My Kitchen Renovation Game Plan

After some pretty serious pinning sessions and months of studying the slight differences between blue, black and gray paints – I finally have a game plan for my kitchen. It’s one that satisfies the requirements I laid out in my last post. Here’s what I’m working with.



I found 3 major changes that fit into my small budget, but visually are quite large and impactful:

  1. Open shelving
  2. Darker cabinets
  3. Lighter backsplash


Step 1: Open shelving

The cheapest, easiest, quickest change I decided to make to my kitchen was to take the doors off of my upper cabinets. As much as I’d love to have floating shelves (and a window, while we’re at it) the cost of taking down my current cabinets and refinishing the wall, then installing new shelves was a much larger project and cost than I felt like taking on. Plus, I don’t know if future buyers would be deterred by the thought of having all of their cookware exposed. With this option, I was able to unscrew my cabinet doors in about 10 minutes flat, and if I ever get tired of having my shelves on display I can just as quickly pop them back on. I’ll do a full post on the open shelving quick fix as soon as I can take a few dazzling after photos. For now, this will have to do
Subtotal: $0



Step 2: Darker cabinets

My largest issue with my kitchen is that I don’t love the color of the cabinets. This is a big deal because visually, the cabinets take up a huge portion of my apartment. Because I live in a studio loft and the kitchen is in the center of the room, it is actually impossible to look at my apartment and not see the cabinets. Try as I might, there was no temporary fix that I could find that could make me love the kitchen without addressing the cabinets. Rather than starting from scratch, I chose to paint them. The next big decision was paint color.

White kitchens are fresh and timeless, but I had a feeling that trying to paint white over the brown veneer would not go well. Black was my next thought, but I was worried the color would be too severe and overpowering in my small space. In the end, I decided the solution was a black/blue/gray. Fortunately, I found this rare unicorn color by doing plenty of research. Unfortunately, my color of choice turned out to be Farrow & Ball, which cost me a whopping $116 for one gallon.

Why spend $116 on paint when you can color match at Home Depot for $25?

Because Farrow & Ball paint contains up to twice as many pigments as the standard paint, which means their colors are deeper and more complex. This means that in different lights, the same color can look black, blue or gray depending on the time of day, the light, and the angle at which you’re standing. Cheaper paints also contain more water and synthetic pigments, which can fade over time. My line of thinking was that unlike my walls, my cabinets would be handled quite roughly and regularly so I wanted the most durable paint I could buy. I also read forums in which people tried to paint match Farrow & Ball colors, but after living with their paint matched walls and feeling overwhelming disappointment they wound up buying the original F&B color and repainting their walls after all. If it sounds like I’m trying to justify the $116 that’s missing from my bank account right now, that’s because I am. With no direct comparison I guess I’ll never know if this $$$ paint was worth it, but I will continue to tell myself (and you) that it was.

Photo of blue paint swatches (ab0ve) courtesy of Gardenista

Subtotal: $116

Step 3: Lighter backsplash

Originally I wanted to replace my travertine backsplash with a classic subway tile, but upon researching the process of removing and retiling a backsplash, I decided against the whole ordeal. That’s when I came up with a unique invention – what I really needed was a thin, stick on tile that could just cover up my old backsplash without the need to remove it. Turns out someone else thought of this invention too, because it already exists and it’s called Smart Tiles. I read reviews, I watched videos, but I was still skeptical that the plastic stickers could give me the impact I was looking for. So I asked if I could review them, and within days my new backsplash was on its way to me! If this hadn’t worked out so well, I did have a backup plan. Usually each sheet is about $12 at Home Depot, but Wayfair was having a sweet sale and for less than $5 per sheet. I calculated that I needed about 25 sheets to do my backsplash and another 25 to carry out my open shelving idea. So that would have cost $125-$250, depending on whether I wanted to tile the backs of my upper cabinets (I’ll talk more about that later). I’ll be reviewing the tiles soon to let you know if they achieved the subway look I was going for!

Subtotal: $0, since I was sent the tiles to review. But potentially this would have cost $125-$250

With those major decisions squared away, the rest of my renovation (but really, it’s more of a makeover) involves a small accessories like wooden cutting boards to lean against the backsplash, Japanese ceramics from my most recent travels, a magnetic knife strip, and other small touches. Mostly these were items that I had around the house already, but the knife strip I had to get at Ikea for $15.

Subtotal: $15


  • $116 for paint
  • $150 for painters (to tape, clean and prime everything, I decided to paint the rest myself)
  • $50 for paint supplies (tape, rollers, paint trays, brushes)
  • $0 for tiles since I was sent tiles to review, but potentially this would have been $125 to tile the backsplash and $125 to tile the upper cabinets (optional)
  • $0 for open shelving
  • $15 for the knife strip
  • $34 for miscellaneous kitchen accessories

Grand total: $350

($600 if I had bought the tiles)

So that’s my budget, I would say for the amount that this will impact my entire home, this is a reasonable price. If I wanted to cut costs I could have saved nearly $100 by going with a standard paint from Home Depot. If I wanted to spend more I could have gone with real tiles instead of the stick-ons. And if I really wanted to go big I could have replaced my black countertops with a white and gray soapstone. But $350 was what I felt comfortable with!

Stay tuned for after photos!

xo Cristina


Sources: Wooden magnetic knife strip – Middle Brook Studio on Etsy, Paint – Farrow & Ball Railings, Subway tiles – Smart Tiles, Wooden cutting board – Second Chance Custom, Mugs – cb2, Japanese iron teapot – Amazon, Round wooden cutting board – Shack Valley on Etsy, Marble utensil holder – West Elm, Japanese ceramics – ReArcade on Etsy, Still life painting – by Pavel Feinstein on Artfully Walls, Matte navy Le Creuset – Williams Sonoma, Copper salt & pepper mills – Target

Cristina V. Cleveland

Cristina V. Cleveland is a senior beauty editor based in Austin, TX. She has been exploring personal style and decor on Fuji Files since 2009. Her work as a writer and editor has appeared in publications like Refinery29, Birchbox, TradHome Magazine, To&From Magazine, Coco+Kelley, CamilleStyles and ads in Glamour, InStyle and Lucky.

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Rather than pushing up-to-the-minute trends and products, Fuji Files is about discovering a lasting, personal aesthetic and the journey to feeling your personal best. 

Fuji Files was started by Cristina Cleveland, the Managing Editor of NaturallyCurly, the largest hair and beauty content platform. Her work as a writer and editor has appeared in publications like Refinery29, Teen Vogue, CamilleStyles, Blavity, Birchbox, TradHome Magazine, Coco+Kelley, and ads in Glamour, InStyle and Lucky.