How To Love Your Ugly Kitchen


Our kitchen really bothered me when we bought this place six years ago.

This kitchen was a significant downgrade from the compact but modern kitchen of our previous home. No gas range, no smooth granite counter tops and although we had increased our square footage considerably, our new kitchen was as small or perhaps smaller than our last one. It was closed off and our last kitchen had been open concept. It was shockingly dirty. The hood fan was coated with grease and the cupboards had some serious grime in them. The grout between the tiles was black. A deep clean solved some of this but the grout remained dark gray even after some intense scrubbing.

We got some quotes for full renovations, kitchen + 2 bathrooms + flooring, back in 2009 when we moved in. It was, as you would expect, a lot of money. We were on the edge of pulling the trigger when a small sliver of sanity awakened us from our consumer slumber: we were cash poor and mortgaged to the hilt. A new kitchen and bathrooms would put us on or over the edge. We settled for getting the carpet ripped out, laminate floors installed, paint and, after the dishwasher broke, new appliances.

This kitchen was a challenge when we were living here last time around. It’s a one person space. The storage is limited. There is so little storage that when we last lived here I had a china cabinet to store dishes out in the living room. You can’t talk to anyone, or more importantly, keep an eye on anyone, while cooking or doing dishes. Back then I was really frustrated by this kitchen.

When we moved overseas I had dreams of nice of a kitchen upgrade. I got one but as you may have seen on our House Hunters International episode, it was new but closet-like. The next two homes we were living in on the Isle of Man had larger open kitchens and I was pretty happy with them.

For the last few years I have thought of our Vancouver kitchen with a lot of dread. Small, old, ugly. When we decided to move back I was excited to live in Vancouver again but every time I thought of our kitchen I remembered how ugly, old and cramped it was. Renovations were on my mind.

Now we’re back in it and… it’s really not so bad. It’s actually not as bad I remembered it. Sure, it’s old and unfashionable. The pinkish Formica counter tops and the tired looking cabinets have seen better days but they are still functional. Our renters didn’t use the kitchen much so there’s been almost no wear on our appliances.

Yeah, it’s ugly. And closed off and the storage is the pits. We don’t have a china cabinet now so I’m trying to fit everything in and it’s doable but tight.

Should we renovate? We’ve been talking about it a lot. And for now, with our employment situations being somewhat tenuous, and Vancouver being pretty expensive, the answer is: no.

It would be really nice and enjoyable to have a new kitchen. A kitchen that opens onto the living area, that I could see the kids at play and chat with my husband from. But for now, our ugly small kitchen is working and the cash investment for a new one just doesn’t feel like the right use of our savings.

I’m learning to love my ugly kitchen. Ugly kitchens are a first world problem. I’m lucky to live where I live and have what I have. I’ve also come to like that it is closed off. In the evening if I’m tidying up I get that space to myself. Kids and spouse can’t see me so I use that almost alone time to recharge. And being in a mental space where an ugly kitchen bothers me less than feeling financially unsteady would, makes me feel like a grown-up. It makes me feel like I’m actually learning something. That the work we’ve done to get out of debt and be more mindful of what we give our time and money to, has been worth it.

Anyone else have an ugly kitchen? Have you learned to love it or are you suffering and counting down the days to move or renovate?

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  • Hi Rachel! I watched your episode of HHI… how in the world did you make that tiny kitchen work! You’re a saint! My kitchen is very large. It used to have an island in it, but before we started living with less clutter, it was always piled high with odds and ends and mail, so we rolled it out. Now I have a vast chasm of kitchen! I don’t like it. So many people tell me I’m blessed to have such a large kitchen and I can see their point, but it’s too large for me. I dream of renovating it to *gasp* make it smaller – about half the size, to be exact. But doing so would come with about 30 other renovations to make it all work the way I envision it, so we’re also holding off. It’s just not in the (financial) cards yet. And with any luck, we’ll find a farmhouse and acreage or a house on the beach before we get to the point of remodeling what we’re in currently. Wanna know something even sillier? We designed our house off of an existing floor plan but each day we add about 3 more things to the List of Things We’d Change if Money Grew on Trees. I’ve learned to accept my kitchen as is – if nothing else, walking from the stove to the fridge bumps up my daily step count. 😉

  • I have a gorgeous kitchen on the surface, but I see all the things wrong with it (I’ll spare the details). I’ve been working on the mantra “if XYZ were perfect, we couldn’t afford this house”.

