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For nearly four years a refrigerator was the focal point of professional organizer Meggie Mangione’s Houston home. The shiny metal appliance was the main thing you saw from the adjacent living room. From there, your eye went to the laminate countertop and the dated wood cupboards clad in layers of sticky liner. “It was not very attractive,” she says. 

Mangione loved the home’s vintage soul, so she was determined to keep the original brick archway from the mid-1970s. For everything else she brought in friend and designer Jacob Medina, who came up with a smarter layout for the 200-square-foot space by carving out a step-in pantry where the double oven used to be, scrapping the old fridge, and making a range from GE’s Cafe line the centerpiece. “When I saw this series with the brass handles, I was like, I’m done,” recalls Mangione. Ahead, the Organized Life Design founder and Medina take us behind the scenes of the reno and share a few crucial tidying tips along the way.

Pay Attention to Your Floor-Cabinet Combo 

Courtesy of Meggie Mangione

Medina’s main challenge was finding the perfect shade of purple for the cabinets, as the pair wanted something that felt playful at its core. “I looked at about 30 different colors,” he recalls. Finally, he landed on a mauvy tone. But when the hex floor tiles (a nod to the original tiles in the entryway) arrived, he realized they were a lot redder than he expected. Plan B: Medina had all of the lower cupboards repainted in a richer purple called Coquina by Sherwin-Williams. The rest were swathed in a breezy white dubbed Snowbound. “Removing the upper cabinets over the peninsula made the space feel so much bigger,” adds Medina. 

Address the Blind Spots 

Every kitchen has a blind spot or two. You know, a corner cabinet that goes so far back and around that you can’t actually see everything in there. For these tricky places, Mangione relies on double-tier pullouts (her go-to brand is Rev-a-Shelf). She turned the wasted nook to the right of the fridge into functional storage for Tupperware by using a curvy sliding piece that snakes around the bend. And because she loves minimizing what’s on her counter, she also put her smoothie maker down there. “Even if you only have an 8-inch-wide gap, you can take advantage of it without a pullout,” she says.

Courtesy of Meggie Mangione

Mangione also has one dedicated to cooking oils and another for water bottles and lids. The containers are conveniently situated near the new refrigerator. “You want to take the least amount of steps as possible to get what you need,” she shares. 

Go Heavy on the Drawers 

The entire peninsula structure consists of drawers. Why? Mangione isn’t a big fan of cupboards, at least ones that are below the waist. “A cabinet doesn’t really take advantage of all the vertical space,” she says. “Plus you have to get on your hands and knees and stick your head in there to get anything.” 

One benefit of doing custom millwork with Bryce Construction is Mangione could opt for three different drawer heights. The ones along the top row, just under the new quartz counter, are standard flatware heights (great for storing small single-use tools and knives). Below that are slightly bigger ones for the plates and cups her two daughters (ages 5 and 2) use, as well as her husband’s cookie cutters and mixing bowls. “He’s Italian and does all the baking and cooking,” she says, laughing. Deep drawers on the bottom offer full visibility of pots and pans. 

Leave Some Walking Room Around the Pantry

Courtesy of Meggie Mangione

Given the step-in pantry comes out a little further than the old double oven, Medina opted for tiny French doors. That way there’s no risk of swinging and hitting someone who walks by. “This layout alleviated so many pinch points,” says the designer. 

Mangione crafted her dream “showcase” pantry using the Elfa Decor System from the Container Store, a piece she specializes in customizing for clients. “It’s very plug-and-play,” she says. She can switch out bins or tweak the heights of the shelves over time. The sturdy surfaces even hold her microwave and coffee maker. 

Shop Small for Your Plumbing Fixtures 

Medina prefers to buy plumbing fixtures and lighting from a local supplier rather than a big-box retailer. In Houston, they frequented Expressions. “It’s controversial, but I’m convinced the quality is better, even if they carry the same brands,” he says. Not to mention, you get to collaborate with a person—not just a register. His tip: If you’re comparing two similar faucets, focus on the weight. The heavier the piece, the more likely the inside is made of real metal.

Come Up with a Tidying Schedule

Courtesy of Meggie Mangione

Mangione’s white and brass refrigerator from the Cafe series sits where the old pantry used to be. (In other words, it’s no longer the focal point of the dining-living area). There’s nothing overly fancy going on on the inside: Mangione suggests a regular clean-out is all it takes to keep it looking neat. Color-coding optional. 

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