Can This Dysfunctional Kitchen Be Saved?

Before we get into the dysfunctional kitchen, thank you so much to so many of you for your kind words and support last Sunday. If you missed the post, you can see it here.

I did have to turn off the comments because it was too much for me to handle by the evening.

Please know that I am working on it and switching cardiologists– STAT!

At this point, unless you are a physician and I’ve heard from a few, I would prefer not to receive any more advice. Thank you for understanding.


OH! One more thing. Anything that has been discussed by me OR anyone else is absolutely NOT MEDICAL ADVICE OF ANY KIND!


Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out-of-the-way.

How are you all doing one week away from Christmas? I hope very well and without too much stress.


So, now, it’s time to dive into our topic about a dysfunctional kitchen and see if it can be saved.


You know? I’m not sure.

And, I’m not a kitchen designer, either.

I can design a kitchen, but I always work with a certified kitchen designer when working on any kind of major kitchen renovation. This is essential to work out the details. Over the years, however, I’ve helped clients do at least a dozen kitchen botoxes. That’s where it’s the same cabinetry, but usually painted and then new counters, backsplash and usually appliances, but not always.

This post shows a lot of what one can do with a meager budget and make a kitchen look a lot better.(aforementioned botox)

In fact, in a timely analogy, I’ve always considered myself to be the general practitioner. A kitchen designer is the cardiac specialist. And while, I have a good general knowledge, I’m far from a kitchen expert, like Susan Serra, for instance.


Still, there are practical as well as aesthetic considerations when seeing if we can turn a dysfunctional kitchen into one that’s pleasing to the eye as well as highly functional.


Some of you have probably already figured out that we are talking about Laura’s kitchen. We first saw a glimpse of it here.

Then last week was an intense post last week when we examined her very large family room. If you missed the post or would like to revisit it, click here.

I guess it would’ve been better to have included the kitchen in that post, but since it was already an incredibly long post, I decided to break it up.

In an ideal world, the entire first floor of the home would’ve been planned out before any alterations commenced. However, when is the world ever perfect?


As we did a week ago, let’s first listen to Laura’s take and ideas for her dysfunctional kitchen


Laura = normal print or large italics in normal color

Laurel = teal italics


This is not only a dysfunctional kitchen, it’s also dark.


dysfunctional kitchen - music room


And, why oh why didn’t they take the cabinets to the ceiling?


I know. I know! It looks horrible. They either don’t know any better and/or they wanted to save money. The only time I would say it’s okay for the cabinets not to go all of the way up is if doing a kitchen with few upper cabinets and/or the ceiling is super-high.

The DeVOL kitchens don’t usually go all of the way up. However, you will never see this many upper cabinets over counters. As we all know by now, in a kitchen of this size, I prefer not to see many cabinets over counters. 

The cabinets don’t need to go all of the way up, but I prefer if that area is filled in with a soffit.


And what the heck— why is the soffit above the range cabinet bigger than the cabinet? It’s so top-heavy.


And it’s SOLID metal hard something or other in that thing. Maybe cement board? I have no idea why at the moment, but I want to get to the bottom of it.


I think a hood like Nancy Keyes is what you need.




The grass cloth is an awesome texture and sometimes nice wheat color but can often read too green-ish with its current surroundings. I don’t know how it would do if surrounded by white Would it reflect color differently?


Well, I WOULD just take it down and be done with it to start fresh, BUT guess what is underneath?  Army Green SANDED paint. Yes, sand was added to the paint; and, it’s army green.




We actually know the pro painter that did this job for the previous owners and his reaction to the Job was something like “you want me to do whhaaaaatt!!!!???”



So, the problem is that we can’t remove the paper without inadvertently taking up the sand paint in big splotches— then we’d have to massively sand it all, and probably still need to re-skim the walls. And if we do that, we’ve been told we could just re-skim over the wallpaper. The wallpaper is actually in great condition, and I like the washable durability and texture, but the color is….eh. I’m not sure.


Things I’ve already been thinking about to make this dysfunctional kitchen– functional:


  • A new island light: the old one we took down was a stained glass pool table look. *[hideous] If we add a light, it needs to have a lot less visual weight!
  • We should probably paint the cabinetry, but unsure— if we leave the ceiling in the family room, would the house have better flow and feel cohesive keeping the cabinets wood?

I have only found ONE photo of a wood-stained cabinetry kitchen on the entire www that I really love (that’s not a great sign). BUT I do really love it.


Crown Point Cabinetry - handsome wooden kitchen - white subway tile

Crown Point Cabinetry

Crown Point Cabinetry - handsome wooden kitchen - white subway tile

Stunning kitchen. I had posted the image directly above in this post.


However, if I attempted this, there’s the problem of knowing whether or not I’d be sure and love it in MY kitchen!? (I’m certain that IS a pretty common problem!)


They used General Finishes Van Dyke glaze to bring out the knots and give it some rustic texture.

Well, it’s an entirely different wood. It’s reclaimed chestnut. In order to get this look, of course, you’d need to add more cabinetry to the top, which I definitely think you should or else a soffit. While a possibility, the wood you have is cherry. It would not have quite the same look. And, would be very difficult to make the necessary changes and keep it as a stained wood.


  • I would love a counter-depth fridge a little bigger than this one, but the same idea. And possibly move it (people are constantly in my way getting in and out of it while I’m trying to cook),
  • Remove the appliance garage/cabinet completely.
  • Change the countertops to a white/light quartz. The current black Corian is the WORST product for countertops I have ever experienced. You can’t even rest your hand on it without leaving a big spot. And with two kids, I want to pull my hair out.
  • We should probably replace the floor. The wood floor looks nice and it is already in the entry and organ room, but it’s buckling in places from water damage and age (I guess) and it’s just so hard to maintain.

But I have no idea what I’d replace it to coordinate with the wood and/or if I should do the new flooring throughout the garage entry, powder room and laundry to make it cohesive. (Powder and laundry are currently 2 different styles of ugly beige tile). Or I could fix it and darken it I guess.




