If you are one of Bri Emery’s 775,000 fans (and counting), you’re undoubtedly familiar with her signature colorful, whimsical take on California style. So when she teamed up with Sarah Sherman Samuel, whose trademark is similarly light and playful, it was a match made in design heaven. The mission? To implement small updates that would turn Emery’s previously bland white kitchen into a space more suitable for the rest of the blogger and art director’s beautiful, breezy home.
“We just wanted to tie the design into the rest of our home with simple upgrades,” explains Emery of the impetus behind the project. “I love how light and airy the space feels.”
Having just undergone an extensive renovation, the kitchen had good bones and a slew of enviable features. By the time Sherman Samuel got to the 200-square-foot space, it already featured marble countertops and a steady stream of natural light. While they didn’t initially have a color palette in mind, the brightness of the room encouraged them to keep it light. Simple neutrals, infused with the odd earthy terra-cotta hue, make for a calming space.
“I’ve become addicted to watching Bri cook on Instagram,” confesses Sherman Samuel. “Her lifestyle, her personality style, and how she uses the kitchen was my inspiration.”
But while the space may be more neutral than fans of Emery may have expected, it’s anything but cookie-cutter. The interest is all in the details: Sherman Samuel relied heavily on small upgrades to really transform the space.
First, and perhaps most transformatively, she gave the cabinetry a fresh look without ripping them out and installing new ones or even painting them. Instead, she used her line of Semihandmade cabinet fronts, which are made to fit perfectly over IKEA doors. This renter-friendly (and budget-friendly) trick completely changed the look of the kitchen. The cabinets may be white, but tiny ridge detailing adds textural intrigue, while the Park Studio brass hardware she swapped in brings an element of sophistication. Neutral has never looked so cool.
Open shelving provides Emery with further freedom to display her favorite decor pieces. Equal parts functional storage and decorative accent, the shelving brings another dimension of personality to the kitchen. Cookbooks and various ceramic vessels line the simple wooden ledge; a small detail that transforms what would otherwise be a basic white wall into a statement-maker. With a vibrant pop of color snuck in through fresh florals, it’s the perfect example of how sometimes, the chicest design moments can be relatively simple.
That said, there was one slightly more arduous undertaking that Sherman Samuel implemented: the backsplash. A showstopping combination of concrete tile and brass inlay, it lends a graphic moment to the kitchen.
“Bri and I both obsess over details, so choosing the backsplash tile was what we mulled over the longest,” shares Sherman Samuel. “I think we considered a zillion options. We knew we wanted some pattern but didn’t want it to be too bold so it would overtake the space.”
Eventually, they landed on a beautiful Tabarka tile, and Sherman Samuel DIY’d it into an unexpected pattern by laying half the wall out horizontally and the other half vertically. Washing dishes is rarely a pleasant chore, but with this tile as the backdrop to the sink, we can’t help but think Emery might find it a bit more enjoyable.
All in all, the bright, breezy kitchen is quintessentially Californian and serves as a calming anchor for the more colorful rest of the house. It’s proof that an upgrade doesn’t have to entail a total gut renovation and all your savings—sometimes, tiny details are enough. And they may even end up being your favorite part.
“My favorite update is the brass handles that match the new backsplash,” says Emery. “They add an elegance to the kitchen in a subtle way.”
If you’re feeling inspired to try your own mini kitchen redesign, we asked Sherman Samuel to share some low-lift ways to make a big impact. You’ll want to bookmark this for your next weekend project.
It’s in the details
“Swap out the hardware,” recommends the designer. “It always makes a bigger impact than you would think.” While this tip may come as no surprise given Sherman Samuel’s penchant for designing stunning hardware, it really is the easiest way to make your kitchen feel bespoke. Especially if you’re in a rental, switching out the knobs and pulls on your cabinets and drawers is a minimally taxing upgrade that packs a punch.
Make it cozy
If you suffer from dated tiles or less-than-inspiring flooring, conceal it. “A new rug can shake things up in an instant,” says Sherman Samuel. In Emery’s kitchen, a bold patterned rug is one of the few pops of color, and it completely changes the look of the dark floors. Pick something easily washable to compensate for the heavy traffic your kitchen will likely accrue and take your time choosing a style and wash that works best with your desired aesthetic.
Elevate your walls
If you can’t paint and you’ve decided wallpaper is not for you, there are other ways to zhuzh up your kitchen’s walls. Sherman Samuel’s preferred method? “Add a shelf to utilize any wasted vertical space.” Be sure you have all the necessary equipment before starting, and make a morning of this DIY. You’ll feel super accomplished when it’s over—plus, adding open shelving creates ample opportunities to showcase your favorite dinnerware and collected tchotchkes.
See more gorgeous kitchens:
This Food Blogger’s Striking Pink Kitchen Will Fuel Your Appetite for a Makeover
Inside a Blue-Tile Dream Kitchen Built From Scratch
Before & After: This Couple Converted a Closet Into a Massive Kitchen