Before & After: Kitchen Edition


A successful kitchen renovation isn’t measured by the number of walls knocked down or the size of a kitchen island. Instead, it’s the thoughtful details and design elements culled over time from Pinterest and the hours of research on materials coming to life that brings the joy for a lifestyle that finally fits you and your family.

Here we look at 11 kitchens renovated by homeowners who came to Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects. Some were major transformations removing walls, creating built-ins, and adding new windows, while others proved that smart improvements in space efficiency, updated materials, and renewed layouts gave them the overall refreshes they wanted. 

From outdated to classic gray

After living on Long Island for many years, Rosalind and Lawrence were ready to downsize and return to their beloved former hometown of Brooklyn. They purchased a 100-year-old home in Cypress Hills and slowly started renovating the outdated spaces. After refreshes of two bathrooms, a staircase, and a walk-in closet were complete, they decided to turn their attention to the kitchen.

The main problem besides the yellow walls, dated wooden cabinets, and orange-tiled backsplash, was the lack of storage. Rosalind was forced to store her larger appliances like the slow cooker and mixer in the living room. So, with the help of a Sweeten contractor, the couple reimagined their layout and added a kitchen island that doubles as storage as well as a convenient gathering spot. Rosalind chose gray tones throughout and accented them with interesting geometric shapes.


Same layout, more storage

Shoko and Rob really liked their 900-square-foot apartment in Harlem, New York. The only thing that gnawed at them was the “orange-y cabinetry, shiny black appliances, and brown countertop.” So they decided to take the plunge and redo the small kitchen. 

They did their research and found information from designer Keren Richter on how to make the most of their cook space and turned to Sweeten to execute their vision. In addition to overhauling the look of the kitchen, they wanted to improve the flow and functionality with more storage as their top goal. Their original kitchen didn’t take advantage of the ceiling height so they extended the new upper cabinetry to get as close as possible to the ceiling. In all, they were able to create a minimalist style yet warm space to cook in and entertain.


Dark and dated to contemporary chic

How do you make a house feel more like a loft apartment? First, you open up the layout so that you have an unobstructed sightline across the first floor. For Romuald and his family, this meant tearing down a wall between the kitchen and the main living space. To regain the storage space lost by removing the cabinets on that wall, they decided to do what many do: build an island. 

They also added other design touches to fit into their cooking-centric lives. Their Sweeten contractor suggested they install an “appliance garage” to make their countertop less cluttered. Being avid cooks, Romuald and his wife have a lot of small appliances, including a toaster, coffee maker, and mixer, that would be nicely concealed—but yet easily accessible—by this storage solution. They also put in a pot-filler above the stove and a microwave drawer in the island. 

The warm gray cabinets complement the white quartz countertop and the classic subway tile of the backsplash. For ease of cleaning and added durability, Romuald installed a porcelain floor that mimics the look of real wood.


Island design

Veteran renovators Jennifer and Joe always knew their New Jersey apartment wouldn’t be complete without a kitchen remodel. They, like many homeowners, wanted an open-concept layout in order to see the amazing views of the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, and George Washington Bridge that their apartment affords. 

They asked their Sweeten contractor to knock down a wall to get better sightlines to the wall of windows in their living room. Unfortunately, the entire wall could not be removed as it was load-bearing. So their contractor took down as much of the wall as possible and utilized the rest of the space to house the refrigerator. 

Jennifer and Joe based the design entirely around the marble waterfall island, which features a deep black base with white veins throughout the countertop. The color palette of the entire kitchen plays off the two tones, with glossy black drawers and all-white upper and lower cabinetry as well as a white quartz countertop. Not one detail was spared, from the under-cabinet lighting to the textured backsplash.


Midcentury Scandi meets Italian modern

“I wanted midcentury Scandi meets 70s Italian modern,” says Brooklyn Sweeten homeowner Melissa of her design preference for her kitchen. The co-op building itself had a midcentury vibe so she wanted to continue it inside. 

First things first, her Sweeten contractor removed walls that were blocking off the kitchen from the living area. Once that was complete, natural sunlight bathed the entire apartment. She carefully selected a mix of different materials (matte concrete floor and counters) as well as warmer accents in her textile and paint choices. A built-in shelf intersects over a new peninsula for additional seating. She didn’t move the plumbing (which is an added cost) or change the location of the appliances. 


From the ’80s to modern industrial

For their one-bedroom co-op in a 19th-century converted warehouse, homeowners Dan and Mike wanted to bring their 1980s kitchen into a new era. While they desired a nod to the industrial roots of the building, they did want the aesthetic to be balanced.

