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As a professional recipe developer and food stylist, Diana Yen is used to adding things (a sprinkle of salt, a drizzle of olive oil), not taking them away. But when it came to renovating her Ojai, California, kitchen, that’s exactly where the founder of creative studio A La Carte started. “The cheapest thing you can do is to remove stuff,” says Yen. Getting rid of the upper cabinets that surrounded the cooktop and refrigerator instantly made her galley kitchen feel a bit bigger and breezier. Then Yen ditched the microwave-fan combo so she could fit a proper vent hood. “It definitely made it feel less heavy,” she says. 

Yen is used to getting scrappy. In fact her upcoming cookbook, Slow Burn (with Artisan in 2025), is all about dishes you can craft over a firepit. Making smart choices about where to splurge and where to save on her kitchen makeover came quite easy. Yen takes us through the process, ahead.

Lean Into the Darkness

The kitchen, before.

Yen’s biggest save was keeping her existing cabinets and simply giving the sturdy Shaker-style doors a touch of color. To figure out what hues would work for her dark and narrow space, she went to the ultimate expert: Paddy O’Donnell, the international brand ambassador at Farrow & Ball. When O’Donnell noticed a number of trendy purple kitchens on Yen’s mood board, he got real with her. “He was like, ‘Honestly, you should just go with a sophisticated neutral,’” she recalls. His recommendations? London Clay, a warm brown, for the lower cabinets, and Jitney, a sandy gray, for the uppers and wall. “I thought it was going to be way too dark, but one of the things he and I talked about is, if your home is on the small side, and it does have some darkness to it, you should just make it moody and cozy,” says Yen.

Because her space is so small, when people walk in, their eyes—no matter what—go straight to the appliances. Through partnering with Big Chill, Yen scored an induction stove and refrigerator in matte black with brushed brass trim. Not only do these updated models make her work easier, they’re just nicer to look at. “I love country kitchens, especially French and British kitchens,” says Yen. “My neighborhood is all electric, and they were one of the only brands that made an induction that looks luxe and traditional.”

Put Ceiling Lights Center Stage

The kitchen, before.

With little natural light coming into the kitchen, updating the artificial lighting was a must. Where there were once recessed cans, there are now brushed brass spotlights that Yen found on Etsy for $129 each. “This felt a little more theatrical,” she says, “and I put everything on dimmers.” Her new brass switch plate and faucet also came from Etsy (the latter all the way from a vendor in Morocco). “Sometimes you’re like, ‘I’m not sure how this is going to work or if it’s going to arrive,’ but it was great,” says Yen. 

In the process of reworking some of the electrical in the room, Yen had her outlets consolidated and added USB charging ports to them. “It’s so nice because I’m always on my phone when I’m cooking,” she notes. 

Start With a Blank Canvas That Always Stays Blank

As a food person, Yen’s dream was to have marble countertops. But when she heard that stain-prone stone can make it actually harder to sell in her area, she hopped on the quartz train. “I went to 10 showrooms and was shown one that looked like marble, it just didn’t have any issues with maintenance,” she says. Opposite the cooktop, she dropped in a fresh Native Trails farmhouse sink.

Sprinkle on the Decor

While styling plates is Yen’s jam, she unsurprisingly has a talent for putting together the finishing touches on a kitchen, too. She added a hint of practicality with a brass rail from DeVol that holds small cooking tools and bundles of herbs, and a pinch of beauty with a still life print.