Before & After: Carolyn’s “Yucky” 1980s Kitchen

This is how Carolyn’s kitchen used to look. It was a dark, “1986 yucky room” when they bought the house. When she submitted these photos for my Kitchen Contest, she explained that they had a very tight budget, so they did everything but install the countertops themselves. “We are novice do-it-yourselfers, which meant we had a lot to learn along the way.”

“We have 2 small kids (ages 2 and 5 when we did the renovation), so we mainly worked nights after they were in bed. But now I love my kitchen and all of the ways we were able to make it fit our style.”

Every time I see my beautiful ‘new’ kitchen, I think of all the hours my husband and I spent together, making it just right!”

This was one of the entries in my Hooked on Your Kitchens Contest. As always, thanks for keeping the comments about your fellow readers’ homes positive and polite. :-)

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Miss any of the other Kitchen Contest entries? Click here to see them all, including…

Kathhleen's white kitchen 18 Great Small(er) Kitchens My Readers Cook In

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  1. Sarah says

    I’m always amazed when people can do so much by themselves. This is a wonderful transformation. One of the things that didn’t actually change (but looks so different now) is their kitchen window. Before with all that square tile it looked blah and almost prison-ish. Now with all the beauty around it and the new curtains and accessories it looks positively charming! Well done!

  2. Cheryl in Wisconsin says

    I cannot decide which impresses me more – the final presentation, or the fact they started projects in the evening.

  3. The Country Girl says

    Lovely kitchen, doubly impressive that they did almost all the work themselves. It is absolutely beautiful! Would it be possible to find out the wall color?

  4. Rosemarie says

    Beautiful job. I’ve noticed every kitchen remodel is white. Kitchens in movies are white. What’s with all the white? I’d love to see some other colors, like a dark chocolate cabinets, love those.

  5. Dean says

    Beautiful! Love it. And I’ll echo the comment about the change in the window–The whole area above the sink looks amazing now.

  6. says

    Wow, what a transformation. So nice to see one that didn’t involve an expensive gut job. They really worked some magic here!

  7. Christina from Dallas says

    Wonderful job! It looks great! Love the wainscotting they installed. White kitchens just look so clean and bright and happy!

  8. Meredith says

    I love makeovers like this – you can see that they didn’t change the layout of the kitchen and with a lot of hard work and creativity made it beautiful. So gorgeous!!

  9. says

    Great transformation Carolyn & hubby. I love how you worked with the layout already there. I greatly respect you guys for going against the norm (tearing everything out) and working with a limited budget. Your after is an example to others of how hard work can become so welcoming and lovely.

  10. Signe says

    Isn’t it amazing to see what beautiful changes can happen, without changing the footprint one little bit??? Great job! It’s a wonderful kitchen.

  11. says

    Wow! What a great new look! I assume they kept all the cabinet boxes, but did they make new doors themselves? And amazing how it looks like a new, much larger window, but I think all they did was change the treatment!

  12. says

    Awesome Job! We’re remodeling our kitchen right now, and I know how much work and patience it takes! Especially when you can only squeeze in a few hours a day after hubby gets home from work. I bet it’s so nice to be done!

  13. says

    Wow, they should be so proud of what they did. I love every bit of it and most especially their new kitchen bar area that adds seating and ties the kitchen into the next room.

  14. says

    I love the white subway tiles and the extended counter with eating area. Gorgeous!

  15. Jane says

    It’s beautiful — and even better than some “professional” jobs that I have seen done by my friends! Congrats and ENJOY!

  16. Jcrn says

    We are on a tight budget too. It looks like some of the doors were refaced? Great look! Were they refaced? And what kind of cooktop did you get? Amazing transformation!

  17. says

    Wow, it looks great! Great job! Makes me wish I could do something with our 1980’s kitchen. We have fruit tiles on the wall….fruit tiles. And blue countertops, yes the blue from the ’80s that was popular back then. Yuck.

  18. JoLynn Hobbs says

    Carolyn & Hubby~
    What a great job! My first thought looking at the before picture was ‘great bones- great potential’ and you guys did a great job! A classic, white kitchen, great function and wonderful finishes- beautifully done! I hope you and your husband revel in your accomplishment everytime you walk into your kitchen! Doing a renno like this together – NOW thats love!
    Congratulations to you both :)

  19. Alie B says

    Awesome job! I love that these folks didn’t tear out perfectly good kitchen bones, but made lemonade from lemons instead. Love the breakfast bar and the new openness it creates! :-)

  20. Joan says

    Now that’s inspiration! What a great job you two did, it’s really gorgeous…congrats on a job well done!

  21. Ann says

    Unfortunately, the “Before” could be my kitchen NOW! Thanks for the terrific template for updating without completely gutting. I love white kitchens.

  22. says

    Well done Carolyn & hubby! And working after the kids go to bed, that’s doubly impressive. (At least double….!)

    I love all of it, but esp. the bar stools!!

