Small-Space Solutions from our Kitchen Renovation!


My friend, Danny Seo (who many of you know from his fabulous show on NBC and gorgeous magazine, Naturally) came by with photographer David Engelhardt a few months ago to shoot some photos of our recent kitchen and dining room renovations for a story in this month’s issue of Naturally (grab it now!) I’m super excited to share some of the ideas and solutions that we came up with for improving our small and awkwardly laid-out kitchen!


Danny is a renovating pro and helped us with a lot of ideas. He introduced us to Wilsonart’s surfaces and I’m so grateful! (Full disclosure, Wilsonart provided us with our counter materials and some fun chalkboard laminate, below...but we wouldn’t have used it if we didn’t love it...and we are so happy that we did!) The other star of the show here is IKEA, where we got our kitchen cabinets. We couldn’t have done it without their variety of cabinet depths to mix and match in the unusual space. (Again, full disclosure, IKEA provided their materials for our kitchen for free, but there is no doubt that I would have used IKEA no matter what, as I am a longtime fan of their designs…and prices!) For the DIY-er, the fact that you can buy everything separately allows for a lot of creativity (described below). And, IKEA’s incredible online planner allowed us to visualize different layouts and settle upon our final design.

photo by  David Engelhardt

I originally figured we would use Carrara marble for the countertops and backsplash, as is our dining table, but was also concerned about all the etching and staining. I go pretty hard on my surfaces, not only while cooking but also food crafting (food coloring everywhere!) painting, gluing, kid projects, etc. We chose Wilsonart’s Marrara quartz which has grey veining in a warm white, semi-translucent background similar to Carrara Marble and it has been a dream! It cleans well and there is no etching.


Because we don’t have a big space to work with, we decided to Marie-Kondo the contents of our old kitchen’s cabinets and drawers and downsize our stuff, allowing us to skip installing upper cabinets in favor of an open and airy feeling. Using IKEA’s very shallow (15”) lower cabinets as we did here gave us more floor space, whereas before we were always bumping into each other. We don’t regret having less storage and keep our less-used tools, small appliances, and extra non-perishable food in our basement pantry. Our friend, Ronim, a contractor, installed the kitchen and did a beautiful job! We purchased extra panels from IKEA to match our cabinets and he created this little built-in bookshelf to house a small rotating selection of our cookbooks. Also on the shelves is a white magazine file (PLUGGIS, from IKEA) that holds takeout menus and loose recipes.
My other favorite hack was that we had the drawer handles powder-coated yellow! We love the airiness of a white kitchen but also wanted to add some color and the handles are easy and a low commitment. Powder coating is a process that works on all-metal items. (The process involves heat so there can’t be any rubber or plastic on the item getting coated.) Another option is to spray paint them with a gloss spray paint for a similar look (albeit less scratch-resistant)!


Improving the awkwardly laid out L-shaped kitchen was such a puzzle to solve. We had architect friends and family members come over to try to wrap their heads around it. There was a wall separating the kitchen and dining room, right where we wanted to put a peninsula but we couldn’t figure out how to fit everything if we removed the it. Our brilliant brother-in-law, architect Ron Nemec, came up with a plan to tuck the fridge into a less used space to the right of our sink by our back door exit. And since the peninsula would have to encroach into our not-huge dining room, he moved our dining table away from the kitchen (and future peninsula) by pushing it against a wall and creating a bench built over a newly-lowered radiation for the seating, as above.


We plan to paint a fun mural...or some kind of supergraphics… on the remaining wall between the kitchen and dining room. At one point I painted a giant pink floral pattern there…we liked it but it wasn’t perfect. For now we painted a wide yellow stripe while we think it over! (By the way, this pink URSKOG tiger cushion from IKEA was $7.99!!)

jodi levine-dining-room-shelf

We had built-in shelving adjacent to the wall we removed that we loved but realized that we had to take them down in order to make room for the peninsula. Ron designed this plan for new built-in shelving for the wall across from the peninsula, connected to our new built-in bench. The shelves are super helpful since we downsized the storage in the kitchen!


Most of our dishes are white. I love adding color by displaying some favorite artwork on the back of shelves. The hot dog print is actually wrapping paper by the amazing Erin Jang/Indigo Bunting for Knot & Bow. It looks like that one is sold out but she has a bunch of pretty patterns that would look great framed! I have pieces of my toy wooden food tucked all over like this wooden hot dog!


Danny introduced us to Wilsonart’s chalkboard laminate. We were excited to learn about it as I’ve had mixed luck with chalkboard paint (which I have found doesn’t always hold chalk…and sometimes it’s hard to erase chalk markers). Because we had limited storage space, especially with no upper cabinets, we made use of this tucked away corridor wall to build a message center + spice shelf. I added these white letter stickers to create a week calendar and it has really helped with family organization!


I keep a little jar with chalk on the ledge and some notecards and pens for messages. And, yeah, I spray painted the lids of all of my spice jars white! I also swapped any plastic jars out for a mix of recycled glass jars and these and these plain glass spice jars.


Now that our kitchen and dining room are open to each other, we wanted to make the whole space more social and comfy. My husband built this little bench using coffee table legs from this awesome resource that our friends turned us onto! I had a cushion made for it slightly shorter so that there was a space on one side for a sort of end table, a spot for a book or cup of coffee.


I very hastily painted and sewed these pillows the night before Danny came to shoot our place!


They are super simple: canvas that I painted with craft paint, backed with a really pretty mustard velvet from Mood Fabrics home store. I love the high-low mix of canvas and velvet. My friend, Silke helped me find the fabric. It takes a village!


This shot is not very styled but an excuse to show a closeup of the Marrara quartz that we used…and to mention that I love having these shallow shelves above our backsplash. A good spot to hold a mix of most-used items like salt and oil but also some favorite items from my collection…like more of my wooden food!

Thanks for reading! Please write to share your small-space tips…and check back for a few more posts soon with some additional details from the renovation!