  • Removing the wrap around peninsula completely and moving the hutch. The penisula countertop doesn’t get used, and the main sink is in the wrong place functionally.  Plus I hate walking around it!
  • I would love suggestions on how to open it up and make it seem less fussy and brighter/cleaner. And remember how I can’t take down the wall between the kitchen and family. Total bummer.  I work this kitchen pretty hard with a lot of cooking and baking for our family, so it must function!

hideous ceiling wallpaper - fake tiffany pendant - dysfunctional kitchen

You’ll find a pic of the kitchen when we first moved in: My first order of business was to remove that awful wallpaper!!!!!


*OMG!!! That is positively scary!


dysfunctional kitchen - bay window

The only windows you can get actual sunlight through on the first level are in the kitchen bay (and only in the morning), so I’d love to add a little seating area there for my morning Mountain Dew Kick-start (haha not coffee), news & emails.

dysfunctional kitchen eating area

Dysfunctional kitchen - beautiful windows

Laura's changes - dysfunctional kitchen


But I’m not confident these are great choices for the future.


We aren’t super concerned about resale because we bought this to be our forever home, but as you know, life changes. So we don’t want to totally disregard conventional wisdom for the sake of making me happy, In case we do need to sell. And remember, we have no dining room, so this is our only place for eating. Your input would go a long way to making a decision.


Oh, Laura, I don’t know. I really don’t know. And I think the kitchen part of this project is what originally got my knickers caught up in the bike chain.


The changes you want to make are quite significant and I’m afraid that it could end up being a big bloody mess. You would absolutely have to paint, because trying to match wood stains is not what I would recommend.

However, I did expand on them somewhat and then we can discuss what’s feasible.

Laura's current dysfunctional kitchen

Above is the current dysfunctional kitchen layout

Laura family room kitchen

And above is a blend of what Laura changed and then what I changed from her plan.


What I’ve done is:


  • put two glass fronted cabinets facing the dining area.
  • extended the wall adjacent to the family room and added French Doors to give the option of closing off the space, maybe if giving a music lesson.
  • I probably would not do the hutch.
  • The island is a little smaller and moved away from the dining area a few.
  • I’m not sure about the placement of the sink.

I would knock down all of the upper cabinets, on the range side. I mean, I would LIKE TO knock them all down. ;]

John Jacob interiors - cool galley kitchen


but maybe try to incorporate something like this fabulous range area and kitchen by John Jacob.



cool idea for cabinets

Or, a large opening like in the John Jacob kitchen, but with cabinets on the end, similar to this.

I would do floor-to-ceiling cabinets flanking the fridge. I prefer that placement as well.



As for the floor



dysfunctional kitchen:family room



Please forgive the wonky floor plan, but they came in from the garage on the left and there’s a mud/utility area.


During heavy snirt weather, especially, the shoes and boots should come off there to avoid wrecking the kitchen floor.

Could it be something else? Yes, it could.

I do like the checkerboard tile idea and I think that it would suit this style of home. I don’t recommend vinyl tiles as it scuffs like crazy.

However, before we go on, the extent of these changes indicate to me that it would most likely be best to do a complete renovation.


I think I can hear Wawa groaning from here. Or, is that the pipe organ? ;]

Okay, fine. I understand. Money is tight. What I would do in that case, most likely, is keep the SAME footprint, including sink location.

Take off all of the crown mouldings and build the cabinets up and then add back the ceiling crown moulding.

Change the fugly hood situation.

cool range hood


Something more like this one above. Love this hood. (sorry, original source unknown)

The dining area could have a round table that expands. And I like the little seating area.



Okay, I’m running out of steam and I know that some of you are probably dying to put in your 3 cents in to help make this somewhat dysfunctional kitchen with some aesthetic issues into a raving beauty.

As always, please be sensitive and don’t bitch (too much) about either of our ideas. Somebody did that today for the family room and I had to delete it. I hate having to do that and it’s only about one in hundred like that.

It’s all in the tone; confrontational and challenging or putting down others to make yourself feel better is no good. Or, when, I feel the need to say, YOU CAN’T SAY THAT- Didn’t your mother…??? blah, blah! (and worse) I don’t like getting mad at people, so the best thing to do is ignore and delete. But, I don’t like having to do that either.

There are kind ways to respectfully disagree. Maybe frame it as a possibility, not an admonishment? Here’s a hypothetical example of that: (my responses in bold)

What about putting in a dinosaur shaped island instead of a rectangular one? Do you think that would work, Laurel? My neighbor has a T-Rex kitchen island that’s incredible. And she no longer needs a food processor.

Cool! Let’s see what Laura thinks about that.


That’s an example of a kind, albeit bizarre comment.


A bad comment sounds like this:

How could you even think of painting that beautiful wood? Don’t you realize that it’s going to chip like hell?

No, clearly, I’m an idiot; I don’t realize anything.

And why on earth would you knock out all of the upper cabinets? Where are you going to put the dishes? Did you even think about that before you decided to ruin this kitchen?

Yes, bitch, I did.


And yes, I do get comments like the two above and sometimes it’s all in one comment!

Before I sign off, I just want to add something about the proverbial kitchen triangle. You know– placement of the fridge, range and sink.


I’ve heard both, that it’s the only way to lay out a kitchen and that it’s not the right way. So, which is it? Or is it both good and bad?

Oh, and one more thing. How do we feel about the sink directly behind the range? I do see this a lot in what look to be beautifully designed kitchens. And I don’t mean a prep sink. I mean the main BIG sink. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? And if it’s a bad thing, what would be a better option?

I would prefer the more experienced kitchen designers to answer that one, please.

In closing, I hope that this gave many of you some ideas about working with a kitchen that’s not working and creating a more intimate space in a big open room, without sacrificing light or that open feeling.




