Building our home nearly a decade ago was exciting. Being able to take out walls here, add a guest bedroom there and move our laundry room up to the top floor made for a custom feeling — even though we worked with a builder on what many would call a “cookie cutter” suburban house. When it came time to choose paint, tiles and countertops, we did so in just an hour or two in a small trailer perched near the model home and I think we did OK. But after 9.5 years, it was time for a kitchen refresh.
Trying to pin down our design style for our kitchen refresh was tricky, though.
For example, our master ensuite and master bedroom have a clean, hotel-y beach vibe. But our dining room has more traditional, Amish-built furniture that we made more contemporary by having the tabletop hand-etched and vintage white accents added in stark contrast to the rest of the dark wood. And our living room has bold colours and screams cozy contemporary.
So, when designer Jo Alcorn came on the scene and asked me to define our aesthetic, I was stumped.
Our kitchen was a product of its time with ebony cabinets, black granite countertops, a white quartz island to add some dimension, a tumbled travertine-style floor and stainless steel appliances. There were parts of it that I still loved (like the maple cabinets we’d already spent a fortune on upgrading, along with their beautiful undermount lighting) but we were really quite open to just about anything style-wise.
Where we really needed help was improving the overall functionality of our kitchen. We had an entire corner that we hadn’t been able to easily access since we moved in because between a microwave shelf and a massive fridge that stuck out well beyond its gables, there was less than a foot of clearance to squeeze through. Everything else would be gravy.
I’d been wanting to change our walk-in pantry door for years and mentioned it to Jo, noting that the hollow, builder-basic door that was there was one thing that definitely had to go and that we’re typically drawn to Shaker-style cabinetry and doors.
We also wanted our kitchen refresh to brighten up our space and give the illusion of more space. (Our existing tumbled marble backsplash and black speckled granite counter did us no favours.)
Since we already had two different materials for counters in our kitchen, I knew firsthand that in the quartz vs. granite debate, there was only one choice for us — quartz.
And, finally, I was done with regular stainless steel appliances. They’d served their purpose and it was time to move on. I wanted sleek, modern and something that wouldn’t show fingerprints seconds after being cleaned.
After a long chat, Jo determined that a transitional kitchen design — that we ultimately paired with some Scandinavian flair — with fingerprint-resistant stainless steel appliances would work well for our kitchen refresh AND with the adjacent spaces on our open-concept main floor.
Check out the black stainless appliances we chose here and find out how they’ve improved the way our kitchen functions.
What is a “transitional kitchen”?
Jo nailed it when she suggested features, colours and finishes that would make up a transitional-style kitchen.
Transitional kitchen designs generally blend modern with traditional when it comes to materials, furniture, finishes and styling. Together, it creates a timelessness that’s both simple and sophisticated — a style that I think makes for some of the best kitchen designs because it transcends trendiness but allows some room to play.
The design that Jo provided for our kitchen refresh focused on function but snuck in a transitional decorating style that was accessible and easy to manage on a very defined budget.
Here’s Jo’s mood board that guided a lot of our decisions:
I also have a lot of transitional kitchen ideas on my kitchen refresh Pinterest board, where I started collecting ideas before we met Jo and continued to Pin inspiration even after much of our new kitchen design was set in stone.
An overview of our kitchen refresh
Once we collaborated on the overarching look and feel for our kitchen renovation, it was time to lock in the key kitchen makeover ideas that would be possible given our time and budget constraints.
Because you just can’t do everything. Even when you want to.
A designer’s mind is a beautiful thing, and Jo’s plan originally included:
- Update the look of our appliances
- Change all countertops (including island/table)
- Change the accent colour of cabinet hardware from stainless to brushed gold
- Replace the floor tiles with polished concrete
- Remove one cabinet and replace with floating shelves
- Modify the cabinet where our microwave shelf sat to be a full cabinet mirroring the one on the other side of the range
- Add gliding shelves strategically throughout to make cabinet space more efficient
- Add lighting above the sink
- Add pendant lights above the island/table
- Change the backsplash
- Put in a new sink and faucet
- Build a custom range hood fan
- Hang a new pantry door
- Add a calm pop of colour
Gulp. At the beginning of this process, all we’d really planned to do was change cabinet hardware, get new countertops and say hello to some fancy new appliances. But Jo’s ideas were all so amazing that we stretched our budget as far as we could to make a lot of it happen.
