Valeria Crescenzi

Things I changed to improve my kitchen (and tips to spruce up yours)

If you already follow me on Instagram, you might have seen that I’ve been busy sprucing up my kitchen and dining room lately.

Luckily, even if I live in a rented apartment, there is no outdated or in-bad-shape kitchen. It’s quite the opposite: the apartment has been recently built so it doesn’t need an extreme makeover. Instead what I felt was missing, especially in the kitchen, was warmth and a dash of my favorite textures and color hues. If you also live in a rented apartment, I’m sure these thoughts sound familiar.

So, with the extra time spent at home the past months, I finally carved out some time to choose new lighting fixtures and make the changes I had in mind since we moved in. I still have some things I’m planning on doing soon but I feel I’m halfway through the process of softening the rigor of the kitchen we got.

I’ll walk through the things I’ve changed in the kitchen sharing useful tips along the way that I hope will come in handy if you are planning on updating your kitchen too.

The starting point, part I: the constraints

As I’m living in a rental in Switzerland there is almost nothing I can do about the overall layout of the kitchen, the countertop, or the color of the walls. Rules are clear: if I want to change something I need written approval from the landlord (who may reject my request without specific reasons or set additional conditions) and, if one day I’ll move out, I’ll need to bring the apartment to its original status — at my expenses, of course.

If I could choose, my kitchen would have blu (or dark grey-green) cabinets, a white marble countertop, and brass finishing touches. Instead, I have cabinets in total white, a countertop in black quartz, and stainless steel finishings. From a decoration point of view, these are all cold materials and ‘non-colors’.

This is one of the limits of living in a rented apartment: some things are actually non-negotiable and radical interventions cannot be made. But I don’t complain about an open kitchen that came fully equipped, has a lot of surface for preparing food (the island is my favorite part), and a lot of storage space — including a sliding pantry which proved to be super handy in 2020 being constellated with lockdowns.

Even though I’m ‘team tiding up now‘, efficiency is not everything and with all that white the kitchen seemed to blend in with the walls around. And I don’t want the heart of the home to feel a little bleak!

The starting point, part II: gathering inspiration

Since functionality and space were not an issue, I could focus on the aesthetic side.

As usual, I started gathering inspiring images. Not every element I collected is now in the finished design, but finding images that evoke the feeling and the general style I wanted to achieve was just as important as the specific colors and objects I picked up in the end.

These photos have been my start for the project, they helped to envision where I was heading. Since I have a gloss worktop and backsplash, I wanted to add raw materials from nature, matt finishings, and more textured pieces to balance everything out.

To choose colors and textures I literally went back to my roots. I’m Italian, born in Rome and raised in a town north of the city, which was once the homeland for the Etruscans and the Romans. From those ancient cultures, I draw my love for tactile, natural materials, and ceramics — especially terracotta. That part of Italy is where volcanic tuff and clay are typical materials and now that I’m living north of the Alps I want those textures and earthy color shades be part of my home. Read more about me here.

If you are tackling an interior project, create a Pinterest board and start pinning images you feel drawn to. You’ll be soon discovering that for the most part, they will have a common color palette and style. This is where you start to understand and select what you really want to achieve. I do this for every new project, be it small or big, and I did it for my kitchen restyling.

Once I got my inspiration moodboard and made up my mind on the improved color palette, I started focusing on the actual objects.

The first step was taking care of the lighting fixtures — it was long overdue. When we moved in we actually picked up a couple of IKEA temporary lampshades. But you know, as the saying goes ‘nothing is more permanent than a temporary solution’ we kept procrastinating the replacement: at the end of the day, the lamps were doing their job even if not really fitting with the style of our home.

Things I changed to improve my kitchen: lighting fixtures

Good lighting is one of the most important design components in a home. «No light, no homeyness», says Frida Ramstedt, and I couldn’t agree more with her.

There is an enormous range of lighting fixtures and choosing the right ones can be overwhelming. So it’s important to set some priorities: start from function and then choose the style. A lamp should be firstly doing its job and this is way more important than looking just pretty.

Going back to my kitchen, I needed a ceiling lamp providing direct light over the island. The house came with 2 built-in spotlights for the entire kitchen and dining room area and you can easily estimate that wasn’t enough to properly lit the room.

I opted for the Ambit lamp by muuto, one of my favorite brands ever. It solved the problem of the disproportioned previous lampshade, its shape provides now more directional light and, since the lampshade is black like the floor, it helped in creating a sort of entrance to the open kitchen. Can you see it?

Below the Before&After. Look how much the right lamp changes the overall ambiance (the cake is not part of the everyday decor but it’s definitely in tune with the improved color palette).

Once done with the kitchen lighting, I also replaced the lamp over the dining table. I added natural birchwood and pattern choosing the Victo Small 4251 from Finnish Secto Design. It’s a dream came true for a design lover like me, and it’s a piece I’m planning to keep for many years to come.

So, to sum up we now have 2 built-in spotlights and one pendant lamp in the kitchen, a pendant lamp over the table, and a floor lamp in the corner by the dining table for a total of four lighting spots. Way better than before!

P.S. I got this pic back in December, the day after I changed the lamp. As you can see, the house was in full Christmas mood. Now I don’t have any hanging stars but I’m thinking about new decorations for the window. A home is always changing as seasons change. If you are already thinking about Spring and Summer decor, have a look at the selection of sustainable homeware releases I recently published.

Things I changed to improve my kitchen: adding functional yet pretty decor items

I don’t really know why but kitchens often become an afterthought when it comes to styling.

For my soft makeover, I’ve made a list of the utensils and appliances I use every day and that must be at hand + a list of objects and tools that I would have liked to buy to improve the decoration.

I didn’t buy a lot of things: many items have just been rearranged or grouped in a different way. Sometimes it’s all it takes to refresh a space >> Have a read at the blog post «Easy ways to add color to your home» for more tips about decorating your house with intention.

The rule when decorating the kitchen is: add functional yet pretty decor items. They bring texture and depth to any space. Some objects seem to be born to play this role: I’m talking about bowls and fruit baskets, serving trays, cutting boards, and crocks, and even cleaning items. They can be placed in strategic spots such as by the cooking stove or by the sink for easy access.

Here below the list of the pieces I bought in case you were wondering where something came from:

  1. Catu fruit basket (Antonino Sciortino for Serax)
  2. Marble terrazzo tray (HK Living)
  3. Dish drainer (HAY)
  4. Pantry jars (Sostrene Grenes)
  5. Wooden cutting board (Bloomingville)
  6. Ceramic cutting plate nude (HK Living)
  7. Terrazzo kitchen paper roll holder (Depot)
  8. Soap dispenser + bamboo brush (Zara Home).

>> For more beautiful and utilitarian accessories, read my blog post «Ceramics, ceramics everywhere».

Something to keep in mind when choosing new kitchen accessories: pay particular attention to the materials and if they are suitable for use in the kitchen. I could start a column called ‘Looks good, doesn’t work’ with all the products I’ve seen in the last 10 years of my career. Just to give you an example from my kitchen restyling: I bought a silicone dish tray from a very well known brand and it got stains I couldn’t wash away just after 3 days of using it.

The current result

I’ll leave the photos to show you the current result.

As I was saying at the beginning of this blog post, I’m planning on doing a couple of changes more: I’d love to replace the cabinets’ handles and put up some decorations or shelves on the island’s end wall. So… expect an update to this blog post as soon as I’ll deal with the last additions!

If you got inspired by these kitchen improvements, share this blog post with your interior loving friends.

Do you have any questions? Throw them at me using the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think about my kitchen soft restyling and talk about your ongoing projects.



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