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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: London Budget: $5,000 Square feet: 77 Top priority: Give a neglected kitchen a luxurious—yet rustic—slant on a dime.

When they first toured the London flat they’d eventually call home last summer, Shen Outar and her boyfriend, Nico, were far from impressed by the kitchen. “It was as if someone had put all of my design pet peeves into one room,” says Outar:90s hardware, lacy curtains, creamy granite countertops, and stainless steel sink. “Honestly, it was a hot mess.”

That said, the necessary tweaks were all superficial—the couple pulled off a top-to-bottom makeover for only $5,000. How? Leaving the appliances alone kept costs down, but that’s not all. Below, Outar shares more ways she maximized the budget without sacrificing a lick of her refined, rustic sensibility.

Save: Be Superficial About Your Cupboards


Replacing the cabinetry entirely would have cost at least $1,300, so we covered the existing fronts with slender MDF panels from the local lumberyard instead. After removing the doors and drawers completely, we used them as a stencil to trim the MDF to size. We then splashed them with Farrow & Ball’s Railings and used wood glue to mount them.

I was even able to use the MDF to create a cover for our water heater and the pipes leading to it (the same concept can be applied to a fuse box if you’re Stateside.) Yes, the material is weaker than solid wood and quickly absorbs water, but its tongue-and-groove pattern adds a country flair to our kitchen—which I love—and it cost less than $200.

Save: Trick the Eye With Laminate


New marble countertops would have blown the budget. Luckily I found a laminate alternative from Benchmarx that’s a dead ringer for the real deal and only set us back $400. The material’s bad reputation preceded it, so I was a bit skeptical, but it’s actually been a dream: It’s scratch- and water-resistant, doesn’t require special cleaning products, and the faux veining fools all of our guests.


Splurge: Think Beyond Stainless Steel

While gathering inspiration for the renovation, I quickly grew tired of seeing the same old chrome and matte black sinks. Unsurprisingly the moment I came across this luxurious brass option from Tap Warehouse I knew I’d found the one. It was $375, but cutting back on our cabinets and countertops afforded us the option to be a little spendy here, and I haven’t regretted it. It’s the crown jewel of our new kitchen and makes daily chores a tad bit easier to swallow—as do the rest of the upgrades we’ve made.

Not up for a DIY? Never fear: Kick-start your project with HomeAdvisor’s directory of faucets, fixtures and pipes pros in your area.

Save: Use Up the Leftovers

I had our contractor turn the countertop scraps into shelves for the slender pantry across from the sink. Since I was working with a blank canvas, I was able to mount them at whatever height I wanted. The middle section comfortably houses appliances, like my Smeg coffeepot; the shorter top shelf keeps my glassware tidy; and the lower portion is tall enough to accommodate bottles of wine. 

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