In the end, here’s what we agreed to do: everything listed above except the concrete floor (the $5k price tag for that alone was just too cost-prohibitive) and the pendant lights above the island. We hit a snag with the cabinet modification Jo wanted because it meant building new cabinet doors and we just didn’t want to risk them not match our existing ones. Then, I was awoken one morning with the idea of the wine shelf to make the microwave shelf cabinet go away nicely, and Jo was totally on-board for that adjustment.
Our kitchen refacing before and after pics
If there are still parts of your kitchen that you love, and you don’t have any walls to knock down, you may not need to embark on a full-scale kitchen renovation. Like us, you may only need to do a kitchen refresh — keeping some of what still works and changing or improving what doesn’t.
Here’s our small kitchen remodel before and after pics from several angles to show you the remarkable difference that a few changes can make:
Kitchen reno before & after pic No. 1
How many differences can you spot!?
Kitchen reno before & after pic No. 2
Look at the way those floating shelves and a counter-depth fridge open up the kitchen…
Kitchen reno before & after pic No. 3
We hadn’t truly been able to use this corner of our kitchen — well, not really.
What we used in our new kitchen
Whenever I pick up a home décor magazine and see all those beautiful kitchens, my favourite part of it is finding out where everything came from. So, I thought I’d do the same now that you’ve seen our kitchen refacing before and after photos.
Here goes — the Kitchen Reno Dream Team featuring the brands and service providers who helped us create our new magazine-worthy kitchen:
We chose a full suite of fingerprint-resistant stainless steel appliances (in gorgeous black stainless) before making any design decisions. We didn’t want to get to the end of the design process and have to fit appliances into the equation.
Instead, we researched the appliances that fit our lifestyle and our space first and worked with them front and centre. Turns out our research paid off; not only do our new Whirlpool black stainless appliances look incredible as focal points around our kitchen, but they’re at the top of their game function-wise, too.
Plus, WE’VE GOT KIDS! Kids are messy. All those fingerprints that somehow seem to miss the door handles of the fridge and land everywhere else…ugh. Regular stainless steel just wasn’t cutting it — we were cleaning off pesky fingerprints by the hour — and after a lot of research, we went with black stainless steel, which is naturally more fingerprint-resistant.
You can read about each of the appliances we picked (a counter-depth French Door fridge, a gas-powered range and dishwasher that features a third rack) in-depth here!
We’re looking forward to enjoying every appliance for years to come.
The minute I saw the new Empira White quartz from Caesarstone (#5151) on Jo’s mood board, I was hooked! Empira White is an interpretation of authentic Calacatta marble, a classical white quartz that has dark, almost black veins throughout.
I already knew that quartz was the right choice for us, but now that we’ve been enjoying Caesarstone quartz for a while, I can tell you that not all quartz is created equally. This has been so much more durable and easy to clean than our old quartz (which we already thought was pretty great, despite its dated pattern). Its non-porous surface means that if there’s something we can’t get off with a bit of dish soap and water, we just drip a little Vim on it and it’s as good as new.
We also shopped hard for the right countertop fabricator and installer since it was such a big part of our budget, and Rahma Granites was responsive and professional from beginning to end. They already had a great product to work with and then did an outstanding job making Caesarstone shine. If you’re anywhere in the GTA looking for a trustworthy Caesarstone dealer who’ll get the job done right the first time, the folks at Rahma should be your first phone call.
Since we already had gliding shelves in our master bathroom from many years earlier that had massively improved the way we organized our cabinet space, there was no shopping around in this category. We would have only trusted this family-owned business with such an important project, and they delivered.
Gliding Shelf measure and build everything themselves and they guarantee their products for life. We turned to them for suggestions about making our existing cabinet space work harder for us, noting our concern about losing an entire bank of cabinets to floating shelves, and their plan has actually given us even more space than we expected.
From a spice rack and several slots for large kitchen utensils to sturdier, deeper pot drawers, we don’t miss that old cabinet storage space at all.
The new shelving below the sink uses the space so much better than before that all of our cleaning products (and then some) fit under there together for the first time.
We can now fully access our L-shaped corner cabinet thanks to this handy configuration:
And Gliding Shelf also turned our hinged island door — where we keep our garbage and recycling — into a pull-out drawer:
I cannot say enough good things about this company!
When we switched our appliances to black stainless steel at the outset, Jo encouraged us to get a black sink and faucet. I spent a lot of time looking into durable black sinks and one brand came up over and over: SILIGRANIT.
