A Small Cottage Kitchen Makeover in New York

One thing I like about Better Homes & Gardens is that it’s one of the more “realistic” shelter mags out there. This small kitchen makeover that they featured is a good example. It’s in a 1935 Cape-style cottage in upstate New York, and as you can see by this next photo, its beginnings were humble:

See that basement door on the other side of the fridge? They moved it around the corner to make room for more counter space (the floorplan is pictured here).

The homeowners really wanted black soapstone for the countertops but couldn’t afford them. They went with a laminate look-alike instead. (This is what I mean by realistic. You don’t see laminate in many shelter mags, do you?)

On a side note, what’s your feeling about open shelves? Seems to open up a small space like this, that’s for sure. But I’m not sure if I could live with them. If you have them, let us know how well they’re working for you! A BHG reader left this comment about hers on their website:

Everything in my kitchen is dusty within a day or two, and soon gets the greasy film as well. I see open cabinets everywhere, and I wonder if people really like them after they have used them a while.

The other side of the room has the sink. Here’s how it looked before:

And after, with some closed-cabinet storage on this side of the room:

My favorite part of the makeover has to be the breakfast nook. It was stuck in 1975 before:

Those windows really didn’t go with the traditional Cape cottage style of the house, but they managed to give them a new look without replacing them:

It’s amazing what a difference it made when they added trim around those skinny windows and painted them white. You can see the rest of the photos and read more about the details and how they did it at BHG. The story was designed and produced by Donna Talley; photos by Bryan McKay.

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  1. says

    Darling home! I agree about the open shelves. They can look fantastic, or they can look cluttered, and I couldn’t handle the dust. Maybe they work well for big families with serious cooks, who go through dishes on a regular basis. Otherwise, maybe they work best in magazines! These folks did a fantastic job on a dime (several!). Color scheme is fresh and fun, love the floors, chalk board is fun. Well done!

  2. says

    I love this cottage. I love how light and airy that they made it. I currently have a HUGE kitchen, this makes me think I could greatly downsize and still be happy.

  3. Moi says

    Love the update!

    BUT — I gotta weigh in on open shelving. Thirty years ago, my hip architect and artist aunt and uncle had open shelves and hired me to be their teenaged gal Friday/housekeeper. One of my jobs was to clean those shelves. Now, my relatives are clean, nice people, but THOSE SHELVES WERE ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING. Dust + dirt + cooking grease = foul nasty film that had to be SCRUBBED off. It was hard work, and took me a week of after-school work to get them all clean. The rinse water in the bucket was black.

    Seriously? I see open shelving, and I think “yeah, that’s for people who don’t cook AND have a live-in housekeeper.” Makes for a nice photo, though.

    • says

      I thought the same about open shelving but I did read where Melissa at The Inspired Room said you only put on the shelves what you will use quite frequently. This way it’s not a big problem. She has a whole post about it and I thought it was really good because she has actually lived with it.

  4. says

    This is so well done and it’s impossible to not love that color! It’s a very cheerful kitchen and it has many timeless elements, which I love.

    I hope everything is great w. you and have a wonderful weekend.


    Luciane at HomeBunch.com

    PS: Are you still watching “Revenge”? I’m loving that show! :-)

  5. says

    Lovely makeover! I especially love open shelving instead of uppers and the addition of built in banquettes in the eating nook. So charming and cozy!

    xo Allison
    Spicer + Bank

  6. Kathryn says

    I love this redo. I live in a old rental and it looks like the open upper cabinets I have once had doors but were discarded long ago. I would love them a lot more if I had some closed cabinets to put the non-pretty things, but hey, the rent is cheap and its right in town in walking distance from many things, so we compromised, and the kitchen has practically no storage, so we make do.

    I cook from scratch, so yes, I do use my dishes frequently, so most are fine. The top shelf gets a little dusty and cob-webby and I just make sure that the dishes get a quick wash before I use them. I bought glass containers for flour, sugar, spices,etc–things I use frequently, and arranged them neatly, and found baskets for teas, snacks, vitamins.

    Since there was virtually no storage or counter-tops, I took apart a wire shelving unit from Sams Club and separated it into 2 sections and placed an 8 foot butcher block counter top from Ikea on top. I made a skirt from dropclothes for the bottom, since it seemed like it got so dirty from crumbs etc.

    The cons are: dust, cobwebs, and accessibility to a 2 year old, the pro is that I clean it more often than I would closed cabinets and it does look stylish.

  7. Peggy says

    I recently remodeled our kitchen, and decided to go with open shelves, but only two about 33″ wide, for things we use every day. They are directly opposite the range, but I use the range hood religiously (it even turns itself on if I forget to!), and I haven’t had a problem with dust/ grime yet.

