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When Michelle Gage moved into her fixer-upper with her husband, Alex, and four rescue pets, it was nearly unlivable. “The only feature worth loving was the potential,” remembers the interior designer—but she isn’t one to shy away from a major project. “We lived through every phase of the renovation.” Room by room, she ripped up cabinets, peeled back layers of bad flooring, and primed and painted every inch. Her latest project in the 1927 colonial: the pantry that connects the kitchen to the dining room. 

“We only kept the original hardwood floors,” she says. “Nothing else was able to be salvaged—and those barely were.” With a bit of vision, some major sweat equity, and these five ideas, Gage transformed the tiny beige (and terribly dysfunctional) space:

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin

She Patched Up Badly Beaten Up Floors

Gage didn’t have to dig deep to see that the home’s original flooring might be worth salvaging: “There was a gaping hole in the linoleum when we moved in,” she says. “It’s part of the perks of buying a dump; sometimes the answers are just staring you in the face!” The planks were in rough shape, but attempting to save them was worth it to keep the home’s original character alive. The existing wood needed a lot of repairs, so the designer used salvaged pieces that were hidden under the cabinets to patch up the parts that couldn’t be saved.

She Opened up the Space With Glass Cabinets

As much as the floors were worth restoring, the cabinets weren’t. “They were beige, boring and barely holding together,” remembers Gage. The pantry was already small and gloomy, so the designer added upper cupboards with glass doors and ran them all the way up to the ceiling, complete with crown molding, to keep the room streamlined. “Leaving a space between the tops of your cabinets and the ceiling is just begging for dust bunnies,” she says. “Plus, stashing decorative vases up there never looks good, it just feels messy.” 

Courtesy of Michelle Gage

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin

She Removed the Unnecessary Heater

The original room had an unsightly radiator as its focal point below the window; Gage wanted it gone. She drywalled over the existing nook to apply wallpaper to the back wall instead. “It’s a tiny space already heated by the rest of the rooms in the house, so the radiator really wasn’t needed,” she explains. She hired a plumber to handle the removal, which was a tiny expense in the grand scheme of the renovation, but one that made a huge difference.

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin

She Added a Wet Bar

The butler’s pantry connects the kitchen to the dining room, so Gage made the small space double as an entertaining prep station by adding a sink and Caesarstone countertops. Because the cabinets were only 18 inches deep, the basin—which she sourced from Kohler—needed to be extra-petite. The winner was only 15 inches long. 

She Reused Leftover Materials

Gage went with a deep blue-green for the cabinets to make the pantry feel cozy, then quickly realized she could repurpose leftover wallpaper from the adjoining dining room, too. “It keeps the darker teal cabinets feeling fresh, youthful, and bright.” This pass-through space is now a destination in and of itself—whether you’re the host or the dinner guest.

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