5 big lessons I learned from turning my outdated kitchen into a dream space

When my husband and I bought our first house, a 1960s fixer-upper in a walk-in neighborhood with a fantastic school system, the project I looked forward to most was the kitchen. As an avid home cook, recipe editor, and food writer, much of my self-care happens in the kitchen when I chop up vegetables or deglaze a pan.
It's not that our home didn't work before. It had all of the necessities and worked well. But it was dated and far from the designer aesthetic I enjoyed in the stacks of Architectural Digests under my coffee table.
After renovating our bathroom during the 2020 shutdowns, we discovered the renovation bug and went headlong to redesign the kitchen.
A full room renovation is an endeavor that requires a lot of planning and often professional insight. From dedicated DIY enthusiasts to people who design but want to hire help with heavy lifting, this is what I learned after creating my dream kitchen.
Because you, my friends, can do it too!
1. Clean aesthetics and custom devices create a sleek, modern feel
For years, appliances were an afterthought in many kitchen redos with thrown-in stainless steel that were expected to match any design. Since our kitchen is medium in size and I like to cook, we wanted these large fittings to be the focus: form and function.
For me, the stove and refrigerator are two of the most important parts of the kitchen. I took inspiration for the entire kitchen color scheme after seeing General Electric's new line, Cafe, which allows the customer to choose the finish and accent colors, and the hottest kitchen trends after a year of lockdown from 2021 was presented.
Cafe's French door refrigerator in white with brushed bronze accents flows effortlessly with the built-in pantry that surrounds it. (Erica Chayes Wida)
"For a contemporary, modern twist, an all-white kitchen and appliances and gold fittings and finishes are ideal," Katherine Carter, a Los Angeles-based interior designer with many celebrity clients, told TMRW. "A completely white kitchen not only leaves a fresh palette for cooking, but also opens up the space and creates an airy, fresh feeling."
Related: After a year of downtime, the latest kitchen designs are looking to the past and the future.
For people not into gold, Carter suggested opting for brass, black, or polished chrome parts to compliment the white background.
"I tend to stay away from brushed chrome or nickel as it flattens the space and leaves a dull look in any kitchen," she told TMRW.
2. Create a triangular space between the devices
When Ina Garten gave Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager a tour of their kitchen TODAY, she shared her secret of setting up the dishwasher, stove and refrigerator in a "triangular shape". That way, it feels effortless to move between them while preparing meals. Even for our family (without a huge kitchen or two dishwashers like Ina) this was a functional choice.
When we were working out a renovation plan, we put the dishwasher next to the sink (it used to be on the other side of the room - don't even let me start!). Then we centered the oven on one wall and placed the refrigerator on the adjacent wall. Now it's a perfect place to move around while I cook. The difference is incredible!
3. Remove anything that is taking up space
Say goodbye to this old peninsula! Say hello to the open, clean space! (Erica Chayes Wida)
"Sometimes islands or peninsulas (islands attached to one of the countertops) in small to medium-sized kitchens can just take up space and make the kitchen look small," Carter said. "Using other types of built-in storage solutions can make the kitchen feel open and inviting."
Even for someone who isn't gutting the entire room, removing the peninsula has greatly improved the feeling of space. It used to feel cramped and at times stressful when a family of four and a large dog moved around before meals. Once it was gone, cooking felt a lot easier.
Removing an island or peninsula in a smaller kitchen makes the space feel a lot bigger. (Erica Chayes Wida)
4. Create a practical layout for cabinets and countertops
After doing some research, we bought Ikea cabinets and countertops and opted for professional installation. The kitchen remodeling section that you can browse online or in-store was amazing for what we needed. You can schedule an appointment with the free kitchen team, shop for products and sample space, and then use the in-store virtual computer system to enter the square footage of your kitchen and create the perfect layout for your needs. American Woodmark, Hampton Bay (available from big chains like Home Depot), Wayfair, and Lowe's offer cabinets in a variety of sizes and price ranges. For those who really crave custom cabinets, helping local wood stores is always an option, and many build their cabinets out of the wood of their choice.
Our space was unique and required some hacks. According to Pinterest, there is no place like Ikea for a good furniture hack! For example, we wanted a trash pull-out drawer but had little space to install one when we also wanted a Lazy Susan. Using the computer system, I selected different drawer widths until the correct one fits (a narrow drawer with two shelves), removed the top shelf after installation, and voila! A perfectly dimensioned pull-out garbage drawer right next to the dishwasher and the sink for easy preparation.
