before and afterDIY

An outdated kitchen gets a head-to-toe makeover

by Maxwell Tielman

Design*Sponge | Kitchen Transformation


Photography by Anna M. Campbell

When architect Michael Howells was commissioned to redesign the kitchen in Magda Gianola and Holly Hinson’s Portland home, he faced something of a conundrum. The house, on one hand, was a stately 1908 Victorian. The couple’s furniture was mid-century Modern. The kitchen, unfortunately, was neither. Previously renovated during that sad, indeterminate period of time when faux-stone and laminate were all the rage, the room was a disjointed hodgepodge, neither historically appropriate nor tasteful enough to warrant the mismatched juxtaposition. “It was dated, generic, and didn’t function very well,” Howells notes. It clearly needed an update! Using the couple’s taste in Modernist furniture as a jumping-off point, Howells chose a look that was contemporary, but still elegant enough to live harmoniously with the rest of the home’s architecture. With custom-designed black walnut cabinetry, gunmetal tiles from Heath Ceramics, and fresh new appliances, the space is a veritable breath of fresh air—classic and distinct all at once. Continue after the jump for more photos and Michael Howells’ design notes! —Max


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Source List:

  • Tile—Heath Ceramics, color: gunmetal
  • Cabinetry—Oregon Black Walnut; architect-designed
  • Floors—Oak, to match existing at the rest of the house
  • Countertops—Quartzite
  • Sink–Shaws
  • Faucet–Kohler
  • Ceiling light fixture—Jasper Morrison Glo-Ball from DWR
  • Appliances: KitchenAid


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  • Wow! Love the style and clearly the layout (and counter space) has been greatly improved. I love the bold black subway tile and the idea of running it vertically. The wooden handles on the cabinets were also cool touch that I can’t decide is rustic or modern (maybe both, somehow?).

  • I really like the unusual choices made – like the tile & cabinets. And the counter – wow! Gorgeous!

    thanks for sharing!

  • Curious why you decided to lay your tiles vertically. Overall, I like the new kitchen – beautiful cabinets and a great layout, but the tiles are throwing me off visually.

  • love this! I think I know one of the owners of this kitchen from med school! what a small world.

  • The wood of the cabinetry is exquisite; the Oregon walnut looks similar to rosewood. It also looks as though the handles are custom milled of the same wood. It is great to see a project with this amount of attention to detail. Great finish selections!

  • We love the before and after you always show guys!! The space they got in the kitchen now is much clean and the light flows easier there…smart choice in the countertop!!

    We love to do before and after also in our blog by ourself!! still not that big like this one but the improvement we get in the house are awesome :)

  • I would like to give a special hurrah for the skylight and expanded window over the sink! The extra light seems make the beautiful dark wood and tiles work without making the space cave-like. Thank you for sharing!

  • I quite like the tiles! I love that they’re gunmetal rather than black (I did have to look hard to see that but it’s really nice). What beautiful wood cupboards, I’m not hot on the handles but that’s a really minor thing. I laughed at the architect’s list of steps though, he makes it sound so easy!

  • Definitely an improvement! My favorite things are the all-glass door and the new window above the sink- adds light to the deeper tones of the wood and tile. I like the tile, but not the vertical placement. I think that’s going to look dated in too short a time.

  • Simple and stunning–makes me want to see the rest of the Victorian house dressed in mid-century mod furniture. (I’d have trouble with the vertical tiles, too; just greatly prefer horizontal planks and tiles. But the vertical tiles do pull the eye up, along with the vertical grain of the cabinets.) The color and dynamic movement of the wood grain make those cabinets so very beautiful.

  • love the strong wood grain of the wood choice. gorgeous! and, I love the brown tile…such a warm kitchen compared to the white and gray we’ve been seeing for so long.

  • This has to be one of my top favorite kitchens. LOVE the vertical tile, and the colors chosen. The natural light bouncing around will highlight the quality materials and workmanship beautifully. It still has the old-timey house feel yet clean, fresh and modern. Ladies, may you enjoy many more years of happy cooking!

