Before & After: A Cave-Like Cook Space Gets an Airy, Dream Kitchen IKEA Makeover

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When interior decorator Katie Woodman and her husband, Joseph, first found their split-level house in Ft. Collins, Colorado, they fell hard for its unique features including a treehouse-like upper deck, a huge wood-burning fireplace, vaulted ceilings, and a large solarium perfect for plant babies. For as much charm as the home packed though, some of the ‘70s era quirks just didn’t mesh with the couple’s aesthetic, from orange floral carpeting and popcorn ceilings to dark wood doors and trim plus a few weirdly-placed walls, the worst of which was bringing their cook space down.

“The kitchen was walled-off from the great room, creating an awkwardly-placed dining room that we rarely used, as it was not a functional space for our family,” says Woodman. “There were large soffits above the cabinetry, making the ceilings feel very low and limiting storage space, and only three sources of light in the entire room — one being a stained glass ‘saloon-style’ chandelier.” 

Lighting and layout aside, the finishes weren’t exactly ideal either. “The countertops and backsplash were clad with brown and green granite tiles, and the dark wood cabinetry made the room feel small and cave-like,” says Woodman. “Dark wood shutters covered the windows, and the walls were stained and yellowing.” As experienced renovators, the couple wasn’t phased, but anticipating the scope of work, they certainly saved fixing up the kitchen for last. At the start of COVID shutdowns, the Woodmans gave the kitchen a small facelift, painting the dark walnut cabinets white. 

Less than a week later though, they decided the time was right to go all in on a full dream kitchen redo. “From a design standpoint, I wanted to create the look and feel of a high end, custom kitchen while operating out of a very realistic budget,” says Woodman. “An all-white kitchen felt a little bit overwhelming and one-dimensional for this house, as there are a lot of warm wood elements already in place throughout the rest of the home.” So stylistically speaking, the goal was to introduce some bright white, clean finishes, says Woodman, but keep them from looking too clinical with wooden touches “while also not veering into rustic territory with too much wood.” This aesthetic directive drove most of their fixture and finish decisions. 

While working on the spatial plan, it became clear that they couldn’t keep the layout as is and get the wow factor and function they wanted, so the Woodmans redesigned the entire layout of the space by flipping the island to lay horizontally across the majority of the room and removing the low soffit to allow for ceiling-height cabinets and open shelving. They also decided to take on as much of the redo as they could, outsourcing only major work to a contractor and breaking the project down into smaller tasks. “Because we were living in the home through the entire renovation, it required us to work in phases in order to maintain a semi-functional kitchen space for daily use,” says Woodman. “We tore out the original island and upper cabinets first, patched the hardwood flooring underneath, then had our gas, plumbing, and electrical relocated to the opposite side of the room.” 

Then came the cabinetry on the kitchen’s perimeter, which Woodman turned to IKEA for the boxes and Semihandmade for the fronts, choosing the White Supermatte Quarterline collection (from Sarah Sherman Samuel’s collaboration with the brand). “I assembled all of the cabinets and drawers (with the help of my three young kids), built our 9-foot by 5-foot island, and installed temporary particle board countertops while we waited for our quartz slabs to come in.” As the new KitchenAid appliances they ordered (mostly white in color to blend in seamlessly with their cabinetry) became available, the Woodmans swapped those in, too. “When all the major pieces were installed, we mounted our handmade floating shelves (built by Woodman’s woodworker father-in-law, Joe Woodman) and custom range hood to finish off the space,” she says.

As far as budget hacks go, the Woodmans had their fair share. First, to create the kitchen’s pièce de résistance — their custom range hood focal point — Woodman used three Semihandmade Tahoe Impression cover panels, which would normally go at the end of a built-in or on the side of an appliance. She also used the same material on the island cabinets and for trim throughout the space, which brought warmth, texture, and continuity to the room. 

Even though the renovation took about a year in total and encountered a few setbacks, from COVID shipping delays to their first quartz countertop being dropped and broken during install, Woodman wouldn’t change a thing about the after. “This kitchen renovation opened up the entire main level of our home, filling it with light, and the beautiful finishes of the kitchen can now be seen and enjoyed from nearly every angle,” says Woodman.”The prep/cooking zone is so pleasant and functional — everything you need is at your fingertips — and the storage space is now maximized to the point that we almost don’t know what else to fill it with.” 

In fact, Woodman’s so thrilled with the results it’s hard for her to play favorites when it comes to its features. “Some of my favorite details are the custom wood slat wall that we designed as a fun, architectural feature and alternative to a pony wall, the amazing double-pull-out pantry cabinets, our handmade shelving and range hood (thanks to my father-in-law and finish carpenter), and the faux-marble backsplash that could almost pass for the real thing,” she says. “White appliances give the space a bright and fresh feel, the large island is filled with tons of pull-out drawers and lined with 9 feet of deep cabinet storage behind the barstools as well. I think the biggest lesson we learned from this remodel is that a custom-feeling, dream kitchen on a realistic budget is absolutely doable with the right amount of creativity and great, budget-saving hacks.”

Danielle Blundell

Home Editor

Danielle Blundell is AT’s Home Director and covers decorating and design. She loves homes, heels, the history of art, and hockey—but not necessarily always in that order.

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