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Before and After: A White, Bright Milwaukee Kitchen

Green With Decor blogger Meg Hemmelgarn shares the story behind her latest home reno. And yes, there’s plenty of green.

When Meg and Kalen Hemmelgarn left Cincinnati for Meg's hometown of Milwaukee, they went searching for a fixer-upper. Their criteria: three bedrooms, at least one-and-a-half bathrooms, natural light in the living room, a two-car garage—and a kitchen in need of a total gut job. Fresh off the renovation of their Cincy house, they were looking for their next project.

They found it in a 1951 brick-bottomed house typical of its Wauwatosa neighborhood; it was loaded with horrors, including wall-to-wall wood paneling, grungy paint and a garage that reeked of cigarettes. “Nobody wanted it,” Meg recalls. “We were the only people who came in for a second showing." But it had that pièce de résistance—a completely dated kitchen—so the Hemmelgarns scooped it up. They closed on a Friday and demolished the kitchen that weekend.

"The original kitchen was narrow and galley-style," Meg says. “The cabinets were light blue, the backsplash was metallic silver, and the stove must have been original; it was really small and yellow."

Even worse than the outmoded decor, the layout just wasn’t functional. On one side of the galley, the house jutted out awkwardly, creating a nook barely big enough for a breakfast table; on the other side, a wall blocked off the dining room.

"We knew we wanted to knock that wall down and put in a breakfast bar," she says. “And we didn’t want that bump-out area, so we ended up doing a small addition—just 2 by 6 feet—to make the kitchen a true rectangle."

When it came to the cabinetry, the Hemmelgarns were equally decisive. After installing cream cabinets in their Cincinnati house, they knew they wanted a brighter look, so before they even got the keys, they locked on classic white. And the cabinetmaker helped hash out the rest of the layout. The sink fit best near the window, so they positioned the fridge near the sink, and the stove on the adjacent wall, to form the ideal work triangle. The last of the cabinetry fell into place, leaving lots of room for storage beneath the brand-new breakfast counter.

The old bird’s-egg-blue cabinetry, dark counters and orangey wood floor never really harmonized, so Meg stuck to a cohesive all-white look. (Bonus: It makes the space look huge!) Pristine subway tile connects the upper and lower cabinets, white quartz countertops stretch around the kitchen, and a milky sink keeps the eye moving. Dark walnut flooring anchors the room and echoes the light touch of tan paint on the walls.  Smudge-proof stainless appliances seemed an easy choice, which led to brushed nickel finishes on the cabinet hardware and a stainless Savile pull-down faucet and soap dispenser.

Finally, Meg added her signature touch: green. Her all-time favorite accent color (here, in an avocado shade) made its way into the kitchen via curtains, towels, a floor mat and empty wine bottles—the tastiest kind of DIY project. Oh, and those curtains? Meg bought a green-and-white shower curtain at Target and turned it into valances.

"Having done our Cincinnati house, we went into it knowing it was going to take longer than we thought, but we always knew it would eventually get done,” Meg says. "I’ve heard people say, 'I’ll never do that again!' But I totally would! I thought it was fun. It’s really fun to look at the before and afters and think, 'We did that!'"

To see more before and after shots of this kitchen and the rest of the Hemmelgarn home, visit Meg's blog,