For Virginia Chamlee, author and thrifting enthusiast, the pandemic brought both a desire to be home less often and a wish for her home to make more sense. Virginia and her boyfriend previously lived in a historical abode in Jacksonville, Florida. But during the pandemic both their jobs went remote, giving them the chance to travel with increased frequency. To do so the couple decided they needed something lower-maintenance than their big, old house. After opting to sell, they bought a condo in Ponte Vedra Beach, which was closer to Virginia’s mom.
The condo was a great fit for the couple, but Virginia knew right away that she wanted to renovate the kitchen.
The before: The first thing Virginia notes about the kitchen is its size. “It was such a different thing,” she says. “We had lived in a home with a yard and now we were in this condo and we had a kitchen that was like, gosh, half the size, maybe even smaller than the one in the house,” she explains. “It hadn’t been touched since it was built in 1996,” says Virginia. “The appliances were dated—they worked, but they were bulky and taking up so much space.” In addition, there was a pantry that was “really useless”—just wire shelving. “I felt like there was just so much opportunity to turn it into a better space,” she says.
The inspiration: One of the first decorative elements Virginia placed in the condo was an oddly shaped mirror she bought at a flea market on the same weekend she signed the condo contract. It ended up inspiring her creative vision for the kitchen. “I hung that right before we got started on the kitchen project,” she says. “That piece helped determine that I wanted some wood elements.” She found a photo of zigzag wood cabinet pulls and showed them to designers at Kitchen Envy, who she worked with for the project. They had similar ones fabricated. The floor tiles, which feature porcelain made to look like wood, add to the aesthetic of the kitchen.
Overall, Virginia wanted to pair those natural wood elements with a feeling of timelessness, edging on vintage. She says, “95% of the stuff in my condo is thrifted. I wanted something that felt a little bit vintage. I never wanted something overly trendy, where I would look at it and say ‘Oh yep, that’s 2023.’”
The budget: $40,000
The square footage: The kitchen is about 88 square feet.
Many of the design decisions in the kitchen were made with the intention of creating as much workspace and storage area as possible.They kept the layout for the most part, but extended the cabinets and removed the pantry. “You’d think you’d have less space but there’s actually so much more because the cabinets have pull-out shelving, big deep drawers, and the island has doubled in size, so there’s compartments and storage on either side,” says Virginia.
To maximize the space, Virginia opted for small appliances, including a drawer dishwasher and a European fridge that’s much smaller than a typical American fridge. “It mattered less that I had a big fridge and more that I had space to cook,” Virginia explains, touching upon her increased travel time. “We sacrificed appliance size in favor of more workspace.” The small fridge has also changed her relationship to the food she buys and the recipes she takes on. “I’m more thoughtful about what I buy, I never buy too much of anything,” she says. “I’m creative about what I cook. Right now we have a jar of pickles taking up space. It’s a challenge: How can I use up these pickles?”
Lighting: Pendant light by Robert Abbey and Julien Wall ceiling light by Hudson Valley
Tiles: Artwood porcelain floor tiles by Industry Tile
Backsplash and countertops: semi-translucent Mehndi Quarts from Wilsonart
Most insane splurge: The cabinets, which were completely custom, took up more than half of the budget, coming in at $21,571.62.
Sneakiest save: Virginia says using smaller appliances, especially a tiny drawer-style dishwasher, saved a lot. In addition, the lighting fixtures over the cabinet, which mitigate a lack of natural light in the space, were each $200.
Favorite part: “I love the island,” says Virginia. “There’s something really luxe about having a kitchen island and it’s cool that I live in this really small condo and can still have that moment. It really does add so much for me. On Thanksgiving, for instance, when I’m cooking multiple dishes, I have enough space to actually do that.”
What I’ll never do again: Virginia was so eager to get the kitchen done that she did it before thinking about what tiling would meet the kitchen flooring and the living room. “It was really hard for the tile-installers, because they had to work around the island,” she says. “I was so excited to get a new kitchen that I had tunnel vision about it.”
Final bill: “Came in under!” Virginia says. But, she clarifies—just under. “But I’d do it all over again,” she says. “It has made my life easier, my kitchen time more pleasant, and certainly added to the value of the condo.”