  • We’re renting a great flat now with lots of space, but it has two downsides: really old furniture and a nasty kitchen. The dirt we removed when we moved in suggests that the cabinets have been there since the 1980s. The landlord is a handy man, but doesn’t understand the concept of cleaning.
    Anyway, the kitchen. The floor tiles are white. The cabinets are white with cheap plastic red knobs. The countertop is some kind of navy plastic material, the wall tiles are white, whe wall paint is white, the upper cabinets are white and the ceiling is white. If the countertops were some other, less boring color and at least one other item had a different color – it would be passable, but there is just too much white.
    I fixed it with minimum money – I bought large printed stickers and carefully allpied them on all of the upper cabinets. The only tricky part was to make two halves of each picture fit. Another plus: I now have a fun way of telling people what to find where “the cups are in the strawberry”, “the glasses will be in the candies”.

  • Ha! Well, if the pictures at the top are of your kitchen, it’s a palace compared to mine! My kitchen is uhder 100 square feet. It’ basically a glorified hallway with cabinets and appliances crammed in on either side. It hasn’t seen a meaningful upgrade since the house was built in the 1950’s – so it has laminate countertops that are full of scratches, built in cabinets that almost won’t close because they have so many layers of paint on them, yellowing vinyl floor tiles that are coming up in places, no hood fan or ventilation – so it’s nearly impossible to keep clean, power that’s so outdated that you can’t run the microwave if the refrigerator is on or you blow a fuse, and pipes that literally disintegrate every time you touch them!

    I often think it could be improved if I just set off a hand grenade or something! I would love to have it totally re-done, but honestly, I just don’t think it’s in the cards any time soon. I’ve actually replaced most of the pipes over the past few years, and have added some mismatched cabinets into the empty spaces that used to be there – so it’s more functional than it used to be.

    I try to remind myself that this is a “first world problem” and some days I can see it that way. Other days I feel like I’d give anything to be able to have the toaster in the kitchen instead of the living room (it blows the fuse in the kitchen.) Hopefully, I can get the electricity upgraded in a few years, and maybe next summer I’ll feel up to tackling the paint issue. It’s not gonna be easy though, since it will require stripping a lot of old paint, which is all lead-based… UG!

    Anyhow… I can live with ugly… it’s just the functional issues that really bother me. Sigh.

  • My kitchen has been hit by the ugly and dumb stick. Cupboards are falling apart, bench tops are too low (even for me at 5 foot 2)…get this…even the taps are the wrong way around! I have never thought to replacing it. I have thought it would be great for it to be replaced but I don’t want debt! Thankfully it is in the middle of our home, over looking the playroom so I can see my children and they can see me whilst I am in there but I can’t try to clean the cupboards any more as the cheap paint wears off if I scrubb too hard so now it all looks dirty grey! Recently, I thought about looking on ebay and shockingly there are SO many people selling off their MUCH better than our kitchens (keeping up with the Joneses I guess)! I have seen some good ones goes for under $500!! We might go that route. We are saving cash to do things on our home and the list is a mile long so for now we wait and focus on enjoying life outside of the kitchen! :)

  • I wanted to add that we had the same problem with fuese blowing etc etc and in the end after 6 years we asked someone to fix it and pay cash and it only cost us $120. I now joyfully use the toaster and oven at the same time! My home was orginially a ‘holiday’ home when people thought where I live is in ‘the sticks’ (Yarra Valley in Melbourne, Australia) so it was NOT built well. Most of my cupboards don’t close properly either. Sometimes small things help. Maybe the previous commentor can find someone to help fix the wiring? I 100% understand that frustraion!

