Renovation Before & After

One Shade of Green and Three Types of IKEA Cabinets Transformed This 1980s Kitchen

Cupboard blueprints for the win.
kitchen with island and green cabinets

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If they didn’t find their dream home by the end of the month, Michelle and Eric Phillips agreed they would settle for the fixer-upper at the end of the cul-de-sac. And because of the crazy competitive market, that’s exactly what ended up happening. But the Phillipses aren’t really settlers, especially not when it comes to their first home together. So instead of living in the circa-1986 house for a while before making major changes, Michelle planned a gut renovation within the year. “I didn’t want to wait for it to feel like our home,” she explains.

Up first was the kitchen, a room that had literally not been touched since its initial construction decades before (the previous owners had lived in the house for their entire lives). None of the appliances worked, let alone still existed in stores. Knowing she would get complacent if she didn’t immediately tackle the dated space, Michelle broke out the handy online IKEA kitchen planner before their first moving box was fully unpacked. Ahead, she recounts her whirlwind, six-month reno.

Flip It and Switch It

Due to pandemic-related supply chain holdups and back orders—this was early 2021—Michelle couldn’t find a complete set of matching IKEA Sektion cabinets for her wall of pantry storage. Not only that, but quotes from local cabinetmakers were over double the cost. “I thought IKEA was supposed to be easy,” Michelle says, laughing. Approaching the problem like a puzzle, she decided to combine the top and bottom panels of two upper cabinets and the side pieces of two refrigerator-size cabinets in order to create custom cupboards in her desired dimensions. 

The standard backs no longer fit the Frankenstein structures, so Michelle nailed on some beadboard as a quick fix. “The exteriors still have the look I wanted, even if the interiors are a little scrappy,” she says. (For the doors, the couple went with simple Shaker fronts from Semihandmade.)

Plan Down to the Last Shelf

The last thing Michelle wanted was to spend all of this money only to realize her beloved KitchenAid mixer was too tall for its storage. In order to ensure there was a place for everything, from her go-to afternoon snack to Eric’s cast-iron skillet, she meticulously planned not only where each cabinet would go but what would live inside them. “I printed out the cabinet layouts and designated each drawer and each shelf,” she says. Grains go on the lowest pantry ledge; knives in the second drawer on the left.

It Is Easy Being Green

The cabinets were always going to be verdant; there was no other color the Phillipses could visualize in their space. “I was following the hashtag #GreenCabinets on social media, and I couldn’t get enough,” says Michelle. She found the perfect cool-toned shade—not as poppy as avocado, not as dark as forest—in Pewter Green by Sherwin-Williams

If You Can’t Fix It, Customize It

The couple beeline for their coffee maker and toaster every morning, but they couldn’t justify placing the appliances directly on the counter. Enter the lift-top appliance garage. By installing a horizontal upper cabinet directly on the countertop, all they have to do now is push up the door to pour themselves a cuppa. The best part: For maximum ease, all of Michelle’s favorite mugs revolve on a lazy Susan on the shelf above. 

Go Big and Stay Home

The decision to shift the range over to the side wall was an easy one—its previous spot on the narrow island was a safety hazard. “I would sit and watch Eric cook and the whole structure would heat up,” Michelle explains. “I’ve burned my forearms a few times.” While the new extra-long island (97 inches long by 34 inches wide) takes up a good amount of floor space, it was a must-have for the frequent hosts. Dinner party guests always end up congregating around it, no matter how beautifully set the table is. And for Eric, who loves to prep in front of an audience, the black quartzite is the perfect stage.