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A High-Style Kitchen Created on a Low Budget

DIY determination—and a patient search for bargains—gives two cooks the low-cost, warm-looking work space they craved

Money Well Spent

Photo by Brian Gomsak

There's slow food and fast food, each with its attractions. Dick VanNewkirk, who likes to build as well as braise, believes it's best to take one's time. He spent “about a year" renovating this kitchen, in the 1939 cottage he and Karin Gately share in Wilmington, North Carolina—and that was with Karin working alongside him, from demolition and design to painting and tiling. While sticking to a $12,000 budget, they didn't stint on tools and materials, managing to acquire, for example, their very own cement vibrator and mixer—helpful in making concrete countertops—and a vacuum press, which Dick used to add jatoba veneer to the cabinet fronts.

Shown: Marble wall tile, concrete countertops, cabinets made with exotic woods, and a butcher-block-topped island step up warmth and function.

Before: Changes Bring Better Function

Photo by Brian Gomsak

They upgraded the fridge with black appliance paint, then splurged on a gas range and a butcher-block island top. Dick, who builds movie sets for a living, even made the cabinet pulls. Today, Karin is hard put to say which pleases her most: the polished concrete that replaced the "ugly old tile" or the new layout, which increased work space and opened the room to the sunroom. "That changed not just the kitchen," she says. "The whole house now works better!"

Shown: The range gave up its spot to the right of the sink to make way for an opening to the sunroom.

Open Space

Photo by Brian Gomsak

Reeded-glass cabinet fronts, open shelves, and to-the-ceiling tile keep the look open and airy. The homeowners found the tile—along with the faucets and cork flooring—on eBay.

DIY Countertops

Photo by Brian Gomsak

The DIY tinted concrete countertops contain bits of gravel, beer-bottle glass, and marble wall tile.

Homeowner tip: "To give the countertops a glass-smooth surface, I polished them with a pneumatic grinder fitted with a diamond pad, then used a specialty sealer." —Dick VanNewkirk

Custom Ceiling Work

Photo by Brian Gomsak

Standard beadboard panels and 2x4s were cut to give the ceiling a custom look.

Pendant lights: Restoration Hardware

Beadboard: Lowe's

New Cooking Alcove

Photo by Brian Gomsak

The stove alcove, now lined with honey onyx-marble tile, sits between a boxed-out chimney and the relocated fridge. The homeowners vented the hood through the attic of the one-story house.

Range: GE

Hood: Cavaliere

Countertop sealer: Cheng Concrete Exchange

Homemade Cabinets

Photo by Brian Gomsak

The cabinet pulls started out as ebony knife blanks found online. Homeowner Dick made the cabinet doors and drawer fronts with chechen, or black poisonwood, and jatoba veneer.

Useful Wood Block

Photo by Brian Gomsak

An elevated wood block to the right of the range keeps the countertop tidy and cooking essentials close at hand.

Knife Rack

Photo by Brian Gomsak

A magnetic knife rack hangs on the drywalled chimney box and serves two prep stations.

Floor Plan: Before

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

The 170-square-foot space, cut off from an unheated sunroom, consigned cooking and cleanup to one cramped corner.

The Transformation

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

The same-size space, opened up to the now-heated sunroom-dining area, has separate cooking and cleanup zones, each with ample storage and work space.

1. Turned an interior window into an opening to the sunroom, now heated and cooled via redirected ductwork.

2. Closed up an opening to create more usable wall and floor space and a cooking alcove separate from the cleanup area.

3. Moved the passageway to the sunroom into the kitchen, and installed pantry shelves where the old opening had been.

4. Added an island steps from the range with a dishwasher facing the main sink, and kneeholes for barstools.

5. Relocated the new range and the fridge to the new cooking alcove.