    • Thanks Katherine. That’s great that you were able to get someone to do your wiring for so little money! What I probably need to do is just bite the bullet and have an electrician come out and rewire the whole house to bring it up to code. There are parts of it that I could probably do myself, but I’m a little bit paranoid when it comes to things like electricity. I actually know someone who had their house burn to the ground because of improper wiring, so I think it’s the sort of thing I’d want to do “by the books” with a certified electrician, a building permit and inspection… just so I wouldn’t worry!

  • What a great post! Totally puts things into perspective. They say it’s not about having what you love, but the other way around!

    You are right, what with the refugee crisis in Europe at the moment, an ugly kitchen pales into insignificance.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • We only bought and renovated our house in 2007, so my kitchen is still nice. It is large enough too. However, living in the house over the past 8 years made us realize that we should have put the kitchen to the front of the house, not the back. Therefore the plan is, that in years to come, when the kitchen needs to be redone, we’ll swap it with our sitting room. :) Until then I enjoy the kitchen as is, and keep improving thr plan of my future kitchen.

  • After reading you post, I thought back to my mom’s kitchen. I think often of the many meals we had and memories of family and friends gathered around the kitchen table. There were so many good times and great meals. When I get together with my huge extended family we always talk about moms great meals and her baking. But today I though about her kitchen. It was small with not much room. The cabinets were plain, and small, plain countertops overflowing with items. The flooring was very neutral linoleum and the appliances super plain. But the meals were incredible and the times shared memorable! It opened my eyes to the times that I chose not to have guests as things weren’t perfect. No more….

  • What hit me was your final note about “first world problems” – that you again Rachel for reminding me what I needed to hear today.

    My rental kitchen is small. Painted counters that cannot be cleaned properly, Faucets that are so close to the wall, you have trouble turning them. One spare electrical outlet – but you can only plug in one item (a toaster say) at a time or you blow a fuse. The fridge is in the far corner, and the stove next to it at the other corner. This means I can open the oven door but cannot open the fridge door fully or it hits the side of the stove. Yup, I can open my fridge door only 40%. But this small kitchen has an east facing window which is wonderful for the morning sunshine and I really like that it is all white – easy to see when it needs a dusting and it’s nice and bright and makes it look so much bigger. I’m grateful to have it. As much as I’d like that open concept kitchen with a proper countertop, my wish list is long. At least I have a window.

  • We have an old somewhat dysfunctional kitchen that we were certain we would renovate when we moved in. I have grown to be comfortable in it though. I changed the kitchen paint, painted the cabinet handles and well, it works.

    When my daughter gets messy or crafty in the kitchen, I never have to worry about something getting wrecked. When a set of large drawers fell apart (we had fixed them until the fixing wouldn’t work any longer), we installed a shelf out of plain cedar and it works perfectly to hold my mason jars of bulk food. I plan on sewing a curtain to hide some of the ugly glue and scratches that can’t be fixed.

    When I think of the cost of renovating, both monetary and environmental, it seems like an incredible waste. A new kitchen won’t make me any happier, it will disrupt our family life for an extended period of time while it is made, and in 10 years when granite counter tops or stainless steel are no longer the thing to do, the want for something newer or better will return.

    It was almost a relief when I realized I didn’t ‘have to’ renovate and that what we have will do. I think of my house like a friendship. Sometimes someone’s little flaws bother you at first, but when you grow to love that person, you realize those flaws are a part of their character, and you love those flaws as a part of the person you love. I call my home ‘cozy ugly’. It’s not perfect, but we are very happy.

    Thank you for posting! Sometimes I feel like the only one not renovating or planning to.

  • I went through this same thing with our van…it is older, has 175,000 miles on it, but still runs fine. The biggest problem is that it doesn’t feel cool! I sometimes look at the other family’s van with envy when I drop our daughter off at school, and then I remind myself, it is PAID FOR. Could we afford a newer van right now? Yep. Do we need one? Nope. Will I be driving this van forever? No…but it is still difficult at times!

