It’s been a full year since my husband,
Austin, and I bought our fixer-upper home in Des Moines, IA. We’ve been working room-by-room to transform it into a more livable, beautiful space. When we moved in, we were charmed by the kitchen’s retro feel with metal cabinets and the enamel drainboard sink. We switched out the appliances, adjusted the layout a bit and added butcher block counters. We made the kitchen work well enough for the first 6 months, but by July, it was obvious that the rusty cabinet sides were disintegrating faster than we anticipated. Since Austin and I weren’t exactly planning to gut our kitchen and start over so soon, finding a frugal way to do it all took some creativity. I came up with a design that used hardware store stock materials and required we do most of the work ourselves with the help of family.
The greyish-green lower cabinets, charcoal floors, a black sink and recycled glass countertops are some of my favorite elements of our new kitchen. I love how cohesive the space looks even though a lot of the material decisions were made in the moment in the store aisles. There are definitely spots that tell on us that this was a DIY project but as a whole, the space feels finished and refined. I’m incredibly proud of us and this kitchen. I hope you enjoy it! —
Photography by Austin Day
The first time we saw this house listed online, there weren't any pictures of the kitchen. After seeing images of holes in ceilings, torn up floors and rotten wood in the bathroom, we assumed that the kitchen was a nightmare. What we found was a filthy but cute kitchen from the 1930s or 40s that was really workable.
The kitchen after we gutted it with the help of my parents.
We kept the metal cabinets and this wooden bread making station and hope to arrange them in the basement as a workspace and tool storage.
I wanted to use the height of the ceilings to our advantage so we stacked a smaller wall cabinet on top of a standard wall cabinet to take storage up to the ceiling.
Painting the windows black was the last thing we did. It was always the plan to do it, but since they were already white and things felt airy in the space, I was reluctant to paint them. Austin felt strongly that it would tie in the floor and appliances even more and have the feel we were wanting. Like always, I'm thankful for the design decisions he pushes for. I love how the black windows look.
I was really surprised when I found these subway tiles with a handmade look to them at Lowe's. We installed them vertically stacked to do something a little different.
The stove next to the door didn't seem like the best layout so we relocated it and were able to add a dishwasher and loads more counter space.
As much as I loved the original sink, it was so large and hard to clean around that we ultimately decided to go without it.
I love the color we ended up choosing for the lower cabinets. It took about 16 swatches before I finally chose one. We used a paint sprayer to spray both the upper and lower cabinets. Originally, we weren't going to spray the uppers since they came white but the very top cabinets and the standard wall cabinets were noticeably different white hues.
Mixing metals in the space felt intimidating at first. We had replaced the overhead light with a brass and glass light fixture before we really had a plan for the space. The black stainless appliances made it natural to bring in black metals and the accessories we already had were mostly copper. When I found these ivory and brass knobs and pulls, the light didn't feel quite as odd. Later I found a pendant light for over the sink that brought the brass and black together as well. I'm really glad things aren't too matchy now.
The only air vent in the kitchen was on this wall. I assumed we'd need to have shelving instead of a cabinet above the stove. Austin figured out he could route the vent up behind the molding and out the side by the doorway to the family room. It makes it look so much nicer.
This is the view from the back entry and it makes me so happy every time I come home and open the door. I can’t believe we did this for how little we spent in comparison to having it done by a contractor or designer.
It was absolutely a ton of work but the savings, the slow design and personal touches make it worth it.
The countertops were our biggest splurge in the kitchen. While we were good with everything else being on the low-end, knowing the counters would get a bunch of use and would elevate the look of the rest of the kitchen, we decided to go with a recycled glass in resin counter called Curava.
We built this refrigerator surround out of 20-inch deep maple boards and a 12-inch deep wall cabinet so the cabinet isn't actually as deep as it looks.
We had the countertop company make a tiny piece of counter for this spot between the back door and the fridge for a place to set keys.
Wall Paint – “Pure White” by Sherwin-Williams
Appliances – Whirlpool
Lower Cabinet Paint – Granite Dust in Valspar Cabinet Enamel
Charcoal Floor Tile