See what this cramped kitchen looks like after a massive makeover

Dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe the original kitchen in this 1920s home in St. Paul, Minnesota.

One small wall of cabinetry and a sliver of a countertop were all that was available in terms of storage and prep space. Plus, three entry doors chopped up the walls and made adding cabinets nearly impossible. Not to mention that the refrigerator and range jutted into the room, making the traffic path through the space look like that of a bee that had sipped too much picnic beer.

The kitchen had been in its original configuration since the house was built about 1920. A cast iron sink hung from one wall; a cabinet and fridge, which stuck into the room, occupied another wall; and a range sat against another. There was no dishwasher.

Three doors into the kitchen wasted valuable storage space. The homeowners had brought in the wood island for a counter surface, but otherwise the space functioned poorly for prepping and cooking meals.

Designer Brad Belka had the kitchen gutted to the studs. He then closed off the door leading to the dining room to get another corner for storage. While there wasn’t room for an island, the U-shape layout maximizes counter space.

The original windows sat too low to allow cabinets and countertops beneath them, so Belka put in shorter windows and positioned a new apron-front sink beneath them. Custom cabinets offered the homeowners the most flexibility.

“It adds cost, but in a small space, it goes a long way to getting you what you need,” Belka says. Painting them white helped brighten the room and bounce around light. “A dark kitchen in this size space would feel a little bit oppressive,” he says.

A counter-depth refrigerator, 24-inches wide and deep, saves space. Open shelves display the homeowners’ pottery collection.

Looking toward the original wall-hung cast iron sink shows the lack of counter and storage space in the previous kitchen. The door to the right opens to the dining room and was one of three doors into the kitchen.

Belka closed off the doorway to free up the corner for more cabinet storage. A pass-through allows the homeowners to hand plates through to the dining room. The upper cabinets are backless, allowing access to dishes and liquor bottles from both rooms.

A rollout garbage can sits next to the sink. Slots on the toe kick and cabinet doors beneath the sink vent heat from a radiator. The pass-through doors echo the design detail.

Ripping up four layers of linoleum revealed the original wood floors.

A pantry cabinet recessed in the wall holds canned goods and other non-perishables.

Two drawers on top of the counter offer additional storage and, now, a platform for a microwave and toaster oven (not seen in photo).


Walls moved: No. One doorway was made wider, and another was framed up and closed off. Also, a hole was cut into the side of the house to vent the range.

Plumbing moved: Yes. All new plumbing and electrical was brought into the space. An open, unfinished basement made the work relatively easy.

Other professionals hired: Designer and general contractor

Duration of project: Three months of planning; three months of construction

Lived in during remodel: Yes. Belka helped set up a makeshift kitchen with a hot plate and microwave that the homeowners could use during construction.

Savings: The homeowners did the painting themselves.

Cost Breakdown

Construction: $48,000

Appliances: $3,000

Design fees: $4,200

Total: $55,200