How to Update a Kitchen Without a Total Gut Rehab

North Shore kitchen, after - Centered by Design

A major kitchen renovation usually means a major investment. While a brand-new kitchen designed to fit your family’s lifestyle is a wonderful addition to your home (and a good return on investment should you decide to sell), you can also update a kitchen to improve the look, feel and functionality of your existing one.

Especially while homeowners might be feeling a little more budget-conscious right now, in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, updating your kitchen without a total gut rehab is a smart thing to do. It might cost half (or less!) of what an entirely new kitchen would be, and the results can be seriously impressive.

How do you know if a kitchen update, versus a renovation, is right for you? The key is in the layout. If you feel like your kitchen floor plan is already good and functions well for you—and if you have good quality cabinets, as well—then there are many updates you can do to create a fresh new kitchen.

Here, I’ll walk you through nine ways to update your kitchen working with a smaller budget and an interior design mindset to help you get your dream space.

butler's pantry

Vintage Cutch Colonial, Centered by Design

Paint your cabinets.

This is the No. 1 high-impact update. I recommend you hire a professional to do this, and get referrals, as cabinet painting is different than regular painting (and not every painter offers this service). You want to look for someone who specializes in cabinetry and millwork—ask friends and family for referrals. Painting cabinets works best when you already have solid-wood, high-quality cabinets and you’re planning to keep them for another 5-10 years or so. (Note: Don’t try this if your cabinets are particle board or MDF.)

Do strategic cabinet surgery.

I’d strongly recommend working with an interior designer or a cabinet-specific showroom or builder on this update, as it’s usually not something a homeowner can do on their own (unless you’re a skilled carpenter!). Think of cabinet surgery as a way to go beyond painting to change the functionality of your kitchen by making tweaks to your existing cabinet footprint (i.e., hanging doors on open shelving, or vice versa) that will work better for your needs.

North Shore kitchen, before

North Shore kitchen, before

North Shore kitchen, after - Centered by Design

North Shore kitchen, after – Centered by Design

Remodel (or add) an island.

An island can really change the feel of your kitchen. If the perimeter of your kitchen is working well for you, then thinking about changing your island in some way—whether that’s painting, adding a different top or doing a form of cabinet surgery on any shelves or cabinets—can freshen up the space. It’s less costly than replacing your cabinets, too.

Below you can see two different applications for changing your kitchen island. In the North Shore kitchen (with the blue island) we painted, re-stained the butcher block and added new hardware. The all wood kitchen needed a new island and we choose to design something new and more modern, but that fit within the existing space and layout.

North Shore kitchen, Centered by Design

North Shore kitchen, Centered by Design

North Chicago kitchen, before

Lincoln Square Kitchen – before, Centered by Design

North Shore kitchen, Centered by Design

Lincoln Square Kitchen – after, Centered by Design

Get new appliances.

Appliances are very personal—what works best for you depends heavily on how (and how often) you like to use them. In many kitchen renovations, appliances are chosen first and the kitchen is designed around the appliance list. But if you’re thinking about replacing an appliance, whether due to age or functionality, it’s may also a good time to update your kitchen. This way, you can consider the appliances you really need or want and how to make that work in your space, versus trying to find a new appliance to fit in your existing space.

Lincoln Park Kitchen, Centered by Design

Install new countertops.

Another super high-impact, big change that will give you a good return on investment if you sell is installing new countertops. Almost everyone these days wants quartz countertops, which is a man-made material that’s very stain resistant. It may cost you anywhere from $5,000-$15,000, so you’ll need to have a larger budget to consider this update. But again, it’s going to make a huge difference in your kitchen.

Change the backsplash.

This is a project that could be done in a long weekend, and you might even be able to DIY it. The backsplash is a great spot to add pattern and color to an otherwise-neutral kitchen, too. If you don’t know what you’re doing or don’t feel confident you’ll be able to get professional results on your own, hire an installer.

Switch out your hardware.

