IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

5 big lessons I learned from turning my outdated kitchen into a dream space

A few DIY trick and professional tips helped me transform my old, outdated kitchen into the kitchen of my dreams. Here are simple steps on how to do it.
Our kitchen was functional but outdated. So we changed it.
Our kitchen was functional but outdated. So we changed it.Erica Chayes Wida
/ Source: TMRW

When my husband and I bought our first home, a 1960s fixer-upper in a walkable neighborhood with a fantastic school system, the project I was most excited to complete was the kitchen. As an avid home cook, recipe editor and food writer, much of my self-care occurs in the kitchen as I mince vegetables or deglaze a pan.

It's not that our home wasn't functional before. It had all the necessities and worked well. But it was outdated and far from the designer aesthetic I relished in the stacks of Architectural Digests under my coffee table.

After redoing our bathroom during shutdowns in 2020, we caught the renovator bug and plunged headfirst into redesigning the kitchen.

A full room renovation is an endeavor and one that takes a ton of planning and often professional insight. From devoted DIYers to people who want to design but hire help for the heavy lifting, here's what I learned after creating my dream kitchen.

Because you, my friends, can do it too!

1. A clean aesthetic and custom appliances create an elegant, modern feel

For years, appliances were an afterthought in many kitchen redos with stainless steel thrown in and expected to match any design. Because our kitchen is moderately sized and I love cooking, we wanted these large fixtures to be a focal point: form and function.

To me, the range and fridge are two of the most important parts of the kitchen. I got my inspiration for entire the kitchen's color scheme after seeing GE Appliance's new line, Café, which allows the customer to choose the finish and accent colors and was featured in 2021's hottest kitchen trends after a year in lockdown.

The French Door refrigerator from Cafe in white with brushed bronze accents flows effortlessly with the built-in pantry surrounding it. Erica Chayes Wida

"For a contemporary modern twist, an all-white kitchen and appliances along with gold hardware and finishes is ideal," Katherine Carter, a Los Angeles-based interior designer with many celebrity clients, told TMRW. "Not only does an all-white kitchen leave a fresh palette in which to cook from, it also really opens up the space and creates an airy, fresh feel."

For people who may not be partial to gold, Carter suggested opting for brass, black or polished chrome hardware to complement the white backdrop.

"I tend to steer clear of brushed chrome or nickel as it flattens the space and leaves a dull appearance against any kitchen," she told TMRW.

2. Create a triangular space between appliances

When Ina Garten gave TODAY's Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager a tour of her kitchen, she shared her secret is to set up the dishwasher, stove and fridge in a "triangle shape." This way, moving between them while preparing meals feels effortless. Even for our family (without a giant kitchen or two dishwashers like Ina), this was a functional choice.

When we mapped out a renovation plan, we moved the dishwasher next to the sink (it used to be on the other side of the room — don't even get me started!). Then, we centered the stove on one wall and moved the fridge to the adjacent wall. Now it's a perfect space to move around in while I cook. The difference is unbelievable!

3. Remove anything that consumes the space

Say goodbye to that old peninsula! Say hello to open, clean space!Erica Chayes Wida

"Sometimes in smaller-to-moderate sized kitchens, islands or peninsulas (islands that attach to one of the countertops) can just take up space and make the kitchen feel small," Carter said. "By utilizing other types of built-in storage solutions, you can make the kitchen feel open and inviting."

Even for someone not gutting the whole space, removing the peninsula vastly improved the feeling of the room. Before, it felt constricted and sometimes stressful with a family of four and a large dog moving around before mealtime. Once it was gone, cooking felt much easier.

Removing an island or peninsula in a smaller kitchen makes the space feel much larger.Erica Chayes Wida

4. Create a practical layout for cabinets and countertops

After some research, we bought cabinets and countertops from Ikea and opted for the professional installation. Their kitchen remodel section, which you can browse online or in store, was amazing for what we needed. You can set up an appointment with their free kitchen team, shop products and example spaces and then use the in-store virtual computer system to input your kitchen's square footage and create the perfect layout for your needs. American Woodmark, Hampton Bay (available at large chains like Home Depot), Wayfair and Lowe's all have cabinets available in different sizes and price points as well. For those looking to really splurge for custom-crafted cabinetry, supporting local lumber stores is always an option and many will build your cabinets from the wood of your choice.