  8. says

    the new space is certainly lovely and light
    though i’m not a fan of track lighting

    i do keep toying with the idea of open kitchen shelves
    but i know they’d be higher maintenance
    than i’m willing to have

    thanks for sharing!


  9. Gabbie says

    I know that the open shelving is all the rage right now but I think they are impractical. They look pretty for magazine pictures but the reality of dust and kitchen smells, not to mention the fact that my cats would think it was somewhere for them to sit, keeps them from being an option for me.

  10. says

    THANK YOU, Julia. I’ve always thought the same thing about BH&G. Honestly, I get tired of shelter mags that feature only the absurdly beautiful–as if every home that could possibly be “magazine-worthy” has to be one that included at least $100K for decorating. My current home has granite countertops, but this is the first time I’ve ever had granite–and I’ve had pretty kitchens! Laminate is an amazing product. So is vinyl for flooring. It actually irritates me just a little when people dismiss vinyl flooring as if it were stuff found only in double-wides (and they always seem to call it “linoleum” when it’s not linoleum at all–wonder how that came about?).

    Houses in all price ranges belonging to people with all kinds of budgets can be beautiful homes, and BH&G does a good job of celebrating that fact. So do you! :)

  11. says

    I love BHG for the same reasons! I have been reading it forever, even before it was safe to admit it. 😉

    There is no way I would have open shelving in my home unless I had a twice a week housekeeper to keep them clean. I like the look, but not enough to keep up with the maintenance.

    Great post. Thanks Julia.

  12. says

    I love this realistic projects. Well, realistic for most of the population. The only thing I don’t think is functional is the round table in the kind of booths seating. I don’t think it works, especially if you sit all the way back beside the windows.
    Don’t like baby blue, but the space is completely different!
    Thanks for sharing Julia!

  13. Rick says

    Julia, Very pretty kitchen and I do love BH&G too. I agree with Renato about the table with the booths should go back to the window and be wide enough so you can be seated and not need to stretch. Maybe the magazine stylist switched tables for prettier shot. :)
    I did notice that the lights are the “pull down” kind that allow you to bring the light closer or further from your tabletop or sink. If you have teens playing cards or board games you know how easy they can get excited an hit the fixture.
    The open shelves look great but would get dirty fast. I would rather have glass doors on cabinets. Of course there is another discussion. the space above my laundry room cabinets gets dusty too fast and that isn’t a kitchen. Kitchens are worse.

  14. says

    I love the remodeled kitchen but I don’t think I would like open shelves there. You would be forever cleaning the dust and sticky grease off everything. Maybe just one shelf only to show off those really pretty items that are used frequently. I don’t see anything wrong with having laminate counters either. I think laminate looks nice and, hey, we all can’t afford, nor do we wish, the expense of installing granite counters. I love the turquoise color with all the white cabinets. And adding the wood trim around the narrow windows makes it look like one window now. Very clever! Nice post…I enjoyed seeing a realistic kitchen.

  15. says

    I absolutely LOVE that make over! It really makes me wish that the blue would go in my house, because I love the white and blue together. I really like the open shelves. I’m trying to figure out a way to get some in my kitchen.

  16. Jane says

    I had open shelving in my kitchen and it was a chore to keep it clean. The cooking grease that accumulated was just nasty. Had to take everything down and wash all the dishes every few days. It was too much work, so I got a closed cabinet for the wall instead. The kitchen is an improvement but pretty generic. Would love to see homeowners do something really different in these magazines once in a while. Getting really bored with nickel plated pulls, brush steel appliances, dark granite counter tops, pastel wall colors, etc. I mean, really how many of these kitchens can you look at before they all start to look alike? Surely there must be someone out there with an original idea.

  17. Deb J says

    This is just beautiful. Love the blues and greens together. Do you know the paint color?

  18. says

    This kitchen looks so pretty, but you pose some great questions.

    The table needs to be a rectangle or at least an oval. Otherwise only two people could eat here.

    The open shelves do look very stylish, and they contribute to making the space look larger. Having had them, however, I don’t have them anymore for all the reasons mentioned in the foregoing comments. That greasy dusty film is not worth the hassle. That is why fancy chandeliers and long curtains don’t belong in a working kitchen, either. The track lights are not terribly cute, but they are practical. I hate the Swiss Cheese ceiling look which is in my present kitchen, and I would probably actually prefer the track lights to the multiple can lights which puncture the ceiling. I imagine these homeowners used the tracks to get a lot of light, and this was a much cheaper option than installing the ubiquitous can lights.

