Feature Friday: Updating a 1980’s Kitchen

Among the things that have kept me busy this summer, a kitchen renovation right here in Birmingham has been a fun project that I’ve enjoyed working on.  I was referred to a home owner who had listed his house for sale earlier this year and the constant feedback on the showings was that the kitchen was hopelessly outdated.  Here’s where I came into the picture.  The client asked me to come and give him some cost effective ideas that would help get his house sold, since he has been transferred to Georgia and needs to get it sold fairly quickly.
I took a look around his mid-1980’s brick home to see what all needed to be done.  We definitely decided to lighten up all the paint throughout and the unfortunate wallpaper that was installed over 10 years ago had to go.  The unfortunate part was that it covered the kitchen, dining room, and most of the bathrooms.  We concentrated most of the efforts in the downstairs areas.  You can see the MLS pics here.  The house is really a beautiful traditional brick home that just needed some updating to bring it into the 21st century.

Foyer with green paint.  Not a bad color, but neutrals show off a home to its best advantage, most of the time. The dining room really need to lose the wallpaper and light fixture too.   My main concern in the foyer and dining room was just to lighten it up with a pretty neutral paint. The kitchen was the biggest challenge that we had.  This area had dark stained woodwork, linoleum floors, and again the wallpaper border that just screamed “help me”.   This is the breakfast area.  With the dark moldings, it really closed the room in.

The cabinet stain wasn’t very appealing either.  It just looked country and not in a good way.

Also, note the fluorescent light fixture box that so many of us have dealt with.  The first thing I told him was that the cabinets really needed to be painted. He was all ears and listened to my advice.  He commissioned me to go out and pick out paint, tile for the floor, cabinet paint, granite for the countertops, and hardware for the cabinets, as well as updated fixtures for the kitchen and dining room.  You know I had some fun with that!

My goal was to keep it neutral and pretty, so that someone could see themselves living here.  I tried not to go super trendy, but picked out some basic colors and finishes that I think will last for many years for the next family who lives in this house.   He hired a contractor to do the work, with supervision  from me along the way and I’m absolutely thrilled with how it came out.

The homeowner is too!

Here’s the new kitchen, with all new everything!  New cabinet paint, molding and trim paint, wall paint, porcelain floor tile, granite countertops, sink, faucet, cabinet hardware, and light fixtures.  I think you’ll agree with me that it’s a WOW now. I chose a Bisque subway tile for the backsplash and it looks great with the cabinet color of Creamy by Sherwin Williams.  I worked off the color strip of Sherwin Williams  Rice Grain for the wall paint, with Rice Grain going in the kitchen and diningroom and the lighter shade, Nacre, going in the den, which I didn’t get pics of, since it wasn’t put back together yet.   We may have used the next darker color, Ramie in one room, but it seems that the painters got a few colors mixed up, so I totally think most of what you see is Rice Grain. The granite is the same one I chose for my house, Napoli.  It’s a wonderful neutral granite. As is the faucet, Moen Annabelle from Lowes.  I advised him to get a deep stainless steel undermount sink. Clean and fresh, it looks like a whole new kitchen and it is a whole new kitchen! Lovely brushed stainless steel faucet works nicely with the double stainless undermount sink. The tile is a sturdy porcelain with mottled brown/tan and complements the granite nicely.  With the lighter cabinets, it works fine to go darker on the floor.It’s a beautiful porcelain tile.  I don’t know the name of it right off hand.  We got it from a local tile shop.

Since the existing hinges on his cabinets were already antique brass and they are not hidden, I decided the best way to update them would be to add antique brass knobs and pulls, so I ordered these off Ebay for him.  I think they are just beautiful. With complimentary bin pulls for the drawers, it totally gives this kitchen a fresh new look without starting over with the hinges.  There is still a little bit of touching up under the countertops to be done and you can see that not all the doors had the knobs attached when I took these pics.  For the new overhead light, I opted for this antique brass rail lighting system with halogen lights, very similar to the one I put in my own kitchen.  The homeowner almost didn’t get this one, but in the end I talked him into it.  He just couldn’t see my vision until after it was installed and the lights were in place.  Then he got it and loved it!   This is a great way to get rid of that fluorescent box without getting can lights installed.  His old fixture came down cleanly and this one looks great up there.  And those halogens put out a lot of nice clean light.

