Step Inside a Well-Appointed Kitchen Made Even Better By a Surprise $25 Design Hack

Cool California style kitchen with teal cabinets.

Sara Tramp

Designer Velinda Hellen met many challenges when it came to her first solo project. She was hired to take on the renovation of a family’s kitchen in East Los Angeles, but with dark, oddly-divided rooms, a large wishlist, and a builder-grade budget, she had to get creative.

The clients, Meredith and Olly, are both professional chefs and purchased the 1956-built home in 2016. They were hoping to transform the home into something much more open concept that the existing choppy floor plan, which included a galley-style kitchen alongside dysfunctional living and dining rooms.

“The space had mismatched flooring and updates from the 90s," Hellen recalls. "There was very little countertop or work space, and the living space lacked natural light. It felt dingy, dated, and didn’t reflect my spirited clients at all."

The couple, who describe themselves as people that don’t adhere to a style, showed the designer a variety of inspiration photos with a mix of Scandinavian, boho, rustic farmhouse, Spanish, English pub—Olly is British—and post-modern influences. Hellen wanted to give them something special while sticking to their tight budget. 

Teal kitchen island in white kitchen with white pendant lights.

Sara Tramp

The project, which began just one week before the lockdown hit in March 2020, led the kitchen renovation to stretch for nearly a year due to company shutdowns, lead times, and cautions when it came to the number of people allowed on site. But, that didn’t discourage the designer.

She started by creating a 3D rendering and removing the dividing wall, which led to an open layout, which was at the top of the client’s brief. To maximize the budget, Semihandmade DIY Shaker fronts were chosen as they give a high-quality, custom look for less.

Hellen kept the original placement of the refrigerator, but went for functional storage around, which now includes a drink station. Texture and interest was added into these cubby spaces via cane backing she picked up for just $25, while additional storage was made possible throughout thanks to peg boards. “I wanted to maximize every inch possible in this small kitchen," she says. 

I wanted to maximize every inch possible in this small kitchen.

Stainless steel fridge with two drink cubby areas next to it.

Sara Tramp

While functionality was key, blending the couple’s varied design personalities was equally fun as it was a creatively challenging task. Hellen notes that she went for wood and linen finishes, neutral shapes, bold color, traditional brass finishes and modernity through sculptural pops of black. To make the expense-conscious design look even more custom, she purchased vintage pendants from Amsterdam Modern and a vintage runner off of Etsy. 

Overview of kitchen.

Sara Tramp

The backsplash is from Fireclay tile, a lovely star pattern that plays against the bright blue cabinetry. Then, there’s one of the couple’s favorite details in their new kitchen: the spice storage.

“We realized we could extend the island another seven inches while keeping our needed clearances,” she says. “As my clients are cooks, I thought it would be a fun spot to pull in some useful styling."

This ended up being the perfect spot for a shallow, open-storage solution. Brass bars store anything they may need quickly at-hand, all placed in child-proofed plastic jars to keep toddler curiosity at bay. 

Kitchen island with storage rack for spice jars.

Sara Tramp

This kitchen has been completely transformed from bare and lackluster to a space that is bright, whimsical, and organized.

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