  23. Carolyn says

    Oh my goodness, what a lovely surprise to click on your blog and see my kitchen!! My 4-year-old came running over and said, “Hey, that’s ours!” :) And many thanks for all of the kind compliments, too. It is always wonderful to have so much hard work appreciated!

    To answer a few of the questions, we replaced the doors on the cabinets, but kept the cabinets themselves (much cheaper that way!). We painted the cabinet boxes and added a lot of beadboard to pretty them up a little. :) I was concerned about painting the cabinets, but over a year later they still look great! We did replace most of the appliances (and have thankfully replaced the dishwasher since the after picture was taken!) but we decided on mostly low-end purchases to stick to the budget and haven’t regretted that at all.

    Thanks again, Julia! You made my day!!

    • Jcrn says

      Carolyn – thanks for answering my question about the cabinet doors. I think you were smart to keep the cabinet boxes if they were solid. Save dollars where you can ad all that – wise.

      After 28 years we finally saved enough to totally gut our kitchen and redo it but before that we only refaced the cabinet doors and bought a new cook top. That was enough to keep it looking fine for years- that and the occasional paint job.

  24. Esther George says

    Hard work done to perfection! Hi Julia thank you for sharing this beautifully done kitchen. My kitchen is from 1985 now I have an idea what can be achieved with lots of hard work. Till next time regards Esther from Sydney.

  25. Kim says

    What a great transformation! It’s nice to see a kitchen that’s not too over the top.

  26. Lisa says

    Ok, it looks good. For sure it’s better than the old one. And kudos for the owners doing the work themselves. But EVERY kitchen redo now seems to have white cabinets, white subway tile, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Will that be the “dated” look 30 years from now that everyone is dying to replace?

    • Jcrn says

      Lisa- everything changes. I agree with you that today’s look could become as dated as the Harvest Gold and Avocado Green colors popular in my parents’ day. and white cabinets do show spots ( in my opinion) more than brown wood ones.

      But even with the extra maintenance I still love white cabinets. Our home came with nice wood cabinets in solid condition but poor lighting and this made the kitchen look so dreary, a dark hole.

      We didn’t yet have the budget for extensive rewiring and new lights ( old house, couldn’t just add lights without significant rewiring)

      I spent a weekend stripping, priming, and repainting the cabinets white. It instantly brightened the kitchen. Amazing difference.

      We’ve kept the white cabinets but put in some warm tones ( wood floor, and a darker tiled brown, black and gray back splash) to keep things from looking too sterile.

    • Sil says

      Of course certain products will be outdated. I’m already seeing granite and SS not the top choice for people. It all depends on your neighborhood, style of house, budget, etc. There are so many great choices out there. If you have endless amounts of money and can update every few years to stay with the current trend, then good for you. Most of us, however, try to update when we can save up for it. IMO going with as traditional as possible decor is going to be best for those that can’t remodel every 10 years. I think this renovation will keep these homeowners happy for a long time. If they ever were to get tired of the white, they simply go with a different color!

  27. Victoria says

    This looks great and I love that they did it themselves. I know that these finishes are pretty commonplace, subway tile, white cabinets, etc these days, but they are pretty timeless, especially given that subway tile has been around for around a century. I don’t tend to think of them as trendy since they are picking up on style cues that have carried through consistently from European kitchens through to Martha Stewart kitchens. It will be interesting to see if granite stands the test of time, though :)

  28. Terry says

    Amazing! Goes to show that you don’t have to gut, move walls, and spend a fortune to have a beautifully functional, warm, family friendly kitchen. It looks better and more welcoming than anything I have seen yet. Congratulations and lots of love to you!

  29. Penne says

    Great job, and I love that you worked with the space as it was…much easier to transform when you’re knocking down walls and starting. You took what you had and made it perfect. You must be very proud!

  30. debbi in Texas says

    That kitchen is awesome; I would never guess it was renovated and it look’s perfectly right for the home. I can’t imagine being in kitchen chaos for long, so hats off to all the long hours this took.

  31. says

    Julia, this is amazing! Carolyn did a beautiful job with this transformation and I love the timeless, forever-in-style, design and color scheme she used. Not only is it beautiful, but everything is so convenient and within reach. Great makeover!

  32. Lauren says

    Aw, c’mon! White kitchens never go out of style! And when they do, it’s only because something AWFUL has become trendy, like the black kitchen, or the all-stainless kitchen. Wood finishes come and go, but an all-white kitchen is classic, like an all-white bathroom. I think they did a great job here, using the simplest, most tasteful and timeless materials. I’m ridiculously fussy and I hate almost all popular choices like kitchen islands, but in this case, I think that every choice they made was the best possible decision. For example, I think subway tile may become less trendy, but it will always be beautiful, unlike a lot of trendier tiles that will look tired in a few years. That wooden floor is perfect, too. The kitchen had “great bones” indeed and they were smart to keep everything where it belongs. I’m most impressed by the way they transformed those cabinets. I’d have been tempted to ditch them. Who know they could be fixed up to look like THAT?