Here’s a link to my own kitchen track light rail system that I put up last year (also found at Lowes). I cannot speak highly enough about these. They put out some nice white halogen light.

The kitchen was instantly brighter when we turned them on.  You can see the wall color here, which is Rice Grain by Sherwin Williams.  The breakfast nook got a new fixture too, this one from Lowes.   Reminds me of the Restoration Hardware fixture, but a lot less $$.  You can see in the background all the newly painted woodwork in white.  What a huge difference that is too.  I didn’t have my wide angle lens with me that day, so I didn’t get a pic of the whole area overall, but I think you get the picture.

Take note in the background above, the laundry doors and all the kitchen trim was painted white like the rest of the house.  This really made a huge difference too.

The dining room also got a new fixture, this one from Home Depot.  I tried to stay moderately priced on the things I picked out, since he was trying to do all of this on a budget. The downstairs powder room also got rid of the wallpaper and new porcelain tile installed, as well as the new paint color.  The foyer too, as well as the study off the foyer got new paint too.  With the fresh new paint, this house looks like a millions bucks. The color is not accurate here, but it’s the same as the kitchen paint.

The home owner was very pleased with how everything turned out and loved the finished product. Now, if he will just get a quick sale!  If anyone here in  Birmingham is interested in the Meadow Brook area, I can put you in touch with him.

Hope you enjoyed seeing how an outdated 1980’s house can be transformed with a few well thought out decisions!  This was my first consultation job with a kitchen and I hope it won’t be the last. I had a lot of fun with it and the homeowner could not be happier.


The winner of the E-Mealz meal planning giveaway is #49,  Jan, no blog, but I have emailed her!

- Rhoda


  1. I love your idea for the lighting fixture in the kitchen. We also have a flourescent light and can’t wait to replace it. Can you tell me where I can get one? Thank you!

    • Gina, that light fixture came from Lowes. They seem to have a bigger selection of these rail systems like this. I also replaced my kitchen box with one of these awhile ago & also got mine at Lowes, so check them out.

  2. Love these pics! I really need to do the same to my kitchen cabinets! Can you tell me who you used for that or what kind of paint and etc? LOVE IT!

    • Jenny, the paint for the cabinets is Creamy by Sherwin Williams. I think the finish is semi-gloss, not sure about that though. He used a local contractor and I know his name, but don’t have his contact info.

  3. Rhoda,

    Isn’t is amazing what a BIG impact changing the color and altering details can make? The kitchen looks great. I often look and these before and afters and wonder if the sellers are kicking themselves for not making the changes sooner. I’m sure he will have an offer soon thanks to your eye for design!

    Your Friend,

  4. Joyce Ackley says:

    Wow! What a difference. That kitchen rocks! The only other thing I would have done is to change out the scalloped cabinet valance over the sink to a straight one or one with a slight curve.

    I love the colors. I am a big HGTV fan, and they are right when the advice is to go neutral with paint colors and finishes.

    I’m sure he is pleased as punch with all you’ve done.

    P.S. Why don’t you try out for Design Star? You could kick butt on that show, girl.

    • Joyce, we did try to take down that scalloped piece, but it showed the ugly light behind it, so the contractor just put it back up. They weren’t into fixing every little detail, so I had to pick my battles & that was pretty small compared to the rest. Whoever moves in can certainly get that piece changed out.

      RE: Design Star! Ohhh, no way would I try out for that show. They would chew me up and spit me out! 🙂

  5. Wow Rhoda! You have really done a marvelous job with this house!
    The kitchen is amazing! I’ve been telling my daughter that she needs to paint her dark cabinets. I’m going to send her this post so she can see what a difference that would make!
    I know this house will sell now! It looks so much better!!!
    Great work Rhoda! You really have an eye for design!