    I like the color scheme a lot, as it is close to what I have in my own kitchen which I have been working on for a while. The laminate and vinyl are nicely done here, and there is nothing at all wrong with it. This is the first house where I have had granite countertops and hard stone tile on the kitchen floor, and I will tell you that I detest them. Being a bit of a klutz, I occasionally drop things, which are immediately “toast” when they hit either of these hard surfaces. (And BTW that is also true for a porcelain sink — with stainless, the item has at least a chance of surviving.)

    The closed cabinets seem extremely high to me, but perhaps these are tall people or they store things in them which are not used regularly. I did notice a vent fan above the chalkboard which is probably a good idea. I find that the exhaust function on a space-saver microwave (which I am also stuck with for a while) is completely inadequate, at least for me.

    I agree about BHG being a great resource for us regular folks who don’t have millions to invest in a home.


  19. Sharon says

    You are right on point when you said we all can’t hire world renown designers. That’s really a sticking point for me with some of the magazines and websites that are popular today. Can’t we get a few more that deal with everyday middle income
    people. Thank you for saying what really needed to be said. I hope some of these sites see it and take note.

  20. shabbymama says

    I have open shelves as well as cabinets and YES they are charming but they do get dusty and sticky!! I am always cleaning them and the items I have on them!
    I do lOVE them but don’t think we would do them again.
    This kitchen is lovely!
    Thanks for sharing!

  21. says

    I love BHG. As a designer who works with “regular people” with “regular budgets” it is an amazing resource. It’s refreshing to see spaces that are attainable and livable…and not always designed by a designer. I am often more inspired by design solutions that homeowners come up with than what designers come up with because those solutions come from a more authentic place.
    This is a great example of an affordable makeover, whether all the design decision are “right” or not. The space is now joyful and inviting. I’d love to have breakfast in that breakfast nook!!

  22. says

    I agree with you, hands down, on BH&G and their realistic features. I appreciate reading about attainable style. I can admire the layouts in the shelter mags, but I know in reality they wouldn’t work for my family. I love the wall color in that kitchen!

  23. Nathan says

    I love that colour used. To answer your question about open shelves. I do like them but not in this case. They look nice here, but I tend to only like them in more modern designs.

  24. Kim says

    What a nice makeover. My favorite is the blue color. I love how cheery it makes the whole room feel.

    I also love the breakfast nook, but agree that a rectangular table would suit it better or even an oval one.

    I agree on the open shelving. It may look nice, but all of the maintenance that it would take to keep them clean is not worth it to me.

  25. says

    Love the fact that a round table was chosen for the ‘informal’ banquet space. Good job!

  26. Tara F says

    I have open shelves in my kitchen. The only things that get dusty are the things on the top shelf. That is where I store my pretty mixing bowls, pitchers, etc. All I do is rinse them before I use, no big deal. Plates, tea cups, bowls, etc are stored on my bottom shelves and they get used so often that I don’t have a dust problem. I like the functionality of my shelves and the fact that my kitchen doesn’t feel boxed in. I don’t know how one could get grease on the items on a shelf unless they eat a lot of fried food that splatters everywhere and the shelves are super close to the stove.

  27. Maddie says

    I am always saving pictures of modest makeovers because that’s my life. I have a small bungalow and a small budget. I love BH&G because there are so many ideas people with small homes who want to have a beautiful environment (I still mourn Cottage Living).

  28. says

    That trim around the windows probably cost less than $50. Big improvement for very little money.
    Open shelves: I tore out most of the upper cabinets in my kitchen–they were cheap, laminate cabinets more suited to a utility room than a kitchen. I loved how much brighter my kitchen became. I had a cabinet maker build me one of those slatted plate racks, like you see in British country houses. Then my husband built two open shelves for the rest of the dishes. It’s true that your shelves get dusty and acquire a thin film of grease but the dishes will be clean, as long as you use them frequently. Despite the dust, I prefer the shelves to the cabinets. Besides, with open shelves, you don’t have to complain about your husband and kids leaving the doors open.

    True story: my aunt’s neighbor was knocked unconscious in his burning house because of a cabinet door that was left open. He got up to investigate a smoke smell, walked into the cabinet door and was knocked out. My cousins saw smoke and flames in the house and rescued him.

  29. says

    That is gorgeous. I love the blue and white. I could not do open shelves. In reality, it’s too much clutter and would drive me insane. However, someone with no kids and minimal plates could pull it off.

