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Easy Ways to Update Your Kitchen and Bathroom

March 16, 2018

Thinking of doing some remodeling? Lauren Tolles, owner of Maison Birmingham, shares easy ways to update your kitchen and bathroom without needing to move out of your home.

By Judith Harris Solomon
Photos by Beth Singer

You don’t have to do a full-blown remodel to get a dramatic new look, says Lauren Tolles, owner of Maison Birmingham, a custom cabinetry and design-build firm that specializes in high-end kitchens and baths.

Tolles says she has been fascinated by both art and architecture ever since she can remember. “When I was growing up just outside of San Francisco, I was always drawing houses and playing with Legos,” she says.

She graduated from Duke University where she majored in art history and visual arts and received her master’s degree in architecture from the University of Michigan. Then, after a stint doing architecture and design at McIntosh Poris Associates in Birmingham, she ran her own design studio.

The Birmingham resident decided to open Maison Birmingham in May 2016 because “it allowed me to specialize in all the interior elements, such as kitchens and baths, that I am particularly passionate about,” she says. “It also enabled me to utilize the technical side of my architectural background, which is unique for a kitchen and bath business.”

Maison Birmingham does everything from cabinetry, countertops, flooring and plumbing to lighting as well as design and construction. “We’re a one-stop establishment,” she says.

update kitchen and bathroomBeth Singer

New lighting and countertops can transform a kitchen.

Update the Kitchen

She also has plenty of ideas for homeowners who are looking for some easy ways to update an existing kitchen without the time and expense of a complete remodel:

  • Change your backsplash. “Taking it all the way up to the ceiling is a way to make a dramatic statement,” Tolles says.
  • Change your lighting. She suggests supplementing recessed lighting with some wall sconces or pendant lights to warm up the space and create a nicer ambiance.
  • Change your countertops. “My personal favorite is quartzite, a natural stone, because it’s elegant and also has a lot of character. And a porcelain countertop such as Sapien Stone, which is impervious to stains, is another good choice,” she says.
  • Change your hardware. “That’s an easy change that can be done in a weekend. My personal favorite hardware material is unlacquered brass, which starts out shiny but patinas beautifully as time goes by. Polished nickel and satin brass are also trending now,” the designer says.
  • Change your cabinetry. “That’s the best update of all,” she says. “Currently, because open floor plans are so popular, there is a lot of pressure for kitchens to blend in with the rest of a home’s living areas and to be more furniture-like.” Refrigerators can be placed within wooden armoires and shelves beneath cabinets hidden behind sliding backsplash panels made of porcelain or quartzite, for example.

Tolles says another popular trending concept is what she calls the “Morning Bar.” Located behind retractable doors, it conveniently places continental breakfast items (cups, plates, coffee, coffee makers, bread and sugar as well as a toaster) on top of a counter and stores milk, cream, butter and refrigerated drinks in refrigerator drawers that are placed below. “It’s a nice little prep space where guests and kids can prepare breakfast without being underfoot.”

update kitchen and bathroomBeth Singer

In the bathroom, a new vanity can change the look dramatically.

Bathroom Refresh

To easily update existing bathrooms, Tolles recommends:

  • Changing out the vanity. “That can have a huge impact,” she says. “Many older homes have vanities set at a lower height while today’s standard is 36 inches high. In addition to improved ergonomics, swapping out the vanity is a great opportunity to bring in a new, fresh style.”
  • Upgrade the lighting. “Over-the-mirror lighting is rarely flattering,” she says. “Instead, I suggest installing sconces on either side of the mirror for better lighting and a more sophisticated look.”
  • Install a new mirror. “Replace one of those old-fashioned standard frameless mirrors that is glued to the wall with a beautiful pivot mirror or a framed one. That will instantly dress up your bathroom in a very classic fashion,” Tolles says.

Maison Birmingham

1020 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham



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