They hired a Sweeten contractor to help redefine the space. To create an open floor plan, a wall was removed as well as the upper cabinets, which were replaced with beautiful open shelves of salvaged Douglas Fir. The base cabinets were updated from laminate to a full set of IKEA cabinets and drawers, customized by Semihandmade. A modern waterfall countertop on the peninsula was used to visually separate the kitchen entry. They also utilized different natural and synthetic wood finishes to maintain a measure of warmth and masculinity.


A dark kitchen sees the (natural) light 

Even after tackling other updates to their colonial-style home, Nydia and Jonathan knew that renovating their Brooklyn kitchen was a top priority. The old version had mismatched appliances, dated cabinets, and not enough counter space. The dark space hardly felt welcoming (or functional) for their family of five. 

They turned to Sweeten to help with the construction process, hiring a trusted contractor from its carefully vetted network. The project involved rethinking the layout to opening up the stairway to the basement, which is accessed via the kitchen. The renovation helped key kitchen elements find new locations: the refrigerator moved out of the main cooking area, the dishwasher now sits directly across from the sink, and the walls surrounding the basement stairs were taken down. By replacing existing cabinets with ceiling-height ones and adding a peninsula, the space was really transformed.


From functional to fabulous

A mutual love of cooking (and of cooking together) ultimately led Marissa and Jeremy to renovate their small kitchen in their Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, co-op. The space was so cramped that it brought about a special house rule: Only one person allowed in the kitchen at a time when cooking in order to keep the peace. 

Twenty-four inches of usable counter space was quintupled through the renovation, while other unique elements were added to suit the couple’s preferences and lifestyle. For example, they went non-traditional for the backsplash, using an antique mirror. They also installed a ventless washer/dryer combo unit and removed the space-invading gas dryer vent. “While a gas dryer dries clothes much faster than a ventless dryer, I wanted the extra counter space more than I wanted clothes dried in 20 minutes,” Marissa said. They capped off the gas vent and went long with the back counter. “I am excited about so many parts of our kitchen that I don’t know if I can pick a favorite!” she said.


A modern vision brought to life through an extension

For Laura and Tim, they decided they needed to do something about their kitchen that was “falling apart”—it had water damage from a leaky shower upstairs, the door to the patio was drafty, the cabinets were dark and “grungy,” and it generally just needed some fixing up.

The couple consulted their friend and designer Suzy Leon of Suzy Leon Design, Ltd. and came up with a plan to gut the existing kitchen but also enclose their back patio. The additional interior square footage would connect and provide a better flow between the kitchen, dining room, and outdoor space. The new enclosure would feature skylights to brighten the space. 

They kept the galley layout but chose a light color palette in the “minty” green shaker cabinets to offset the dark plank wood floors. White quartz countertops were utilized to help make the flow look more open and airy.


Reaching new heights—with less ceiling

With an 18-inch tiny dishwasher, an oven that wasn’t big enough to fit a cookie tray, and a kitchen sitting underneath a loft, a renovation was long overdue for this mom who cooked five nights a week.

One major challenge homeowners Emily and Trey faced was the inability to move the building’s intercom system that was smack in the middle of the kitchen. They hired a Sweeten contractor who came up with a good solution: create an L-shaped peninsula to accommodate the immovable pole—and give them more space and storage at the same time.

In addition to the new peninsula, they were also able to get rid of the loft above, which increased the ceiling height drastically. The result was a well-thought-out new kitchen perfect for the family of four’s busy lifestyle.


First time’s a charm

Jennifer and Jonn couldn’t believe their luck when they found their 2,100-square-foot, three-bedroom duplex in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It was the perfect location for their family of two kids and a dog. The story goes that the co-op was the result of combining three one-bedroom apartments to create a huge two-level residence with sole access to a sprawling rear garden. Voila! The perfect home…but with one catch: It needed to be renovated. 

The couple had their work cut out for them with this space that hadn’t been updated since the ’70s. They hired a contractor through Sweeten who was able to transform their white laminate kitchen into a light-filled galley kitchen with an eat-in banquette. They used shaker cabinets and five-panel doors while incorporating metals like brass lights and stainless steel appliances for a modern look.

Kitchens are arguably one of the most pivotal spaces in our homes. From giving us a gathering point to break bread together to providing space to tackle assignments and hobbies; every kitchen should deliver the kind of peace of mind (and organizational flow) that homeowners need. 

