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Photography by SARAH AND DUANE REED

Renovating is tough—with contracts, finding the right contractor, and deciding how much you want to spend, it’s easy to get sucked in and spend far too much time, money, and effort on it. Which is why we’re so impressed by this modern kitchen makeover that clocked in at just under $5K—$4,600, to be precise.

Behind the transformation are designers Duane and Sarah Reed of home design studio Arbor & Co. Specializing in mid-century modern interiors, Arbor & Co. aims to provide comfortable, affordable living to as many people as possible. For this renovation specifically, the look the duo was going for was “intimate, modern, and light” since the old kitchen was dark and dingy in comparison. Wood floors and cabinets were way too rustic for a space that only had a small window, and without lighting and pops of color, the kitchen wasn’t living up to its full potential.

“Prior to its renovation, the kitchen didn’t get a lot of natural light, which is why we chose to open up the wall between it and the main living area,” explains Duane. “After doing that, a lot of natural light from the large living room window flooded the space. The light fixtures over the bar were really important since they would be the first thing you see when you walk in the front door.”

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Photography by SARAH AND DUANE REED
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Photography by SARAH AND DUANE REED

The home, located in Portland, Oregon, was in dire need of some warmth, according to the designers. The entire set of countertops had to be changed to incorporate brighter hues, and a mix of open and closed shelving options was installed to provide storage that combined form and function. 

As the old kitchen didn’t have a lot of pantry space, the duo wanted to use closed shelving for storing knick-knacks. “Styling open shelving can be tricky, but we like to use items of different shapes, sizes, and heights to create a natural balance,” says Duane. “Plants bring some fun color and dimension to the space, and cookbooks are great for adding height and some familiar coziness.”

A huge way the duo saved money was by way of appliances. About 60 percent of the budget was actually spent on hiring the contractor who opened up the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room. As a result, consideration had to be taken to make sure the appliances and tiling were affordable.

“We saved the most by refinishing and repainting the cabinets instead of getting new ones, and by finding discount outlet appliances,” says Duane. “We really had to do a lot of research to find affordable products that looked great and functioned well. Also, the floor! The quality of engineered laminate and vinyl flooring these days is awesome. We decided to go with this concrete look flooring by Classen to keep a neutral color palette, and have something durable and easy to keep clean.”

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Photography by SARAH AND DUANE REED

Another fun touch to the space was the seating area, which conveniently lives between the kitchen and the living room. 

“This space was intended to function as additional dining space, as well as a fun place for friends to hang out while the host is cooking,” says Duane. “By opening up the wall to a height just above the counter, we created this natural bar area that allows for more seating without taking up to much floor space.” Simple black chairs were selected to give the space a modern look, while bright whites lent a calming feel. Modern drop lights further enhance the space.

In terms of cabinetry, the two-toned look gave the area a modern vibe—instead of investing in new cabinets, the designers saved money by using paint. “Neutral colors are our jam, so we went with the dark gray lowers and white uppers—something we’ve never done before!” says Duane.

“All the walls in the home are white, so it just made sense for the upper cabinets to be the same. The tile backsplash (one of our favorite parts of the entire home) was just such a classic and fun choice for that mid-century style. We really love how the pattern popped!” Those two concepts add just the right element of color without overwhelming the space.

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Photography by SARAH AND DUANE REED

By sticking with the mid-century modern aesthetic, a selection of brass details were added into the mix. “Being that most of the kitchen consisted of neutral colors, we felt like the timber and brass elements would really bring some warmth to the space,” explains Duane of the duo’s design decision. “The plants also help, given that the area is neutral, and a fun way to bring the outdoors in.”

Want to renovate on a budget yourself? Take these words of wisdom from Duane to heart.

“Look around at the things you already have. What items can stay and be rearranged or freshened up with new paint? What can you remove?” he says. “Taking down closed upper cabinetry and replacing them with open shelves is so inexpensive, and a great way to update your space. Many high-end items have affordable counterparts through various online stores. Affordable decor is everywhere: You just have to look for it!”

See more dramatic transformations:

Before and After: Inside a Fresh Farmhouse Reno
Honestly, We’d Downsize for This Surfer-Cool Cabana
A Peaceful Rooftop Garden Grows in Brooklyn

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