Finding out my new meters would cost $1,800 was the right kind of sticker shock

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In Renovator’s notebook, the owners open up on the details of their renovations: how long it really took; how much does it actually cost; what went horribly wrong; and what happened wonderfully, by chance, it’s worth it in the end. For more tips on how to make your next project a success, follow @reno_notebook.

Square feet: 156

Year of construction: 1880

Budget: $8,250

Priority: Bring some warmth to a beloved kitchen without starting completely from scratch.

Jen LevyThe paint buying experience was your typical tumultuous story. After weighing six different whites, she bought five gallons of Decorator’s White, started covering the walls of her Baltimore kitchen and abruptly stopped. “He looked too gray,” she recalled. “I was like, that’s not what I want.” It was then that the founder of studio at sunseta design and production company specializing in shop interiors and pop-ups, asked his good interior designer friend Joy Strom to come and evaluate the enigma of colors.

The kitchen, before.

Within an hour, Strom had helped Levy choose a fresh, clean option for the walls (Chantilly lace by Benjamin Moore) and a beigey off-white for the cabinets (divine white by Sherwin-Williams). “Just having a conversation with another design-oriented person who’s done this before really catapulted a lot of clever ideas,” Levy shares.

The kitchen, before.

Luckily for Levy, the kitchen didn’t need updating. “The previous owners had great taste, but I couldn’t wait to make this place my own,” she says. Knowing her friend didn’t want to spend a small fortune on the renovation, Strom convinced Levy to stick with the existing layout of the 156-square-foot room and focus on cosmetic updates. Levy has grown to love her quirky closet doors which, yes, sometimes don’t close completely and, on occasion, require tightening with a screwdriver. “I looked into these imperfections. If I wanted a new house, I would have bought a new house,” says Levy. Onward, in her own words, the first owner takes us behind the scenes of her roughly $8,000 makeover.

Save: Cohesive Quartz

I was desperate to swap out the dark green granite countertops in the kitchen, and Joy suggested white quartz to match the existing peninsula in the space. I was surprised how affordable it was: $1,800! This exchange also led me to buy a new sink and faucet (the old one was the size of a bar sink), which rang in at $350.

Splurge: a statement accessory

Not only was the ceiling fan a little dated and prone to grease, but I felt like the black blades made the ceiling appear lower than it actually was, which isn’t what you want in a small space. I had the whole thing removed and covered, then replaced the distracting can lights with Solderless LEDs ($22 per piece). On a trip to Brooklyn, I dropped $700 on two vintage pendant lights by howl and squall that act almost like jewelry for the bedroom, like when you’re getting ready to go out and complementing a simple outfit with some solid earrings.

Save: Monochrome Buttons

As I was browsing through brass hardware for the cabinets, thinking it would make the space look a bit more upscale, I realized it would be around $1,000. Joy chimed in again, “Why don’t you just buy some wood? handles and buttons and paint them? she said. It would never have crossed my mind. It was a simple and affordable idea at around $3 apiece, and it looks so appealing.

Splurge: Appliances with a Payment Plan

Paint and countertops were costs I had to pay upfront, so when I finally moved on to appliances, I wanted to pay them back over time. After spending months researching online and not going anywhere, I went to a Best Buy in person and within an hour I selected the fridge, intervaland Dishwasher. The total ended up being $4,800 (including delivery, freight, and installation), but with a store credit card I was able to spread the payments over 12 months without interest. That was the key to making this whole renovation affordable.

While my main priority with a fridge was that it kept my food fresh, I was pickier with the dishwasher. I wanted a panel ready option so it would blend in with the cabinetry. After obtaining a facade matching the cabinet door store for $100 I had a friend make him a custom handle.

Save: a bespoke island with a nostalgic twist

New Butcher’s Block Island was a $250 score on Craigslist. The salesman told me it was from the 1970s, but who really knows. I loved its modern lines, but not its big wheels. For sturdiness, I removed them and replaced them with 3 x 3 inch wooden blocks that I found on Amazon. Because the tones were different, I decided to paint the cubes in a black and white checkered pattern. It’s a pattern that extends through the rest of the house, and it also reminded me of the MacKenzie-Childs pieces in my mom’s kitchen growing up. I always come back to what’s easy, what’s affordable, and what I can do on my own.

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