PS: The hot sales and holiday shops have been updated. Please check them out!

89 Responses

  1. Hi Laurel,

    I teach 5th grade and the days leading up to Christmas break/ end of the semester are crazy and I didn’t time to visit blogland, so I missed your health post. So sorry to hear about this. You are in my prayers.

  2. I love the idea of the sink behind the cooktop. I just designed my own kitchen that way, because when you need a place for a hot pan that you’re done with, you want to be able to drop it right into a sink and not have it taking up space on the counter next to you, especially if your counter isn’t impervious to heat. Of course, you could put the sink somewhere along the same wall as the range, or around a corner from the range, but I like getting the dirty things into a sink and out of sight while I’m cooking. Just my two cents worth. I haven’t cooked in this kitchen yet, we move in next month so maybe I’ll be singing another tune then!

    1. Hi Pat,

      Just as long as there’s more than three feet, you should be fine. Mine is barely three feet and it’s so tight in that area that it’s very difficult for more than two people in there unless someone is sitting at the little table. But, that’s a rare situation, these days. I do have that nice long, lovely counter which is a luxury in an apartment.

    2. I’ve been fond of gas or induction cooktops on outward facing islands, ever since I had a house with that configuration. However, I know this doesn’t happen much anymore, unless it’s a contemporary kitchen, with that open Gallery style. If you must have a sink on an island I prefer to install a small prep sink, so you still have serving area for parties – and in a blink, using it for icing down wine or champagne bottles. For hot pots or pans you can leave them on the cooktop to cool off.

      As far as the “kitchen triangle? In compact kitchens yes. Even in Design school my kitchen project was a 420 sq ft kitchen and the triangle was not there. The larger the kitchen, it goes out the window to a certain degree.

      Now? I’m renting a house with a large inside kitchen (meaning no outside light, UGH) and the massive island? ALL THE CABINETS have pull out shelves! So my Pro Kitchen-Aid Mixer is sitting on the counter next to my fridge. Not optional. I prefer my Small appliances hidden away. Hmm…I feel a blog post in the making for me.

      1. Hi Heather,

        Thanks so much for all of this. I’d love to see your blog post. hmmm… I thought I had subscribed, but maybe not. I just jumped over to see and I don’t see a sign-up. It looks like you’ve redone your site? Maybe it’s not up yet. I know how difficult it is to make these changes!

  3. Laurel, I love this post and love your blog. But I have to say that my absolute favorite part of this post was “yes, bitch, I did. DELETE.”

    I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. Thank you for always telling it like it is.

    1. I’ve often thought that there needs to be a place on the internet where we can dump the nasties and then put them in their place, that way. But, glad that you got a laugh out of it!

  4. This kitchen suffers what nearly every floor plan of the kind I’ve ever seen suffers: A ginormous house with a pokey little kitchen that can scarcely support the number of people that would require such square footage. It has never made sense to me. The cabinets are quite nice; cherry is not a slouchy wood. The big problem I see as inhibiting task area flow is the offset configuration of the island. Lose the mini sink, arrange the cabinets in a straight line coming off the footprint on the fridge side, cut down the countertop to fit. Would lose the stool space, but that’s a good trade-off to keep the island AND gain an extra 18″+ between the island and range. The full toe kick height tells us that the hdwd likely continues under the island. And get a counter-depth fridge, for certain. (Why oh WHY can’t fridges be *standardized* to a depth that doesn’t jut into the room like a pregnant elephant? …uggghhh.)

  5. Hi Laurel,

    I have a good friend who is a trained cordon bleu chef and she has her sink directly behind her range. Works for her! Her range is located on her island and the sink along the wall.

    Ithink your ideas are very good. I actually like cherry cabinets but I agree that there is simply too much wood in this kitchen. Of course Laura knows that with the cabinets coming down, as they should, she will have to get rid of the wallpaper and sand those walls. No big deal. Yes, its work but they could probably do some of that themselves and then hire a plasterer to come in and skim coat the walls. Don’t even think of trying to get that hickory look on the cabinets. As a wood refinisher, Ican tell you, it won’t work. YOu can paint them though with proper prep. Either send the doors out to be done or get a really good painter who does a lot of cabinets to do it. No, folks they won’t chip if done properly and even if you do get some wear with time, so easy to fix as long as you have the original paint.

  6. Laurel, I’m so happy to hear you are finding some immediately relief. And so glad you are taking the whole thing by the reigns and seeking second/third opinions to put some new eyes on your symptoms and test results. I feel like that’s one of the single best things you can do at this point. Hugs to you.

    So, You know what’s totally crazy? I feel like the kitchen botox is totally doable! Maybe it’s because I can actually see the vision of its outcome. Usually if I can visualize what it can be, my brain just works out exactly what to do and how to accomplish it. Im half way there already.

    The big “ah ha!” moment for me was realizing that it truely is the width of the island causing so many of the problems! That helps immensely. And my favorite Laurel brain child is definitely the glass cabinets flanking the eating area and the added small walls. Oh, and of course the round table, which now makes lots of sense with the defined “entry” from the kitchen. I love round tables— they just feel casual and homier to me. Not sure I can convince hubs on the French doors, but he’s pretty open to your wisdom these days, so he’ll likely catch up to the wagon.

    These kitchen ideas are totally in my comfort zone and get me really excited to dive in. They take the overwhelming space and brings it all in to make everyday life more intimate. You wouldn’t know this about me, but between us (and your 45k readers-lol), I could have lived my whole life in our previous home that was 1/4 the square footage. I love being close, even if it does make for a messier and less private existence with young children. But alas, we embarked on this totally crazy new adventure of multigenerational living, and there can be no more looking back! That’s why it’s so important to turn this place into HOME. So much in our culture/existence separates, divides, and isolates us, and it’s my goal for our new home to be a place that brings us closer. And I want to assure you all, that I absolutely know how incredibly blessed and fortunate I am to have this home and space, and these kinds of problems to even talk about. It’s been a wild ride this past year with our move and combining 3 households, and I’m so grateful to Laurel and her humor, sarcasm, creativity, and good taste, for waking me up to the potential of my new surroundings!

