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Shannon Wilkins spent a grand total of one night in her Big Bear Lake, California, cabin. 

Then she packed up and sold the A-frame she had spent six months renovating. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, but while they were renovating the Big Bear property, a different house—their dream home—came up for sale. They couldn’t pass it up, which meant saying goodbye to the cabin. But even with the heartbreak, the couple has no regrets about the way things panned out: “I bought the house sight unseen,” recalls the designer. “I just had a good feeling about it. My husband is from Colorado, and we were looking for a skiing cabin for our family; I was pregnant at the time, so it was my little project to work on.” It was love at first sight (or at least, love at first internet click). 

Drawn to the pitched ceilings and wide open floor plan, Wilkins immediately knew this was the place for her. “I never buy a property that’s already done,” she says of her penchant for fixer-uppers, and this place was no exception. Nowhere is her handiwork more obvious than the kitchen, which received a total 180 transformation.

Inspired by Nordic cabins (“Think old European village, kind of like the Matterhorn, but modernized,” she says), Wilkins layered in a rustic table-turned-island, chrome fixtures, and even painted the floors white. Everything is a nod to the Scandinavian, from the tapered candles in sculptural wood holders to the woven textured baskets. We spoke to the designer to get her tips on creating your dream kitchen—even if she barely got to use hers.

Courtesy of Shannon Wilkins

Create cohesion when you have an open floor plan

“There’s always a challenge with an open concept because all your furniture has to talk to each other,” says Wilkins. One way she combats this is by carving out little vignettes within the larger space; for example, she defined the dining room area with a rug underneath the table and chairs. 

Another one of her tricks: Keep it simple. “The mantra I had was: if I’m in between two paint colors, the tiebreaker is white,” she reveals. “Just to keep everything cohesive and make sure the house had a theme to it.” In this all-purpose living space, white floors and white walls do just that.

Decide where you want to splurge and go from there 

With a budget of about $50,000, the couple prioritized the top item on their wish list: Custom cabinets. With textured fronts that mimic those in Nordic cabins, Wilkins says they were worth every penny—and made choosing where to save elsewhere that much clearer. She got her faucet from Wayfair and the range hood from Amazon. It’s all about balance. 

You can always hack it

While she absolutely loves their bespoke cabinetry, Wilkins admits there was a more affordable option. “I probably could’ve gotten the same look on my cabinets using an IKEA kitchen with Semihandmade fronts,” says the designer. “I paid for the convenience because I wanted to be able to draw it out.” 

“If I’m in between two paint colors, the tiebreaker is white.”

Think about how you’re going to live in the space

Although Wilkins flipped the dining room and the kitchen, she made sure to keep the blueprint open concept to allow for entertaining large groups and hosting casual dinner parties. “The way people live now—and especially on vacation—it’s all about everyone gathering around. The house sleeps nine, so we knew we would have a lot of people over,” she explains. This meant concealed storage (there’s a washer/dryer unit hidden behind one dining room cabinet and heaps of board games hidden behind the other), plenty of seating, and that family-style wood island were a must. 

“I thought about pizza parties and people coming off a ski day: All you want to do is eat pizza, bake cookies, watch movies, hang out on the couch, snuggle in blankets… I wanted to emulate that lifestyle but make it elevated,” she adds. 

See more kitchen renovations we love: We’d Like to Start Every Morning in Sugar & Cloth’s New Kitchen This Pink Kitchen Transformation Proves Gut Renovations Are Worth the Stress You’d Never Know This Dramatic Kitchen Renovation Was Done on a Tight Budget