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The Lake House makeover – Kitchen edition

Ah, the lake house project. This project will always have a very special place in my heart and my career. It was an insane first year post-show and I was branching out into the “normal” design field.  I had very little experience on how to find the right clients, how to charge, how to pay employees, and generally how to not fail miserably. Some jobs were successes (like this one and a few others) and some were more ‘learning experiences’ as we like to call them (successful for the client – but we realized we weren’t charging enough to really profit – whoops). Either way I learned a ton, don’t regret a thing (isn), and can look back on this project with mostly fond and happy memories.

This client was kinda our dream client. They had good taste (she’s actually gone on to become an interior designer for HomePolish, ha!) and had a doable budget  – which will remain private because well, they aren’t me and actually have a sense of privacy, but just know that we still needed to be very budget friendly. Plus, they were fun to be around which is the key to really enjoying a job because you spend A LOT of time with them. Lastly, they were really trusting.

I chatted with them on the phone and liked them. Then we flew out to meet them and loved them. And then we looked at their house, saw the potential and committed to them.  The chemistry was just so right. Here are the pictures from Zillow that we saw before we visited:

The space had soooo much potential. It was big, open, airy and led right out to the lake. In these photos the finishes don’t look that bad, but everything was cheap builder grade. It had been flipped 7 years before so we were dealing with a lot of post-flip problems. I know there are a lot of good flippers out there now, but man do those dudes do some ugly damage. Lets name them shall we? The ‘wood floor’ was laminate. The beams were painted chocolate-brown which is a huge ‘no no’ in my book. It’s either stained wood or painted white (or a color), but you, Mr. faux wood, are fooling no one.

I’m realizing that this post could potentially be 95 pages long, so I’m going to break it up and in this post talk just talk about the kitchen. The kitchen had like 6 different finishes; stone, tile, wood, other tile, accent tile, other stone, granite, bad wood, nickel – pretty much just whatever was left over from other jobs. There were 70’s heater boards everywhere, and the kitchen was abnormally huge and yet felt like a ton of wasted space. So first things first – design direction of the whole space:

lake house mood and feel

It’s so funny looking at these photos/mood board because it was almost 3 years ago – so all those pics above there were brand new on pinterest and now, well, they aren’t. But regardless you get the feel – bright, airy, fresh, fun, kid-friendly, warm. As far as styles they wanted a mix of “mid-century”, “japanese organic”, with a little bit of “edgy traditional” in there.  Yes. I just said ‘Edgy Traditional’ and I kinda want to burn off all my finger prints, change my name and move to Bakersfield. A similar feeling to when I uttered, ‘lifestyle moment’ the other day … but the thing is … you all know what I mean .. Oh and because it was their country house, just for weekends, we/they didn’t want to blow a ton of money on any one thing. This was not for luxury, it was just to make a nice, pretty, retreat from the city so all the finishes needed to be good quality, but simple and affordable. And here it is all blank, right before demo:

mahah 029-1

awkward kitchen

kitchen demo

Click through to see the renderings and my poorly photographed ‘after’ photos.

It’s hard to tell the layout from those photos, so here are some renderings that represent what it looked like:

kitchen before 4

Beautiful, I know.

kitchen before

kitchen before 2

The plan was to update the cabinetry without changing the layout too much. Clearly that wasn’t a good idea, but that was the idea that we proceeded with (I didn’t get those renderings done til halfway through the job). So demo of the old cabinets/tile/flooring began.


One of the problems with designing from LA is that you aren’t there to really see/feel the space yourself. So my contractor and project manager were sending me photos and once I saw this photos, below, I was like, oh dear … that clearly needs to be separated into a kitchen and a much-needed mudroom/laundry room.

