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Working With What You’ve Got – An $8k Budget Kitchen Makeover With A Lot Of Vintage Charm

Today’s post isn’t about my kitchen, but I’m going to start today’s post by talking about my kitchen. Why? Well, I finally have a kitchen of my own, and now I fully understand the itch people who own houses have to renovate their kitchen. My kitchen needs a lot of help, but we can’t afford a full renovation any time soon (phase one & two of our renovation swallowed most of our budget).

But what if I could just update my kitchen instead of enacting a full on renovation war with it? Enter today’s blog subject, and my inspiration . . . .

Last spring we shot an adorable home here in LA for Em’s next book, and its owners had really embraced the “work with what you’ve got” ethos. Granted, what the house had was a lot of cute vintage architecture. But owners, Allison and Benjamin, really worked with the house to amplify it.

When they bought the home in January of 2018 they didn’t suddenly start ripping down walls (guilty), rearranging floor plans (double guilty), or tearing up floors (wow, I am a VERY guilty person). Instead, they brought in fresh life to the house with paint, wallpaper, and hardware – which just gave it even more vintage charm and personality. So we snuck a few photos out of our top-secret book archive and today we’re giving you peek into the kitchen, dining nook, and laundry room.

Alison, the homeowner, was kind enough to chat with me about how she and her husband kept so much of the kitchen’s vintage charm, while also making it practical for modern living, all while avoiding a costly full-on renovation. Let’s dive in.

Note: From here on out, I’m going to be “speaking” to your eyeballs in italics. Mostly so you can tell who’s talking (me or Alison), but also because it makes me feel elegant.

Allison, I think the first thing I, and everyone else, NEEDS to know is: How much did this kitchen “makeover” cost you, and did you have a budget in mind when you started?

Nope! We didn’t have a budget, but I knew it wasn’t going to break the bank. All in it was around $8k, including hardware (which I got on Etsy for $40). It helped that all the accessories and furniture we sourced are vintage.

I know $8k may sound like a lot to anyone who hasn’t updated or renovated a kitchen before, but honestly $8k is IMPRESSIVE. What were you able to do with $8k?

We demoed some upper cabinets on one side of the kitchen, installed open shelving, built a cabinet around the fridge, built a cabinet around the stove, got new appliances, swapped the hardware, and painted.

And how much of this work did you do yourselves, versus how much did you contract out?

I did some of the smaller painting jobs, but left the rest to the professionals! I didn’t really have a timeline, but I had a vision, and luckily was able to make it come together pretty quickly. There was one day of demo where my handyman took out the existing upper cabinets on two walls, one day of measuring by my superhero cabinet guys, 1 day of installation of the new cabinets, and one day of painting. All in all, I think it was done in about 2 weeks.

Ok, speaking of contracting out, let’s chat about some of the very cool features you added to the kitchen – starting with the cabinets around the stove. Are those custom?

They are custom! I got lucky with an amazing cabinet guy and he did a really great job. He just showed up with the stuff and installed them and they fit like a glove. They are the “one big drawer with shelves” kind.

I’m very curious about this “amazing cabinet guy” and will need his info . . . It also looks like you had some custom work down around the fridge. Are the cabinets above the fridge new, or just refaced?

They are new. That whole wall was empty so we put in everything you see there. 

Wait, so that whole wall was EMPTY before? That means you came up with that cool wine rack idea for right above the fridge, right?

I had really wanted a Subzero fridge but it wasn’t in the budget, so I had the cabinet guy put in a removable wine rack so that if one day we get a Subzero we can squeeze it in.

You’ve got closed cabinets everywhere else in the kitchen, but over on the sink side of the kitchen you opted to demo out the cabinets and install open shelving. Honestly, brave, because I don’t know if I’ll ever be organized enough for open shelving. What prompted the decision to go open on that side of the kitchen?

I just like the look of it. I collect china and it’s the best way to get to look at it every day. This way I can see all the beautiful plates, bowls, pitchers, and teapots that bring me so much joy.

So what about the aspects of the kitchen you decided to keep? What were the elements you were just going to make work?

I was absolutely most definitely keeping the scalloped vent over the stove, even though it doesn’t work all that well. The low setting does practically nothing and the high setting sounds like a rocket taking off in our kitchen, but who cares? It’s adorable! We needed some new cabinetry around the fridge and the space to the left of it, and on either side of the stove, so I had to make the decision to either get all new matching cabinet doors and drawers, or just match the new ones as closely as possible to the old ones. It saved me around $2k to match them rather than getting all new ones. It’s not perfect, but it’s not a big deal. I can live with it.

I love how you’ve decided to display art on the backsplash. This is a technical question, but how did you hang your art on tile?