  • I hear you! Right down to the Formica laminate bench tops! We are in Melbourne, Australia and property prices have become ridiculous, even in the outer suburbs where we are. When we bought 8 years ago I was always thinking we’d be somewhere different by now and having a bigger kitchen was one of those goals. But you’re right, a small, ugly kitchen is a first world problem. There’s other things we want to do like planning a bit trip to UK next year to see my husband’s family and that’s going to take a lot of money. I am learning to live my kitchen but I do get pangs of jealousy when I see my friends’ kitchens that are sis joys, open and lovely, ultimately though it’s not a big deal. Everything works. And our Life and financial commitments are manageable at the moment.

  • Big thumbs-up to learning to be happy with sub-perfect kitchens, bathrooms, etc. rather than spending stupidly-huge amounts of money on superficial renovations. That said, I’ve found that making a few small changes can VASTLY improve how I feel about my home. For example, after 8 years of hating my cheap plastic half-broken vent covers, I finally spent the money (like $150) to replace them all with simple black metal ones. Such a big improvement for so little $. Other little things like updating kitchen hardware or mismatched door knobs or ugly switchplates, re-painting trim, re-arranging big furniture, etc have also helped me love my “dated” home more. My current guru for the budget fix-up of older homes is Daniel at Manhattan Nest (see for example:

  • I call my kitchen “vintage” because it has the origianl cabinets, oven and microwave. We’ve had to replace the dishwasher and stove since we moved into the house 12 years ago. The house is almost 25 years old. Yes, it’s a first world problem. It’s also a very low priority. We have a kid in college and a kid with Special Needs and one more whos tarts college in 3 years. I count my blessings, pray for those who have much less than me, and try to keep my vintage kitchen clean. :)

  • Our kitchen is small but functional. It definitely helps to have less clutter to make it feel better. I’m more focused on saving money rather than renovating. A little paint has been doing wonders! I’m thinking of adding a backsplash at some point.

  • I’m in a rented apartment with a small, windowless kitchen, redone with dark ugly paint. But decor problems really are first world. I find it helps to keep the kitchen free of clutter and clean, so at least it doesn’t look depressingly messy. I also installed some LED lights under the cabinets to brighten the space in the absence of natural light, and swapped out the stove light for a brighter bulb. That helped!

  • Apartment Therapy has plenty of ideas and guides on how to improve the kitchen for $500 or less. I do not agree that one has to stick with the ugly kitchen or ugly anything! It’s always in our power to make smth that bit nicer without destroying the environment or the budget!

    • Thanks, Lola. A few people have chimed in with some small and inexpensive ideas for making our space look a bit more beautiful. Appreciated :)
      I guess right now it’s not bothering me enough to do anything about it plus my DIY hours are very limited.

  • Hi Rachel, just recently started following your site, so far I like what I’ve read. Though I am coming at the whole issue of stuff from a slightly different angle, as I’m a almost retired, mother of 3 (now all married and 2 grandbabies). I have always kept the house fairly clutter free as we have lived in the same house for 28 years. Now I’m doing the larger issue of downsizing to possibly a rancher or condo. But I have had the same small kitchen for 28 yrs., and now the house is coming up on 50 yrs. old with the same cabinets and countertop. So I’ve been pricing out new counter options, which are proving expensive as our cabinets are not industry standard. So I’ve done a lot of searching for ideas on pinterest and have come up with some hopefully great potential ones. I’ve copied them out and pasted them on the wall in the kitchen to get comfortable with the ideas and also to see if there are any other possibilities I might need to contemplate. I have also shared this site with my daughter and d-I-l’s and they say they are quite enjoying it as well. Keep up the great service you are doing, even us old ones can learn a new trick or two.

  • When we lived in Thailand our kitchen was so simple! We literally had exactly what we needed and I didn’t consider how ugly it was until recently…haha. I think enjoying life, being able to afford adventure, and save is much more important than having a pretty kitchen. Loved this post!

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