Made in Canada, the composite material is easy to maintain and looks spectacular.
We chose Blanco’s new low-divide PRECIS sink with the matching Alta SILIGRANIT-look faucet — both in the Anthracite colour — and I truly can’t understand how we even did dishes before. Despite this sink being only half an inch wider and longer, it’s several inches deeper and has a more square interior, and all of these features create a much bigger in-sink work space that we love.
And even though SILIGRANIT is supposed to be chip-proof, we added sink grids to protect the bottom of the sink just in case. We have kids, after all. Finally, if you’ve got a little splurge left in your budget, the CapFlow Drain Cover is seriously gorgeous and helps hide gross foodstuffs that inevitably end up in your drain.
In many ways, even though our appliances are the jewels in the kitchen crown, I feel like our floating shelves are the star of the show.
We credit Jo’s idea to remove the cabinet above the dishwasher with probably the biggest instant transformation in her transitional kitchen design. It allows more light to travel between the little window above the sink and our big patio doors, created a gorgeous colour contrast against our dark cabinetry and provided a staging area for the “calm pop of colour” she introduced.
But finding the right floating shelves wasn’t easy. It’s harder than you may think to find store-bought shelving like this that (a) perfectly fit your space, and (b) can take more than a few pounds of weight. And being in the kitchen meant they needed to hold things like cookbooks and dishes.
After scouring local hardware stores and coming up short, we knew the best option was to have our floating shelves custom made.
Yet with the toughest piece of the equation being a sturdy mounting bracket, my quest started there. I found a company (through Amazon of all places!) in Tennessee called Walnut Wood Works that sold just such a bracket built to support up to 150 pounds worth of weight — more than triple the weight-bearing load I could find in stores. And as I read the reviews, I came across one that mentioned he’d had the company build the floating shelves to go with the brackets, too!
THIS WAS GOLD and I quickly Googled to find the website. For $250 per shelf, Walnut Wood Works made our stained walnut butcher block-style floating shelves to our specifications and shipped them across the border with their strong brackets inside of a week. Sure, we tacked on another $200 in duty and brokerage fees, but it was money very well spent to have custom perfection.
Located in both Toronto and Vancouver, Creekside Tile was a powerhouse of choice when it came to our backsplash tile options. We spent a lot of time in its Toronto showroom touching and feeling every tile that caught our eye.
I went in looking for herringbone and came out with samples for white bevelled subway tile and a 4-inch hex tile. Creekside Tile’s prices were as competitive as big box hardware stores we visited, but we got a lot of personal attention — and free samples!
Although I loved the hex, at $13 per square foot, we just didn’t like it nearly FOUR TIMES as much as the $3.52/sq.ft. bevelled subway tile. Instinctively, we also knew that subway tile would be in style for a long, long time. And we think it looks stunning in the finished product.
Oh, to be rid of a hollow builder door! It’s been one of those things I’ve wanted to do forever but I’m so glad we waited until this kitchen refresh to change our pantry door.
With two kids who are always hungry, that pantry door gets opened and closed all damn day, so having something with a good weight but still easy enough for little arms to manage was important. We chose Masonite’s Safe n’ Sound Lincoln Park slab door from Metrie, which came primed for $140, and it helped guide the shaker-style design of our custom range hood fan cover.
The Safe n’ Sound series combines the classic lines of a wood door with the durability of molded panel engineering. Ours has a solid core and is resistant to warping, shrinking and cracking. All good things.
Finally, our cabinet-maker painted the door and our range hood in the same white paint (Benjamin Moore’s Simply White) to give the illusion of two custom pieces created together. We added matte black door hardware and fresh black hinges and, all said and done, they helped move us perfectly into the transitional-style kitchen look that Jo prescribed.
Housed in an industrial area of Vaughan at the north end of the GTA, you might think that Berenson isn’t open to the public. But it is!
I was thrilled to stumble across a brand that offered soooooo many choices for cabinet hardware that looks upscale without the price tag that often comes along with luxe finishes. They walked me through all of the options that fit Jo’s mood board, and we settled on brushed gold handles for all of our cabinets with the matching knobs for our various drawers.