The easiest kitchen update you can do, switching out your hardware can be done in a day if you plan ahead. You may not realize just how many knobs and pulls are in your kitchen until you look into making this update. I always say to count three times and make a drawing so you’ll be sure you buy the right amount for what goes where! (Find more detailed instructions on how to count your hardware in our Insider’s Guide to Kitchen Design.) Be sure to do your research on what you’re looking for and determine your price range. You can find great hardware at Home Depot, or you can spend tons of money on luxury hardware. It all comes down to the look you’re after, hardware can be a great place to save or to splurge!

North Chicago kitchen, after

North Chicago kitchen, after

Replace your vent hood.

If you have a kitchen where the hood can be changed, that can be a great visual improvement, as a hood can act like a centerpiece of the space. This is something that will require the help of a contractor or a handyman, because it’s not as simple as just replacing the hood itself—you’ll need someone who understands all the pieces that make it work, including the blower and the liner, plus how it vents! You might want to work closely with your appliance vendor to understand what you need functionally in your kitchen while transforming the look of it. (Of note: If you have a microwave over your range, it’s often in a cabinet and it can be more complicated to “swap” to a hood design). It really depends on the upper cabinet layout. Consult a professional on this one!

North Shore kitchen, before

North Shore kitchen, before

North Shore kitchen, after - Centered by Design

North Shore kitchen, after – Centered by Design

Swap out lighting.

Lighting can really make a statement in your kitchen, and it’s so easy to switch out if you already have the electrical in place. You can swap out pendants or decorative fixtures pretty simply on your own, but if you’re doing a bigger overhaul (i.e., adding or reducing lighting), you’ll need to work with a designer or good electrician to put together what’s called a “reflected ceiling plan,” which will show the placement of all light fixtures. Be sure to check the temperature of your bulbs when you’re replacing fixtures, as well. I like to use 2700K bulbs, which mimic natural daylight. If bulbs are too warm or too cool, it can throw off the vibe in your space.

We love to play with scale when thinking about lighting. Sometimes going big or going small on purpose helps create an interesting design. There is no perfect size for lighting, but I think these tips from Circa Lighting are really helpful.

Lincoln Park Kitchen, Centered by Design

Cover of Insider's Guide to Kitchen Renovation Questions

If you want even more in-depth tips on how to update your kitchen without a total gut rehab, take a look at our Insider’s Guide to Kitchen Design. This 50-page PDF is packed with advice and all the answers to your questions about kitchen renovations from an interior designer, and will walk you through the kitchen renovation process, step by step. Get a copy here.

Your Kitchen Renovation Questions, Answered in Our New PDF Series

At Centered by Design, we’re big believers that interior design—including all those kitchen renovation questions you might have—doesn’t have to be complicated. And even if hiring an interior designer isn’t in the budget for you right now (or perhaps you just really love to DIY), you should have access to tools and resources that can help make your home—and your life—more beautiful. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce the launch of a big project we’ve been working on: Designer Advice Made Simple.

White kitchen

What is Designer Advice Made Simple?

A collection of thoughtful, educational PDFs (plus interviews with industry pros and an accompanying IGTV video series), Designer Advice Made Simple is all about equipping you with the expertise you need for improving your home, from style guidance to practical advice on renovations. We developed this series to help answer many of the most common questions we get when working with homeowners on renovations and interior decorating, drawing on our depth of experience in the Chicago interior design world. 

butler's pantry

Who is Designer Advice Made Simple for?

If you don’t have hours to spend on the Internet researching questions about a kitchen renovation and want the help of an interior designer—at a fraction of the price—these PDFs are for you. The advice we’re providing through Designer Advice Made Simple is all-encompassing, designed to help homeowners in any stage of life envision and execute the look of their dream home. Our hope is that novice decorators, or anyone doing a kitchen renovation, will find valuable insights in these PDFs.

bedroom with gray nightstand

What does Designer Advice Made Simple cover?

Our largest, most comprehensive PDF is all about kitchen design, one of our favorite areas of expertise. In the Insider’s Guide to Kitchen Design, you’ll get 50 pages packed with interior designer advice on renovating your kitchen, from planning and budgeting to construction and the finishing touches.

