free interior decorating and design education from
Learn Decorating with Us!
Search Interiordezine Network
Custom Search
Follow Lee Brown on Twitter

Kenneth Pfaff

Designer Profile Kenneth Pfaff – Simple Kitchen Makeover

Kenneth Pfaff – Interior Decoration and Design

811 112th Street SW STE E302

Everett Washington, USA


Qualification: Sheffield School of Interior Design

Specialist Areas: Residential and Small Business Interiors, bolts to paint and Eclectics

Kenneth develops interiors from blank slate to those needing just general enhancement (a.k.a. design-in-a-day). The blending of styles (eclectic) is one key effort Kenneth strives to do for his clients because he feels most people tend to gravitate toward one style but in actuality already own items from many styles. Although deft in eclectic, Kenneth has helped clients with designs firmly rooted in a single theme, whether traditional, safari, modern or country.

One particular project in late 2003 provided quite a challenge as the client rents an apartment with strict landlord rules about decoration; combine that with the edgy lifestyle of the occupant and Kenneth was certain this was just the right challenge for him. In this one small bedroom apartment, he had to gracefully merge neo-classical, safari and Asian styles into one cohesive mood. He even gave a name to the thematic mood – Explorer. (This project will be available to view online in the near future).

Original Kitchen

In this article, I will describe a very classy upgrade that will recreate a functional but boring kitchen into an inviting area that will elicit that ‘wow’ factor we all like to hear when visitors enter our homes. With a little over thirty minutes of effort, I added a combination exposed beam and stained glass (false) sub-ceiling to my kitchen with nothing more than a few pre-cut beams, two empty picture frames and vinyl stained-glass window film, a screwdriver, and a few bits of hardware. Want to know the best part? I did it for a little over $100.00 and didn’t have to use a saw.The two rooms you notice when entering any standard apartment are the entry way (obviously) and the kitchen; the standard galley-style kitchen that is all function and very little class. This is especially true in apartment complexes that I have lived in, complete with plain-fronted cabinets and the ever-popular fluorescent light fixture.

In many cases, the apartment managers / landlords don’t mind if you paint or add a few minor touches, but replacing light fixtures or appliances or counter tops isn’t allowed, nor would you replace these expensive items anyway.

You are stuck with all function . . . or are you?

Kitchen Cupboard Doors Removed.

To add class to your kitchen, take a structural inventory of the room itself by noticing the details in your cabinets. In all of my apartments the cabinets looked very plain, but on closer examination only the doors were boring. The wood facing behind and surrounding the doors was deep and rich. The cabinets never reached to the ceiling, and it is this kind of kitchen that I am going to help you upgrade in this article. If you have full-length cabinets, don’t worry. You can still upgrade the look of your kitchen with at least one of my suggestions I describe below, but don’t hesitate to think outside the box a little. You might come up with your own solution and create that wonderful kitchen you only wish the apartment came with at the outset.

Look through the photos accompanying this article and you will see that my plain galley becomes a warm and inviting kitchen complete with ‘stained glass,’ exposed beams and a deep golden glow. This upgrade has four phases, and you can do any or all of these phases to suit your interest – remember, once I had assembled all of my pieces, this upgrade took about thirty minutes. Let’s get started.

Phase One to a nice looking apartment kitchen – remove the upper cabinet doors.

The cabinets have a rich wood grain, and by removing the doors to the upper cabinets I have instantly upgraded my kitchen into an open pantry look that I really enjoy. The openness of the cabinets now allows me to add collectibles and other knick-knacks.

With a little judicious placement of my dishes and foodstuffs, I reveal a plethora of color, texture and depth that did not exist just a few moments ago. Adding shelf liners in either a contrasting or complementary color helps set off the interior of the cabinets (amongst its obvious functional use).

Phase Two to a great looking apartment kitchen – assess the potential for false exposed beam-work.

