel, or something super practical like a garage (we live in a Boston suburb where you can blow $1m on a house and STILL NOT GET A FREAKING GARAGE)
3. This kitchen is PERFECTLY FINE, HIGH QUALITY, AND SUPER FUNCTIONAL!!!”
“There are a couple of bigger issues that need to be resolved here, for instance, we need a backsplash and a proper range hood above the cooktop, and we are currently consulting with a Velux (!) specialist about expanding the skylight/chase to encompass the entire island area, but other than that we’d like to keep this update as budget-friendly as possible, utilizing the existing cabinet boxes (although replacing those arched doors is 1000% in the plan) appliances, and countertops.
The kitchen shares a space with what I like to call “the lounge”. It’s a cozy area where family and friends can hang and whoever is doing the cooking/cleaning can still be part of the action. We are BIG cooks and spend 80% of our time at home in this space. The kitchen is also very visible to the rest of the house (your eye goes right to the lovely over-the-range microwave as soon as you walk in the door) so my goal here is to be slightly less… kitchen-y? Obviously, we will never completely hide the fact that it’s a kitchen, but we would love to infuse a little bit more warmth and personality to this space. We are hoping to make aesthetic changes through creative uses of paint, lighting, accessories, wall treatments, art, etc. I’m a creative and married a good ol’ Iowa farm boy so we are DIY-ing as much as possible.
I have photoshopped this kitchen TO DEATH trying all the things (open shelving! graphic tile! removing uppers! creative paint combos!) but nothing has felt quite right yet. I’d love to get the EHD take on how to make this kitchen into the cozy, cool, and creative space it wants to be! Without, like, throwing it all in the trash and starting over.”
Julie’s Solutions (with Jess Commentary):
First here is a photo of “the lounge” so you can have a sense of why Julie is making certain suggestions:
So cute right??! Ok now onto the kitchen…
- An all greige color for the cabinetry would be nice and keep it bright feeling & give a slight contrast to the rest of the walls, doors, & windows in the space – So pretty and would look so nice with the color scheme of the lounge.
- To keep it feeling fresh a lighter veining stone for the countertops & backsplash would add some interest while being easy to clean. If you opt for the stone on just the countertops to save some cash then consider a small to medium size scale tile for the backsplash – Yes, please! So pretty if possible and will definitely not draw your attention so quickly to the kitchen.
- Plaster hoods are having a moment and the best part, they are not a splurge design decision and yet still add some texture & style to the space. Top it off by flanking it with some wood open shelves to bring back some warmth into the space & pull in the wood tones of the existing flooring. – Chic & less “kitchen-y”, plus there will now be a lot of styling/personality opportunities with those floating shelves 🙂
- A bigger skylight might mean no pendants over the island but now there is another opportunity for some special lighting moments over the open shelves flanking the range hood – As we’ve said before lighting is a key layer for any room in your home!
- But where will the microwave go? Well…this is a bit more pricey but they could take the area to the right of the fridge & create a floor to ceiling small appliance/pantry cabinetry area. The microwave could sit inside it at counter height and there is even an existing outlet so no additional electrical work needed here! – If Holly could swing this it would be an awesome use of the space she’d be getting back the storage she “took away” from above the range. And of course, she could donate the demo’d cabinetry.
Kitchen With Soon To Be Replaced Counters Agony:
“Help! After a year of living and working at home, we are desperate to modernize our 90s kitchen by painting the cabinets, changing the hardware, etc. We are experienced painters, and have read/learned a ton about best practices for painting cabinets and are SO READY to take this on!
Here’s the rub: we can’t afford to replace the countertops at this point, so we need a paint color combination that works with our current countertops (Silestone Kalahari, pictured), but would also work with our future countertops (we’re thinking a white/gray silestone). The plan is for the island to be a different color than the cabinets, but we’re stymied beyond that.”
First here is Mary Beth’s future kitchen inspo and her current countertops:
This is a good one because so many of us aren’t able to financially replace countertops and this type of stone is in SOOOOO many homes (my old apartment too under the plywood cover my dad made me). So I hope this is an example to help many of you struggling with the same agony! Take it away Julie…
Julie’s Solutions (with NO Jess Commentary:))
- Keeping with the classics, a white or very light greige cabinetry along the sink wall & the island going a very dark dark green or blue or almost black color – From Julie: These colors will pick up the tones of the current and future countertops while adding some contrast they are wanting from their inspiration photo. It will also be such a nice contrast with those lovely wood floors!
Ok great now everyone in the world’s kitchen and bathroom agonies are solved. Thanks, Julie! What a great way to start the week. JUST KIDDING! But if you still have questions (and of course you do) we have A LOT of kitchen and bathroom content coming your way. But in the meantime here are some great posts to hold you over:
Your Pre-Weekend Dose of Serious Eye Candy: 10 Reader Before & After DIY Kitchens | 12 DIY Reader Bathroom Renovations (Full of Budget-Friendly Tips, DIYS + Real Cost and Timing) | Tile 101: Everything You Need to Know About Buying & Picking Tile | Countertops 101: All the Details on Marble, Quartz, Quartzite (& What’s Right for You) | Are IKEA Kitchen Cabinets Worth The Savings??? A Very Honest Review One Year Later | The RIGHT Way To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets and Save $$$ (Factory Finish Guaranteed)
Thank you as always for spending a little of your day with us!
Love you, mean it. And seriously… THANK YOU, JULIE.