  6. Rhoda you did a wonderful job!! I too have a terrible fluroescent light in my kitchen and I had seen the same idea of the updated track lighting used on HGTV’s Designed to Sell. That will be my next project after seeing it in the kitchen you designed. My townhouse is new and I could not believe they chose that ugly light for the kitchen! Thanks for confirming my decision!

  7. Holy Cow Rhoda! You totally brought that kitchen to life! Great transformation. I’m sure the homeowner is thrilled and so glad he brought you in to help.

  8. Whooooowheee! I love everything you did girl, and that track light fixture is FABULOUS. I sense the end is near for my ugly florescent light BOXES in my kitchen! You did a smashing job of picking out colors and finishes.

    Way to go Rhoda! More, more!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. It looks like a new house now, great job! I really like the light fixtures!

  10. Rhoda this an AMAZING transformation! Love the light colors and lighting especially~just wonderful:)

    Blessings, Carol

  11. Great job – the house is night and day – hopefully it will sell quickly! Now potential home owners can see the move in ready house and where their things will go vs. seeing “omigosh I have so much to redo!” 🙂

  12. What a HUGE difference Rhoda! I have that same stained color cabinets. Only mine have had white paint samples tacked up all over them for months! Just can’t decide on a shade. You see, the previous owners put in the granite and tile floors, even stainless, so I’m trying to get the paint to go well with the granite. I don’t even know what it’s called, I’m thinking it’s Creamy Bordeaux.. I have to find a SW now for a sample of the Creamy! I have painted a lot of our trim white and it makes a big difference. We’ve also started to switch out the electrical outlets. Thanks for the inspiration!

  13. It’s beautiful Rhoda! I bet that house will sell in no time now.

    Creamy is one of my fave SW colors! Great job!

  14. Rhoda,
    We just recently installed a light fixture like that in our kitchen and we love it! Although it took some convincing from me initially, after seeing it up the Man of the house really likes the look! Ours was from Lowes (about $119) in satin nickel with frosted globes. It’s classic with a modern twist and is much better than our old florescent. I’m so glad I can prove I wasn’t crazy to go with track lighting in the kitchen!

  15. Way to go, Rhoda! That kitchen was not “hopelessly outdated”–it just needed someone who could envision the hope! That would be you!! What a huge change you made without gutting the whole thing. Isn’t it amazing the difference it makes to change the surfaces? Many people would have thought that the whole thing needed to be ripped out. I’m glad you were able to guide him in updating his spaces without breaking the bank.

    One thing I believe is true: painting trim white makes one of the biggest differences in the world. Great call there. Painting trim is a pain, but it pays off.

    Wonderful post! I hope the house sells quickly now!

  16. Rhoda,

    You turned a drab kitchen into something quite luxurious and beautiful! What I love about it is the fact that it is so classic… plus the neutral colors will appeal to any buyer!

    Lindsay @ A Design Story {.} com

  17. Beautifully done, Rhoda! That house looks like a million bucks now. It’s going to sell, and fast!

  18. What a beautiful transformation! Since so many buyers struggle with having the vision of what a house could be, it’s great the you were the visionary for them. Clean, fresh and gorgeous. Love it!

  19. Hi Rhoda! Oh, I love the changes you’ve made to this house! Everything looks wonderful especially the kitchen! Man, what a difference! It looks like a totally different room! You’re the best!
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia 😉

  20. What a difference! The kitchen looks great

  21. That is so much better! Your client must be thrilled. Nice job, Rhoda! 🙂

  22. What an amazing difference!
    Great job!


  23. Wow, what a difference! Did you also paint the molding in the breakfast area and change out the dark pantry doors? I live in an 80’s house, too, and it’s something I want to change, but it’s pretty low on the priority list.

    • Renee, all the dark brown moldings in the kitchen were painted with a matched up white paint color that blended with the other existing trim that was already in the rest of the house. So, yes, if you look past that 1st light fixture in the background, you can see the laundry doors and all the molding was painted white in the breakfast area too. To make this all work, you would need to have all that trim flow together. That was key in here!

  24. This might just inspire me to do some work in my kitchen which needs new flooring and living room which is stuck somewhere between the 60s and 70s. Thanks!

