Adding Copper Counters to This Kitchen Was as Easy as “Wrapping a Christmas Present”

Claire Thomas says the epic patina is worth it.
Lydia Geisel Avatar

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green tile backsplash

Zellige-tiled bathrooms, limewash-coated walls, marble waterfall islands—starting fresh in a home is tempting when there are so many exciting materials to experiment with. Claire Thomas has felt that temptation, too. But these days, she’s fighting the urge to overhaul. “I’m cultivating an appreciation of original intent,” says the Kitchy Kitchen creator and film director, “and understanding that just because my current taste might be perpendicular to the original intent of a house, it doesn’t mean I should get to come in and bulldoze.” That’s why you’ll find that her latest renovation in Big Bear, California, is like a magical step back in time to 1921. “I kept thinking, this little cottage has stood here for 100 years. I have to give it the respect that it’s due,” she says. 

1980s kitchen
The kitchen, before.
1980s kitchen
The kitchen, before.

Feeling inspired by one of her favorite homes in Los Angeles—the Gamble House in Pasadena that’s prized for its Arts and Crafts architecture—Thomas thought of this teeny cabin, now mostly occupied by her and her husband’s parents when they’re in town, as her “baby Gamble House.” This was also fitting given she was nine months pregnant when the space finally came together. “The fun thing about this project, too, is that we didn’t move a single wall in the house,” says Thomas. “It was really about, how can we maximize the blueprint as much as possible?” 

So even though there was a partial wall boxing in the kitchen, Thomas embraced the room’s tight footprint before taking the sad white space back a few generations. 

Bring in That Old-World Shimmer

U shape kitchen
Shelves, Shelfology; Cabinet Fronts, Semihandmade; Appliances, Café; Tile, Fireclay; Floors, Stuga; Pot, Our Place.

Copper might be less glamorous than popular brass, but it’s significantly cheaper and ages beautifully. “It’s one of those things where the more stains, the better,” shares Thomas, who chose the metal as her big accent moment, scooping up 1920s French copperware, copper outlet covers, a copper sink, and even copper countertops. Her contractor made the worktop from scratch by cloaking one-and-a-half-inch-thick plywood boards, cut to size, in large metal sheeting and securing the top layer with an epoxy adhesive and nails. “If you can wrap Christmas presents, you can wrap this,” says Thomas.

Reuse Long-Forgotten Tile

green tile backsplash
green tile backsplash
Shelves, Shelfology; Cabinet Fronts, Semihandmade; Dishwasher, Café; Tile, Fireclay.

When you work on as many homes as Thomas does (she’s frequently helping friends in addition to refurbishing her own homes and vacation rentals), you accumulate surplus material. And in her case, specifically, boxes upon boxes of tile. “And I never know what to do with it,” she says. This kitchen proved to be the perfect opportunity to use up leftover green tile from her business partner Laurel Gallucci’s bathroom makeover. To top it off, Thomas went by Eric’s Architectural Salvage in L.A. and sourced thirty 100-year-old English tiles with varying motifs. Each one cost around $30, but the fact that they were authentic to the era of the house made them worth the splurge. 

Lighten Things Up by Focusing on the Waist Down

green lower cabinets
Cabinet Fronts, Semihandmade; Oven, Café.

While Thomas was set on not knocking down any walls, she saw an opportunity to add additional lower cabinets—even if they were only 15 inches deep—to the partial divider. Carving out more storage allowed her to remove the upper cabinets, ultimately making the room appear larger. She went with IKEA boxes with Semihandmade’s paintable Quarterline fronts, now swathed in Dunn-Edwards’s Linden Spear color. “Because there actually isn’t a ton of light in the kitchen, I didn’t want to go with a dark green,” notes Thomas. 

Get Artsy (and Craftsy)

green tile backsplash
Shelves, Shelfology; Cabinet Fronts, Semihandmade; Appliances, Café; Tile, Fireclay; Pot, Our Place; Wallpaper, Bradbury & Bradbury (top) and Morris & Co. via Rejuvenation.

Thomas stuck with her initial jumping-off point and introduced other elements that look like they could have been in the house for more than a century. The curved open shelves felt Gamble House–worthy, and she swathed the breakfast bar wall in a combination of two antique-inspired prints (the frieze is from Bradbury & Bradbury, which specializes in 19th- and 20th-century wallpapers, reproducing historic patterns and reinterpreting them with alternate colors). “It’s of the California redwoods, which is a little farther north, but I thought it was a nice accent and gives the house a real sense of place and time period,” shares Thomas. When in doubt, consult the history books.

Lydia Geisel Avatar

Lydia Geisel

Home Editor

Lydia Geisel has been on the editorial team at Domino since 2017. Today, she writes and edits home and renovation stories, including house tours, before and afters, and DIYs, and leads our design news coverage. She lives in New York City.