    So, not to be a downer now, but the family room still totally overwhelms me (maybe I stumbled on to the root of why— the changes don’t yet make it feel any more intimate to me). BUT I’m super jazzed to wrap my head around making a simple, homey, and inspiring kitchen for my family. I will definitely let you all in on how it turns out!

    P.S. I’ll just go ahead and nominate myself for president of the Laurel Fan club. All in favor? 🙋‍♀️

  7. Hi Laurel, Really interesting post. Love the real-world situations. We have 8 foot ceilings, and soffits over the kitchen cabinets. I hung some plates on the soffit. Thought I was hopelessly old-fashioned until I read in your post that a) it’s better to have soffits than the big “gap” between ceiling and cabinet and b) saw some plates displayed above the range in the checkerboard floor photo. Thanks for that! Although we keep thinking of redoing everything in the kitchen, so still have plenty to obsess over.

    Optional reading P.S. Glad to hear in your comment above that you are feeling a bit better. My suggestion–keep a little diary or note down when symptoms happen, when you ate, what you ate, lying down, what side, standing up, etc. for a week or so. You may see a pattern that you had not realized, that may help your doctors. Sending beneficial thoughts!

  8. Hi Laurel.
    My favorite part is the sitting area in the dining area. That will be the most frequently used spot in the kitchen! Bravo as well on the glass front cabinets, love that idea. I am definitely team white cabinets and backsplash. I noticed you’re using a new program for your floor plans, no longer seeing the pencil markings. Mind sharing what you’ve started using? Thank you. And all the best for you, especially with your health and your holiday season.

    1. Hi Kate,

      Actually, that is Laura’s program. She told me what she used but I don’t remember. Maybe Adobe Photoshop? I made my changes in picmonkey as always. So, I just used the available geometric shapes which work well as placeholders. Making those thin, fine lines is tedious, however.

  9. Hello Laurel, I think the most disturbing element about the kitchen is the uneven tops of all the cabinets and hood. I would fix that (and the soffit problem), and strategically get rid of a few of the cabinets (I am not even sure what the tall one is for). With the wood a little under control, it might not even need painting, although I do like white kitchens. We also have to consider the balance of kitchen wood with all that will be remaining in this open-plan, overly-wood-finished house.

    If I really had the money, I would redesign this awkward, interior kitchen entirely. Getting rid of that island (I am starting to hate all kitchen islands, even though you told us to keep the comments positive) would open up the room and allow a fresh start on a convenient kitchen design with probably a better traffic flow.

    1. Hi Jim,

      Saying I hate all kitchen islands is absolutely fine. It’s not in any way personal. It’s how you feel about islands.

      Saying “Why on earth would you put the fridge over there? Of course, that would be a huge mistake.” That sort of thing which you would never say because you’re too much of a gentleman. But people do, on occasion. It crosses the line into shaming someone and at the same time, trying to make themselves look superior. IMO, they sound like assholes. lol Besides, if Laura wants to put her fridge on the ceiling; that’s her business.

  10. Definitely lose the peninsula. Why they put in an island and a peninsula so close together is beyond me! I have a sink in my island and the range directly behind it and it works well but mine has nearly 4 feet of aisle space and the island is a good size. I do think keeping the wood floors and lightening up the cabinets with paint is the best way to go without breaking the bank.
    I hope your health issues resolve soon, Laurel. I really enjoy your insights and especially your sense of humor. God bless and happy holidays to you and yours!

    1. Thanks so much Mary! And yes, the operative word in regard to the sink and range is amount of space in between. We need four feet or it’s going to get uncomfortable at times.

  11. I, too, have problems with my kitchen, but I do want to insert something to think about during this holiday season. Many people would be thrilled to have this kitchen, problems and all. I just want to remind everyone, myself included, that we are blessed to have these problems as compared to those experienced by many who have no home at all.
    Merry Christmas, everyone!

  12. I briefly had a kitchen that had 36″ aisles with the range across from the sink/dishwasher. It was too narrow for more than one person, I hated it. The doors to the dishwasher and range overlapped, which kept one person from cooking and another doing dishes. We redesigned the same kitchen and now have 4 feet between the range and island. The sink was moved so it’s not across from the range which I love because my kids like to help me in the kitchen and now there’s enough space for all of us to move. Also, I agree with others, the crown molding is too dark and replace the black counters for something much lighter.

    1. Well, there it is. Let’s avoid the sink behind the range unless we can grab another foot somehow. I have also seen kitchens with the sink on the same wall as the range with maybe three feet of counter in between. Maybe that could work?

  13. Firstly, thanks for sharing your home with us Laura. It really is very beautiful. There are lots of great suggestions here already so I won’t reinvent the wheel. The one thing I wanted to add is that I absolutely love your hutch cabinet. Could it be moved over onto the centre of the dining area wall? Even if you change or paint the cabinets at some point it could still be a lovely standalone piece.

  14. Hi Muriel
    There are some wonderful linoleum sheet and tile flooring products now. I’m not talking about vinyl flooring. I mean real linoleum. Armstrong has a nice selection. Designer Sarah Richardson uses it often. The tiles have a wonderful retro look. The sheet linoleum is more modern looking. It’s is softer than tile, easier to maintain than wood, and there are no grout lines.

  15. I’d love a major redo, but for the cost! If it were my kitchen, I’d put in soffits, paint the cabinets and walls, and remove the #*@% island. That seems to be causing much of the difficulty in this too narrow space. Add, instead, a movable, narrow, counter-height work table.

  16. Dear Laurel,
    I think this space has so much potential. Only you would suggest making a kitchen smaller with less storage haha. But I agree with you. I have three comments.

