A Harlem Kitchen Designed with Nostalgic Notes
Storage and lighting add to the home, sweet home quotient
Project: Refreshing an ineffective Harlem kitchen a family has outgrown
Before: When Andréa and her husband purchased an early 1900s four-story brownstone in Harlem, the plan was to rent the top two apartments and live in the 2-bedroom, 2 ½ bath duplex. For a long time, the place felt “soooo big.” That is, until the couple started their family. Now, with an 11-year-old son, a 9-year-old daughter, cat, Romeo, and her husband’s ever-growing record collection, Andréa said, “It started feeling claustrophobic.”
The first space in their Harlem home she wanted to tackle: the kitchen. “It’s where I spend a lot of time,” says Andréa. “It was so cluttered and dim. I didn’t enjoy cooking at all. I remember balancing pans on top of each other while making dinner.”
Storage was clearly an issue. “First of all, the shelves in our cabinets weren’t adjustable—so we couldn’t even store cereal boxes or olive oil or anything taller than about eight inches. So we just had a ton of stuff on the counters or on top of the fridge.”
Appliances ate into counter space as well. “We had this massive microwave that took up an entire baking station, so we lost workspace there, too.” And then there was the lighting. “We had this one dim light that didn’t even light up the area by the sink. We always felt like we were working in the dark. And our dishwasher was dying.”
The two had an unpleasant experience with a master bath reno 12 years ago (Andréa says the contractor took their money and disappeared). This time, they posted their Harlem kitchen renovation project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that connects homeowners with vetted contractors, and they were immediately impressed.
“I felt like the Sweeten contractor we chose offered the best price for the job,” she said. “His team is very efficient and punctual. It’s great to have someone show up when they say they will and finish on time!”
Although the same 450-square-footprint was retained, their Harlem kitchen was expanded a few feet by knocking down a wall and opening up space for a bar/counter and pantry.
Besides improving storage and lighting, Andréa knew the look and style she wanted from their kitchen renovation. “I’m from California, and I miss it all the time—the weather, the sky, the ocean. So I picked colors that reminded me of my hometown of Morro Bay and also the Bay area, where I went to college,” she said. “I liked the idea of gray cabinets. My mom recently did her kitchen in all white, and after two years, it was already showing use. It seemed impractical with two kids.”
The gray stock cabinets reminded her of fog around the ocean (“a win-win”). And the paint, kind of a peach color, was like sunsets—“a soothing combination.” Even the grout color between white subway tiles has a little peach in it. She felt a quartz countertop was a nice balance.
Andréa loves tea, and she has some beautiful blue Fortnum and Mason (a brand based in London) tins, which also reinforced the blue accents. “It’s kind of Jamaica-meets-Miami-meets-Cali-meets-London,” she says.
Andréa says that their contractor’s wife, Suzy, also helped make sure everything went smoothly. “Suzy was a godsend,” says Andrea. “We had a pretty firm budget and I felt like she worked very hard to stay in it without pushing for more expensive stuff or using cheap things. It was a very nice middle ground.”
And the result? A huge success. “I love the whole feel of (the new space),” says Andréa. “The colors are really inviting, and the cabinets make it feel bigger, even though it’s basically the same square footage. Of course, the kitchen is so beautiful, now we want to update everything in the house!”
Bonus: “I love my undercabinet lighting,” she says. “It wasn’t originally in the plans. It was an addition during the reno that has made a huge difference. Also—my hidden recycling bins!”
Thank you, Andréa and your family, for sharing your new kitchen with us!
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