Designers Show Us How to Give a Dated Kitchen a Drool-Worthy Makeover

Updated 09/17/19
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updated kitchen
Monica Wang ; DESIGN: Studio McGee

When stylish Los Angeles–based interior designer Anne Sage joined forces with equally stylish design firm Studio McGee to revamp her kitchen, we knew it was going to be good—really good. When they first embarked on the renovation, the space was dated and small, but to combat this they rethought the layout, landed on a color scheme, and maximized storage space for a functional and gorgeous kitchen.

"Our biggest goal was to make the kitchen functional: a place where I could indulge my love of cooking without feeling hampered by the limitations of my environment," Sage told MyDomaine. "When we first moved in, the house had only an efficiency-size gas range, and a full-size washer and dryer were eating up a ton of space where the countertops should have been. Plus, the cabinets hadn't been updated since the house was originally built and were literally falling apart. Needless to say, it was a nightmare situation for [a designer] who spends a lot of time in the kitchen."

If you need advice on what to prioritize and how to get started on your own remodel, hear about the lessons learned during Sage's kitchen remodel below.

Maximize Usable Space

modern kitchen
Monica Wang ; DESIGN: Studio McGee
"From a design perspective, the trickiest aspect of this project was working with the small footprint of our kitchen," Sage said. "The room measures only nine-by-12 feet! Plus, with nowhere else in the house to put our washer/dryer unit, we had to include a spot for those appliances along with all the standard kitchen appliances."

Studio McGee pulled the trigger and decided to gut the entire room.

"We changed the layout pretty considerably, switching the gas outlet to a different wall so that we could fit that gorgeous black stainless KitchenAid range," Sage said. "We also moved the location of the washer/dryer hookup so that we could install compact Whirlpool stacking units and hide them behind the pantry cupboards."

Not only did this open up usable space for functional purposes, but it also made a huge difference in the overall look.

modern kitchen
Monica Wang ; DESIGN: Studio McGee

Sage decided to not to replace the upper cabinets after tearing them out—instead opting to install only lower cabinets.

"The resulting design beautifully enhances the streamlined effect of Semihandmade's slab cabinet doors, and we made up for lost storage by building a sleek floor-to-ceiling pantry unit," she said.

Land on a Balanced Color Scheme

modern kitchen
Monica Wang ; DESIGN: Studio McGee

Picking a color scheme is probably the hardest hurdle to get over during a remodel. You don't want it to be too extreme or too boring; you want it to bring you joy but also feel calming; and you want it to speak to your personal style. Those are some pretty tall orders. Sage worked with McGee to elevate this kitchen from a simple black, white, and gray color scheme to one with plenty of intrigue and nuance. "It's a richly layered palette consisting of everything on the grayscale," according to Sage.

"We knew that to maximize the sense of space in my postage stamp–size kitchen, we'd be wise to choose a palette on the lighter end of the spectrum to bounce as much natural sunlight as possible," Sage said.

The smoky wood grain cupboards play with the matte gray tones in the floor tiles and white matte counters, as well as the glazed brick backsplash, which is "quite multidimensional, with tones ranging from glowing white to pale ash," designer Shea McGee of Studio McGee told MyDomaine.

But perhaps the most brilliant color choice is the striking matte black stainless finish of the appliances.

"They provide drama as well as a sense of gravitas to the room," McGee said.

modern kitchen
Monica Wang ; DESIGN: Studio McGee
"It's easy to forget that your appliances can help you achieve the mixed metals look," McGee said. "The matte black appliances are striking against the lighter colors, pair really well with the brass hardware, and play perfectly into the overall color scheme."

In other words, even the most functional of items can enhance a design scheme.

Focus on the Details

modern kitchen
Monica Wang ; DESIGN: Studio McGee

Small details like lighting and hardware can go a long way.

"If lighting and hardware are like the jewelry of a room, then this kitchen is a 1970s Laurel Canyon bohemian wearing weighty brass bangles she brought home from a trip to Morocco," Sage said. "The unlacquered brass finish on our Waterworks faucet is acquiring a gorgeous patina over time, and the satin brass on our Schoolhouse Electric sconces and Rejuvenation hardware adds both warmth and glamour to this otherwise spare space. And earthy, tone-on-tone textures create a sense of abundance and warmth in the absence of many colors."
modern kitchen
Monica Wang ; DESIGN: Studio McGee

Plus, the lower cabinets and open shelving keep Sage's surfaces clutter-free, giving her eyes (and brain) a break from the visual noise she encounters during the course of the day. Another perk? The open shelving on the walls allows her to display her chic cookware and serveware so they can double as décor.

"Since I'm a pretty serious collector of kitchenwares—that's a nice way of saying I'm a dishes and ceramics hoarder—I was so excited that the kitchen design included a long open shelf to style a rotating display of my latest acquisitions," Sage said. "The current mix of small items in these photos is all from McGee & Co.'s one-stop-shop of gorgeous décor. The textures are layered and organic—there's a dynamic mix of concrete and glass, exposed-grain wood, and honed marble—and the style is a warm, inviting balance between timeworn and modern."

Make the Space Flow

home entryway
Monica Wang ; DESIGN: Studio McGee

Sage's front door opens up right into a little nook that bleeds into the kitchen area. So creating a little nook that separates the entrance from the kitchen was a small but major achievement. Each item picks up on the colors and textures that anchor the kitchen. For example, the matte black appliances complement the framed wall art, while the rattan bench and curtains speak to the neutral tiling and cabinets. Some warmth is brought in with a sheepskin throw, a bright area rug, and understated pillows, making it feel decidedly different from the kitchen area while still being cohesive.

home entryway
Monica Wang ; DESIGN: Studio McGee
"We did have to make a doorway smaller to accommodate the counter depth," Sage said. "In choosing a new door, we opted for a vintage three-panel one from the Habitat for Humanity store, so that the new door would match all the other doors in the house. Even a little detail like that makes a big difference."

This little nook, along with the gorgeous kitchen itself, is a serious sanctuary.

"Starting my day here, brewing my coffee as the sun peeks through the window and glances off the tile backsplash, provides a sense of calm and order that grounds me for a busy day ahead," Sage said.

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