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Ashley Illchuk, co-owner and creative director of Jenna Rae Cakes, doesn’t miss having a backsplash. You’d think otherwise, given the kitchen is both the epicenter of her Winnipeg, Canada, bungalow and the heart of her work. But while renovating the dated 1970s space, Illchuk and her husband, Trevor, opted for a subtle six-inch soapstone border instead of a wall covered in the soft yet stain-resistant material. “It’s a huge plus when you have a kid who loves to bake!” says Illchuk. 

Scaling down the backsplash was technically a compromise: Soapstone is super-costly. Local designer, Jaclyn Peters, came on board to make those hard choices easier. In the end, the family of three (soon to be four!) lost square footage to custom cabinetry—“The size of that room barely changed,” Peters says, “If anything, it got slightly smaller”—but they gained that “bright and airy” feeling back. After knocking out a wall, tweaking a doorway opening, and painting the walls white, they had a ton of natural light. Illchuk and Peters walked us through the three-month remodel, highlighting where they splurged and where they saved.

Splurge: Load-Bearing Beams 

Peters likens the original space to a cave. The plastic-y, dark brown cabinets absorbed the light streaming in from the pass-through and pitched ceiling window, rather than bounced it around. On top of that, all the appliances were crammed into a U-shaped layout. “It was such an odd use of space,” recalls Peters.

Not wanting to alter the actual shape of the room, the designer decided to take down the structural wall between the kitchen and dining area to open everything up, installing a supporting beam in its place. It was a huge expense, but Peters used her time with the contractors wisely. While the crew was on-site taking care of the drywall-patching, she had them shift the doorway on the opposite side of the room a little to the left to make room for the range, as well as frame the top of the now-smaller opening with an arch. 

Save: Range 

Illchuk’s dream of owning a Lacanche range was short-lived once she realized how much it would cost. In lieu of the fancy $7,000 oven, she chose a more economical, stainless steel option from KitchenAid. The graphic designer and food stylist was also set on covering the hood with plaster, but to spare the budget the extra $1,500, Peters decided to paint it instead. “It definitely needs to be something that’s wipeable,” the designer says of picking the right color and finish. “Someone who cooks with a lot of turmeric might not want so much white.” 

Splurge: Cabinetry 

When Peters is designing a kitchen for a homeowner, she almost always suggests splurging on the countertops and the millwork. Her reasoning: They’re the things you touch the most. “Having that strong foundation elevates everything else,” she says. Quality wood will hold up 15 years down the road. (Even if you decide you hate the color, you can easily paint them.) Cheap doors and drawers, on the other hand, will eventually require a total gut job.

For this project, Peters tasked Canadian company Kroeker Cabinets with creating floor-to-ceiling pantry storage for a big blank wall opposite the sink. Fortunately, there was already electrical hooked up on that side of the room, which made it easy to relocate the refrigerator there. 

“Having that strong foundation elevates everything else.” — Peters

Splurge: Hardware 

Illchuk and Peters sourced the faucet ($1,100), pot-filler ($1,300), and rail ($250) from luxury British brand deVOL Kitchens. The mottled patina is sealed with a thin coat of wax that protects the finish but also allows it to age gracefully with use. “They look like they’re from 200 years ago and they’ll last forever,” says Peters. The rod comes in extra handy; Illchuk hangs coffee cups, scissors, and bags of dried herbs from S hooks on it. “One of my favorite items is a coconut pouch, which I scored for a couple of bucks,” says Illchuk. The easy-to-grab container is perfect for storing garlic and other everyday ingredients. 

Save: Sink 

To accommodate the pricey fittings, Peters kept the rest of the storage simple with floating shelves instead of custom upper cabinets and scored the undermount sink on Wayfair. She also did some digging on Etsy for the sleek wall sconces—they were just $70 each. 

“One of my favorite items is a coconut pouch, which I scored for a couple of bucks.” — Illchuk

Splurge: Banquette 

Opening up the kitchen brought in a ton of natural light, but it also meant the breakfast bar was now encroaching on the dining area. To maximize the altered square footage, Peters designed a built-in banquette so they could scooch the table and chairs a few inches over. They also re-centered the existing light fixture by swagging the chain. Thanks to good bones and a lot of creativity, the homeowners stuck to their $60,000 budget, mini backsplash and all.

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