For some of them I hammer a little nail into the grout (carefully!), some of them I nailed above the tile and hung the piece on clear fishing wire, and some of the smaller pieces without glass I used puddy (which I don’t really recommend).

As we move into the dining room and laundry room, let’s chat about the biggest element these spaces share – the paint scheme. After seeing the rest of your house (coming soon readers), I know that you’re not afraid of color or pattern, but going with the painted trim to match the cabinets was definitely a bold choice. Where did you get that idea?

The kitchen colors happened in stages. First, I painted just the lower cabinets Peale Green by Benjamin Moore, then later decided the refrigerator cabinet should also be green. Then, when I was adding the (not yet painted) crown molding, I liked the contrast that it gave to the room, so instead of painting it off white to match the walls (Swiss Coffee by Benjamin Moore), I painted it green to match the cabinets, along with all other molding and doors. It was one of those things that felt like a risk, but it turned out great. Also, not sure if you can see in the pictures, but the ceiling is painted Setting Plaster by Farrow and Ball which adds a nice pink glow.

Let’s follow the paint into the laundry room/pantry, which is ULTRA happy and just like, my ideal laundry room. First off, where is that statement wallpaper from?

It’s from Schumacher (my favorite) designed by the great architect and fabric designer, Josef Frank. It’s called Citrus Garden, which is fitting because we have a lot of citrus trees in the yard (thanks to Ethel and Henry, the previous owners). It was definitely a splurge, but is one of the most beautiful and joyous things I’ve ever laid eyes on and makes me happy literally every day of my life. The laundry room doubles as the family entrance, so I wanted to make it special.

Hands down my favorite part of these three spaces is the Citrus Garden wallpaper in here. It’s a daily dose of joy.

Is there a story behind that cute Dutch door in the laundry room? And can you tell me what happy shade of yellow that is? And also about the hardware. Just literally everything.

I really wanted a dutch door, partly because I think they are adorable, and partly so that I could have the door open without our little 6 pound dog, Goldie, getting out. Even though we are in the city, we live up on a hill and there’s a lot of wildlife, including coyotes that love hanging out in our yard. I got lucky and found this super quirky and talented door and window maker who built and installed this door for us. 

The color of the door is Anjou Pear by Sherwin Williams, and I’m planning on painting the beams in the den that color as soon as this is all over. I can’t wait! The hardware is all from House Of Antique Hardware (which is also where all of my hardware is from!).

Two more questions before we wrap this up. What’s your best tip for “making it work,” and the best way you think others can bring a little more vintage soul into their own homes?

When it comes to making an existing room work as is, I think that it’s all about color. The right color covers a multitude of sins, though, of course, finding the right color is easier said than done. You really have to get in touch with your intuition and listen closely. And also, when it comes to paint, you’ve got to see it in the room. Colors are like magical trickster fairies that appear different in every light, so you have to be very specific! Don’t be afraid to spend money on buying samples. There is NOTHING BETTER than finding the color that makes your heart sing. And, don’t forget, color therapy is a real thing. It can absolutely elevate a mood. Take a risk!

As for keeping (or bringing) a sense of vintage soul, I always prefer pieces and features that are unique, even if they are imperfect or unusual. Making friends with the imperfect is huge in designing a home. If everything is new and perfect it can feel sterile. Imperfections and eccentricities can give a space warmth and make people feel more at home and relaxed. So, I say to resist the urge to make it all new and perfect and let the life of your home find it’s way into the light.

A huge thank you to Allison & Benjamin for letting us come into their home and photograph all their hard work. It’s truly filled with so much soul. Stay tuned for more of this home. In the meantime, has anyone else out there decided to opt for a budget update over a full on reno? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Credits: Home of Allison Pierce, styling by Velinda Hellen & Erik Staalberg, photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp for EHD

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3 years ago

Oh wow that truly is beautiful! the kitchen is lovely and that laundry room is giving. me. life!!! Like I would want to spend every day in there feeling rad (and I hate doing laundry) -thanks for bringing this out of the secret stash it really brightened up my day! 🙂

3 years ago

What a charming space. It’s unique, stylish, bold and filled with soul. Very inspirational.

Kim B
3 years ago

I couldn’t love this any more. She has really created a beautiful, charming space.

Love this quote, too:

“Making friends with the imperfect is huge in designing a home. If everything is new and perfect it can feel sterile. Imperfections and eccentricities can give a space warmth and make people feel more at home and relaxed.”

That really speaks to me!

Kim B
3 years ago
Reply to  Kim B

P.s. that rich green just SINGS

And like Lisa said, thanks for digging into the secret stash. It makes me even more excited to see the book!

i LOVE this kitchen/breakfast nook/laundry tour!!!!
YES for working with what you have got and not just replacing everything. i just love love love this and want to keep coming back for more inspiration.

