An old friend recently wrote to us and said she stumbled upon our blog after a Google search on “real-life Pinterest kitchens”. Which got me thinking, does this mean we have a real-life Pinterest kitchen?! Since we used Pinterest heavily in the design of our space, it’s not surprising, but I must admit I hadn’t thought of it that way until I read that email from her.
Related: A commercial shot in our kitchen!
So if we do live in a real-life Pinterest kitchen, what’s it like? Friends, I hate to admit this, but it’s just like…normal life. It still gets dirty, and there are tumbleweeds of Luna’s dog hair in the corners. The occasional bug, sometimes. A few months ago, a mouse was living in our pantry, going to town on our almonds and leaving little presents of its own behind (our house was built in the 1920’s, so there are lots of open grates for easy mouse access). Don’t get me wrong: we feel incredibly fortunate to have designed and live in our very own Pinterest kitchen. But it’s easy to look at those pristine online photos and think, if only I had a Pinterest kitchen, my life would be a dream. Even I find myself doing that. Then I have to shake myself and remember, having a Pinterest kitchen doesn’t mean your food always tastes delicious and your kids always behave and you’re stuck in a perpetual good hair day. Actually, having a Pinterest kitchen is a lot like…well, not having a Pinterest kitchen.
But I digress. If you’re reading this, you’re at least mildly interested in what it takes to achieve a real life Pinterest kitchen because let’s face it — as a nation, we’re spending more and more time in our kitchens (hooray!). And, who wants to be stuck in a dark, depressing closet while they prepare food for their friends and family? Modern day families want open, bright, airy and cheerful spaces for making and consuming food — and that makes us excited since it shows people are putting a good deal of intention into quality time eating food together.
Now I wish I could tell you that our reno project was painlessly easy, and since we had an unlimited budget it was a breeze to pick out the ideal finishes of our dreams. Again — that’s Pinterest life. In real life, it was the two of us, Alex and me, trying to make a myriad of decisions on a tight timeline with a very real budget number in mind, constantly making tradeoffs to satisfy both budget and aesthetic. However somehow, we ended up with a kitchen on budget and very close to the Pinterest kitchen of our dreams. Here are a few of our tips on how to create a Pinterest kitchen, while staying married and (a little bit) sane.
- Think creatively: open up, or close off. The kitchen we started with was poorly configured, with a peninsula cutting off most of the room and almost no counter space to speak of (see above). Our contractor had the genius idea of closing off a second door into our kitchen to create a generous amount of new counter space, and we’re immensely glad we did. We also opened a small doorway from our kitchen into the dining room, conjoining the two spaces and making the kitchen much larger and more community focused.
- Get on Pinterest and marinade. We started a Pinterest board of kitchen ideas, which was literally a lifesaver as it allowed us to see 1,000,001 ideas and started to give us a sense of our own style. If you’re not a Pinterest pro, a great way to find similar ideas is to find a photograph that you like, then scroll down to the “Related Pins” section below that image. You’ll get into crazy rabbit holes finding and pinning related images. Once your pinboard starts to come together, notice the common elements: do you tend toward light cabinets? Brass drawer pulls? White subway tiles with dark grout? You can even create a mood board by cutting and pasting elements from images you enjoy: cabinets from one photograph, floor treatment from another.
- Contrast is key. As is the current trend, we fell in love with light cabinets, but were worried about the starkness of a fully white kitchen. We decided on a dark brown island for some contrast and are so glad we did; the contrast makes the room feel grounded.
- Listen to your heart. One of the biggest risks we took in our kitchen was open shelving, again an idea from our Pinterest digging. We heard lots of arguments for upper cabinets, but in the end took the plunge with open shelves and love the airy feel they give the space. Our everyday dishes are kept on the lowest shelf and they’re used so much they never get dusty; lesser used items are reserved for the top shelves. I love seeing the changing patterns of our blue ball jars and coffee mugs as they rotate in and out of the dishwasher as part of everyday life. Somehow, we’ve managed to keep these shelves in fairly good order. As a compromise, we also created an enclosed glass-front upper shelf to mimic an old-fashioned hutch. It’s made out of stock cabinets but is designed to look custom, which gives us another space for dishes that’s more enclosed.
- Budget doesn’t always equal cheap; cheap isn’t always quality. One of the hardest constraints in this project was budget, and in retrospect it seems as if we were always making cost-based decisions. We did luck out in a few places – for example, our counter tops. Our perimeter counter tops are butcherblock counters from IKEA, one of the most cost-effective surfaces around. We love this surface and it’s held up quite nicely; its also easy to care for (see this post on butcher block counter top care). In the reverse, we decided to spring for some cabinets from a local cabinet dealer instead of IKEA-brand; cabinets are insanely expensive, but it was worth the extra dough to have a more customized setup.
- Find good help. If you’re like us, you’re just handy enough to get yourself in trouble. Kitchen renos are a big job, so we decided that after doing our own design work, we’d find a contractor to do the dirty work. Our contractor did a fantastic job, and let us be as involved as possible in the overall design and choosing finishes. Were it a smaller job we might have handled it ourselves, but this one was for the professionals, and we’re so glad we had them.
- Give yourself grace. This might sound silly, but you are under a lot of stress during a reno. The physical manifestation of your mental sanity is covered in construction dust, you’re trying to carry on a normal-ish existence only to be kept up at night with burning questions like whether to go with 1/4″ or 3/8″ grout, and oh-my-gosh-did-we-forget-to-order-light-fixtures? Your tendency might be, like mine was, to judge yourself: why is it that when people are starving, my mind is fixating on tile colors? Take a deep breath, and remember to be grateful for the opportunity to design the kitchen of your dreams. Then remind yourself there are no perfect decisions. Choose with your heart, and remember that this phase will, undeniably, be over. Someday.
- Have fun. It’s a true honor to be able to design a space that you’ll be able to live in and cook meals. So if you can, enjoy yourself! Take a night off, and order takeout with your spouse. Talk about something other than paint colors, and get some perspective on your project.
- Add final touches. As a perusal of Pinterest will show, kitchens need some homey final touches to make the space seem lived in. For us, much of our final touches were our dishes on the open shelving, but we’ve also used open glass canisters, a mortar and pestle, and some green plants to add some life to our space.
Our Mood Board:
After almost 3 years of our real-life Pinterest kitchen, we love it as much today as the day we moved in. There are some marks on the butcher clock counters and some wear and tear on the stovetop, but it’s held up to the beating of our everyday cooking. Below are a few of our finishes if you’re interested — and we’d love to hear, are you attempting a kitchen reno? What specific reno-related questions do you have?
Cabinets — Aristokraft Benton in a White Finish
Floors — Stark Tortora from The Tile Shop
Island Countertop — Caeserstone London Grey
Outside Countertops — IKEA Beech Butcher Block
Open Shelves — IKEA Ekby Mossby
Pendant Lights — Pottery Barn Classic Pendant
Stools — Tabouret Stools from Overstock
More of Our House
**Bonus: Here are some before and during pics!
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.