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Pendant, Schoolhouse.

For close to six years, photographer Susanna Howe dreamed of a new kitchen layout. When she and her family moved into their New Rochelle, New York, home in 2013, they were greeted by a kitchen crowded with flat slab cabinets and pinkish purple laminate counters. But the thing Howe took most issue with was the unnecessarily deep refrigerator. “The feng shui was terrible,” she recalls.

The kitchen, before.
The kitchen, before.

Not to mention, you could feel the frigid winter air coming through the drafty door leading to the outdoors. Howe and her family patiently saved up for the renovations and finally got to work in 2019. As she now prepares to part ways with the home she’s owned for more than a decade (it’s officially up for sale), she gives us a look behind the scenes of her clever IKEA-filled reno. 

The Stylish IKEA Cabinets

Howe is no stranger to IKEA’s kitchen line, having previously used the Swedish retailer’s cabinets in her Brooklyn home. The cabinets are famously easy to assemble and affordable (the ballpark cost for a 10-by-10-foot space is $3,000), so she decided to go for round two, this time opting for Nogsta stainless steel drawer fronts, which retail for $45 per door or $390 for a two-drawer arrangement that includes all the framework. 

When you hear “stainless steel kitchen,” you probably picture a restaurant, but Howe’s space is a reminder that metal cabinets can look surprisingly homey. To elevate the doors even more, she bought brass hardware from House of Antique Hardware (bin pulls for the top drawers; regular handles for the lowers). At 24 inches wide and 30 inches deep each, the new setup nixed the need for upper cabinet storage altogether. Plus Howe hung onto the existing pot rack—it’s still handy for super-bulky cookware. 

The Savvy Dishwasher Hack 

When you go through the effort of a gut renovation, the last thing you want is a shiny black or mixed-metal dishwasher ruining all your hard work. For a seamless look, Howe called up a couple who specializes in IKEA hacking to clad the appliance in a custom stainless steel panel that matched the base cabinets perfectly. They also built matching doors for the tricky corner cabinet.

The Game-Changing Move

Bowl, Adam Silverman; Coffee Maker, Bialetti.

Shifting plumbing, gas, and electric wasn’t initially in Howe’s budget, but she made an exception for swapping the placement of the refrigerator and the threshold. Now conveniently located near the range, her new 42-inch Café fridge is encased on one side in beadboard, further disguising the piece. 

The Classic Backsplash

In the same way that the steel cabinets let you know that serious cooking happens in this space, so does the square subway tile. Stretching to the ceiling, it’s like something you might see in a cool restaurant or an iconic 20th-century house. “There was a Bauhaus kitchen I saw once at MoMA that had white tile to the ceiling, and I never forgot it,” says Howe. One Home Depot run wouldn’t suffice—she had a very specific shade of white she wanted, so, getting scrappy, she bought the tile from all over and finished off the backdrop with a painting she sourced in the Alps.

The Do-It-All Island 

To maximize walking space, Howe stuck with a narrow island, constructing the hub out of more IKEA Nogsta cabinets. While the countertops around the perimeter of the room are made of a marble Howe found in Vermont, the island is topped with a green-tinged soapstone that extends into a small overhang so it can accommodate a single Shaker stool. 

On the outside, the sides of the island are clad in beadboard (painted in Farrow & Ball’s Studio Green). Inside, the drawers house all her plates, silverware, and bowls, and she integrated an exposed cubby for her cutting boards. Even better? “The drawers open directly across from the dishwasher, and there is just enough space to unload the whole thing without moving my feet!” she says. It’s the ultimate convenience.

Chair Fabric, Marimekko; Light, BTC; Art by Jessica Dessner, James Gallagher, and Jon Huck.