Ikea offers numerous customizable solutions for the depth or height of your pantry shelves. I designed deep pull-out shelves at the bottom of our pantry to store all of our children's dishes and simple snacks to grab when they're hungry. I'm a dried spice nut too, so I chose a shallow pull-out drawer to store and easily display what I need with a pull-out shelf over it for all of my oils and sauces.
By designing the spacing and the size of the pantry, optimal storage has been created and organization has been simplified. (Erica Chayes Wida)
We also opted for the lighting under the cabinet and in the drawer. That comes with a remote control dimmer (one of my favorite features in the kitchen).
The countertops can be bought through Ikea but are sourced from another company called Caesarstone, which ships custom quartz countertops nationwide whether you go through the international chain or not. We got the Kasker Himalayan Moon Quartz countertops to hide small spills and break up the clean white lines. I also like how the darker stones match the rustic smoked chestnut color of the Pergo wide plank floor we got from Lowe's. Strong, easy for anyone to install, and waterproof for spills done with a large family. We loved how affordable this option was while adding the natural look of wood.
"For a mother of two young children, the marble-quartz countertop is perfect because it's both beautiful and extremely durable," Carter told TMRW. "Quartz countertops far outperform the dated real marble for durability and style. They usually come with a warranty. You won't get that with real stone."
5. Include special elements to reflect a personal touch
Because we have corporate brands for larger ticket items such as Ikea and G.E. Offering manufacturer warranties and affordable options, I let my personality shine in the details of the kitchenware that completed the space. Since my husband and I plan to turn the house around at some point, I knew I could leave my new, beautiful kitchen behind because I knew staples would come with me wherever we ended up next.
An ebony cutting board made from leftover Taylor guitar parts, a cookbook I found on a memorable day in Brooklyn, and handcrafted Moroccan glassware from Revival added a warm, personal touch to a clean, modern kitchen. (Erica Chayes Wida)
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Finding the right pieces, most of which were from global craft brands with sustainable, community-led initiatives from Morocco to Mexico, felt like a treasure hunt. I've also added towels, dishes, and small gold accessories from Anthropologie and West Elm.
For some, freshening up a kitchen space can be as simple as repainting or redesigning kitchen cabinets, repainting the walls, getting a new tile floor, and integrating smaller appliances and cooking utensils. Here's how I used smaller items to perfect the renovation:
We added a large wooden cutting board from Stella Falone. The company was co-founded by the owner of Taylor Guitars, who designs ebony wood instruments from a small sawmill in Cameroon, West Africa. Stella Falone was created to turn the leftover ebony into culinary cutting boards. As a singer, I loved the connection between cooking and playing music and that the sawmill was a source of income for the people of Yaounde, Cameroon.
Clear Moroccan glassware with a matching jug from the Revival Rugs table collection has become a hydration staple in my home office and on my bedside table. Instead of the typical 3-by-5 ​​mat in front of the sink, I opted for a 4-by-6 carpet that was woven from biodegradable and climate-neutral jute fiber in the third generation of a family home. It balances the clean, modern lines of the kitchen with a bohemian, earthy feel.
My matching Smeg devices express my love for Italy, vintage vibes, perfectly toasted raisin bread and (perhaps most importantly) a strong cappuccino.
A country kitchen sink, small Smeg appliances, and a hand-woven fruit basket bring organic texture and vintage aesthetics to the modern white kitchen. (Erica Chayes Wida)
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To top it off, I have a Moroccan clay tagine for delicious rice dishes, a handmade Mexican hot chocolate vase made from clay (which I currently use as the centerpiece for a dried eucalyptus bouquet), and a Molcajete from Oaxaca to make killer guacamole every day of the week. I got these all from Verve Culture, a boutique website that curates their homewares from local artisans from around the world. It's like shopping in a market or bazaar when you can't travel there. My parents were married in Morocco and I studied anthropology in college history in Oaxaca, so both the kitchen and cookware have sentimental value.
Our Place's Always Pan complemented the terracotta hues of the clay pieces and cookbooks I display. I love how the company highlights culinary cookware from people and places around the world, and works with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council to bring fresh food to underserved areas.
In most kitchens, knives stay on the counter. I liked the French brand Opinel and the way the Parallele knife set features beautiful natural handles and a simple wood block design that accentuates the natural hues of my modern kitchen.

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