  25. I love what you did to the kitchen. When we had our house built it was going to be a flip, because if I was going to live in this house there is no way I would have honey oak. But since we were going to flip it, oak was the choice.
    Guess what??? I live in the house that there was no way I was going to have honey oak! UGLY!!! Boring!!! I don’t want to look at these cabinets but am terrified to even try to restain them a different stain. I would love to go darker more rustic. Here I am at the cliff looking over the gorge seeing what you did and I am scared to take the leap.

    I still want t do the wainscoting on my island, even bought the roll of it and fell in love when I found your blog. There is sits, all rolled up in the corner, just waiting. I need to leap!

    Thanks for the inspiration, now just to do it and here I am playing on the computer instead of doing it!

  26. Rhoda –

    FAB job!!! You could totally have your own design show!!! LOVE it!!!


  27. Oh wow…the changes look awesome!

  28. What a transformation! I, too, have an ugly fluorescent box fixture in my kitchen. I think the track fixture you chose is just perfect if you don’t want to go to the trouble or expense of installing cans. I’m going to steal your idea! Thanks for the wonderful (and economical) inspiration!

    PS – Inquiring minds would love to know what the budget was for the transformation!!!

    • Christy, I have no idea how much he ended up spending. I just picked everything out & then he had the contractor come in with a crew to do the painting, tile installation, cabinet painting, etc., so I don’t know what the total tally was. He wasn’t handy & did none of the work himself, including hiring out to get the wallpaper down. I’m sure it was well over $10K to do all of this, esp. with getting granite. And, I have a feeling he went over whatever he had in mind for the original budget. These things have a way of snowballing.

      If you are a DIYer & can do some of the work yourself, you can save a lot of $$ on a kitchen reno like this. Ask me how I know? I’ve done my own in my old house.

  29. Love the colors from that Sherwin Willims color card, Rhoda! The bisque colored tile is really nice as well. The kitchen just took on a whole new look! Nicely done!

  30. Our 80s kitchen is about to get the same treatment. I can’t wait to trade the old (and abused) oak finish on the cabinets for fresh cream! We have some serious work cut out for us, though – the hideous country wallpaper (original to the house) went onto the walls with no primer.

  31. It looks divine! What a great job! I love the kitchen handles. And they don’t look bad – even with the hinges.

  32. What a wonderful job. How fun, I would love to do some things like this when my kids are in school. Help people out who need to sell or other moms that just need a little help decorating. I have no idea how much to charge for this type or service but I think it would fun. Did you do the painting or just pick out the stuff and have contractors do all the work? Ihope that later (: Great job!!

  33. Bravo! Great job! I am just finishing up design school and can’t wait to sink my teeth into projects like that!

  34. Wow! Nice job on the house! It looks great. Keep us posted on when it sells!

  35. That looks amazing! I have been trying to convince my husband that we need to paint our cabinets white, but he thinks the wood finish is fine. Ugh.

  36. Rice Grain is my all time favorite neutral color. I also love Nacre but I use it as a trim color for clients who want something warmer than stark white. I’m be posting some pics of a house I am working on with Nacre trim (today I hope). You should check it out.

  37. Oh, please come to my house and pull my kitchen out of the 50’s!!!

    Love what you did to this kitchen!

    Come by when you can…


  38. Great job! Looks so much brighter and fresh!

  39. It never ceases to amaze me how a few relatively inexpensive changes can completely change the look of a room. The light fixtures you chose are wonderful, especially the kitchen fixture. I also painted some very dated cabinets and it completely transformed my kitchen. Impressive job.

  40. It sure is lovely, so bright and cheery now, I know you are a happy camper now, hugs my friend…

  41. I am so impressed. Any one trying to sell in this market could sure use your magic wand.

  42. Great job, Rhoda! I love the changes you made. I am sure it will sell quickly!
    Thanks for sharing the pics!

  43. GORGEOUS!!! I would love for you to come to Iowa and help me. 🙂 My youngest is going to kindergarten in just a few weeks and so now with all of my kids in school I’ve got some projects to tackle! The first on my list is paint my icky oak cabinets.

