5 Awful Kitchens and What You Can Learn From Them

All Tile Kitchen
All Tile Kitchen. © Leif Swanson; By Permission of Leif Swanson

We all have had bad kitchen remodel ideas. Cinder blocks under kitchen cabinets. Ponderous fake Spanish cabinet doors. All-orange kitchens.

Wait, you mean to say that you haven't? Welcome to the world of ugly houses. Leif Swanson, a Phoenix-area realtor, has seen them all. With an astute eye and an acid tongue, this former medical social worker turned real estate agent has been documenting the outright crazy-ugliest homes he has encountered in the last decade. All are displayed on his blog, Ugly House Photos.

While many of the photos feature domestic disasters that can be reversed with major staging intervention, others show permanent kitchen originals and remodels that leave you wondering what on earth that owner was thinking.

  • 01 of 05

    How Ugly Kitchens Can Help You Design a Beautiful One

    John F. Long Kitchen Cabinets
    Leif Swanson

    Swanson likens these cabinet doors to "Hershey's Bars" and what an apt comparison it is.

    John F. Long was an influential builder and philanthropist in the Phoenix area who helped turn a sleepy town into a bustling city. Because the bulk of his homes were built in the mid 20th century, his homes reflect a certain mid-century modern (MCM) sensibility.

    Mind you, this is not the MCM of Don and Megan Draper's Mad Men Manhattan apartment. This thick, ponderous, vaguely "Spanish" MCM style existed ever so briefly in the form of stereo cabinets, wall units, and coffee tables in the late 60s and early 70s.


    If you like time capsules, this one is actually not bad. One problem, though: the MCM-nostalgia craze has bypassed this style, meaning that no home buyers are interested in your period piece.

    Painting the cabinets would be fruitless, as the multitude of thick stiles and rails would still cast gloomy shadows. Swanson even has a photo of one such painted kitchen, correctly saying that the paint job only brings it up by one decade—to the 80s.

    • Outright cabinet replacement is the ultimate solution. Ready-to-assemble, self-install cabinets run about $5,000 for a 10 by 10 kitchen. This is as cheap as you get. Semi-custom, professionally installed cabinets begin in the tens of thousands.
    • Since the cabinet boxes are in good condition, cabinet refacing is a cheaper prescription for what ails this kitchen.
    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Visually Cluttered Kitchen

    Visually Cluttered Kitchen (and More)
    Leif Swanson

    So many of the kitchens that Swanson encounters are insanely cluttered with stuff. The category list on his site should give you some indication: dolls, knives, stuffed animals, afghan blankets.

    Yet the pictured kitchen has no physical clutter; it is mainly visual clutter.

    And yes, that is blue carpet in the kitchen.


    Is the underlying structure, such as joists and studs, in good condition? Are the cabinet boxes holding together?

    If "yes" to both, this conceivably can be as simple as a surface remodel.

    • Strip wallpaper and paint the walls.
    • Strip the carpet and lay down laminate.
    • Reface the cabinets.
    • Replace counters with laminate, solid surface, or quartz countertops.
    • Put in new cabinet hardware
    • Replace the fluorescent light with friendlier kitchen lighting.

    More likely, it is a strip-to-the-studs full kitchen remodel if you want to do it right.

    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Taco Bell Kitchen

    All Tile Kitchen
    Leif Swanson

    Tile is good. We like tile. Those Romans had a good idea by inventing tile. But too much tile can be a bad thing, as evidenced by this tired out, tiled out kitchen. Any majority-tile room feels cold and sterile. When applied to a kitchen, it feels like a commercial kitchen for a Baja Fresh or Taco Bell.


    • Remove ​the kitchen island entirely.
    • Strip tile from the left-hand wall, reapply drywall and paint.
    • De-tile the floor and replace with warmer tile, such as wood-look ceramic plank tile.
    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    Mono-Color Kitchen

    The All-Orange Kitchen
    Leif Swanson

    You could easily be forgiven for thinking that Leif had gotten the lighting wrong when taking the photo. Nope. This is a 99.5 percent orange kitchen. The only non-orange elements are the kitchen sink, outlet faceplates, oven, and cooktop. And yes, those engineered stone counters do have an orange tint.


    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Fake-Brick Kitchen

    The Fake Brick Kitchen
    Leif Swanson

    This kitchen is plagued with multiple visual problems. The red wall clashes with the green floor. It's not real brick and not even proper fake brick (i.e., architectural veneer stone). It's a paint job or wallpaper.

    While the tiles on the floor are not large format (they are only 12" by 12"), each four-tile array assembles a pattern that makes it look like the kitchen has 24" by 24" tiles, making the scale all wrong.


    • Remove the tile and replace with new flooring. If the old tile is in good shape, you might even be able to lay floor directly over the top.
    • Repaint the back wall and install a backsplash.
    • Re-install kickplates on the base cabinets.
    • Lower that left-hand wall cabinet so it matches the height of the other wall cabinets.