Award-Winning Budget-Friendly Kitchen Makeover

See how designer Cheryl Hamilton-Gray turned a dated California kitchen into a budget-friendly dream come true for the owner.

By Elzy Kolb | Updated Jul 9, 2013 11:46 AM

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Budget Kitchen Makeover

Designer Cheryl Hamilton-Gray's award-winning budget kitchen makeover. Photo:

Besides wanting a budget-friendly, easily maintained kitchen with clean, contemporary lines, the owner of this 1950s-era bungalow had few instructions for designer Cheryl Hamilton-Gray, CKD, of Hamilton-Gray Design in Carlsbad, CA.

The rather generic-looking one-story house had a neutral style that could easily be adapted to the midcentury modern aesthetic the young homeowner prefers. Revamping the floor plan was the first step. Opening the kitchen to the living room flooded the space with natural light and created “a great-room effect,” says Hamilton-Gray.

Budget Kitchen Makeover
Smart shopping and attention to detail were key to the project. Hamilton-Gray made her way to IKEA, where she knew she’d find items to fit the homeowner-approved black, white, and gray color scheme. “IKEA cabinets are very reasonable, and if you buy cleverly and get a good installer, it’s a great product,” she says. 

There are plenty of convenience features behind the sleek surfaces, such as a floor-to-ceiling pull-out pantry, a roll-out trash-and-recycling unit, and deep drawers providing practical storage for everything from pots and pans to dishes and plastic containers.

Milk-glass door fronts on the upper cabinets surrounding the sink yield “a lovely element of reflection” that lightens and brightens the room, and makes the window appear larger, Hamilton-Gray says.

Besides the cabinets, Hamilton-Gray found the stainless steel sink at IKEA—“I was so impressed with the value and the design!”—as well as the appliances. The under-counter microwave is less expensive than similar drawer units, and its brushed metal controls and door handle blend with hardware on the cabinets and other appliances.

The slide-in stove is “an affordable way to get the built-in look.” The refrigerator, too, mimics the appearance of a built-in model. “There was enough depth in the wall to inset it,” Hamilton-Gray says. “It’s not counter-depth, but the installation gives it the look without the price.”

Budget Kitchen Makeover - NKBA 1

The aluminum toe-kick, which gleams like stainless steel, complements appliances, sink, and hardware. It provides the space with “a nice lift, contrasts with cabinet finish, and gives the base cabinets a wonderful floating effect.”

The homeowner fell in love with the sculptural faucet and made it the number one item on the his short wish list. Rather than spring for a pricey unit from a designer showroom, Hamilton-Gray found this affordable model at Home Depot; even better, it was marked down as part of a closeout sale.

The granite countertops were another closeout. “Most stone yards have what they call the ‘bone yard.’ It’s full of scraps, many of which are big enough for an island, a backsplash, or a contrasting accent piece.” Hamilton-Gray found this granite—which is similar to styles labeled Kashmir White or Azul Platino—in the bone yard. The vendor had discontinued it, because it wasn’t a big seller, but “it’s a great neutral [that] you can put it with anything.” It works especially well with this color combination.

Budget Kitchen Makeover - NKBA 2
The cork floor tiles are as gentle on the feet as they were on the wallet. The durable, easy-maintenance squares, installed like vinyl or carpet tile, are a good choice for do-it-yourselfers. “There are such great possibilities with cork, it should be investigated for its great value,” she says. “And the color is a warm anchor for what could be a sterile black-and-white kitchen.”

Textured porcelain tile installed on the wall to the left of the refrigerator provides a nice break from the kitchen’s slick surfaces and “fits the look so beautifully.” The tiles cover the brick backside of the living room fireplace, since as Hamilton-Gray points out, “brick didn’t work with the crisp, clean look we wanted.”

Besides living up to its owner’s expectations, this attractive, easy-care, and high-functioning workspace won the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 2012 National Design Competition’s Budget-Friendly Kitchen Award.

Cheryl Hamilton-Gray, CKD, of Hamilton-Gray Design, offered the following budget kitchen makeover strategies:

• Negotiate: Ask everyone you deal with if there’s any flexibility in their pricing.

• Set priorities: Choose a couple of materials or design elements that are most important to you and make them your splurge items. Be flexible with all other choices.

• Save on appliances: Consider black or white appliances to avoid paying the premium for stainless steel. Remember that black appliances are easier to match than white, which varies somewhat between manufacturers.

• Salvage sources: Explore alternative shopping sources like Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat ReStores, salvage yards, thrift and antique stores, eBay—even yard sales and estate sales.

• Retails discounts: Ask vendors about overstocks, closeouts, floor samples, showroom models and upcoming sales.

• Shop for seconds: Handcrafted items such as ceramic tiles gain charm and character through slight variations in shape, color, or pattern.

• Do it yourself: Savings add up if you paint, hang wallpaper, or install floor tiles; advanced skills make an even greater bottom-line impact.

Visit Hamilton-Gray Design for more inspirational photos and info about the San Diego, CA-based firm.