kitchen interior recycled

Kitchens can be SO expensive.  And SO gorgeous.  How do you get gorgeous on a budget?

I often see images (whether of interiors or clothes or gardens) that I covet, and then mull for weeks over how to create that look affordably.  The design-work is the part that makes it look amazing – so if you have a clear design that you love, imitating can be a lot less expensive than paying for the creation of something new.

kitchen interior recycled

Firstly (I love this bit) do your homework – look at lots of picture and cut out all the photos of kitchens you like.  (Not out of library books – out of magazines.)  Gathering all your photos and images together, work out the common themes.  This will help you work out what you like.  Is it a colour?  The flagstone floor?  Do you like the antique pot racks with copper saucepans hanging down?  Or do you prefer glass cabinets?  Or wood?

Getting this clear in your head at the start save expensive mistakes later on….

kitchen interior recycled

Then have a good honest look at your current kitchen.  Is the layout working?  If so, it might be possible to leave the cabinets and either paint or change the doors.  This is a great solution as it is inexpensive and environmentally friendly.  If you’re going to attempt to paint the doors yourself, take them off and paint them elsewhere.  This way, you’ll be able to get to the bits inside the hinges and so on, without making a mess in your kitchen.

small galley kitchen white

Ensure you use durable paint (you don’t want it chipping off).  And make sure you sand and prepare well – for the same reason.

If you are painting them yourself, you could consider a different colour for the inside of cupboard doors – as inspired by Scott Weston here.

If not, you’ll have to pull it all out.

Firstly – don’t chuck the old kitchen.  You may well find a taker on eBay who is prepared to dismantle and take away your old kitchen for re-use.  I gave mine to a home for small children – they came and took it and used it.  I was so thrilled!

kitchen before renovation

I changed mine for a number of reasons:

1. The left hand wall (you can’t quite see in the photo) was floor-to-ceiling cupboards with no bench space.  You can see, above, the other bench space.  Basically there wasn’t any!  And I love to cook.

2. The veneer on the cupboards was very old, very dated.  It was starting to peel and to turn a strange pinkish shade.

3. The pink splodgy marble bench top was about the most hideous thing I could imagine.

But I still lived with it for three years!  (yup – that’s the before and after – above and below…)

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop

I changed the design so that the bench extended all round the edge.  This greatly improved the kitchen’s usability.  And I re-did the whole thing for less than $8,000.


1. If your appliances (oven, dishwasher etc) are working fine, then keep them.  This will save you thousands.  Most appliances these days last at least a decade.

2. Custom-made kitchens are the most expensive.  And having your own cupboards built will not make them more durable in any way.  Almost 15 years ago I saw the most amazing kitchen I’d ever seen in an architect’s home in London, so I now always buy the brand he recommended. His kitchen was the ultimate in chic and desirability.  I couldn’t quite believe it when he said… IKEA. 

Yup!  I know.  Hard to believe. 

But in actual fact, more time is spent on the design, more rigour is put into the durability, and it has more flexibility than most other kitchens.  They have a 10 year guarantee against paint chipping etc!

 kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop window

3. Consider wood for the bench top.  I actually love the look of wooden bench tops, but they are also hugely practical.  They don’t require large amounts of marble to be mined and transported.  They can be fitted immediately (unlike man-made stone which has to be moulded to size over several weeks).  A monthly oil (with linseed oil) keeps them fresh and water-tight.  And if anything terrible happens you can always sand them back.

I’ve had mine installed for 4 years, and the wood is as good as new.  Wood also has anti-bacterial properties, which makes it a hygienic choice too.

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop chopping board

4. Have it professionally fitted.  I got a fabulous carpenter to install this kitchen as he can make it look far more professional than I ever could.  He actually cut the bench tops to fit into the glass bricks (before there was a separate sill there – this solution not only look better, it bought me more bench top).

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop glass bricks

5. Install your upper cabinets up to ceiling height (look at the divine kitchen below – I love how they’ve done it there).  This does a number of things: firstly it prevents dust and dirt congregating on top of the cabinets.  Secondly, it gives you the wonderful vertical lines and height I talked about with curtains.  And finally, it will look far more finished and elegant.  They don’t have to be real cabinets that function – just the doors cut to size will work perfectly.

high ceiling kitchen white cabinet interiors

Make sure you build in niches and space for things YOU use.  I wanted a shelf for cookbooks, room for glass jars… so I included them in the design.

To break up the look, I used glass-fronted cabinets above.  This also had the effect of making the glass bricks look ‘meant’ (rather than just dated).

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop glass bricks cherries

I changed the lighting too and installed lights under the cabinets above the bench – which is the spot you want brightly lit.

I’m lucky to have a lovely view out of the kitchen – so I made sure this was as uncluttered as possible.

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop window

Things to avoid:

1. If you choose a strong colour for the cabinets, it is likely to look dated over time.  If you want a strong colour, why not use it on the walls?  (I have also heard at least one terrible story of the strong colour for the upper cabinets not matching exactly the colour on the lower ones.  Ouch!)

2. Don’t use marble or granite for bench tops unless you are fully aware of the drawbacks of porous stone.  Beetroot and red wine will stain these.

3. Splashback fashion changes.  Stainless steel is looking very last millennium.  Go for something timeless – simple tiles or even untinted glass (which is what I chose – although most of mine are glass brick).

4.  Open shelves are very fashionable – but you may regret it.  Kitchens generate huge amounts of dirt from cooking and open shelves (and their contents) will quickly become dirty.

Above all, think about how you will use it.  And if you don’t cook – don’t get a fancy kitchen!  Spend your money where you’ll appreciate it.

Gosh, my posts are getting long aren’t they?  Too much to talk about!