  44. I’m really loving that rice grain color….I may have to use that in my sewing room makeover! I need to find my SW deck and take a look at it IRL.

    What a great transformation you engineered there, Rhoda! Kudos to you on making all the right choices to update that space. I’m sure he’ll sell quickly now! (DANG that DR wallpaper and color were SCARY, eh? LOL)

  45. What a nice job. ‘Really give the kitchen a whole new updated look.

  46. I bet he has no problem now selling it Rhoda…..nice job !!!

    Kathy 🙂

  47. WOW!! What a fabulous transformation, everything is gorgeous with your special touches! Great job!
    Take care

  48. Marilyn Holeman says:

    Rhoda, What a lovely job you did! We have three INSET fluorescent light fixtures in our galley kitchen. Can those be replaced by the rail system in a similar manner? You do a great job in your blog. Thanks for your help and inspiration!

    • Marilyn, I just don’t think you’d have the same effect if your fixtures are inset, but you could take them down & see what you’re dealing with. Not sure it would work at all the same though.

  49. Gosh Rhoda you are so talented! I painted our cabinets white seven years ago and they are starting to show some wear. Any ideas on how I could update without painting them all? And I think you should go on Design Star on HGTV also. You have more talent in your little finger than all of those people currently on the show!

  50. Rhoda, You made some great choices in the kitchen and it looks wonderful. I hope his real estate agent puts pictures of the new kitchen in the MLS now. It really turned out great!
    Hugs, Sherry

  51. Rhoda,
    What a great transformation, it is really lovely now. Paint is so awesome and a few new fixtures, makes such a huge difference! Love it!

  52. Rhoda! How wonderful! Looks great! 🙂

    I love kitchen and bath design and renovation! It’s probably my favorite part of design work. I love picking out all the pieces and making them work together like a beautiful puzzle! 🙂

  53. It’s gorgeous, Rhoda! Great tips and I wish I could talk my hubby into that track lighting but he’s dead set on can lights (that have been sitting here for about a year waiting to go in). Great inspiration, and there’s hope for my 80s kitchen yet (which is worse 80s that this kitchen ‘before’). Our (temporary) remodel will be a smaller budget but it’s still great to see your tips and a beautiful transformation!

  54. Awesome transformation! Great selection of colors, much easier
    to live with than the darker colors of the past. You’re right about a
    remodeling budget expanding over the set $$$ amount. One change
    seems to precede the desire to change something else. We remodeled
    our former home and ended up several thousands over budget. Didn’t
    help that the contractors decided to leave before completing the job.
    Good services are hard to find, so buyer beware! Super results, Rhoda!

  55. Any idea where/how much the pulls were? I can’t find them very inexpensive anywhere…

  56. I also painted my blond oak cabinets SW creamy. Where did you get your bisque subway tiles?

  57. I loved looking at your photos… your designs/colors are beautiful. I googled “Rice Grain” and found your blog. I’m considering using this color in my master bath. Can you tell me if this color looks good with greens and blues? Specifically, apple green and turquoise? I have some beautiful new towels and decor items in these colors and am trying to find a warm, neutral background so that these colors can pop. Your opinion on this would be helpful.


    • HI, Denise, Rice Grain is a very nice neutral with not a lot of undertones, so I think you would be fine using it with your greens & blues. I’d suggest getting a quart and trying it out in your space.

  58. Wow- what a difference! I have recently painted my cabinets white and gotten new giallo ornamental granite which looks similar to the granite in this kitchen. Could you tell me what the brand subway tile is and where I could get it? I think it would be perfect in my kitchen. Thank you so much. Awesome job!

    • HI, Melissa, I helped on that redo about 5 years ago and I don’t remember the brand of tile that was used. So sorry! There are many places now to get subway tile, so check Home Depot and Lowes too.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sandy Coughlin, Rhoda. Rhoda said: Drop by & see what I've been up to this summer. Dramatic B&A pics of a 1980's kitchen update: http://tinyurl.com/25a5rqf […]

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