before and afterDIY

Before & After: A Queens Townhouse Kitchen Gets a Chic Update

by Maxwell Tielman


There is a type of kitchen cabinetry that, if you’ve ever rented or owned an apartment, you are likely to be familiar with. I’m not sure where it’s from —I can’t recall seeing its generic beveled edges and mid-tone wood staining in any store I’ve ever visited—but if I had to guess, I would say that it was handpicked directly from Hell. Over the course of my life as an apartment-renter in New York City, this dreadful apartment cabinetry has haunted me from one dwelling to the next, thwarting any attempts to otherwise spruce up the space with its abject ugliness. This is why I have a special place in my heart for the brave, handier-than-myself souls who choose to valiantly vanquish these vile cabinets from their living spaces. This kitchen/living room space, from the Queens Townhouse of Bespoke Only’s Melissa Lee, does this and more. Faced with a living space that had all the fixings of a poorly realized 1990s renovation (wall-to-wall carpeting, disastrously subdivided rooms, and the aforementioned CABINETS OF DOOM), Melissa wasted no time in completely gutting the entire apartment. “We removed the walls that used to divide the the old kitchen, the adjacent living room and a small bedroom,” Melissa says. “The result was an airy and expansive layout that completely transformed the flow as well as the overall feel in this home.” With beautiful Russian oak flooring, stunning modern furniture, and new cabinets from IKEA (holla!), the space has gone from dull and drab to completely beautiful. Check out the rest of the photos plus Melissa’s design notes and sources after the jump! —Max

After photos courtesy of Miho Aikawa Photography

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“One thing to note is despite its high-end appeal, the kitchen was in fact done with a friendly budget—Ikea cabinets and appliances were installed for their clean and classic style and the reasonable price tag. A waterfall island imparts a design that is equally minimalistic and exquisite. White quartz with grey speckles was chosen for the countertop for the marble-like look yet with easy maintenance in mind. We peeled off the plaster wall that used to cover the old chimney and exposed the bricks underneath. The brick wall was painted white in order to compliment the other clean & simple design elements in this kitchen.”

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Kitchen Sources & Budget Breakdown

  • Cabinets and appliances: $7500 – IKEA
  • Quartz countertop: $2550 – sourced in a local store
  • Double pendant on top of the island: $229 – Restoration Hardware
  • Refrigerator: $2000 – Samsung
  • Backsplash: $200 *subway tile is great for its price and the classic look. The grey grout provided definition in a sea of white. – sourced in a local store
  • Runner: $90 – Dash & Albert
  • Labor & plumbing: $5000 *as part of the entire construction work

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  • Such a fantastic transformation!

    Our condo is “blessed” with these same cabinets (except, with gold-finish handles) and I dream of making them over. Replacing them isn’t really an option for me (cost- or effort-wise) so I’d love to see someone actually just make them look nice. Somehow? Is it even possible? :P

  • Lovely countertops! Who is the maker? Is it Hanstone Tranquility? Or another maker? I’m working on plans to remodel our kitchen and would really like to know because I want the same kind of look.

  • Love this.

    I’ve been a renter my entire adult life and I’d rather deal with those mousy brown cabinets over BEIGE VERTICAL BLINDS any day.

  • love the counters, are they Cambria? looks so fresh and bright! i’m a little confused about the layout changes – was it just an underutilized dining room or did you end up converting most/all of your living room into dining space? and was the refrigerator always on the long wall or did you do more work to build it in over there? great job!

  • Yes, to Kristan and Max, how do we make those cabinets look better without replacing them? I have them in my rental (that I’ll be in for another 2 years). My guess is to buy new doors?

  • Gorgeous upgrade! Kristen, try flipping the doors inside out, and covering the surface with wall covering to fill the holes from the hardware. This could even be done with temporary wall paper to change it back to satisfy your landlord.

  • Great transformation! I am always happy to see Ikea cabinets used in high-end appeal renos. I’m curious about whether this was part of a broader renovation– did they do away with the living space, or did it move somewhere else? I can’t quite tell from the photos, but it looks like the dining table is where the sofa/TV used to be– is that right?

  • Does anyone have long-term experience with IKEA cabinets? How well do they hold up?

  • Lovely kitchen, and I don’t care for the “before” cabinets either. However, they were the cabinets I grew up with, and my parents felt fortunate to have solid oak. It feels wrong for me to be too critical of something that was once a significant step up for many people. Just a thought.

