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Photography by Tiffany Grant-Riley

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.

Size: 132 square feet

Timeline: 2 months

Year built: 1904

Budget: $3,000

Top priority: Affordably modernizing the kitchen

Interior stylist Tiffany Grant-Riley and her husband were the first to tour the 116-year-old Edwardian house in Kent, England, when it hit the market four years ago. Multiple fireplaces, fantastic millwork, and enough space for their two children (and their “crazy number of large plants”) unfolded before them as they walked its halls. And so the couple became the first people to put in an offer, too; the home needed some TLC, but its potential was evident. 

Since moving in, Grant-Riley and her husband have gone about shining up their house—read: reversing the previous owners’ “dodgy” design choices—bit by bit. One of the first rooms they tackled? The 132-square-foot kitchen, where they erased a ’90s-era Tuscan aesthetic through a few budget-friendly DIYs, to the tune of just $1,000 ($3,000 if you count the new fridge).

Better yet, they were able to modernize the kitchen without compromising the integrity of the century-old space. The curved chimney above the stove, for example, remains, as does the existing wood floor. Both look like new, however, thanks to the cleverness of this creative duo. Below, Grant-Riley walks us through how she and her husband updated the space without sacrificing any of the charms they fell in love with on that first tour.

Photography by Tiffany Grant-Riley

Save: Work With What You’ve Got

We didn’t rip out the existing kitchen for two reasons. First, our budget was limited. Second, we’re still deciding whether or not to totally renovate the space and enlarge its footprint. The work in this room was a “making the most of it” situation, where we spruced up what we already had in order to tide us over until a gut rehab happens. This forced us to hone in on what could easily (and affordably) be enhanced, like the cabinets, backsplash, and floors.

Courtesy of Tiffany Grant-Riley

Photography by Tiffany Grant-Riley

Save: Look Down for an Unlikely Light Source

Many people immediately think that painting their walls is the only way to bring light into a space, but floors can, too. Knowing a lighter floor would reflect more sunlight, we stripped our kitchen’s pine planks of their dark orange varnish and whitewashed them.

We started by securing any loose floorboards and nails. Then my husband rented sanding equipment for $125 and spent three days removing the varnish. It was wonderful to be able to see the natural grain in the wood returning. We applied layers of Osmo’s White Wood wax finish until our desired color was achieved, then added a layer of white-tinted Polyx Oil Tint on top to prevent the boards from yellowing over time. If you are going to do this yourself, make sure you have an exit strategy (to avoid staining yourself into a corner), and always apply stains or varnishes in the direction of the wood grain. 

Courtesy of Tiffany Grant-Riley

Photography by Tiffany Grant-Riley

Save: Paint Your Tile Backsplash

When we moved in, the backsplash featured a 1990s-style Tuscan pattern of winding blue and yellow vines. We didn’t see the point in spending money on new tile since we weren’t going to be replacing the cabinets and countertops. Instead, we painted the existing tile using Ronseal One Coat Tile Paint. It was stubborn, so we had to apply three coats, letting each coat dry for 24 hours before reapplying. Use a high-quality brush and make sure you take your time. (If you brush too quickly or go over the areas you’ve already painted before they’re dry, the brush will leave drag marks.)

Courtesy of Tiffany Grant-Riley

Photography by Tiffany Grant-Riley

Splurge: Elevate Cabinetry With Bespoke Hardware

The configuration of the cupboards, floating on their lonesome above the sink, is quite bizarre. Replacing them would have added another line item to the budget, though, so we made do by dousing them in Little Greene Paint’s Hicks’ Blue. We painted the wall next to them the same color so they read like a unit. Since the open shelving sits across from the window, we used a satin finish there to reflect more light. Finally, we commissioned custom wood knobs from Chocolate Creative Studio, which color-matched them to our cabinets for a seamless look. I love the contemporary lift they give the space.

Photography by Tiffany Grant-Riley

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Save: Simplify the Sink Situation

The old sink came with two outdated faucets: one for cold water and one for hot. We wanted to simplify this with a more modern, single tap, but we couldn’t use a standard mixer tap because it relies on a central hole from the pipe to the faucet, and we had two holes. Instead, we sourced a bridge mixer tap, which allows for hot and cold water to come out of the same spout. It was a small change, but when paired with the other updates we have done, the overall transformation is quite dramatic. Now the kitchen is actually one of my favorite rooms in the house; I love spending time cooking there. It’s hammer time: Follow @reno_notebook for easy rental updates, clever DIYs, and tips to nail your next project.