  30. says

    This is a super cute kitchen! I am in the middle of my kitchen renovation, and I’m wondering if I should reconsider my open shelf idea….it would mostly be for wine glasses and stuff, but I’m a little terrified of the film of grease everyone is talking about! Yikes….

  31. annette says

    You are so right about BH and G.Homes that are lived in!As long ago as 37 years,when many of you were not born,I had open shelving and loved it.Now I find myself in a galley kitchen and have removed the doors which were always in the way and feel a sense of freedom!Whatever works for you should be the bottom line.P.S. Adorable kitchen!

  32. Meg says

    Every single time I see open shelves (especially ones with pricey vintage ceramics perched on them) I can’t help thinking, “Well THOSE people certainly don’t live in California!” As a native Californian, just the suggestion of open shelving gives me the heebies…even a little shake and you’d have to haul out the shop vac.

    We moved further north onto solid granite, but old habits die hard. The shelves are sooo tempting (we have a closet-sized 1937 kitchen with a horrible 80s remodel), since everyone and their mother says it “opens up the space” but I cook 3 meals a day and have a very young family and pets — no way am I going to be spending hours a week on a ladder to scrub the grease (and risk having to sweep up after a quake)!

  33. Patti says

    I think the most spectacular part of this remodel is the choice of paint color! Why on earth would they not give the reader that info? If you’re reading this, talented homeowner, please share it with us! Lovely, simple remodel!

    • Sarah says

      Hello! This is my kitchen and Donna Talley (producer and stylist), my fiance and I worked together to create the new space. Thank you, Stacey for featuring the photos!

      The blue is Sherwin Williams 6478-Watery. If you look at it on the website it looks much more muted than in real life. I absolutely LOVE my new space, and to respond to the banquette seating comment, the round table and banquette actually seat 6 relatively comfortably. The round table allows diners to get into the bench-seat against he windows vs. a square table. I’ve had the open shelving now for almost 3 years and I don’t really have grease issues, although I don’t cook as much as I’d like. I take everything down once a year and wash it. No big deal!

      • says

        So nice to hear from you, Sarah! Love your cottage kitchen. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to answer some of our burning questions! :)

      • says

        I think the blue walls look great with the white cabinets, black(?) counter tops, and stainless appliances. I would do open shelving but perhaps not over the stove–and only to showcase prettier dishes, glasses, etc. I would prefer shelving that didn’t have the brackets under them. I’ve seen a kitchen with the shelves without brackets and it’s a very clean, modern look.

  34. Elizabeth says

    Open shelves are an extremely inexpensive alternative to cabinets which I am guessing played into their choice of them.

  35. says

    I think I started buying BH&G with babysitting money as a teenager and still look forward to its arrival in my mailbox every month. While I enjoy the eye candy magazines like House Beautiful offer, BH&G has humble, relevant and down-to-earth features that make it my all time favorite.

    Thanks for sharing a beautiful, real-life makeover.

    I’m new to your blog and will be following for sure. Have a great weekend!

  36. says

    What a wonderful transformation! They did a great job…it looks like a very happy place to cook and hang out in. We had wanted stainless steel counters for the laundry room but the price was a bit too steep, so we went with a laminate that looks like stainless and it’s worked out just fine. I don’t feel the need to baby it either which is nice.
    Our open shelving isn’t insalled yet, but we have closed as well so the main dishes will be in there…open will just be for the fluff, I think. I’m not afraid of the cleaning they’ll require, but I’m usually very impractical that way…of well.
    xo J~
    xo J~

  37. says

    I have no idea how I double signed off…I think I need to go to bed!
    xo J~ (that’s more like it!)

  38. says

    I am with you, Julia. I love the breakfast nook. It is stunning! I like the look of open shelving, but I know from my Welsh cupboard and plate rack, I have to dust and clean them frequently. So….I don’t know about having the open shelving. *But* I love the look!!! ;P

  39. says

    We had open cabinets in our tiny kitchen in the house where I grew up. The doors were simply left off. While it made the small space seem a little larger, you usually didn’t want to grab a glass that hadn’t been used in a week because you’d need to rinse the dust off. Most things were fine as we ate at home much more often than not, so dishes were washed frequently anyway. Serving platters and bowls that saw use once a week were another story – but I do still like the look, and do think it makes sense in a very busy kitchen.

  40. says

    I absolutely LOVE this kitchen – so creative to turn a depressing area into such a gem!

  41. Laura says

    lovely! not my absolute favorite, but its very cheery.

    agreed about open shelving – i get that its cute, but seems so impractical for anyone that actually cooks on their stove or has pets or doesnt obsessively clean every week :-p
    i would only do an open shelf around the top for decorative things that i dont use often (big cool teapots and punch bowls and serving platters). but i’d love it for that!