We’ve laid out this PDF in a way that feels friendly and accessible, like you’re learning from a friend who happens to be an interior designer. We believe that design shouldn’t feel overwhelming or stressful, but curated, personal and fun—and this PDF will walk you through it, step-by-step, to help make the process of renovating your kitchen enjoyable, and the results just what you dreamed of.

Cover of Insider's Guide to Kitchen Renovation Questions

Already have your perfect kitchen? That’s excellent! We have more resources that might be helpful to you in other areas of your home. For example:

Our Favorite Resources for Interior Decorating

Stop scrolling Pinterest endlessly when you learn interior designers’ favorite sources for sourcing wallpaper, art, pillows, lighting, bedding and more in this must-have guide. Included in this PDF are more than 65 resources—at varying price points and styles—to get a designer look throughout your home.

favorite interior designer resources

Insider’s Guide to Decorating with Color

We’re all staying at home more than ever. If your neutral walls are feeling less than inspiring lately, turn to this PDF guide for an interior designer’s paint color recommendations for every type of room—plus an explanation on paint sheens and how color can transform the feel of a room.

guide to decorating with color

Insider’s Guide to Decorating with Window Treatments

Windows can feel like a blank canvas—and also overwhelm when it comes to decorating. If you’re stumped on drapery styles, Roman shades and pleating (to name a few), these PDFs will demystify window treatments and help you to find the best style for your room, as well as provide tips on installation.

decorating with window treatments

You can shop the full collection of our PDF design guides here

Want to learn more about why Centered by Design is a top resource for kitchen design and renovation? Check out this post from DIY Playbook, who we recently worked with on a top-to-bottom kitchen redesign. You can also get more free kitchen advice by tuning into this Q&A on DIY Playbook’s Instagram with our founder and owner, Claire Staszak.

Kitchen Design Essentials with Studio Dearborn

August 23, 2020 Interviews 1 Comment
white kitchen cabinets with wood island and vintage runner

If you’re a regular around here, then you know that our team is no stranger to interviewing our fellow talented interiors designers! In fact, we relish the opportunity to get an inside look at where our industry peers are finding inspiration and learning about what makes them tick. Today we are so excited to share our interview with Sarah Robertson, design founder and principal of Studio Dearborn, who has built her kitchen renovation and design firm by mastering storage and organization while never sacrificing form for function. In other words: She’s our kind of gal.

griege kitchen cabinets with chevron wood fridge

On top of her obvious talent is admirable work ethic that has earned her industry-wide recognition, including back-to-back 2019-2020 wins in the National Kitchen and Bath Association national design competitions for Overall Kitchen Design. It doesn’t stop there, though. Her work has also been featured in House Beautiful, The Washington Post, Apartment Therapy, Luxe, and HGTV Magazine (among others).

Have I convinced you that she’s the real deal? I thought so! Keep scrolling for some tried and true kitchen design tips from Sarah, and don’t forget to follow her on Instagram for plenty more inspiration.

blue kitchen cabinets and tiled stove backsplash in an eclectic kitchen

What are your top three pieces of advice to someone starting their very first kitchen renovation or remodel?
1: Invest in the planning process–it requires time to conceive the best layout for your kitchen, and a designer cannot do all the heavy lifting for you.  The layout is critical, and I see a lot of clients getting distracted by finish selections–tile, lighting, hardware–the fun stuff.  The layout is what is really going to make or break a successful renovation.

2: Invest in top quality cabinetry–Kitchen renovations are expensive, and its easy to try to save money by going with less expensive cabinets.   But in the long run, you will get much more longevity out of quality cabinetry, and I just don’t think the savings, in terms of the overall budget, really justify the loss in functionality and quality.  I try to encourage people to go with fewer cabinets, not cheaper.  Better cabinets minimize air space and can hold more stuff!