    1. I love the round table. This would be for everyday. Memories will be made here. At holiday time one could rearrange the family room and set up a giant table. There is so much space in there.

    2. I went to the Greek revival kitchen ( avoiding my chores ) you have a Miles Redd kitchen in there that incorporates a similar hood. Might work here?

    3. Sorry this is too long but I’ve had a sink in my kitchen island a few times. It was worth it to me because it faced the rest of the living space and some wonderful outdoor views. I loved having a beautiful view to look out upon. But the kitchen sink in a real house is often messy so it’s a trade off.

    Love the French doors. Peninsula feels like it’s blocking traffic. Take care

    1. Hi Jean,

      You know that’s a great idea to use the family room for occasions where a large number of people need to sit. They could also get a round table that expands to seat 8-10, but if they needed to seat more, it could be done in the family room.

  17. Since the peninsula is where your sink and dishwasher are, it may be hard/expensive to eliminate. What if you:

    1) changed the counters and in doing that, make the peninsula overhang bigger for a real eating area/stools

    2) push your dining area closer to the bay window by either swinging the chandelier over or moving the electrical box

    3) if you’re going to replace or paint the floors, remove that large island, which is making your pathways so narrow. Replace it with something “found” looking to add character and increase the width of your walkways.

    4) if you get rid of the hutch you can bring the peninsula overhang out a bit on that side too and even round it off so you have more of a conversation area

    5). I’d pull out all that corner cabinetry where the garage is. It’s just making it seem more enclosed. That’s where I’d do open shelving

    6) I don’t love where the fridge is and would rather it be on the same side of the room as your hutch because it’s not a very pretty focal point for people sitting at the table. Not sure if you can move that much stuff around though without a complete overhaul.

    PS: Laura, hugs to you!!

  18. I liked the first layout with the long layout, but I Love (capital L) the idea of glass front cabinets for the dining room. Such a cool idea for storage/display! Also, I’m definitely team Paint-The-Cabinets.

    1. Hi Kimi,

      My grandparent’s apartment had those glass cabinets facing the dining area and it was my favorite part of their apartment built in the 1920s. And then my sister had the same glass cabinets in her kitchen in San Francisco. The opening space, however in both of those is much smaller. I have a pic of my sister’s kitchen with my handsome brother standing between the two cabinets, but I’m feeling too lazy to go and look for it. Maybe some other day.

  19. I love reading this stuff. I always look at the before pictures and think, I have no idea. And then I look at your recommendations and Laura’s and think, That’s so smart!!! So whatever you two decide is fine by me.

    Fortunately, I had really good help in GA when we did work on our house. My contractor brought her in when when I was the “I don’t know!” Queen.

    Just can’t wait to see the end result. : )

    Hope you’re feeling better. I’m sorry you are going through all that.

  20. Laurel, I love your design and the idea of removing the over counter cabinets. That will lighten up the place!
    I would bite the bullet and remove the wallpaper–or paint over it. I think the color of it is making the cabinets look worse so I would paint a color like Edgecomb Gray and white/cream counter and backsplash, black and white floor (that will remove the clashing wood floor) and forget about painting the cabinets for now. Since Laura doesn’t hate wood cabinets I think she might like these after all the other discordant parts are removed…and if she sill doesn’t like them she can paint them at that time.
    I also think that the island can be made narrower if the one cabinet is removed (there is a large overhang on each side) and the sink could be put at the end with the hutch.
    I really enjoy these posts…it is so much fun to see everyone’s different ideas looking at the same room!!

    1. Thanks so much Maggie. I like your ideas a lot. The only one I’m hesitant about is the sink on the end of the island. I thought about that too, but then there would probably not be enough space to put dishes down next to the sink. This one’s a challenge, for sure!

  21. Having been through a similar…Botox…update, I can tell you that a counterdepth refrigerator is awesome. Stick the old one in the garage or basement to make up for the interior space you lose in the new fridge. Removing the appliance garage was so much easier than I thought and the freed up counter space seemed triple from what you would think. And I would paint everything white or cream, all the way to the Crown molding on the ceiling! White cabinets and the black counter is a classic look and can hold her for a while. If new countertops can be worked into this budget, then the other thing I would do to make a big difference is to take down that 4-5inch wall on the peninsula. It makes a huge difference in usable counter space for baking and visually as well. You could leave it behind the sink but cut it off just past the sink. It’s amazing what little changes and one good carpenter can do! My cosmetic fix ran about 20K with new countertops….yes, still expensive but nothing like the 60-100K going further would have been.

  22. If it were my kitchen, I would tell myself to save for a full remodel, versus “Botox”, and hire a good KD. The island has got to be causing some grief, given that it is very close to the range. I know that 36” is the minimum, but that has always felt too close for me — we had that in a previous home and it was just too tight. Especially next to the range. I wouldn’t put the sink that close to the range, either. She’s made it 1000% better by just removing that ceiling wallpaper and the monstrosity over the island. I personally prefer hardwood in the kitchen. I think it’s easier on my back and knees to stand on than tile. I also think it’s a smoother look to have the same flooring throughout. I’ve had a couple of fridge leaks over the years, but as long as the water doesn’t sit too long, the wood is fine – it dries out and shrinks back to normal quickly.

    1. Hi Susie,

      I too love a wood floor in the kitchen. I love painted floors too, but that’s just me. And well, others do as well, but not everyone. I agree that 36″ is too tight. That’s my kitchen and I have the sink and dishwasher overlapping the range. Can I tell you how many times I’ve clunked my leg into the door stepping over it to get to the other side while emptying it and putting things away? I know. I should close the door first and then walk to other side. In my case, however, it’s either no dishwasher or where it is.