3 years ago

This was just lovely! So many little doses of inspiration! Thanks for sharing something so fresh.

3 years ago

YAS! I want to do something like this for the kitchen in the place we just closed on (Wed!), but we’re starting from 90s-boring 😛

I’m thinking a lighter Colonial green for the trim and a compatible white for the walls, a dark also-“historic” blue for the lower cabinets, and matching the uppers to the walls (can’t take them out because the kitchen is tiny). Will probably replace the hardware with cheap Shaker-style knobs painted to match, cover the BLACK backsplash with… anything, really, and replace the cheesy fake stained glass ceiling light with a simple vintage-looking flush mount (not very high ceilings). Add a peg rail for the extra storage opportunities, and call it a day! If we decide to spend the money on a real reno, the whole arrangement needs to flip because a counter is blocking the window (who thought that was a good idea?)

Haha apparently I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this!

3 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

The Nester (another great blog) put up some beadboard to cover an ugly blacksplash. She just cut it to size and put it up with HOT GLUE. It was a rental and when it was time to go she pulled it down and the glue peeled right off the backsplash. You have a lot of easy options without having to replace it. Your ideas all sound great. Congrats on the new house!

3 years ago

If you’re trying to convince us that 8k is cheap for a kitchen reno (which it is!), it should be made more clear that included appliances – the line should be “$8k including appliances” (not $40 hardware! that really confused me). Appliances alone for 8k is something of a feat. I love this charming house!

3 years ago
Reply to  Molly

Agree – though the owner says she did
some custom cabinetry much of it to me
just looked like the same cabinetry repainted

3 years ago
Reply to  Molly

If someone were to spend $8K on kitchen appliances alone, they aren’t worried about the budget for the reno. You can get decent brand named appliances for less than half that without any effort at all, and save even more if you’re patient and shop around.

3 years ago

This tour just made me so happy. I’m thinking of were that wallpaper might fit in my house somewhere.

Karen T.
3 years ago

Just gorgeous. I love seeing real houses where people just make it work without a designer (since most of us don’t have one of those). More of this content, please and thank you!!

3 years ago

Really creative and I agree about imperfections being better than perfect. Somehow, for me, perfect is nice to visit, but I don’t think I’d be comfortable living ‘there.’
A fun, attainable post.
Thank you for continuing to bringus the good stuff, despite tbd extraordinary conditions.
You’re making a difference in the world. xx

3 years ago

Okay, so this is pretty much the house of my dreams. Well done, well done…I bow down to thee.

3 years ago

This is adorable, thank you for sharing this beautiful house. I love all the vintage details! Makes me want to figure out how to do the same in my house

3 years ago

Love the kitchen table and chairs!

3 years ago

The space is absolutely beautiful. I was wondering if you could tell me the source for the open shelving.

3 years ago

I was wondering if you could tell is where the open shelving came from.

3 years ago

I’m not a wallpaper person, but that wallpaper is so amazing! What a wonderful place to do laundry!

I love the choices and the way Allison worked with what she had. We also decided to do lower cost updates to our kitchen when we moved in our 100-year old home 13 years ago. It’s amazing what new paint, hardware, and lighting can do. We also removed some cabinets over a peninsula blocking the view to the backyard from the main workspace. We got many compliments from some relatively easy updates. Opening up a room doesn’t always require tearing down walls. Our update was meant to be a temporary fix, but 13 years later we’re still living with the temporary updates. We finally feel like we have the budget to plan a major renovation of the kitchen next spring/summer.

3 years ago

The whole space is gorgeous and cheerful and fun! Just one small note – can we PLEASE stop pretending that a wine rack on top of the fridge is anything but a terrible idea? Unless you’re drinking every single bottle every week, the heat that rises in the room is ruining anything you put there.

Roberta Davis
3 years ago

I love seeing someone using what they have and their own creativity to create a unique and happy place! This place is the opposite of cookie cutter, and shows what you can do with quite a bit less. I love that because most people don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on a couple of rooms. I also love it because it values what was done in the past that was good! I’m glad Emily is highlighting this home in her new book. I do love the wallpaper, too!

3 years ago


But really, who made the door? I’m also obsessed with having a Dutch door and I need to know!

3 years ago

Breaking out how much of the $8k went to appliances would be super helpful.

We inherited an ugly 90s kitchen (in our 1962 mid century modern rancher) and are working with what we’ve got, which luckily includes newer/functioning appliances. We are thinking our reno will be less than $1000 including painting cabinets, new hardware, rearranging cabinets and adding open shelving, a new skink and faucet, and skim coating our counters in white concrete.

Stephanie C Ogren
3 years ago

This. Is. So. Good. I love the style and having a modest remodel is so accessible and inspiring.