3: Expect headaches and stress. Kitchen renovations are complicated, time consuming and expensive.  But on top of that, I think they are emotionally challenging.  It feels a bit like open heart surgery for your home.  And I think that aspect can take people by surprise, and the stress and emotions can make the entire process harder, and the entire team miserable.  It’s important to acknowledge the stress rather than brush it off as “first world problems.”

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FEATURED: Luxe Interiors + Design June 2020

eclectic living room with white painted built-ins in Luxe magazineWhen my best friend since high school asked if I would redesign her historic, North Shore home to suit her growing family, I immediately said yes. Coming from a family of antique collectors, Shana already had an incredible design sense. She grew up going to art and antique shows with her mom! However, (in her words) “…if I were to put them together myself, it would look like a garage sale.”

Obviously that wasn’t exactly the look we were going for, and in the end we created a cohesive yet eclectic home that’s just as functional as it is beautiful. We were so excited when Luxe Interiors + Design decided to feature the project, and even more excited when they made Shana’s living room the front cover of their latest issue. *Cue the champagne*

eclectic entryway with vintage rug and painted blue door

Shana and her husband moved into the home a couple of months before our work began. They were eager to create a more functional and beautiful kitchen space. The previous layout was small and cramped with tight passageways and honey wood cabinetry (keep scrolling to see for yourself). This left plenty of room for improvement. Soon enough, the progress in the kitchen led to us creating a character-filled, light and bright design plan throughout the rest of the home. The wallpaper in the dining room was a major jumping off point for the color story. The William Morris paper also brings a historical touch to this Dutch Colonial Revival, which was originally built in the 1930s.


honey wood kitchen cabinets


white kitchen with wood island and commercial hood

Find the full feature from Luxe Interiors + Designs in their latest online issue, or head to their website for the featured home tour. We hope you love it as much as we do!

Interior Design: Claire Staszak, Centered by Design
Builder: Jeffrey Levin, Plumb Properties Construction Co.
Cabinets: Studio 912
Architectural Details from earlier renovation by Cohen & Hacker Architecture
Photography: Aimee Mazzenga

ER Nurse Jenny on Staying Healthy and Well During COVID-19

April 9, 2020 Uncategorized 0 Comments

One of our own, our design assistant Jenny, is a registered nurse who also works part-time in the Emergency Department of a major Chicago hospital. Jenny graciously helped put together this post to provide all of us valuable information on staying healthy and well during COVID-19.

Jenny has all of our love and support right now, as well as a heartfelt thank-you that extends to all the other healthcare and frontline workers for the work they do everyday–and especially now during this crisis. 

Due to her role as a healthcare professional, we want to share resources that have helped educate us, give us comfort, and offer ways to support our local community. Jenny has gone back to nursing almost full-time since the crisis began and I’m personally in awe of her dedication, spirit and love for others. We LOVE YOU Jenny!!


Jenny’s hospital team – THANK YOU healthcare and frontline workers!

During periods of isolation it’s more important than ever to check in with yourself, your friends and family, and your community. There is a lot of pressure on ourselves right now, and we want to tell you that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. Know that we will get through this together!

Multi-talented Jenny on the left – Design Assistant and ER nurse. Claire – Creative Director/Owner, middle. Iga – Lead Designer, right.

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High Impact Design Ideas for Your Kid’s Room or Playroom


Design ideas for kid’s rooms can feel limiting. I often see people gravitate towards animals, pastel colors or stereotypical motifs like cars or dolls. When dreaming up a design for a nursery or playroom we want to empower you to create a space for your little one that is both inspiring and playful. A space reflective of the excitement and youthful energy that kids bring.

Thinking resourcefully about how to create high impact design with little investment is key for kid’s rooms. One of the best ways to do this is with creative design ideas that make the room feel unique and imaginative! In today’s post we are offering 5 High Impact Design Ideas to transform your kid’s space. 

There are loads of pink and blue nurseries out there. We would like to give you some simple, yet impactful ideas to help you think beyond just paint and wallpaper. To show these design ideas at play, we are sharing kids’ spaces from our own portfolio plus a few inspirational rooms. We hope to inspire you to take creative license and make a little magic for your babes and kiddos!

