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When you buy a house without getting to see it in person, you might find some surprises. Laura Mattox and her husband AJ sure did when they moved into their home, a cute 1932 Dutch Colonial that they signed the papers for while stationed overseas with the military. “I saw the pictures of the kitchen and figured that with wooden cabinets, I could simply paint them or somehow spruce them up without much trouble,” Laura says of the kitchen. But once they got to check it out in real life? Well, that was a different story. “It was such a disappointment—the cabinets were not wood, but some type of plastic formica that was peeling off plywood fronts,” says Laura. “Every one of the drawers was broken, so they wouldn’t stay closed and when you tried to open them, they would fall right out of the cabinet box.” Plus, the 1970s-style kitchen’s brown carpet (yes, carpet) continued to the base of the cabinets, and the tiny window’s crank was broken, “so the window really was of no use,” says Laura.

With six kids, a functioning kitchen was a must for the family. Laura knew she wanted to take out the soffits to make the ceiling look higher, and help the kitchen feel larger than it really was. And, of course, she wanted it to be bright, cheery, and inexpensive.

Laura used IKEA’s kitchen planning tool to build her dream layout—but on realizing it was way more than she was hoping to spend, scrapped upper cabinets in favor of open shelving. That meant they’d only need to replace the base cabinets. Fortunately, their remodel was timed with IKEA’s semi-annual kitchen sale, which saved them even more.

With the help of their two oldest sons—ages 15 and 16—Laura and AJ got to work taking out the soffits and drop ceiling. That was when a surprise hit: “We found that the electrical was actually just lamp wire in the ceiling that was twisted together, no electrical tape, nuts, or anything,” Laura says. “It was a fire hazard to say the least. Redoing the entire electrical was not in our wheel house, so we hired an electrician who was able to get us back on track fairly quickly but blew our budget by $1000, since we had not anticipated hiring an electrician at all.”

Thankfully, assembling the IKEA cabinets was much easier. “The first few cabinets were a bit of a challenge because we had not done it before, but a few Youtube videos later and we were now ‘pros,’” Laura says. As part of the new layout, they also moved the fridge to open up line of sight to the dining room and living room. “Before it had been right next to the doorway to the other part of the house, and it was so big and bulky that I couldn’t see around it and watch the little kids while I was in the kitchen,” Laura says. “Moving the fridge to the other side of the kitchen was a great opener of the space!”

Replacing the small old window with new picture window—installed by Laura and her dad—majorly brightened up the whole kitchen. Another huge win? Swapping out the old carpet for wood-look vinyl planks, installed in a herringbone pattern.

Laura had always wanted butcherblock counters, so the couple got those from IKEA, too. She coated them in a marine-grade spar finish to help protect them from spills. The longest project, Laura says, was the backsplash: “It really is not difficult to tile, but AJ and I had never done it on our own before, and honestly, we were afraid that we were going to mess up,” Laura says. “I wanted to use a fun mosaic for the entire backsplash, but after 20 years of marriage, AJ knows that I like change… and talked me into using something traditional—white subway tile—for the majority of the backsplash and then the mosaic for just behind the slide-in stove.”

The end result is brighter, more open, and more character-filled, too, thanks to unique touches like the blue color of the cabinets and the mosaic behind the “I think my favorite part of the kitchen is how it makes me feel,” Laura says. “I don’t love doing dishes, but now everything seems bearable because I have a lovely room to work in.”

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