Welcome to Budget Before & After, a new TFD series where we highlight home decor projects our readers have pulled off on a budget. This week, we’re featuring TFD’s own CEO, Chelsea Fagan, who recently revamped her gorgeous Morningside Heights apartment. Specifically, Chelsea tells us how she got her kitchen looking so chic!
Hey, Chelsea! What made you want to redo this room?
I spend quite a lot of time in the kitchen, and while this one is well laid-out and fairly big by New York City standards (I know that this may come as a shock to some readers), the white-on-white-on-white with fluorescent lighting was just not going to work. First of all, I cannot bear fluorescent lighting in any context, but combined with the all-white sterility, it made the room feel like something out of a Stanley Kubrick movie.
It’s a rental unit, but I’m very much of the opinion that if you are going to live in a rental unit for any decent amount of time, it’s worth it to make the feasible upgrades that will increase quality of life. So making adjustments in this space where I spend so much time was a no-brainer.
Tell us what you changed.
Things that are wall-mounted and super-functional always add a certain degree of intentionality and weight to a room.
The changes are actually relatively minimal, with the biggest one obviously being painting the walls a dark blue (in this case, Benjamin Moore Hale Navy). I wanted something striking, rich, and dark to contrast with the rest of the kitchen (cabinets, floors, counters, etc) which would remain white. I generally prefer a brighter wall color for a kitchen, but I really feel like you have to lean into the constraints and follow them in a rental unit, so anchoring down that white was really the only option.
Then, I bought a ceiling lamp and hired an electrician to swap it in for the fluorescent light and put it on a dimmer switch (I love a dimmer switch generally, but it’s very convenient here, as the eight-bulb lamp can get quite bright and we often entertain, so it’s nice to have the option of slightly more soft lighting in the kitchen when we have people over).
We then mounted a pot rack (this $50 wood-and-metal unit we got from Amazon nearly seven years ago has never let us down, apartment after apartment), because it’s both convenient but also makes use of relatively limited space. Also, things that are wall-mounted and super-functional always add a certain degree of intentionality and weight to a room, which goes a long way in a rental unit.
Lastly, I swapped out all the handles and pulls for brass ones to match the new ceiling lamp and continue the general motif of brass/navy/white that has taken over the kitchen. I’ve also added a large print in the little hallway leading into the kitchen and dining area, as well as made a few other decorative additions to increase the warmth in the space.
How much did you spend on the project, total?
A relatively simple change can make a massive difference.
I would say for the swaps I made (lighting, paint, handles, etc), it probably totaled around $700 between materials and labor.
And how long did it take you?
I work extremely quickly and decide what I want/acquire all the materials before move-in generally, so it took about three days. But again, bear in mind I did hire some help and I have my husband, so I wasn’t doing it entirely myself.
What was the most challenging part of the project?
So really none of it was hard, but again it’s worth stating that for the task that would have been very complicated and potentially dangerous (swapping out a light fixture), I hired an electrician. I’m a believer in soliciting help for certain tasks that either require technical skill you don’t have or would take you an extremely long time and a professional very little. It’s an expense for sure, but depending on the nature of the project, it can be very much worth the investment.
What was your favorite part of the project, and what are a few of your favorite pieces?
I absolutely love my lighting fixture (and the fact that it’s on a dimmer!), but in terms of my favorite moment of the project, I really loved putting up that print in the little hallway, since I’ve always loved it and it’s rare that you find a piece of art that just perfectly fits an otherwise-awkward space. I have it hung up across from my aprons and it’s always a happy little place to walk through on my way into the kitchen.
Any advice for someone who wants to tackle their own budget DIY home makeover?
Remember that a relatively simple change can make a massive difference (in this case, switching up a paint color) and that you don’t need to wait until you own a place in order to really invest in how a place feels every day. As a New Yorker, it’s likely I’ll be renting for some time to come, and so I make the choice to invest in each space I live in as if it were permanently mine, because the experience you have in your home every day is very important to overall mental health and quality of life (especially these days). So give yourself permission to make substantive changes, and see where a little effort can go a long way!
We’d love to feature your (inexpensive) upgrade! Send a before and after pic and a sentence or two describing it to submissions@with the subject “Budget Before & After.”