This single change to our existing 9.5-year old cabinets made an enormous impact. Everyone who walks in the door is shocked that we didn’t put a fresh coat of paint on them because they look brand new. Now, I may have touched up a few spots here and there with a black Sharpie (because those specialty cabinet markers and crayons are garbage, I tell you), but it’s really the Berenson hardware that restored our cabinets to their former glory.
Remember that calm pop of colour that Jo wanted to introduce into our new space to complete her transitional kitchen vision?
Enter the KitchenAid Artisan Series 5-Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer in Matte Vintage Blue — a colour so new when Jo picked it out that it didn’t even appear online. Just look at that baby…she’s stunning! I’ve never wanted a small appliance to sit on my countertop this much.
And, boy, did it ever help inform the bit of colour that we worked into the final stages of our kitchen refresh:
What to budget for a kitchen refresh (to make it look like a luxury kitchen)
A kitchen renovation can quickly spiral out of control when it comes to budget. We ended up doing and spending much more than we originally planned but, for the most part (save for a couple of unexpected obstacles), it was a conscious decision every time we added more to the bottom line. The key is to have trusted partners who stay on-budget once you lock down your final design.
An affordable kitchen remodel is possible, but you have to make wise choices along the way. If you’ve got a budget range with a reasonable contingency built in and you follow it carefully, you’ll be fine. If you’re presented with ideas, materials, finishes and furniture that don’t fall anywhere near your comfort zone, push back. Remember: you’re in charge!
It’s OK to say “no” to your designer or contractor or painter. This is YOUR home and YOUR money and there are always less expensive options for those who are resourceful.
The cost of appliances and kitchen countertops will probably be your biggest expense as you budget for a kitchen refresh, but they’ll also make the biggest difference in the final look. This is a big part of where our WOW came from when we saw what our kitchen looked like before and after.
Our project isn’t what I’d call a budget kitchen remodel; cheap kitchen renovations are a nice idea, but they don’t produce the “magazine effect” we were after. This wasn’t a flip — this is our beloved hub of our home, and we wanted it to be special.
I’m not sure what average cost of small kitchen remodel is in the ‘burbs, but here’s a kitchen remodel estimate you can use if you want to make the kinds of changes we did in our space (which is approximately 14’ x 12.5’):
- New fridge, range & dishwasher suite in Whirlpool’s black stainless steel = $9k
- New countertops installed (including large island/table combo in premium Caesarstone quartz with an expert fabricator like Rahma) = $6-7k including installation (add $200-300 if they have to remove old countertops for you first)
- Bevelled subway tile (55-60 sq.ft.) for new backsplash = $200
- SILIGRANIT double sink, faucet, grids and strainer covers = $1,500
- 26-inch wide floating shelves on 150-pound bracket = US$750 for three (plus $200 for duties)
- Solid-core 24”x80” door, professionally painted with new hardware and hinges = $260
- Moderately priced cabinet hardware for an average suburban kitchen = $600-700
- Gliding Shelf Solution sliding shelves as shown = $2k
- Styling (four new chairs with added sheepskin rugs for seat covers; plates, platters, plants and other kitchenware) = $1k
- Custom range hood fan cover = $2k (this includes the fan insert and a cabinet-maker to custom make the cover)
- Lighting = $65+
- Other stuff like paint, grout, screws, drywall, plaster and more = $500
- Electrical work (you MUST spend the money and hire a licensed electrician to ensure you don’t mess with your home insurance); this will vary depending on how much work you need done = $250+
Labour is your biggest variable and not something I can estimate well for you here because it’ll depend on where you live and how much market competition you have in your favour, how honest your contractor is, along with a host of other things.
Here’s my advice: Get three quotes. Go with someone who respects your budget and your time and who isn’t going to markup things like drywall screws from the hardware store. Always get personal references. Ask questions and trust your gut. If you’re in the east end of the GTA, Durham Region and Clarington, Brian Parsons (905-626-2530) is my go-to contractor and has done all of the work in our house at very fair rates. He’s a perfectionist. And an honest one.
SPECIAL THANKS TO: Brian for another expert renovation project done on time and on budget as always; and Jeurgen (905-434-9201) for building our beautiful range hood cover and wine rack, and saving us from cabinet disaster when our fridge wouldn’t fit. Folks, these guys will take amazing care of you and create the space of your dreams without taking advantage of your pocketbook.
DISCLAIMER: I partnered with several of the preferred brands mentioned in this post to provide you with detailed information about designing, budgeting for and completing a kitchen refresh. I hope it’s been helpful! All opinions are my own.