  23. Hi Laurel,
    I wasn’t able to make a comment after your last post but have been thinking of you and want to say something today.
    Thank you for trusting your followers (friends) enough to confide in us. I think with your good brain, strong spirit and wonderful sense of humor you will get through this and thrive. You will be on many hearts and minds in the coming weeks and months.
    Warm wishes to you for the season. Sherry

    1. Thank you so much Sherry. I had to turn off the comments. I felt like the Sourcer’s Apprentice. LOL But, I do appreciate your support and encouragement. And the other cool thing is that so many have shared their health issues too. It’s good to share rather than bottle it up inside.

  24. Personally, I like the suggested layout. However, Laura is concerned about possible resale and it seems every (HGTV) buyer demands “open concept.” I call it “back to log cabin” living. Perhaps that trend will have passed by the time she sells.

  25. As soon as I saw these “before” pics, I thought of a recent post by a design company who made over a house with a dark “colonial” colour scheme. So my idea for the budget fix would be to skim over the grasscloth and paint the walls a bright off-white (going right through to the bay window area), and paint the cabinets a fairly pale grey, leaving the ceiling moulding as is for the time being. And if work is going to be done on the walls, now would be the time to get rid of any upper cabinets that should go, and to re-model the hood.
    In the same immediate budget line of thinking, I would remove the hutch thing opposite the end of the peninsular bit (I assume it’s in two pieces and could be re-assembled), leaving its wood finish and placing it on the wall where there’s a wreath, removing the black Corian and replacing with wood to look more like furniture. I think this would let more light from the bay window into the kitchen area and add storage for dishes & glassware in the dining area.
    But what I think would really help is to do away with the island altogether. It turns the kitchen into an obstacle course because there simply isn’t room around it. Problem: is the floor under it finished the same as the rest? If not, that puts us into changing the floor and thus the major re-model zone…
    A final word on the basic “work triangle” layout. I’m very opinionated on this, but what works for me may not work for you. It depends on how you cook, and you’re the only one that knows that and can take the final decisions.
    “Bon courage” to Laura for the kitchen and to Laurel for her health problems!

  26. Hi Laurel and Laura, A kitchen reno is really expensive so waiting to think it through completely before you start is wise. But there’s no reason to live in the cave till you can have what really makes your heart sing. Start by painting out the cabinets, door and window mouldings and crown in white. Then start a file on your computer of kitchens you love. Think about what in each picture is speaking to you. Consider ridding the ceiling of those large cans and go with dimmable LED (costs more to start but great on the environment and your wallet later). Once you’ve got a strong idea of what your kitchen must have and look like, (and the budget) seek out a kitchen designer or a talented non-professional. The key is to plan, plan, plan. Then plan again. There’s no rush to get it right. All the best, Cathy

    1. Hi Cathy,

      That’s not a bad idea, but it is possible that with just a few changes like building the cabinets up and change of fridge, hood and upper cabinets and then counters, etc. that the kitchen will be far more wonderful. That alone is still not going to be inexpensive, but I’m not sure if a big reno will be in the budget in the foreseeable future. I can relate. During my 24 yr marriage, we never had the funds to redo ours.

      Oh, there’s a post on here somewhere… lol where a woman did exactly that in her kitchen and it looks amazing. I might have linked to it.

  27. Oh, Laurel, you are so funny! I laughed out loud into my coffee this morning with your dinosaur island and nasty reader comments. Honestly, didn’t their mothers ever teach them anything?

    As I read these posts, I’m so glad you can’t see parts of my house! What were we thinking, 20 years ago? The more I read from you, the closer I get to wanting to paint these cabinets of mine. They are hickory, and we thought they were the bomb when we built. I swear, if we ever downsize, I’m gonna take the pictures of Nancy Keyes’ house and just redo it in small scale.

    I hope you are feeling much, much better. Do keep us posted as you see fit.

    1. Hi Connie,

      Glad you laughed at that. It was meant to poke a little fun at nasty people without directly writing to them. I’ve learned that they rarely see their comments as offensive, rather as “helpful.” oh well…

      Thank you. I am feeling a lot better as I’m pushing myself to get more exercise and the new dosage of medication has erased the nausea and also any huge spikes in heart rate upon standing– so far.

  28. I really like all of your ideas. I know the cabinets are an issue at this moment, but as a veteran renovator, I’ll say this…when you fix up the background to work with what ya got, it’s amazing how a lot “problems” just fade into the woodwork… pun intended. I have a couple of suggestions; first, beef up the existing moulding…. it’s a bit of work but it really upgrades the space. Take down the exiting moulding from both the kitchen and great room…. be careful as you will be reinstalling it later: Attach 1×6’s to both the the ceiling and wall and then reinstall the exiting crown to hide the seam caused by adding the 1 by 6’s. Voila, you’re done.

    If you want to kick things up bit more, you can build a little ceiling height valence over each of the windows using the mouldings. In addition to giving a real presence to the room, you can save a crap load on draperies as the valence hides the drapery tops and rods; this is an absolute game changer when using ready made draperies. You don’t even need to buy the more expensive ready mades; the dirt cheap ones from Ikea will look amazing once the top and rods are no longer visible. Painting the moulding the same colour as the walls creates a really cohesive background to set the stage. for the foreground. Second idea: consider painting the ceiling the same colour as the walls it gets rid of another stop and start with the background and makes the ceilings look higher.

    I’ve done this multiple times. I wouldn’t do this with a really dark colour, but it really works well with a light or medium colour. If that idea is too much, consider using a very light shade of your chosen colour; it will read white but will blend in better than the traditional white ceiling. Last, I can’t see if this is a possibility, but consider building walls to create a real entrance to the kitchen. This would give the kitchen more of a cocoon pantry vibe. Right now the kitchen has got one foot in open planned living and one in a closed off space. Closing it off would hide the offending sink and the eating nook would be more like a dining room.

