Dream Kitchen on a Dime
Buff Strickland (styled by Elizabeth Demos)
Emily and Sean with, from left, Eva, 11; Oliver, 9; and Oaks, 6; and French bulldog Henri
Emily and Sean Paben are as fearless as they are frugal. When the can-do couple decided to save money by reno’ing the dated kitchen in their 1970s Waco, TX, home on their own, they plunged in with almost no remodeling experience, fallback funds––or power tools. “I actually didn’t own an electric saw when we started,” says Sean, general manager of Magnolia Market, the store owned by HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines. “I had to borrow one from a friend.”
Learning as they went, the Pabens spent most weekends in 2014 transforming the cramped eyesore into an open-plan kitchen with a rustic-industrial feel. But the slim budget didn’t mean they had to sacrifice personality. With some strategic spending, the duo was able to pack the cooking space with style and still save along the way. The result: a one-of-a-kind kitchen that’s now the family’s go-to gathering hub. Still, there won’t be a repeat performance anytime soon. “I don’t want to do another remodel for a long, long time,” says Sean.
Classic white subway tiles stretching to the ceiling were an inexpensive way to give the walls some oomph. Although Emily and Sean had never laid tile before, the process was—to their surprise—drama-free. “We invested $50 in a tile cutter, made sure the counters were level, and were good to go,” says Sean.
Exhausted by attempts to scrape off the home’s original, old-school popcorn ceiling, Emily and Sean hid it instead using low-cost pine paneling. They had planned on painting or staining the planks but liked the raw boards so much, they just kept the wood as is. “There’s such a rustic, nostalgic feel to it,” says Emily.
After assessing their fledgling handyman skills, the Pabens outsourced the installation of the 2-inch-wide hexagonal black ceramic tiles from Tiles Direct. “If we hadn’t, the floor wouldn’t be finished yet,” says Sean. Gleaming antique brass kickplates Emily found online contrast with the tiles and echo the cabinets’ brass hardware.
No one ever guesses the sleek, glossy cabinets are actually pressed particleboard from IKEA. Sean luxed them up with high-shine gray paint (E15-57 by Fine Paints of Europe) and brushed-brass hardware from myknobs.com. The Danby marble countertops were a splurge, but the visual payoff was huge.
With the extra-large pendants they really wanted out of their price range, the couple crafted their own using pleated black fabric shades lined with gold foil from Fenchel Shades and lamp hardware from Grand Brass Lamp Parts. Total cost: $150 each, hundreds less than the store versions they were eyeing.
The twofer of affordability and practicality sold the couple on butcher block for the top of the island. “We chop everything except raw meat right on the wood,” says Emily. “We’re definitely not nice to it.” Twice a year Sean sands the surface and applies food-safe mineral oil to keep the walnut in tip-top condition.
Knowing everyone always congregates in the kitchen, the Pabens turned a corner into a hangout spot, complete with forest-themed wallpaper from Anthropologie and a Restoration Hardware settee. “Our friends thought we were crazy to put a sofa in here, but we love, love, love it,” says Emily.