woman cutting fruit on kitchen counter

A tiny 150 sq. ft. kitchen gets a DIY budget makeover

How Desiree Nielsen transformed her 150 sq. ft. kitchen into a multi-use space where she could develop plant-based recipes, film reels and cook for her family of four.

Desiree Nielsen’s kitchen is also her office. It’s where she creates recipes for cookbooks like Good for Your Gut, her new collection of 90-plus plant-based recipes that promote digestive health. It’s also where she films TV segments for shows like The Marilyn Denis Show and The Social. And it’s where her family enjoys dinner together.

Her kitchen is 150 square feet. 

“There’s always a lot going on,” she says. “My coping mechanism is that I have noise-cancelling headphones.”

When she and her husband, James, decided to refresh their kitchen, their mission was to make the space functional and attractive with the smallest possible budget. The entire project cost just over $2,500.

She was inspired by an image she spotted on Remodelista of “a really cool black kitchen somewhere in Europe.” She riffed on the black plywood backsplash in that image for her own space and built the design from that. “My ultimate goal was a warm, welcoming, minimalist space,” she says. “I really like a lack of clutter, but I want it to feel cozy and inviting.”

Photography, Janis Nicolay

The Nielsens did most of the work themselves. The couple stained the backsplash, replaced the peeling laminate countertop and primed and painted the cabinetry. They also organized the open pantry using mesh bins so that everything can be spotted quickly and easily. 

The most significant change was the addition of an island—a garage workbench from Ikea, that’s ideal for storing her Vitamix, cast-iron pans and cookbooks. It’s also essential for filming. “All the TV segments that I used to do live and in a studio had to be done at home, and I had no presentation space whatsoever,” she says. To make the most of this new workspace, they removed the track lighting overhead to eliminate unfriendly shadows. Blessed with all-day natural light thanks to the house’s east-west orientation, with the only other light coming from a wicker pendant light that hangs over the dining table.

backsplash and kitchen counter
Photography, Janis Nicolay


Photography, Janis Nicolay

Splashes of colour are found in accents, like the Portuguese “rooster of luck and happiness”—a nod to her heritage—a triptych of paintings by family friend Laura Edwards, and photographs taken by James’s grandfather of Norway, where the family is from. 

Nielsen is quick to point out that the fine-art genes come from her husband’s side of the family. “My art,” she says, “is words and food.” It’s a modest quip from someone who has clearly mastered the art of creative food content.

All in the DetailsAraucoPly Premium Pine Plywood

Desiree Nielsen’s back-to-basics backsplash was a simple DIY project. A sheet of plywood stained black creates maximum impact on a minimal budget. 

3/4 inch x 4 ft x 8 ft, $102, at Home Depot


Bror Workbench

Who doesn’t love an Ikea hack? Nielsen’s kitchen island is actually a durable workbench made from steel and pine plywood.

$189, at Ikea



Risatorp Wire Basket

Organization is key with open shelving. Using mesh baskets allows Nielsen and her family to group ingredients together and minimize clutter.  

$12.99 at Ikea 
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