Our space was unique, and so it required some hacks. According to Pinterest, there's no place like Ikea for a good furniture hack! For example, we wanted a trash pull-out drawer but were short on room to install one if we also wanted a Lazy Susan. Using the computer system, I selected different drawer widths until the right one fit (a narrow drawer with two shelves), removed the top shelf after it was installed, and voila! A perfectly sized trash pull-out drawer right next to the dishwasher and sink for easy prep.

Ikea has plenty of customizable solutions for how deep or tall you want your pantry shelving. I designed deep pull-out shelves on the bottom of our pantry to store all of our kids' dinnerware and easy snacks they can grab whenever they're hungry. I'm also a dried spice nut, so I selected a shallow pull-out drawer to store and easily display what I need with a pullout shelf above it for all my oils and sauces.

Designing the pantry spacing and sizing created optimal storage and made it easy to organize.Erica Chayes Wida

We also opted for under-cabinet and inside drawer lighting. which comes with a remote control dimmer (one of my favorite features in the kitchen).

The countertops can be purchased through Ikea, but are sourced from a different company called Caesarstone that will ship custom quartz countertops nationwide whether or not you go through the international chain. We got the Kasker Himalayan Moon quartz countertops to hide little spills and break up the clean white lines. I also love how the darker stones pick up the rustic smoked chestnut color of the wide-plank Pergo flooring we got from Lowe's. Strong, easy for anyone to install and waterproof for messes made with a big family, we loved how affordable this option was while still giving the natural look of wood.

"For a mother of two young children, marble quartz countertop is perfect because it's as gorgeous as it is extremely durable," Carter told TMRW. "Quartz countertops far outshine the dated real marble in terms of lifespan and style. They typically come with a warranty. You won’t get that with real stone."

5. Integrate special items to reflect a personal touch

Because we used corporate brands for bigger ticket items, like Ikea and G.E. that offer manufacturer warranties and affordable options, I let my personality shine in the kitchenware details that completed the space. Since my husband and I plan to eventually flip the house, I knew that I could leave my new, gorgeous kitchen behind knowing staple items would come with me wherever we landed next.

An ebony cutting board made from leftover Taylor guitar parts, a cookbook I found on a memorable day in Brooklyn and handmade Moroccan glassware from Revival helped create warm, personal touches in a clean, modern kitchen.Erica Chayes Wida

Finding the right pieces, most of which came from global artisanal brands with sustainable, community-driven initiatives from Morocco to Mexico, felt like a treasure hunt. I also added in hand towels, dinnerware and little gold accessories from Anthropologie and West Elm.

For some, refreshing a kitchen space can be as simple as repainting or refacing kitchen cabinets, giving walls a fresh coat of paint, new tile backsplash and integrating smaller appliances and cooking tools. Here's how I used smaller items to perfect the renovation:

  • We added a large wood cutting board from Stella Falone. The company was co-founded by the owner of Taylor Guitars, which designs instruments using ebony wood parts from a small sawmill in Cameroon (West Africa). Stella Falone was created as a way to repurpose the leftover ebony into culinary grade cutting boards. As a singer, I loved the tie between cooking and playing music and that the sawmill was creating revenue for the people in Yaounde, Cameroon.
  • Clear Moroccan glassware with a matching pitcher from Revival Rugs' tabletop 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 rug that's woven from biodegradable and carbon-neutral jute fiber at a third-generation, family-owned weaving house. It balances the clean, modern lines of the kitchen with a Bohemian, earthy feel.
  • My matching Smeg appliances express my love for Italy, vintage vibes, perfectly toasted raisin bread and (perhaps most importantly) a strong cappuccino.
A farmhouse sink, small Smeg appliances and a hand-woven fruit basket bring organic texture and some vintage aesthetic to the modern white kitchen.Erica Chayes Wida
  • To top it off, I have a clay Moroccan tagine for delicious rice dishes, a handmade clay Mexican hot chocolate vase (which I currently use as a centerpiece to house a bouquet of dried eucalyptus) and a molcajete from Oaxaca to make killer guacamole any day of the week. I got these all from Verve Culture, a boutique website that curates its home goods from local artisans around the world. It's like shopping at a market or bazaar when you can't travel to it. My parents were married in Morocco and I studied Oaxaca in anthropology in college, so both cuisines and cookware have sentimental value.
  • The Always Pan from Our Place complemented the terra cotta hues of the clay pieces and cookbooks I keep on display. I love how the company highlights cuisine-specific cookware from people and places around the world and works with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council to help bring fresh food to underserved areas.
  • In most kitchens, knives remain out on the counter. I loved the French brand Opinel and the way the Parallele knife set has beautiful natural handles and a simple wood block design that accents the natural hues of my contemporary kitchen.