    You could also round the top of the entrance to repeat the vibe of the Palladian windows. I know open plan living is all the rage these days, and I have lived with 3 open plan kitchens…… there are some real advantages to having a separate space: it hides the cooking mess and it gives you a bit of a buffer in case you need to duck out for quiet moment to get yourself settled should you find yourself in the company of folks who get on your nerves. Slugging back a big glass of wine to help you make it through the night is best done our of sight. The space in this house is really nice, the only thing wrong is there are too many elements pushing their way to the foreground when they belong in the background. Once everything gets sorted and put in the right place you won’t even recognize the space.

    1. Hi Lynn,

      Thank you for all of your suggestions! One thing for me, however, is the Palladian door in the FR. I disagree with the choice the builder made. I feel it should’ve been a straight transom to match the other windows. And I don’t like arches if you happened to read my other post for the sake of arches. If they are historically correct, that’s fine, but usually, they are not.

  29. I havent read the other comments yet… and i know i am suggesting a bigger redo than she requested so please forgive me . I cant help it …it is the way my mind works. Without drawing a plan i think i can describe it… and maybe my ideas will generate other ideas… she cant take down the wall between family room and kitchen but maybe she can move and widen the opening? I would center the opening behind sofa in family room. Put the stove and fabulous hood about where the garage door is. Make that same wall a long wall of cabinets counter and the refridge would be closer to organ room/living room. In front of this long wall would be a very long parallel island with seating and it would have a sink that faces family room . The breakfast area would still have table/chairs … the far wall that currently has stove would now be partially open … would have artwork or coffee station or narrow pantry …it depends on how much space is left once opening is adjusted and the island has seating. we need to determine how much room there is …. garage door ideally moves away but at least at one end of kitchen wall and not in middle of wall. The breakfast area would be a little more closed off ..but that is okay

    1. Hi Jeanne,

      Thank you for all of that. I do know that they are not up for moving walls and a total kitchen re-do at this point. But, thank you for your ideas, just the same.

  30. Before rearranging all the cabinetry and moving the sink, follow all the suggestions made by RUNNINGONEMPTY and change the paint color of the walls to a lighter shade of the wonderful blue/green of your music room. What will make a huge difference in how you feel about the kitchen is fixing the lighting and putting in light countertops and backsplash.

    Get rid of the can lighting and use narrow (15 deg) focus downlights over island and open counters and one good hanging light with a narrow directed spot. Put all these on dimmers. Put in under cabinet lighting where you have upper cabinets. The most disfunctional thing about this kitchen is the lighting. It is creating the dreary atmosphere. Whatever changes you make will be useless unless you fix it. Ideally, hire a lighting designer.

    I like the sink where it is because you face out and can look out the windows. You might try a banquette under the bay window. Love the round table but it should be even bigger, and centered in the space with a good hanging light over it.

    Live with the cherry and all the above changes before you decide to paint all the cabinetry white. With new lighting, it might be okay. Repair the wood floor. Don’t replace with tile or stone. If/when you paint the cabinets, paint the floor in a checkerboard pattern as in Laurel’s photo.

    Good luck.

    1. Hi Margot,

      I agree wholeheartedly with your lighting assessment and that goes for the family room too! Laura already knows that it’s not ideal but good that you brought it up. And it is the one thing that’s so frequently overlooked, but it’s the most important. What good is a beautiful room if it is poorly lit?

  31. The main sink across from the range will work if there is enough aisle width, preferably 4 feet. I have three kids and make most of our meals and also bake and when both the sink and range are used simultaneously the two people will constantly be bumping into each other if there is not sufficient aisle room.
    Also, I would very much like to see the fridge stay more accessible from the island side where the sink is – it would be super annoying to have to walk around the island every time one wanted something from the fridge. Life experience has taught me that! I second not using tile on the kitchen floor, the older you get the harder on your knees and back standing for any length of time becomes. I highly recommend a wood floor, easy to clean, warm on the feet and softer to stand on. I believe white kitchen cabinets the best and as the sun has a long way to penetrate to reach the actual kitchen, keeping lighter colours I believe will help what little sun gets there to bounce around. This is simply my opinion, I have no decorating experience whatsoever!,

    1. Hi Anne,

      All great points! I think if the fridge were counter depth and in its current location AND clad in the cabinetry, it would be in a good location, not in the way and also not a focal point from the dining area.

  32. Paint those cabinets using Benjamin Moore Advance in White Dove, take soffits to the ceiling, put up some shelves in a nice location for a focal point. Put up new LED lights with around 3000 Kelvin or close to that because it’s nice and bright, but not yellow or too artificial looking, add some under cabinet tape light, same Kelvin range, put it all on dimmers, update light over island, keep wood floors, have then patched by a professional. White subway tile with light gray grout. Take the tile to to ceiling where the shelves are.

    1. Hi Deb,

      I’m great with all of that, but the really bright LEDs are still a tough sell for me. Maybe I could be convinced if I could see a situation where it looks good to me. It’s just that a few years ago, some clients had lighting put in and I didn’t have any say in the matter and it was awful! Very bright, white and strange.

      1. My opinion of LEDs was same as yours, but recent experience with them is great. We recently switched our entire home to LED. I have warm white everywhere except the basement, where I have daylight, because it’s my sewing room and it helps my old eyes see better. All the can lights are on dimmers. However, I wouldn’t say the warm whites are any “brighter” than halogen/incandescent, but you do get more lumens per watt.

  33. These are busy times! My attentions remained until about 3/4 of this post, sorry Laurel! And then I was exhausted to read on. Maybe it’s because my own kitchen has it’s own hideous caveats and hurdles to overcome, that it became exasperating to read. The so called professional architect of the house who is responsible for it’s design is to blame.
    I’ll just say I agree if it is in the budget, bring the cabinets up to the ceiling! Those damn cheap builders! Pardon me.
    and try USA mats. We recently installed Euro chic porcelain tile in our kitchen and these mats are the BOMB.


