Sandra Garcia, Jeff Wise, and their two boys made the migration north of New York City in 2017, trading apartment living for a 1905 three-story cottage on a hill overlooking the Hudson. Set in the village of Irvington, NY (after Washington Irving whose estate is within walking distance), their place came with an old-fashioned twist doorbell, beadboard paneling, stone-enclosed vegetable beds, and a modest late 20th-century kitchen that was passable.
Modest is fine but passable would never make the cut for Sandra. She’s an editorial creative director and designer who specializes in digital storytelling—currently an art director at Netflix Tudum, Sandra was previously The New Yorker’s editorial interactives director—and Jeff is a journalist who often writes about aviation (he’s the authority on what happened to Malaysia Airlines’ disappeared Flight MH370). Both are stars at what they do: I know this because we all met early in our careers working at Travel + Leisure magazine.
I’ve witnessed firsthand that when something looks off design-wise to Sandra, she adjusts her eyeglasses and makes it right. So it’s no surprise that she’s been futzing with their kitchen since move in, starting with what she terms “the-trying-to-make-it-not-look-awful phase.” With a budget that initially allowed only for cosmetic improvements, Sandra accessorized and painted: she and Jeff spent their 10th anniversary applying the first coats. Along the way, appliances also got upgraded and the “boob light” on the ceiling was finally replaced. The rest of the family applauded the results, but to Sandra the space still didn’t work. That is until she faced the fact that it would never be up to her standards until the loathed dropped ceiling got ripped out.
Here’s the newly updated kitchen—a standout example of creative reuse and a happy collab with a talented and kind contractor. Plus: keep scrolling to see the Before and the prior tweaks.
The Latest Upgrade: Exposed Rafters, Paneled Walls, Fridge Niche, and More
Then a friend had a great experience remodeling a bathroom with Mayron Castro of Ultimate Design Build Corp of Mamaronek, NY. He was patient and calm and Sandra took the leap. As one thing led to another, six weeks of collaborative problem solving and construction ensued. Shown here are several of the results: the exposed ceiling (the original plan was to close it back up until Sandra saw the rafters), tongue-and-groove paneling inspired by the house’s original detailing, and a built-in fridge surround with storage that makes use of unused vertical space.
The birch kitchen island/cart, Ikea’s Förhöja, $149.99, was one of Sandra’s first acquisitions for the room. A more recent Ikea game changer: the Ersnas sideboard, $449.99: “It streamlined things on that side of the kitchen at a height that didn’t block the window,” says Sandra. “I left the doors off for open storage. Our new microwave fit perfectly inside: we ran the cord through a hole cut in the back. The microwave upgrade looked so nice it became the gateway drug for me to start thinking about replacing the rest of the appliances. Then, a month or two later our big old white fridge broke and I was like hallelujah, let’s get it out of here. We emergency-bought the Beko and that really changed the vibes.” Photograph by Sandra Garcia.
The plan had been to preserve the cabinets and beat-up counters and eventually replace both at once. But as the counters got chewed up during construction, Sandra decided to install affordable butcher block—“I wasn’t going to put marble or even Quartzite on top of these old cabinets.” A single 96-by-25 inch Natural Straight Butcher Block panel from Lowe’s, $269, got cut to size for use in three places.
Sandra also painted the cabinet doors Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace, and earlier she had swapped in new hardware (see the original below). The butcher block has a food-grade oil sealant—and so far so good (Sandra is not one to let puddles languish on wood.) The Tosca dish rack, $88, is by Yamazaki. Photograph by Sandra Garcia.
The walls are painted White Dove and the trim is Chantilly Lace, both from Benjamin Moore (and on our 10 Easy Pieces: Architects’ White Paint Picks). As for the mock-tile vinyl floor: it’s another existing detail that Sandra can live with, at least it for a bit longer. The back door opens to a tiny mud room, which is next on the Things To Tackle list.
Before: The Kitchen As It Appeared in the Listing
2017 Paint Job Number One: “Because Paint Solves Everything, Right?”
2021 Paint Job Number 2: The Two-Toned Effect With Leftover Paint
More kitchen inspiration:
- Aya Brackett’s Hippie House Update in Oakland [This is the project that led Sandra to her stainless undermount sink.]
- 13 Cost-Conscious Kitchen Remodels from the Remodelista Archives
- Two Young Paris Architects Completely Redo Their Kitchen for Under $4,300