Rachel Ortega spent a decade living with cherry cupboards — but she couldn’t stand the red hue. So, the interior designer and her husband saved up their money to gut the entire kitchen of their Albany, California home.

“Once we were financially ready, we decided to just go for it,” she explains. “The kitchen is the heart of the home. It’s in the middle of an open floor plan, so we really wanted to make it something we loved.”

Even though they’d squirreled away funds for years, the couple still had to complete the project on a budget. They were able to transform the dark, outdated floor plan into a warm, contemporary gathering place by doing most of the labor themselves and carefully curating chic finishes within their price range. Here’s how they pulled it off.

Spending Wisely

The Ortegas chose to swap their hefty cherry cabinets for an extremely affordable option: IKEA boxes paired with Semihandmade Supermatte Desert Grey Slab fronts. “I wanted it to be lighter, but I didn’t necessarily want a bright white kitchen,” Rachel details. “I gravitated toward the green undertone.”

With the help of IKEA’s kitchen planner, she mapped out her vision within the confines of the original U-shaped layout — a clever cost-saving measure. She quickly determined that she only really needed lowers, which decreased the final bill, as well. “We try to live minimally, so the uppers weren’t completely necessary,” she reasons. “There were other areas of the home where we knew we could have storage.”

Going DIY

When it came to attaching the doors, the handy family got creative. They purchased extra side panels and toe kicks, which they cut down to fit in any awkward gaps between cabinets. The result is a distinctly custom look that allowed them to situate the sink directly under the window and create an extra cupboard on the other side of the peninsula.

Since the duo was frugal with the cabinetry, they were able to splurge on white oak flooring to replace the existing builder-grade tile — but they still installed it on their own. They also treated themselves to a glazed thin brick Fireclay Tile backsplash. “That’s where I wanted the texture to come out,” she shares. “It adds a little more interest.”

Adding Accents

They kept their old stainless steel appliances to save money but opted for brushed nickel pulls to match. “I tried to go against the grain, so I didn’t use gold or brass. I also wanted the metal to tie in with the fridge and the stove,” Rachel says of the semicircular handles.

The cozy, neutral color palette is complete with a creamy limewash range hood, shades of terracotta in the clock and light fixtures, and a sprinkle of black accents, like the faucet, stools, and a frequently-used cast iron Dutch oven. Tailor-made for and by the Ortegas themselves, the kitchen is nothing if not personalized.

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