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Many old buildings have their quirks, but this tiny 660-square-foot Vancouver apartment, where every inch counts, had an especially good one: two hidden closets. Lauren Bug, designer at Marrimor, had planned to open up the small galley kitchen by knocking down a few walls. Lo and behold, there was all this extra space behind one, which allowed for a major upgrade. 

The new kitchen is bright and totally open to the main living room, with plenty of concealed storage, but it didn’t come to life without a few hurdles when it came to bringing the 1914 building up to code. By prioritizing and staying true to the homeowner’s must-haves, Bug was able to tick almost every box on their wish list—misty green cabinets and broom closets included. Here are the top lessons she learned along the way:

Test Paint in Person

Courtesy of Marrimor

Photography by Tracey Ayton; Design by Marrimor

When Bug first saw the kitchen, the cabinets were a bright buttery yellow, so she knew that the homeowner would be open to other unexpected hues. They opted for Benjamin Moore’s Maid of the Mist—a fresh, minty green that felt modern but didn’t feel alien in a heritage setting—but not without multiple tests first. “We played with several iterations, including an option in a pale blue, but when we looked at the materials in the room, the mint color related the best to the walnut floors.”

Get Creative With Cabinetry

Photography by Tracey Ayton; Design by Marrimor

Bug wanted to use a clean, classic look for the cupboards, but she had to find a fix for their especially narrow measurements. Her solution: a clever trompe l’oeil effect. “The cabinet style was something we came up with early on as a means of making the kitchen look less apartment-size than it actually is,” she explains. By stretching the shaker panels over two cabinets, she created proportions that felt more modern.

The original kitchen didn’t have much room for pots, pans, or even pantry items, so optimizing the storage behind those doors was also a high priority. “We try to never leave someone without a place to put down the things they pull out of the fridge or a space to store a tall cereal box,” says Bug. By adding an island, they created a work zone and ample shelving in one. With the extra square footage from opening up the kitchen (and those bonus closets!), they built a seamless wall of cabinetry that includes the fridge, floor-to-ceiling pantry, and a home for the brooms.

Prepare to Readjust Your Budget Along the Way

Photography by Tracey Ayton; Design by Marrimor

Before the team could get anything done aesthetically, they had to fix the slew of structural issues that come with a heritage building. “The number of challenges in this project outnumbered your average renovation,” remembers Bug. “Sometimes our contractor would call me multiple times a day with new problems we needed to address.” They fireproofed the ceilings, and then fixed the electrical wiring, but the most challenging of all was leveling a beam between the kitchen and dining area that sloped over two inches from one end to the other.

While they ultimately blew the original budget with these unanticipated issues, Bug was able to cut costs by letting go of things that wouldn’t affect the ultimate vision, like a library ladder and custom hardware.

Be Open to Last-Minute Swaps

Photography by Tracey Ayton; Design by Marrimor

Swapping out the more expensive hardware turned out to be a twofold victory: The large, intricate style in the original plan turned out to be disproportionate to the cupboards. “We decided to replace them with a simple crystal knob because it was a more understated way to let the cabinets be the star.” For the appliance pulls, they picked an affordable and simple stainless steel option and had them powder-coated in matching mint so that they almost disappear. When you trust the process, good things happen.

This story was originally published in November 2019 and has since been updated. 

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