    On another note, I too will be curious to learn how IKEA cabinets hold up in a more sophisticated renovation.

  • Great to see that even in such a small kitchen you can have double ovens. Such a beautiful and inspiring makeover. Thank you for sharing!

  • Thank you everyone for your kind words!

    Floor – Siberian Floors in Tribeca
    Dining room pendant – Circa Lighting
    Countertop – Quartz Master in New Jersey
    Counter stool: White on White Furniture
    Cowhide – Ikea

    Regarding the layout: The current dining/living space is joint by 3 small rooms before: kitchen, living room and a bedroom. We removed all walls that used to divide these rooms to create one open floor plan. What’s not shown here is the living room part, which was once the bedroom. And the refrigerator was part of the long wall in the original house already – we did not need to change that.

    The AFTER photos are courtesy of Miho Aikawa Photography.

  • I too have these “handpicked from hell” cabinets (laughed so hard at that). I daydream daily about having a) a bathroom sink that isn’t tiny and squeezed between two walls, b) a walk in closet so my clothes don’t forever spill over into the dining area and c) a kitchen much like Grace Bonney’s! As for SIOBHAN’s comment—that before and after, while impressive, had better shaped cabinets to begin with. Even if I painted these, they’d still have those damn cracker barrelesque arches. Also, whoever installed my cabinets is like 6’5 because being 5’4, I can only reach the first shelf (the second on my tippy toes).

  • How do you like the Ikea appliances? Very hard to find any information on them! They are great looking, I’m interested in installing them.

  • Looks nice, but I’m wondering where the refrigerator is. Also, personally, I’d like some color somewhere, but a nice B&W kitchen stays classic-looking over time.

  • What a wonderful transformation. Could you share the source for the dining room light fixture?

  • i’m in the throes of dealing with those exact mid-brown cabinets now (with straight tops). only thing: the innards of mine are beautiful, with custom pull-out drawers and shelves. solid wood and dovetailed and so expensive to replace with same quality. but the doors are that inexplicable oak. and my fella (like all men?) loves the oak color, so paint is out. soooo. i’m going all the way, the other way. we’re polishing up the cupboards. putting deep, matte quartz on the counters, deep tones on the walls. it’ll be about comfort and texture…aquamarine, loden green and a shot of chartreuse somewhere. floors are dark wood and beautiful. there is a way to make friends with those cupboards, but i do feel your pain. good luck to everyone in the same boat — er — drawer.

  • The fridge is directly across the white brick wall. You can see a little bit of its door and handles from the 4th photo in this post.

    Wall paint – Benjamin Moore, “Stonington Gray”

    Also to clarify, this is an interior project we worked on for a client – not my own residence. I do wish it is though!

  • This is really beautiful, but I have one question – is this an apartment that Melissa owns?

  • We also did not have the money for all new cabinets so we took off the fronts, bought solid pine that was as wide as the doors, cut out the centers, and replaced them with thick ridged glass. We did the counters with concrete on the surfaces where there would be no cutting, and ceramic that looks really similar to the concrete in places where we would be cutting bread etc. We have a 1914 home with a kitchen that had been remodeled in the 70s, and we feel that we kind of took it back to 1914 again.

  • This kitchen remodel is stunning! I love how the subway tile plays off the white exposed brick and there’s just something so gorgeous about waterfall islands. I’ve seen several kitchens redone with Ikea cabinets and they have been stunning, but I too am curious about the quality and durability.

  • Thanks, Teresa. The article from Kraig Kalashian at Pocono Modern is very helpful. I like the idea of combining Ikea cabinetry with Semihandmade doors.

  • OMG, SERIOUSLY! EVERY apartment I’ve lived in has cabinets like that. There must be some written code that only landlords know about that specify those are the ONLY cabinets that are allowed!

  • Wow! This transformation is fan-TASTIC! I love how much space it allowed for you afterwards. Completely changes the mood of the place!

  • Hi there! We are in the process of choosing a quartz — is this Tranquility by Hanstone or Cabmria Torquay? I’m so torn between the two and would love to know what you went with and if you still love it!

    Many, many thanks!! :)

  • I’ve been admiring white kitchens and love what you did in transforming your space, it truly is a lovely kitchen.

  • Late to the party here – but what kind of flooring is that? Tile or real wood? I love it.