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A Bright-White Kitchen Redesigned Online

Consulting by e-mail, pin board, Skype, and telephone, a long-distance designer helps a dark but otherwise great cook space lighten up

Fresh Looking Kitchen: After

Photo by Ray Kachatorian

To the dismay of some homeowners, everything about their kitchen is perfect—except the way it looks. Amber and Eric Haldane, who bought their newly built house, in San Marcos, California, seven years ago, quickly tired of the kitchen's brown finishes but balked at replacing cabinets and appliances, never mind changing the open layout—"it's the reason we bought this house," Amber says.

She found a solution while following the blog of Kelley Motschenbacher, an "e-designer" who harnesses e-mail, phone, Skype, and shared Pinterest boards from her Pasadena office, 105 miles away. She charged a flat fee of $1,200 to collaborate on a face-lift, while Amber served as GC. "I didn't need a full-service designer to hold my hand," Amber says. "But I did need someone experienced to give me good, solid answers."

With tips from Motschenbacher, handyman Scott Ornelas replaced upper cabinets with open shelves; stone fabricator Luis Hernandez swapped in new countertops and tile; and woodworkers Jose and Gilberto Barragan, stylish cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Fresh paint did the rest. "We are thrilled with how it turned out," says Amber, who now finds she is fielding long-distance decor questions herself: "Friends e-mail me saying, 'Hey, what about this?'"

Shown: Homeowners Amber and Eric Haldane, with daughter Sutton, 8, gather at the island, which was refurbished with Mountain White Vermont Danby marble from Arizona Tile.

Interior designer: Kelley & Company Home

Carpenter: Scott Ornelas, Vista, CA; 760-224-0712

Cabinet refacing: Jose and Gilberto Barragan, Escondido, CA; 760-532-6737

Pendant lights: Wisteria


Brown Cabinets: Before

Dark finishes made the space feel like yesterday's coffee.

White Paint and Walnut Floors

Photo by Ray Kachatorian

White paint and marble flatter the original engineered walnut flooring. Homeowner Amber Haldane fashioned the sink skirt out of a Pottery Barn curtain.

Microwave, wall ovens, and cooktop:

Countertop fabrication: Sunterra Tile & Stone, Vista, CA

Window treatment:


Shaker-Style Cabinets

Photo by Ray Kachatorian

Cabinets got a face-lift with new recessed-panel Shaker-style fronts and oil-rubbed-bronze hardware.

Hardware from Restoration Hardware: knobs, pulls, and shelf brackets

Kitchen accessories from Dutch oven and utensil crock

Farmhouse Sink and Copper Faucet

Photo by Ray Kachatorian

The redesign incorporated a copper range hood the homeowners had found on Craigslist and complemented it with a new copper-finish faucet.


Built-In-Look Fridge

Photo by Ray Kachatorian

Custom panels help the built-in refrigerator melt into its surroundings.

Fridge pulls: Top Knobs


Open Shelves

Photo by Ray Kachatorian

The e-design called for supports between the studs to anchor shelf brackets symmetrically on either side of the cooktop. The wall was finished to the soffit with beveled subway tile.

Homeowner tip: "Before hiring an e-designer, measure the space carefully and take photos from every angle. Be very specific about your wish list and also ready to discuss your budget." —Amber Haldane, San Marcos, CA

Tile: Lowe's

Added Island Storage

Photo by Ray Kachatorian

New display shelves that were added to the existing island boost style and function.

Floor Plan After: Updated Storage and Finishes

Illustration by Ian Worpole

The same old space got a new look with refaced cabinets, new countertops, and lots of open shelves.

1. Reinforced the wall to hang open shelves in place of upper cabinets. The soffit above was covered with tongue-and-groove planks.

2. Swapped in a copper-finish range hood to create a focal point.

3. Replaced the stainless-steel fridge with a paneled built-in model.

4. Relaminated the original cabinet boxes and replaced the doors and drawer fronts.

5. Exchanged granite countertops for marble and the stainless-steel island sink for a double-basin farmhouse model.

6. Got rid of a seat on the side of the island that faces the dining room in favor of end-cap open shelving.