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Before: Dark, Stained-Wood Kitchen

Photo by Christiaan Blok

Brightening up a windowless kitchen can be tricky, especially when moving walls is beyond the budget. Nikki Grandy knew she'd have to get creative in transforming her new home's dark kitchen—the only disappointing room in an otherwise perfect-fit house for her, husband Caleb, and their four young kids. To start, Nikki installed a white beadboard backsplash and glass-panel pantry doors. When that proved not enough, she moved to the kitchen island, which she clad with a sheet of white beadboard before mounting beefy corbels snagged from a local woodworking shop's free bin.

Shown: Stained wood cabinets darkened the kitchen.

After: Bright, Beadboard-Filled Kitchen

Photo by Christiaan Blok

Next, she lightened the area by installing punchy red barn-style pendant lights that she had bought unfinished and painted herself. But realizing that the dark upper cabinets still weighed down the space, Nikki finally ripped them out and replaced them, extending the beadboard backsplash and adding two rows of open shelving supported by curvy pine brackets she cut herself. Gray paint and vintage-style knobs and pulls soften the look of the base cabinets and help unify the space, creating just the breezy feeling she had hoped for. Says Nikki, "I spend a lot of time here with my kids, making PB&Js and doing dishes, and it's finally a place I really like."Next, she lightened the area by installing punchy red barn-style pendant lights that she had bought unfinished and painted herself. But realizing that the dark upper cabinets still weighed down the space, Nikki finally ripped them out and replaced them, extending the beadboard backsplash and adding two rows of open shelving supported by curvy pine brackets she cut herself. Gray paint and vintage-style knobs and pulls soften the look of the base cabinets and help unify the space, creating just the breezy feeling she had hoped for. Says Nikki, "I spend a lot of time here with my kids, making PB&Js and doing dishes, and it's finally a place I really like."

Shown: A white beadboard backsplash, bracket-supported open shelves, and base cabinets painted warm gray keep the kitchen feeling spacious without sacrificing storage. Chunky mismatched corbels on the island, vintage doors on the pantry, and bright red pendant lights overhead amp up the charm.

Tidy Open Shelving

Photo by Christiaan Blok

Open shelves store many of the family's dishes within view. Light colors keep the space from feeling cluttered.

Red Pendant Light Makeover

Photo by Christiaan Blok

Nikki gave these metal barn-style pendant lights a showstopping look with a coat of bright red spray paint she had on hand.

Vintage Door Pantry

Photo by Christiaan Blok

The two vintage doors turn the pantry closet into a centerpiece, while glass panels showcase walls that Nikki stenciled by hand.

Sunny Faux Wallpaper Lining

Photo by Christiaan Blok

A sunny stencil design mimics wallpaper and brightens the pantry. Baskets neatly corral small items.

Free Corbels

Photo by Christiaan Blok

The corbels were test products made by a local woodworking shop's new employee, so Nikki's sister scored them for free and passed them on.

The Project Tally

Photo by Christiaan Blok

Nikki designed and cut the brackets herself. The style was inspired by a store-bought set that was beyond her budget.

• Gussied up the plain kitchen island with a sheet of beadboard and free corbels. $20

• Gave the pantry closet a cottage look with vintage glass-panel doors scored at an antiques fair $75

• Hung home-center barn-style lights sprayed with a coat of leftover paint $38

• Ripped out dark and dated upper cabinets $0

• Installed, then extended, a beadboard backsplash and two rows of white-painted open shelves to make up for lost storage $130

• Warmed up the base cabinets with soft gray paint and added clearance-bin cup pulls and knobs scored for half price $80

Total $343