High style, low price

New homeowner upgrades kitchen and bath on a budget

Updated kitchen
Photo: Thomas J. Story

Elba Borgen's San Francisco home gives new meaning to the idea that "less is more." She used less money to create a stylish home that looks like it cost much more.

Her secret: know what you like, and don't be afraid to pair pricey and bargain items.

When she began updating her first home, Borgen found furniture and accessories at garage sales, flea markets, and outlet stores.

She paired the bargain finds with high-end partners, such as standard tiles with expensive faucets, to get the look she wanted.

The $3,000 kitchen

"You could easily pay $50,000 to remodel a kitchen," Borgen says. "I did mine for around $3,000."

First, she determined what the kitchen had to offer: overhead cabinets and woodwork gave it vintage style.

"I started by working with what was there already," says Borgen, who played up the look by adding a 1920s, yellow-and-green range that heats faster than many of today's standard stoves.

"I like the look of the old stoves, and I like the way they cook. I found this one at a yard sale for $350 and spent a few hundred more to have it cleaned and restored. I'd have spent a lot more for a (new) professional range," Borgen says.

The colorful stove set the palette for the rest of the room. The pale yellow and forest green 12- by 12-inch vinyl floor tiles are arranged in a checkerboard pattern to enhance the vintage ambience. Including installation, the entire kitchen floor cost about $1,000.

Borgen discovered a cast-iron sink that the previous owners had left in her garage. She loved its old-fashioned, simple lines and decided to reinstall it. (To find your own vintage sink, scour local salvage yards.)

She spent $300 for the right faucet to go with the sink. "But that's not much compared to the price of a new sink and faucet," says Borgen.

The kitchen suffered from a lack of counter space. It had upper cabinets, but no lower ones with counters.

Borgen solved the problem by substituting furniture for lower cabinets. Two tables provide all the prep surfaces she wants. She found one, a dark Victorian piece, in her garage, and painted it a creamy yellow color to blend in with the overhead cabinets (shown above).

Another table, about $350 at a garage sale, offers additional counter space. Its deep drawers provide storage for kitchen utensils and bulk supplies.

Next: Dressing up a small bath


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