3 years ago

I agree! So beautiful, cheerful, and accessible. Thank you for sharing this tour!

3 years ago

I love this because the changes feel accessible, yet make a big impact!

3 years ago

She is my spirit animal. Thank you for saving the old!! Love the scalloped vent!

Diane B Harcourt
3 years ago

Love this! I did my own kitchen makeover (all by myself because my husband wasn’t on board initially). I painted my dark, dated cabinets a crisp white ($130 in supplies), added new hardware ($90) wallpapered the desk nook ($54) and installed a subway tile backsplash with gray grout (about $100 using borrowed tile saw). The only splurge was $2000 for granite to replace the pink-beige laminate. It’s been two years and still makes me saw Ahhhh every day.

3 years ago

Right there with you!! We painted our cabinets and did new hardware right before we moved in and it made the biggest difference. We had black granite, so didn’t do anything to it, and my friend built a house and gave us the most beautiful marble tile so we used that for a backsplash. That was more spendy bc we needed someone else to install it, worth every penny!

3 years ago

This is delightful and a good read.

3 years ago

Gorgeous! Also, feel free to post the names the carpenter and the cabinet maker! I love the colors, the wallpaper, the objects!!

3 years ago

What a charming home!

3 years ago

Great post! More of these work with what you’ve got posts please! As someone who loves design and a beautiful home but has a modest budget, these kinds of posts are so inspiring and reassuring. What a lovely home!!

3 years ago

Oh, I love this so much! I was going to buy the new EH book anyway, but if I had been iffy at all, this alone would have sold me. “Granted, what the house had was a lot of cute vintage architecture. But owners, Allison and Benjamin, really worked with the house to amplify it.” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. There’s nothing worse than, for example, someone buying a Craftsman cottage, then demo-ing all the interior walls, painting everything a stark white, with pops of turquoise and hot pink…oh, and a Beni Ourain rug. So boring. So wrong. Go WITH the style of your house or buy something else. Usually people remove anything with scallops, so it’s so great that the range hood was kept. It’s perfect for this kitchen and adds tons of oomph (it’s a technical term). Same with the trim on the niche in the dining room. The colors are great, and I’m a huge Josef Frank fan, too, so I recognized the wallpaper right away. A perfect way to splurge. Also, as someone who also has a lot of vintage accent pieces, I love that they’re actually on display. Awesome, just awesome. P.S. I know… Read more »

3 years ago

Love this so much! Nice to see a budget reno that does a great job.

3 years ago

So fun and full of energy and personality in the best way! Can you share what type of paint was used on the kitchen cabinets? Lacquer? Water based?

Allison Pierce
3 years ago
Reply to  Mandy

It was lacquer!

3 years ago
Reply to  Allison Pierce

Was the lacquer paint sprayed or brushed on the cabinets?

3 years ago

I 100% love everything about this kitchen!!! It totally fits with the historical house style but it’s still so colorful!! I’ve pinned nearly every image for whenever I have a kitchen of my own to tinker with.

3 years ago

LOOOOOOOOVE this kitchen and the laundry room. Wow, I’d love to live in this house!

Julie S
3 years ago

I want to hug this kitchen! (and that laundry room – oh my, the happiest laundry ever!!) The shades green and yellow are wonderful. Thank you for previewing this approchable, humble, yet excellent remodel.

3 years ago

This is the first time that a house’s style really felt like me!! Love this post so much. Thank you!!

3 years ago

So happy to see the vintage details are worked with!! It’s so beautiful and the scalloped vent hood is the perfect touch! The colors are gorgeous and so well balanced!!

3 years ago

The secret to hanging anything on tile (or any flat smooth wall) are velcro command strips! I use them everywhere in my house including on the kitchen backsplash. One piece for the wall and another for the frame. Smash them together and you have secure, but removable art.

3 years ago

I am obsessed with this and am also dying to know if the $8k included new counters and, if so, how?! Our small kitchen really needs some updating but they said counters alone would be around $6k!

3 years ago

Where are the dining room chairs from?

3 years ago

I love this renovation so much! Feels livable and stylish and bold and unique. I am a renter but have been obsessed with green walls + cabinets. This has me desperate to buy a space just so I can paint things green??

(One tiny thing: as an one-L Alison myself, I noticed in the post that her name flips between being written Alison or Allison…which one is it?! This is important to us! 🙂

Deborah Flanagan
3 years ago

Love the color in the dining room wall cubby…can you tell me what color it is? 🙂

3 years ago

So lovely and fun! I am DYING to know where Allison sourced that wire light fixture about the dining table.

3 years ago

Love so many of these details. Did you make the “Eat your greens” and “Make tea not war” signs or buy them? If the latter, where?