  34. Given that Laura is an active cook with a family and kids, I’d probably put some VERY light Botox in and save my money for a full facelift (aka a full remodel with new floors, cabinets, counters, etc.). I think part of the reason she finds the current kitchen frustrating, finds that people are in the way getting things out of the fridge, etc., is that her work aisles really aren’t wide enough, especially for multiple people in the kitchen. Without resolving that underlying issue, I think all the other fixes are going to end up frustrating her with the same core problem. It looks like her aisles are 36″ at most, perhaps less in some places, and I’d want 42″ – 48″ next to the range, and 48″ across from the fridge to allow for the doors. Getting that is going to involve some pretty major changes, though. Oh, and maybe the input of a skilled kitchen designer. Good luck!

    1. Excellent point Kristin about the narrow aisles. They are right at the minimum which is also what’s giving me pause for having the sink so close to the range. If that were four feet, that would be okay, I think. This is the irony. The family room is too deep and the kitchen is too narrow!

      I would definitely advise her to connect with a skilled kitchen designer.

  35. Love lengthening the wall & adding French Doors. Cabinets right up to the ceiling w new molding. Is there enough counter space to roll out dough and do baking things with a full sink in the island? Would 36″ wall storage around the windowed eating
    area work? Light walls, countertops & new lighting all necessary.
    Love the linoleum idea for flooring – rich and warm.

    Laurel – wishing you the best. Hope it’s all in the rear view mirror…

  36. I love checkerboard tile. It also allows you to use black grout, eliminating the dirty looking grout problem that occurs with most tile floors.

    If the sink is across from the stove, you could add a nice add a rug with a thick pad to counteract the hardness of the tile on your feet.

    1. I had a black and white checkerboard floor for 17 years. It’s a great look. We used vinyl which is cheap and easy on the feet. No grout at all. It would be the perfect floor except it scuffs like crazy.

  37. I’ve rarely been in a house with a well layed out kitchen. Whenever I discuss a terrible kitchen layout with my mom we inevitably decide that because men design these cookie cutter houses and the kitchens inside them they never turn out right because men never cook! (Neither of our husbands cook is why) but even my aunt’s kitchen in her over 100 year old house is awful because the fire place in smack dab in the middle of it and someone decided that all the plumbing should go up the chimney….. It was probably a man on a budget hahaha! They want it cheep and all wood! 🤣 As for the dining windows, that would be so nice for a sitting area!!!! It’s going to be so lovely! And I vote for the French doors!!!! My aunt has gorgeous pocket doors to close off all her big openings in her house and it makes for the option of a closed and open floor plan and it’s brilliant!!!!

      1. And I’d prefer he do the cooking (or anyone else for that matter) & I’ll clean up.

        As for Laura’s kitchen…hopefully she can wait & do the kitchen with the family room at the same time. Any reno will create havoc at home. Might as well get it all done at once.
        But if not, I think light counters, a light backsplash, paint on the walls & some lighting changes will give her the biggest bang for her buck.
        When she’s ready for phase 2, I think your advice as to the new layout makes the most sense. I prefer having the main sink close to the range. It makes emptying heavy pots filled with pasta water easier.
        The only thing I think I would do different is the new location of the fridge. I’d prefer the whole back wall be storage. And the fridge left in it’s original location. Ideally it would be clad in panels to match the cabinets & counter depth. I like the convenience of having a counter next to my fridge to set things down. Maybe that’s just what I’m used to.
        I love your idea of the round table in the dining area. I’m going to assume the table has leaves to accommodate extra seats. The head chairs, when not in use will be perfect in front of the window for morning coffee.
        I think you’ve got a winner here!

  38. I’d love to hear more about kitchen floors. Mine is the bane of my existence. It’s ceramic tiles from Home Depot with grout that is hideous. But I don’t like wood floors in kitchens and I don’t like tiles because of the grout situation, what do people recommend?

      1. By linoleum you mean actual linoleum – a mixture of ground cork, pigment and linseed oil, on a woven jute background ? It’s getting harder to find, and is somewhat pricy but is a very good product. It also needs an experienced installer.

        Maybe you should clarify the difference for people who think that linoleum is the generic term for any sheet flooring product ?

        1. Hi Andrea,

          Thank you. I think you just did! :] But, of course, that’s not all there is. I have had some requests to do a kitchen floor post. So, please hang on.

  39. I like the cherry wood, and the shaker design, it’s much nicer than the family room wall unit. I’d take it to the ceiling, as Laurel says, perhaps the cabinetmaker can cut and reuse any removed cabinets to do that. Lose the brown on the crown mouldings, it’s oppressive, and the black counters are making it all very dark. Replacing those would make a huge difference.

    For flooring be aware that tiles are tiring to stand on, and everything that is dropped on them will break. Have a look at the same design in linoleum. It’s environmentally friendly , better for health than vinyl, and a darling of architects these days.

    1. Hi Cath,

      I don’t think I said to re-use the cabinets that are removed, but I wish I had! That’s a great idea! And true, about tile floors. I am living with one. And you know when I drop things the most often. 2:00 AM, right when I’m in there getting a glass of water or something. And then I’m sweeping and vacuuming for 20 minutes cleaning it all up.

      1. As a kitchen designer who works for a custom shop we wince whenever someone says reuse and rework what they have. It costs MORE to do that than to start over from scratch unless you can use them exactly as they are. Too labor intensive to “modify” existing cabinets.

        I am Ok with the sink on the island, IMO it is the clearance by the refrigerator that is the real problem. A counter depth refrigerator would help this situation. If she wants it wider she could eliminate the cabinets to the right and have a new upper cabinet built to match the others.

        I agree with you though that I would not make major changes in here right now, paint it and change the counters and wait till you can really fix it right. Oh, and add some kind of under counter lighting, that would be life changing in this kitchen.

        1. Thank you so much Linda. Great ideas! You may not have seen, from the previous “sister post,” but there are family members who are willing to do this kind of work. Otherwise, it’s true. I have the same thing sometimes when someone wants me to have their window treatments remade. And for that matter, reupholstery sometimes costs more than the sofa or chair did in the first place.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
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