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Robby and Lauren Simon have a saying: “When you’re home, you’re with your family. And when you’re with your family, you’re home.” The phrase was one the couple told themselves on repeat during their two-year-long kitchen renovation. “It’s one of those made-up, Olive Garden sayings, but it’s essentially like, things don’t have to be perfect. It just has to be home,” says Robby.
When the Simons bought their split-level home in Atlanta in February 2020, it was clear the kitchen hadn’t been touched since the 1980s. The couple focused on the things that could easily be changed with a little bit of elbow grease (the dark wood cabinets and fluorescent light box) and learned to live with the things that couldn’t, like the galley layout and travertine tiled floors. “In a dream world I would have put in Fireclay tile, but this isn’t our forever home,” notes Lauren. While she acted as project manager during the remodel, Robby took on the role of woodworker and even turned his cabinet- and furniture-making hobby into a full-fledged side hustle (by day, he works at Mailchimp; by night he runs Play.room).
In the end, the pair estimates they spent less than $10,000 on the transformation. Ahead, they share the updates that, at the very least, made it feel like home.
Leave Your IKEA Cabinets As Is
The Simons measured the existing lower cabinetry to a T and then ventured to their local IKEA to put an order in for the black Kungsbacka cupboards, with no intentions to swap out the hardware or hack the door fronts. With the help of their handy friend, Mike, they cut the butcher block countertops (also IKEA) down to size. “Lauren built every one of those cabinets—she could be a TaskRabbit,” Robby says with a laugh. Even though they were a major cost saver, they’ve held up nicely considering they are constantly being opened and touched by their 6-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter.
Make the Most Out of a Bad Vent Situation
While Robby now sells cool credenzas and consoles on his brand’s site, the first cabinet he ever made sits above the vent hood. He created the unit solely out of necessity after learning that they had to replace the old microwave–slash–range hood, which was apparently venting inside the house. Their new ductless hood needed something to attach to. “I thought, if I’m going to do it, I might as well make it look cool,” he says. The piece is made out of a combination of walnut-veneer plywood and solid walnut.
Paint It Twice If It Doesn’t Look Nice
Lauren also shares Robby’s let’s-just-go-for-it attitude. One day, when he was out of the house, she decided to remove the doorframe and then posed the idea of turning it into an arch once he got home. “He said, you just made so much more work for me. And I was like, we have to do it now—we don’t have a door,” she says slyly. When it came to painting the walls in the space, their first instinct was green, so they went for it. “But we could tell it wasn’t right,” she says. Lauren, the designated painter at that point, shifted gears to a soft peachy pink, and later on they swapped the light box for a PH5 pendant lamp that perfectly matched the color.
Ask the Hardware Store for Help
The dining nook bench was another first for Robby—and he didn’t even own the proper saw for it at the time. Instead he went to Home Depot and had them cut down pieces of plywood and 2-by-4s to his specifications and then screwed it together at home. “Our long-term plan is to make a cushion for it,” he says.
Type Your Wildest Dreams Into the Search Bar
When it comes to finding cool thrifted pieces, Robby says Lauren has all the luck. “She will go into a Goodwill and literally find a Mario Bellini couch,” he says with a laugh. But his turn came when he decided to type “vintage snake handles” into Google on a whim and found exactly what he was looking for on Etsy. The cobra pulls, which now adorn the pantry, are Justina Blakeney–approved. Lauren posted a photo of the cabinet on Instagram and tagged the designer in it, crediting her for the inspiration—and Blakeney shared it. “I was like, I’ve made it,” says Lauren.
Get the Appliances That Make Life Easier
Toward the end of the reno, the Simons splurged big: all new appliances. “The fridge that was there before stuck out into the hallway. It was so deep,” recalls Robby. The challenge wasn’t landing on what brand to buy (they loved LG’s streamlined look and reasonable price point) but rather getting the appliances into the house. The oven and refrigerator were at least 300 pounds and required the help of five other people.
Once they were in the kitchen, Robby handled all the hookups (his friend told him about Plumber’s Putty, a waterproof seal that turned out to be necessary for installing the oven). “The stove is crazy…you knock on it and a light turns on,” says Robby, “and the fridge makes regular ice, crushed ice, and whiskey balls.” After a two-year reno, a chilled cocktail is a welcome reward.