Inspired to renovate your kitchen? Check out Sweeten’s cost guides here.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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Meet The Cast Of HGTV’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition


On Sunday, February 16th HGTV will debut their reboot of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. During its original run from 2003-2012, this family-friendly reality hit, which originally aired on ABC, was one of the most beloved shows of the early aughts. But, HGTV could not be a more appropriate network in 2020 to give the audience a feel-good show focused on design. 

During its original run, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was hosted by Ty Pennington with a variety of designers and celebrity guests coming and going over the seasons. In its new incarnation, Pennington’s role is filled by Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Casting also found the perfect dynamic trio in designers Breegan Jane and Carrie Locklyn along with carpenter Darren Keefe. 

Meeting the cast in person, not only did the three have incredible chemistry (the kind of chemistry you can’t fake), but they were truly excited to be a part of this production “I think we’re all very grateful for the incarnation that existed before us and so happy to step into this role and carry the flag for this amazing show,” says Keefe.

The New Cast 

Before being cast, Jane was best known for her work designing high-end homes and properties. Her name may sound familiar to some because she’s a media personality who regularly speaks at events and has appeared on KTLA in Los Angeles as well as The Hallmark Channel nationally. She also authored a children’s book titled Carbie

Locklyn will certainly be recognizable to fans of The Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible where she served as lead designer. She has also been featured on several HGTV and DIY Network shows including Don’t Sweat It and Garage Mahal.

However, the mother who calls New Jersey home, didn’t start out as an interior designer, rather she pivoted from a previous career as a professional organizer. On the show and in real life, Locklyn applies organizational methods to design, telling me her philosophy is that “great design can’t start without great organization.” 

Rounding out the cast is Keefe, who was born in Northern Ireland into a family of craftsmen. He moved to the Midwest as a teenager, but ultimately settled in Los Angeles. In 2017, he founded Drumcree Designs, creating one-of-a-kind handcrafted furniture pieces for celebrities and businesses. With his charming Irish accent, he provides a warm, calming presence to the show.

New Era, Same Formula

While the reboot will in some ways be different than the original, it’s still a tearjerker.

“It’s such an enormous show and it’s such a huge experience to be able to change people’s lives through design,” says Locklyn. “I mean, we all love design, at the core, but to be able to walk into someone’s house and walk into someone’s life and change their tomorrow. I mean, that’s really what this show is about.”

Functional Design

While many HGTV shows emphasize the glamour of design, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a bit different. Every family had specific needs and challenges that had to be prioritized over aesthetics, at least at the beginning of the project. 

“We go in and we learn the story of the family, we see the family, we see their stories, we pinpoint what it is they need, and we move from there,” says Locklyn. “So we always start every design with practicality, organization, and functionality. Because we want these homes to be something that the families can grow with. We don’t want anything in the home to become a burden for them. We always say what is your story? What are your needs, and how do we attack that?”

As an expert in customizing furniture, Keefe’s skills were crucial. “Everything I designed was specific to the family. We really made sure that whatever we were building or designing, really fit the family. So a lot of the things that I built were at their specific request,” he says.

Unlike many HGTV shows where different designers and personalities build things with a signature aesthetic in mind, there simply couldn’t be a singular design template applied to all the projects on Extreme Makeover.

“Each home had a very different personality,” says Jane. “We were all pulling together. So each home is like a completely new style. Not any two were alike. They had completely different color palettes.”

Celebrity Guest Stars

Much like the first incarnation, there is no shortage of celebrity guest stars on the new show. Ty Pennington will return for several episodes along with Anthony Anderson, Derek Hough, LeAnn Rimes, Laila Ali, and Tyler Florence making appearances. A roster of HGTV stars including David Bromstad, Tamara Day, Tarek El Moussa and Jasmine Roth also grace the show this season.

Behind The Scenes

The cast gladly revealed how important the aspect of community was to the show. Many of the families featured are known locally for their own efforts to give back. In turn, their communities, even complete strangers, volunteered to help with the builds.

But, even with a massive crew working around the clock, there was no way to complete each project in five days (really, just five days) without the help of volunteers. 

All The Feels

While there are ten episodes slated for the upcoming season, this is hopefully only the beginning of a long run.  

“I think that it’s rare that TV is this positive and inspiring. And so to be a part of that was amazing. But I think that’s what we all loved about watching it,” says Jane. “And I want more content like this across all of our TVs. And I think this show really shows that viewers are looking for those heartfelt stories. They’re looking for something that’s bigger than them. And that’s what made me tune in, in the first rendition. And I hope that brings people back again now.”



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