Centered by Design Lakeview Nursery

lavender nursery with floral wall art

Centered by Design Lakeview Nursery

Idea #1: Sculptural Wall Art

Three-dimensional artwork is a great way to make art more impactful. As seen in our Lakeview nursery, we used Pottery Barn’s crepe paper flowers arranged in a vine-like pattern on the wall. These blooms are very easy to install, hung just like you would with picture frames–anyone can hang them! Be creative in your positioning on your wall, and you can easily make your nursery into a garden-like oasis.


Ceramics are having a moment and don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Ceramic wall hangings can give a beachy, bohemian aesthetic to a nursery. Hang them as a grouping for a more dramatic effect or a single piece as an understated accent. M Quan is an incredible ceramic artist who creates the coolest handmade art and objects from her studio in Brooklyn. You can find a lot of variations of these hangings (metallic options, too!) on Etsy. They’re handmade but at affordable price points.

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How to Use Wallpaper in Your Kitchen Design

Wallpaper in the kitchen? Don’t think that tile and stone are your only options. This article outlines how to use wallpaper in your kitchen. Because the kitchen is ground-zero to home cooking, it is also home to splashes, splatters, and spills. If you cook (or only use it as a receiving hub for your take-out… no judgement here!) it makes sense to stick to materials that are easily cleaned. We’d also like to suggest you think outside that box and consider making your kitchen a more intimate and elegant location.

Think of the kitchen like any other room you’re decorating. It needs attention paid to color, pattern, hard and soft materials, metals, the list goes on! In this post, we will show you how to use wallpaper in the kitchen. We will also reveal how we employed this design idea in our most recent kitchen renovation.  The post ends with other gorgeous wallpaper in the kitchen inspiration to get you started dreaming of your perfect kitchen.

Centered by Design, Lincoln Park Kitchen Remodel

How to Use Wallpaper in Your Kitchen

The kitchen is often thought of as the “heart of the home” and a place of gathering for the family and guests. It’s hard to get people out of the kitchen! Why not embrace this and make your kitchen not only a place of functionality but also of gathering and entertainment. Consider adding wallpaper on cabinet backs, behind open shelving, or on accent walls that are out of the way of direct cooking – even the space above cabinets to the ceiling. The above photo from our recent Lincoln Park condo renovation utilizes wallpaper in two of the ways we’ve suggested, both on cabinet backs and on an accent wall.

Installing wallpaper in your kitchen is one of the easiest ways to make it feel personalized. Infusing color and pattern will give your kitchen special visual detailing. One of our favorite ways to use wallpaper is behind kitchen cabinets. When doing this, choose glass cabinet fronts to make sure your wallpaper doesn’t go unnoticed. It creates a stunning jewel-box effect that highlights the contents of your cabinets.

As seen in our Lincoln Park condo, we employed this technique on one wall of cabinets with a dry bar and on an adjacent wall to tie it into the rest of the kitchen. Keeping the rest of the cabinets solid gives a streamlined and cohesive look, while highlighting the cabinets above the dry bar lets them shine. These wallpapered cabinet backs face a living room, transitioning flawlessly from kitchen space to living space. 

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Why We’re Loving Dark & Moody Kitchens

dark gray kitchen cabinets

Are Dark Kitchens Trending?

In a word: Definitely. While white, airy kitchens have been popular for years, dark kitchens offer a fresh and bold alternative look. They’re featured in Elle Decor, our favorite interior blogs, and even in hotels and restaurants. We are also excited to reveal a new project from our portfolio. This historic Chicago condo has a dark and moody kitchen with dark gray kitchen cabinets and beautiful finishes, see more below!

When designing a kitchen, we strive for a look that can withstand trends but also feels fresh. Consider black and gray cabinets to be neutrals that play well with other finishes, just like traditional white or cream kitchen cabinets. 

Black kitchens can be striking; however, it’s not the only way to achieve the dark look. Greens, navys, and grays also give you the same intensity with bonus color depth. 