  • Such a stunning, beautiful, clean lined transformation. Congratulations to all concerned– how lovely.

  • Such a beau girl transformation. Fabulous ones , gorgeous colors, highly efficient kitchen. Congrats. All around

  • Separately, I love the new pieces. Cabinets. tile and counters are gorgeous. But together, it’s too dark for me. I need light when I work in the kitchen. So much improved over the before. 12 weeks for the renovation of one room seems like an awfully long time. What did the owners do for cooking in that period?

  • such beautiful cabinets, I would love to have these. re tiles: although it’s a nice change to the usual brick layout design I’m not sure i would have done this. .. i’m also not so sold on is the ceiling light. think it could have been lower and bigger –

    fab layout though :)

  • I must say, I would prefer the “before” kitchen. I would have changed a few things (shelves and such) , but overall I think it was much cozier. I love the skylight, and the cabinets are gorgeous. But the rest of it is so cold and terrifying! :)

  • Thank you so much to Design*Sponge for running my project–and to everyone for your generous comments. To answer Rebecca’s question about the vertical placement of the tiles: horizontal subway tile is ubiquitous and there’s no special reason for it, so this seemed like a good opportunity to do something different. Also, there’s a kind of an inside joke connected to the tile: the pattern has a monogram in it. One of the owners’ initials is HH. I got a kick out of thinking Holly’s initials would be stamped all over her kitchen!

    To the commenter who asked what the owners did for 12 weeks without a kitchen: I design a lot of kitchens and the time frame is almost always 12 weeks for construction on a gut remodel like this. It’s the only way the job gets done well. Kitchens are expensive to renovate and good detailing is often sacrificed for speed. So my clients tend to do a toaster oven and take-out marathon. By the time their kitchens are done, they are definitely ready to cook in them!

  • It feels a bit dark to me, but I love the unexpected use of VERTICAL subway tiles. I have never seen that before – it really draws the eye upward and makes the ceiling seem higher.

  • I love every detail in this kitchen, but the cabinets stand out as the shining star in this renovation! They are amazing!

  • Love the dark wood! Too many people pot for pale or white kitchens to make them seem bigger, but there is no need as this kitchen proves.

  • Like the vertical tiles which visually expands the space between the counter and the cabinets. Twelve weeks for a total kitchen remodel is average if not better than average. I’ve known people who have waited up to six months due to all kinds of delays. I have the very same KitchenAid oven/stove. Hope theirs works better than mine. When I used the cleaning feature, the electrical panel shorted and it needed expensive repairs. In fact, all my new KitchenAid (fridge, stove, dishwasher) appliances needed repairs within four years. They don’t make appliances like they used to.

  • This is just so so gorgeous! I want to lean up against that pantry and embrace that sexy wood, uhhum, you know what i mean. The twist on ubiquitous kitchen elements (subway tile vertical, light and dark inverted on back splash and counter) makes it so unique, and the tile accentuates the beautiful vertical grain in the cabinetry, where horizontal would compete.
    I hope you eat and drink merrily in this beauty!

  • For anyone going through a kitchen remodel, I suggest adding a crock pot to your rotation.

  • Love how warmth and a clean look were achieved at the same time. Gorgeous kitchen! Love the little bulldog too.

  • I am trying to figure out how to change my kitchen and these walnut cabinets are speaking to me. Nice change over all and much more functional.

  • I agree with Rebecca about the tiles. It hurts to look at them the wrong way round, but maybe that just means O’m anally retentive. LOL. It just doesn’t work for me. All the rest is great, although far darker than I would have personally chosen, but I’m a light maven. Can’t get enough.

  • I love the vertical placement (I’ve done the same in my bathroom) and I love the drama the materials. White cabinets and dark grey counters and white subway tiles are so boring. Thank you or sharing a project that doesn’t just look like everyone’s pinterest boards!

  • Love that you placed the subway tiles on their sides. This is slowly becoming the new thing. Beautiful all around!