  42. says

    So fresh and pretty! I love the look of open shelves in the kitchen too but wonder if I would get tired of the up keep.

  43. Wendy says

    Great remodel. They got a lot of bang for their buck. The most important choice was the colors. Imagine the same finishes in a different color…blah.

    What really knocked me out was the dining nook. It just screams, “come sit here and talk with me.” Great for a family with kids. I’m betting that table IS an oval and they just took the leaves out for the photo. I have my great great Aunt Rene’s wedding table (date on the bottom in chalk is 7/99) and we put the leaves in and take them out all the time. Really changes the look and function of the dining room.

  44. Wendy says

    I meant to add that I loved all their choices except those knobs and pulls. They look super cheapo to me. Personally, I’d go with something a bit more vintage, given their other choices.

  45. Carolyn says

    I’m really late to this post, but had to chime in. While the look is adorable, and I love to see a realistic *budget* kitchen (so many blogs/mags use that term and obviously budget means something entirely different to them), one thing stands out to me. Why would you have the open shelves on the side where the stove/microwave are? It seems you’d want the closed cabinets there with the food/oil/spices in them. The dishes need to be near the dishwasher, where you can easily unload them. They would make sense there. So, it seems that these shelves need to be on the opposite wall. I agree that I love the look of open shelves, but would find it a cleaning nightmare. The accessories I have exposed in my small kitchen get that gummy, dusty film and I have to scrub them. Yuck.

  46. Kris says

    Lovely make-over. Keeping the ideas in mind because I also have a small galley kitchen. I don’t care for open shelves, not that they don’t look nice, but I couldn’t deal with cleaning them constantly, especially items not frequently used. I feel the same about open plate racks. I would use glass doors instead on display items or dishware.

    The table in the nook looks nice but I don’t think it’s practical for two longer benches unless there are only two people dining at it so I really don’t understand their choice there.

  47. Laura says

    I have no fitted cabinets in my kitchen, just a hoosier, a small pantry closet, an old glass fronted cabinet, a retro metal kitchen sink cabinet, and open shelves over the sink. I love it! I use the dishes on the bottom 2 shelves enough that they are perfectly clean, and the ones on the top shelf I make sure I wash before the occasional use. I take everything down and wash the shelves a few time a year. I guess it depends on how much of a clean freak you are. I am not!

  48. says

    I was totally in love with open shelving when it came time for me to remodel my
    kitchen. I knew they would collect lots of dust so I opted to only leave them open on the ends. I don’t keep only cute things in the space, but rather cute things that I use frequently. It gives me an opprotunity to dust while the dishes are in use. Yo

  49. Carol Johnson says

    In regards to the open shelves, we had a very tiny kitchen and my husband had a terrible habbit of leaving cabinet doors open when he would get a dish or cup. I removed the offending doors and loved the open look that it added to a very tight space. However, I would suggest doing this only on cabinets that contain items that are used often such a dish or glass ware and nothing near the cooking surfaces.

  50. ALH says

    I liked it the way it was before they remuddled it. The wallpaper was original! If it was my house, I would have purchased a vintage stove and a tulip table & chairs. The original cabinets were solid wood, and solid contruction. Now they are probably in a land fill. It’s an old house with a small kitchen. If you want something updated, buy a new house.

  51. Karen says

    I like the remodel of the breakfast nook, especially the windows. As for open shelving–I like the looks of it and it seems the current trend given how frequently it is featured in design mags, but for me it would be impractical. I live in the west–way too much dust, even during winter months when the windows are closed. The same thing with glass cabinets, which I considered too. I’m not a perfectionist, but it would drive me crazy to not have items looking polished and orderly and that just isn’t practical for how I live now. I don’t feel like being a slave to housework in order to keep up these looks.

  52. says

    Really fun makeover. The blue in the kitchen makes it so bright and I can imagine it would be a joy to be in. Great yet simple use of color.

  53. Julia says

    Beautiful make-over — love the blue & white, they did a great job. Re open shelves, I’m a southern California girl — all I can think of is earthquake!

  54. Tatiana Sampson says

    I love this kitchen! I am wondering what type of wood the new floor is!?! We love it and are getting ready to install new wood floors in our new house. Any chance I could get a response with the information?!?! Thank you!!

  55. Christine R says

    I love the open shelves but I would have done them on the side with the sink and the closed cabinets on the stove side. As far as the dust–if they are your everyday dishes they are used often enough that they don’t get too dirty. Also, a quick wash, if needed, is worth it to me. Love it!!