An initial look at the structure of my kitchen reveals that my cabinets don’t extend to the ceiling, and beams can be placed above the cabinets without conflicting with the two fluorescent fixtures. I then measure the span above the cabinets at three points – front, center and back, just to be sure the beams would fit. Apartments have one other ‘great’ predominate feature – sometimes the walls, doors and cabinets aren’t always squared, so please take a little extra time to be sure of the measurements.

Phase Three and Four to a classy apartment kitchen – exposed beams and stained glass to boot.

With those measurements across the two sets of cabinets, I’m off to my local home improvement / lumberyard. One of the great things about this upgrade is that you don’t need to be a carpenter or even own a table saw. Most lumberyards will do cuts for you.

The timber beams have now been placed

The timber beams have now been placed.

The home improvement store I went to also sold empty picture frames and the artistic window film. What’s that? Window film is a thin, flexible vinyl sheet that self-adheres without adhesives to the interior of a smooth window. When an image is illuminated with daylight or room light, the resulting effect is similar to a stained glass window, and come in a variety of artistic decorations like landscapes, Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass or even flowers. In my case, I wanted the look of a Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass panel. If you aren’t familiar with the product, here is one maker of this great product (Artscape of Portland Oregon (

The picture frame and the beams.

The convenient thing about these window films lie in your ability to just peel them off when you no longer want them or when you are changing the ‘scene.’ The vinyl sticks to the window or picture frame glass by static, and they look great. Most window film is applied to your window with water, and removal is easy by simply peeling it off the glass (it also leaves no residue).

Back at home, I placed the three beams on top of my cabinets, adjusting them in spacing to match the width of my picture frames – but only as a spot-check. I still need to lift the beams off the cabinets a little to create a more realistic ‘exposed beam’ feel. I used some scrap wood pieces to lift the beams a couple of inches from the top of the cabinets, but anything can be used for that since no one will ever likely look way up above your cabinets anyway, right? Remember to watch out for light fixture distance and the placement of your panes.

Using a level helps get the beams to looking just right, but you should remember that exposed beams don’t always have to be parallel to the floor. Many great beam styles have a decent slant, usually with the lowest end toward the outside wall.

Two words of safety about the beams – I did not secure my beams to the walls because I know I won’t be banging into them or hanging off them as I did when I was a kid (yes, I loved hanging off the beams at home, driving my mother to distraction). Even if I bumped them for some reason, the beams go from wall to wall and won’t fall on me. If you are concerned with this, your home improvement store can show you some simple brackets that will allow you to attach the beams to your walls securely and safely.

Lastly, ask your home improvement person about types of beams. I used plain pressure treated 4×4 beams, but some have arsenic or other chemical treatments too, and need to be handled safely.

I purchased two picture frames inlaid with a blonde wood, but frames come in many varieties so pick the style you like best.

Discard the cardboard or solid backing that comes with the frames (or give to your children for drawing on rather than your walls).

Also remove the plastic / glass protector, and it is to this protector that you will apply the window film (following the directions provided by the manufacturer) using a large, flat work surface.

I highly suggest that large, flat work area as it this greatly aids in applying the vinyl treatment to the protector. Most window film is applied using soapy water, so this part of the upgrade takes barely 10 minutes. Keep some rags handy to sop up the water.

You will want to add some small metal brackets to your empty frames before placing the protector back into its slot. I had some small L-shaped brackets hanging around from a previous project, so I used those, but feel free to use any other form of bracket you may have.

A safety tip – temporarily hang your empty frames onto the beams and adjust the beams to closely fit as you wish, but try to arrange the frames so that the frame isn’t touching or even too close to your light source.

This method using beams and frames has effectively lowered the ceiling, but produced more light.

This method using beams and frames has effectively lowered the ceiling, but produced more light.

The backlit panels are very effective

The backlit panels are very effective.

The manufacturer may have specific safety guidelines for you in the materials provided with your window film.

Once you’ve attached your brackets to the four corners of your frames and tested the fit and placement to the beams, simply replace the protector back into the frame and secure in place.

Don’t add the cardboard, as the light must shine through your pane. Lastly, place your panes onto the beams.