The second I realized it I felt pretty stupid. It’s just so obvious. Why didn’t I realize it before? Because my strengths didn’t really lie in space planning – I was more of a decorator at the time and we were trying to do this house really fast and fairly inexpensively considering the amount of work.

kitchen demo

Naturally we had already ordered and planned out the custom kitchen cabinetry… Awesome. So, I flew to New York to make sure I was correct in my mistake and saw it in person (and no, the client wasn’t charged for my time – we were doing fee based at the time). I immediately went to the custom cabinet place and stopped the order. It was too late – it was already being made. Wonderful. Just great. So we came up with a plan; since we were going to add a mudroom/laundry room that needed some cabinets we reconfigured the kitchen, and salvaged some of the cabinets for the mudroom. We didn’t salvage all of them, however, so I ended up paying $700 of my own money to pay for the mistake. I don’t know what other designers do in this situation, but since I was new at renovating I felt like this was a rookie mistake that my clients shouldn’t have to pay for. Then we needed more renderings:

kitchen rendering kitchen rendering 2 kitchen rendering 4 kitchen redering 5 kitchen rendering 10

There were a couple of ‘weirdnessness’ i’ll call them. There was a really high bar created in front of the sink that connected the living to the dining. It wasn’t the worst idea ever but it just really blocked off the room. So our contractor sent this photo to confirm its removal.


Yes, indeed. I kinda forget what the ‘if we thicken it’ referred to – probably the caesarstone or something …


Lowering that bar (and squaring off the roman column) made it so much cleaner and more modern.


It helps, right?



Unfortunately I have no pics of the construction of the kitchen, but I’ll walk you through it. We decided to do simple white Caesarstone for the countertops (from Jilco), adorable light blue penny tile from Nemo’s for the backsplash, shaker style cabinets and brushed brass hardware for the knobs and pulls. The island would be butcher block top (from Ikea) to add warmth and the lighting would be simple white glass globe pendants.

OK, so sadly there are not professional photos of the ‘after’ and it kinda kills me.

Since its upstate New York I would have to hire someone from New York and a stylist to go up there to shoot it and honestly that would probably be no less than $3k. Even then it would be a risk as to whether I would love how they shot it, since I wouldn’t be there to micromanage, art direct or style it. So I took these with my camera the day after the install and obviously didn’t style them properly – they were more for reference and scouting shots. But you know what? Not every picture in my life needs to be perfectly shot and styled, right? RIGHT??? Ugh, I’m already regretting not spending the money …. But, I do still love this sweet, simple, bright kitchen ….

Lake House 04

Lake House 03

If you are wondering what the space above the oven is it’s a cabinet for baking sheets and the doors hadn’t been installed, yet.

Lake House 02

Resources: Cabinetry/Caesarstone was custom, from Jilco Cabinets. Cabinet hardware/pulls were from Restoration Hardware (although I don’t think they sell that anymore). Butcher block from Ikea, lights from Ebay (although Schoolhouse Electric has great affordable versions of them). Tile from Nemo Tile (sorry, no close up, but it’s basically light blue/textured penny tile).

If you are wondering why we didn’t do Ikea cabinets it’s because our contractor (and all contractors) refuse to deal with this. Since we were designing from a far and the client nor project manager were close to the house to manage a different sub-contractor, we did the math and it would actually cost almost as much to manage the ikea installation as it would to have them custom-made (where the installation is free). If It were at a house that I could manage the project then I may have gone that route, but getting a cabinet company to do the renderings, building and installation saved design time and installation time. We were so far away from Ikea that they wouldn’t help us do any of that stuff. Regrets? Sure – I wish I had realized the mud room situation earlier because that was super stressful, embarrassing and cost me some money, but once you are in that kitchen it feels just soooooo good so its hard to think about the regrets. Its bright, happy, functional, super family friendly (we added stools to the bar) and so open with the rest of the house now.

Kitchens and baths are very tricky, folks. Three years later, I’m wildly more confident in my skills but I learned a lot that year. If you are wondering why I’m so comfortable talking about my mistakes knowing that my clients (past, present and future) read this, it’s because I’m just as transparent with them as I am with y’all. The truth is that every single job is a learning experience and every job is full of nuances. Even if I had gone to design school they can’t teach you how to design every single house in the world. Its how you handle the mistakes that really matters. So, that my friends, is the lake house kitchen. Stay tuned for the living room/master bed/bath and kids room makeovers, too. I even have professional photos of those spaces (because they were shot for a magazine) so you don’t have to look at my terrible photography. Any questions?

To see the Lake House project from the beginning take a look here: Lake House Post #1 | Lake House Post #2 | Lake House Post #3 | Lake House Post #4 | Lake House Post #5Lake House Post #6 | Lake House Featurein Country Living

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