Are you looking for more information about Kitchen Design? Don’t miss our eBook, The Insider’s Guide to Kitchen Design, available for purchase in our online shop!


Dark kitchen by Christopher Peacock

Kitchen designed by KitchenLab Interiors

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Designer Advice Made Simple: PDFs to Educate & Inspire

Hello and welcome! I am so excited to share that we’ve launched an online SHOP. This is not your typical interior design shop for pillows and accessories, oh NO! THIS is an online archive of Designer Advice Made Simple to help YOU better design, decorate and renovate your home. My team has been working for six months to put these beautifully designed and educational documents together. Wahoo! Launch day is here!

AND, not only do we have interior design related PDFs…BUT we have a TWO very special products specifically for Interior Designers and other Creatives wanting to grow their Instagram audience and design influencer status.

You will notice on the top right corner of the website, we have the SHOP navigation. When you hover over SHOP you will see a drop down for both DESIGNERS and HOMEOWNERS.


We’ve created these beautifully designed and informative PDFs to help you run your business more effectively. Principal designer and company founder, Claire Staszak, is passionate about educating (YOU!) creatives on how to use their authentic voice to share a unique point of view with the world, or better yet, your niche audience. Please read below for more information on our Instagram strategy workbook, content creation Excel templates and Claire’s coaching video to help you make sense of it all!

Are you ready to get organized, express your point of view to potential clients and niche your audience? Are you interested in growing your Instagram and Pinterest traffic but need help getting started or teaching your team members how to manage your account? This program will work for you! Designed with small business owners in mind this content is easy to digest and put into action straight away! LEARN MORE ABOUT THESE DESIGNER PDFS


Are you looking for our favorite paint colors, advice on how to organize and prepare for a kitchen remodel, or simply want a look at our most used online design sources? Click on the PDF thumbnails for pricing, specific document descriptions and to add the helpful document to your shopping cart! Our Insider’s Guide to Kitchen Design and Insider’s Guide to Decorating with Color are both multi-page PDF documents at a great value! The Color Guide contains EVERY color-related PDF and paint list. The Kitchen Guide includes, tile layouts countertop profiles, questions for the contractor and a specific kitchen questionnaire and check list.

Below is a sample of some of our PDF topics: VISIT THIS PAGE TO SEE THEM ALL AND PURCHASE

Our Favorite Resources for Interior Decorating Our Most Used Roman Shades Styles Paint Sheen Guide PDF Kitchen Remodel Survey PDF

Creating Sacred Space at Home

how to create sacred space at home

My Thoughts on Sacred Space + Personal Sanctuary:

Happy New Year friends! This year Centered by Design is not going to be shy about spreading our message of personal sanctuary. I believe creating sacred space at home is one of the most healing and kind things we can do for ourselves. Our lives today are lived at an intense pace and we all deserve respite at home.

This does not mean a home has to be grand, painted all white or look like a yoga studio to feel sacred. This means your home should be a reflection of you and have elements that bring you joy and peace. Thinking about color, scents, textures, natural light, comfort and artwork are all good starting places to generate ideas on how to create your own sacred space at home.

Our New Year event with Jayson Home, Chicago:

I’m excited to be offering a workshop on this topic of creating sacred space at home with one of my most favorite home decor shop, Jayson Home. Jayson Home made the cover of House Beautiful, December 2019 as one of the 50 top home stores in America! I’ve invited a favorite local yoga teacher and doula of mine, Amy Owen, to join us and lead a meditation and all levels yoga practice. You can BUY YOUR TICKET HERE on Eventbrite.

After we get centered with yoga and meditation, I’ll lead us in a few exercises to think about how we might create our own sacred space at home. It can be difficult to create peace and respite in a chaotic and cluttered space, so a first step might be some purging and donating! “Whether you’re religious, non-religious, or anything in between, a sacred space can help you pause, unplug, and reflect on the only work that really matters: loving the world, practicing gratitude, and being kind to yourself.” – love this quote from Huffington Post article, 2016.

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