Secure them or let them simply hang via the brackets depending on your set-up and need for safety. The great thing about floating frames is that you can now easily create seasonal panels – just buy some extra frames and the window film scene you want and replace the panes whenever your want to make your kitchen seasonal or holiday-related.

Not all apartments have fluorescent fixtures, but in my case, I had two fluorescent light fixtures that I wanted to hide, so I put the longest side of my panes along the length of the beams. Play with the spacing and direction of your panes to your liking. I chose the Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass look, which gave me the benefit of turning the frames in any direction, but many window film scenes are directional (plants and outdoor scenes especially). You don’t want your beautiful stained glass wisteria to grow upside down do you? How can it be upside down when it is parallel to the floor? I’m glad you asked. Sit where you will most often be looking at your panes. The side closest to you is the ‘ground’ and the side farthest from you is the ‘sky.’

As you can see, my two new stained glass panels provide a real sense of depth and warmth to what was once a bland kitchen. The perceived ceiling height is lower, and that creates a firmer sense of coziness. The light from the ‘daylight’ bulbs I added filters through the panes giving the whole kitchen a golden glow it lacked previously. The ceiling above the beams has a radiance that always existed, but the wooden beams and stained glass panes help define and deepen that area.

Adding my existing knick-knacks and a couple of Fabrice de Villeneueve paint-style hand towels from a local retail store rounds out the edges of the countertop and lower cabinetry. I kept the cut ends from my beams and placed them on top of the ‘exposed beam’ work as artistic interest. Lastly, as a future enhancement, adding pulls to my lower cabinets would be a great touch (inexpensive upgrade), as well as replacing the faucet (expensive upgrade).

What were the costs of my materials?

Three 4×4 pressure treated beams $ 29.91

Two Picture Frames 24″x36″ $ 39.98

Window Film 24″x36″ $ 39.98

Two packets of four L-shaped brackets $ 3.98

Four ‘daylight’ bulbs $ 21.96

Total $135.81

Tips and Tricks:

Tip One
Most frames come with plastic protectors, which will bow slightly when hung parallel to the floor (they were designed to be resting vertically after all). Glass is the obvious solution to this issue, but glass will be heavier and more costly. The bowing is very minor and I didn’t feel it to be a real concern.

Don’t forget to remove the protective plastic that usually coats one of both sides of the protector itself before applying the window film.

The cupboards now look open and interesting.
The cupboards now look open and interesting.

Tip Two

Be aggressive in applying the vinyl window film to your protector. By this I mean that tiny water / air bubbles will naturally occur as you apply the film, and can mar the look of your pane when the light shines through. Use a credit card or other flat object in combination with a washcloth, and starting from the center, work those bubbles out to the edges. Really work them. I can’t stress that enough, but don’t scrape your vinyl. Hold the pane up to the light to see any you missed.

The heat from the light source will help remove the tiniest of bubbles you might see over time as well.

Tip Three
Don’t panic if you discover the window film isn’t centered – just peel off and start over. Using a little more water will allow you to adjust the window film on the fly.

Light and airy kitchen.

Tip Four

Most window film come in convenient sizes to match your picture frames and your small kitchen, but do cut off any excess vinyl. When you put the protector back into the frame, any extra bit of window film will mar the look of the pane as the vinyl starts to come up. Even an extra 1/8 inch can cause the edges to peel up.

Tip Five
If, like me, you are stuck with fluorescent fixtures, replace the industry type bulbs with ‘daylight’ or ‘natural light’ bulbs. These are great ways to warm up and brighten your kitchen too. There are also bulbs designed for better plant growth, so ask your friendly home improvement person to help you pick the best light bulbs for your need. For those with regular fixtures and bulbs, the Reveal series of bulbs really helps bring out the most natural colors of your room.

About the Author – Lee Brown

Lee Brown is the co founder of, she has worked in the Interior Design Industry for over 23 years, specializing in commercial, hospitality, high end architectural homes and retail design. Over the past 13 years Lee and Chris Brown have been collating their wealth of design knowledge to provide free interior decorating education to the world. Make sure you register for your free ecourse today. Free Interior Decorating eCourse