New homeowner upgrades kitchen and bath on a budget

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 

Dressing up a small bath

Borgen’s inspiration for the bathroom came from a high-end tile/fixtures store. She spent about $950 on high-impact accessories like a towel bar, toilet-paper holder, soap rack, and shelf at a designer boutique.

She shopped for bargains on typically more costly items, such as the tile, mirror, and light fixture. “Cream-colored tile is cream-colored tile,” Borgen says. “I bought mine for $3 a square foot. At the high-end store, I would have paid more than $5,000.”

The open shower stall is a concept Borgen had seen and was able to copy with cheaper hardware. “Once you know the look you want, it’s easy to execute it,” she says.


1. Create charming visible storage ― terra-cotta flowerpots (in glass cabinet) hold flatware.

2. Upholster dated furniture with slipcovers.

3. Get inspiration from upscale magazines and find low-cost substitutes for high-end looks.

4. Paint inexpensive furniture that has good lines ― the cream-colored kitchen table below the glass cabinet was once dark wood.

5. Use accessories, such as the line of green bottles on the kitchen table, to make a colorful statement.

More: Reinvent your stuff: 20 fun DIY projects