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Kitchen of the Week: A Creative Director’s Righting-the-Wrongs Kitchen Update in Three Stages, Budget Edition


Kitchen of the Week: A Creative Director’s Righting-the-Wrongs Kitchen Update in Three Stages, Budget Edition

September 28, 2023

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.

Photography of finished kitchen by Samantha Popp unless noted, courtesy of Sandra Garcia and Jeff Wise.

The Latest Upgrade: Exposed Rafters, Paneled Walls, Fridge Niche, and More

from the get go sandra had wanted to remove the masonite ceiling and build a su 17
Above: From the get-go Sandra had wanted to remove the Masonite ceiling and build a surround for the fridge, which was sticking out of what had been a closet (see below). As she tells it, “I met with many a contractor and architect and one of the following would happen: they’d either mansplain, not listen, upsell, or quote me $150K+ to do a full kitchen reno. Uh, that was a no.”

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 new microwave and fridge led to months of range research before sandra boug 18
Above: The new microwave and fridge led to months of range research before Sandra bought their GE Monogram 30-inch smart oven (she gives it mixed reviews because of a series of early technical malfunctions), and their local appliance store Curto’s threw in a dishwasher for free as part of the deal. Next came the tiling: “After we decided to panel the walls, I thought, hmmm, that might not be so functional as a backsplash. I happened to have a box of Daltile subway tiles in the basement—a while back, I had planned to install them myself, but as it turns out, that’s not as easy as I thought it would be. Mayron said he could do it no problem—and it was one of the best decisions.”

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.

new counters led to a new sink and faucet: a kraus dex stainless steel undermou 19
Above: New counters led to a new sink and faucet: a Kraus Dex stainless-steel undermount, $279.95 (which she found by perusing Remodelista—Sandra says she’s read everything we’ve ever posted) and a Rbrohant modern-version of a bridge faucet, $239.99 (“it has one of those sprayers which, no joke, is strong enough to power wash the exterior of the house”).

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 added height of the open ceiling transformed the feel of the room. sandra w 20
Above: The added height of the open ceiling transformed the feel of the room. Sandra was going to whitewash the rafters, then “worried about the cottage core vibes—and, as Jeff pointed out, ‘it’s a one-way street: once you paint them there’s no going back.'” After “much hand-wringing and opinion shopping,” Sandra decided to keep the wood natural, at least for now (the last thing Mayron’s team did was clean up and sand the ceiling). Two 10-inch Luna Pendant globe lights as well as dweLED Flush Mount lights notably brighten the kitchen.

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.

when the kitchen was starting to come together, sandra got out some brass brack 21
Above: When the kitchen was starting to come together, Sandra got out some brass brackets she had bought years ago and paired them with Ikea Tranhult/Sandhult wall shelves, $34 each: “they’re light-weight, have the thin profile I was looking for, and are made of real wood. I hid the bevel side by pointing it towards the wall.” Photograph by Sandra Garcia.
the 7 inch brass shelf brackets, \$\28 each, are from yester home, a uk site sa 22
Above: The 7-inch Brass Shelf Brackets, $28 each, are from Yester Home, a UK site Sandra recommends. The framed print is by Reed Wilson (sister of Remodelista/Gardenista contributors Kendra and Megan Wilson). The Ivymore Living fluted tumblers are from Falena, a new boutique in the neighborhood.
the front hall, with original paneling, leads to the kitchen. that&#8\2\17; 23
Above: The front hall, with original paneling, leads to the kitchen. That’s the living room on the right. The hall runner came from local shop In2Green (it’s the Margeaux Shapes Jute Rug by Leah Singh) and the kitchen rug is Schoolhouse’s Indigo Stripe Runner, $474.99. Photograph by Sandra Garcia.

Before: The Kitchen As It Appeared in the Listing

the space had been updated in recent decades in an economical generic way. here 24
Above: The space had been updated in recent decades in an economical-generic way. Here’s a look at the existing linoleum countertops and the cabinets pre-paint. “Because the room was so meh, I felt free to play—it couldn’t get any worse,” says Sandra. “But we were lucky that the cabinets are just boxes and pretty inoffensive.”

2017 Paint Job Number One: “Because Paint Solves Everything, Right?”

sandra enlisted jeff to spend their \10th anniversary painting the walls behr&a 25
Above: Sandra enlisted Jeff to spend their 10th anniversary painting the walls Behr’s Alaskan Gray—”a safe but dreary choice, I regret,” she says. They also painted the cabinets using “a surprisingly durable chalk paint from a big box store.” Note the hated and very inadequate “boob light” on the ceiling and the original fridge awkwardly sticking out from what had been a closet with the door removed.

2021 Paint Job Number 2: The Two-Toned Effect With Leftover Paint

wanting to introduce some contrast, sandra had already painted the back door bl 26
Above: Wanting to introduce some contrast, Sandra had already painted the back door black. On a weekend whim in 2021, she decided to two-tone the kitchen: she used a 2015 can of Janovic Paint Temptation and Benjamin Moore Swiss Coffee that was recently leftover from the hallway: “I started in the back where the window frame and moldings already divide the wall.” She also introduced a black hanging light, Ikea’s Ranarp, $49.99, and was very happy with the results—were it not for the problematic ceiling and fridge alcove.

Dinner Tonight

sandra and jeff recently celebrated their \16th anniversary, and no painting wa 27
Above: Sandra and Jeff recently celebrated their 16th anniversary, and no painting was involved. Sandra loves walking into the kitchen now and feeling the ceiling height. “Of course, if I ever change my mind about any of it, I can always call Mayron.”

More kitchen inspiration:

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