Published on November 5, 2020

imagePin It

In Renovator’s Notebook, homeowners open up about the nitty-gritty of their remodels: How long it really took; how much it actually cost; what went horribly wrong; and what went wonderfully, serendipitously, it’s-all-worth-it-in-the-end right. For more tips to nail your next project, follow @reno_notebook.

Location: Brooklyn

Budget: $150,000

Year built: 1899

Top priority: Creating a modern color palette that fits into a Victorian-style house, with finishes that can withstand a busy home.


“Sometime over the past two decades, kitchens lost their color,” says New York–based interior designer Elizabeth Bolognino. So when it came to designing her own Victorian home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, she wanted to bring warmth to the space from the bottom up. “Terracotta literally means ‘baked earth,’” says Bolognino, noting she searched endlessly for a modern way to incorporate the flooring into the room before landing on an elongated picket pattern that cost less than $15 per square foot. 

imagePin It
Photography by Aaron Bengochea

“I feel like I’m the only person on the East Coast who has terracotta floors,” she jokes. But that attention to textured details is present throughout the entire room: Slabs of Calacatta turquoise from ABC Stone, subtle strokes of Farrow & Ball paint, black Marvin windows, and brass accents from RBL Metals and California Faucets play well with the space’s natural light and honor the home’s historic architecture.

Natural materials—the warm terracotta and the cool Calacatta—guided the room’s color palette. “I’m always trying to find the right balance between cool and warm in my work—and how they can complement each other,” says Bolognino of her signature layered minimalism style. In this project, that principle also extends to the layout. The semi-open design, which retains the formal dining area, nods to the home’s past—and perhaps signals a trend borne out of months spent in quarantine. After a long day juggling work and school at home, a designated area to eat and unwind has almost become a necessity—and reminds us that a modern kitchen is a room made for living.

Splurge: Beautiful but Durable Paint That Can Handle Anything

imagePin It
Photography by Aaron Bengochea
imagePin It
Photography by Aaron Bengochea

We wanted the grandeur and the quality of
Farrow & Ball paint, but I needed something really long-lasting. You never know what’s going to happen when you have little kids—the honey and the soy sauce become paint. I wanted to protect my investment, so the Modern Emulsion finish just made sense; it gives me the sheen and rich depth of color I was looking for but is also washable and wipeable, making it easy to maintain in my busy home. For the walls, we chose Down Pipe, a rich, inky lead tone inspired by the color used to paint downpipes and guttering. The blue undertones play off the crisp marble backsplash, a pure white with stunner turquoise lines running through it. For contrast, the cabinets, trims, and baseboards were painted in Cornforth White (also in the scuff-proof Modern Emulsion finish), a warmer, grayish-brownish white that changes throughout the day. The ceiling was finished in Ammonite, a naturally understated gray named after fossils found on the Dorset coast. 

Save: Retain the Original Charm—But Kid-Proof Everything

imagePin It
Courtesy of Elizabeth Bolognino
imagePin It
Photography by Aaron Bengochea
It doesn’t matter what kind of house you have, the kids are going to be where you are. We worked with contractor Stephen Fanuka on the custom design—though we kept the attached formal dining room, we added a banquette that allows my three children, all under age 10, to keep me company while I cook. We did the seat in a material from Odaka that feels and looks like a sueded leather (but is totally stainproof), and we tied-upholstered the back with fabric from Radish Moon. We put storage in the bottom and painted the drawers Cornforth White to match the built-ins on the other side of the kitchen.

Splurge: Keep the Island Clear

imagePin It
Courtesy of Elizabeth Bolognino
imagePin It
Photography by Aaron Bengochea

In our family every Friday night is pizza night—and we make everything, from the dough to the mozzarella to the sauce, by hand with my Italian in-laws. So we had to build an area that acts as a pizza station, which for us is the marble island. (We also have to be very careful of things like tomato splatters, which is another reason we used Modern Emulsion paint.) Even though I did a semi-open kitchen, we specifically did not put barstools at the island. It’s sort of become de facto in design to add stools, even if they’re just 2 or 3 feet from your formal dining table, but I think we’re moving away from that.