Neutral territory

Simple, smart changes brighten and update a compact kitchen

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"It's easy to think, 'Tear everything out and start over,' but it's much more economical if you work with what's there," explains Ryan Smith about the 1948 "teardown" ranch house he and Ahna Holder purchased. Their kitchen remodel shows how to overcome structural constraints with a few key moves.

Raise the ceiling. The objective was to get more light and a sense of spaciousness. Fortunately, a small attic above the kitchen proved to be the room's saving grace. "We took out the ceiling and built up to the roofline," Smith says. "We insulated it better than it had been before and added two skylights, which gave a nice focus to the room."

Open up the storage. Holder and Smith removed the wall between the kitchen and dining room and replaced it with open shelving for an airy look. Suspended from the ceiling by threaded steel rods in aluminum sleeves, the shelves hold everyday dishes whose frequent use ensures that they don't gather dust.

Keep appliances in place. The couple saved money by not moving the plumbing or drain lines.

Splurge where it counts. Countertops are edged with ApplePly ( www.statesind.com), a relatively costly, dense plywood that is very stable. The substantial edge is only 2 inches deep. Less expensive regular plywood supports the rest of the counter.

Design: Grey Design Studio, Seattle ( www.greydesignstudio.com or 206/524-2223)

High style, low cost: The countertops are three sheets of stainless steel - each sheared to an exact dimension - purchased from a sheet-metal supplier for a total of $400. The slate floor is cut from salvaged chalkboards. The neutral palette brightens the space.

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