BEFORE

Homeowners Joan and John Gross, both 66, bought their Oceanside house in 2005, but Joan says she was never happy with the kitchen. "It was so worn that all the Formica was coming off the countertops," says Joan, a recently retired human resources director. "Also, it was a dated all-white ... with cheap cabinets." After they bought new appliances, they saved for 10 years for a renovation.

COST

Cesar Italian cabinetry by Showcase Kitchens (locations in Manhasset and Massapequa): $18,500

Porcelain marble-look floor tiles, discounted: $2,500

This is Joan Gross's kitchen, located in Oceanside, New York. Aug. 27, 2015 Photo Credit: Ivy Neal

Granite countertop: $3,000

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Lighting: $500

Small-tile backsplash: $700

Kitchen sink (a discounted floor model with an original price tag of $1,500): $300

Appliances (existing): $0

This is Joan Gross's kitchen, located in Oceanside, New York. Aug. 27, 2015 Photo Credit: Ivy Neal

Labor (John Gross, an auto body mechanic, did all of the work himself): $0

TOTAL: $25,500

AFTER

Opening up. The old kitchen had a wall that cut it off from the living room. Joan says she wanted to open that up so she could interact with guests while cooking.

Cabinet case. The couple worked with Luis Viteri of Showcase Kitchens, who found a way to get them what they needed within their budget. "He designed the kitchen for us," says Joan. "He came to the house and measured, and helped with the cabinets, and then we ordered from his company."

This is Joan Gross's kitchen, located in Oceanside, New York. Aug. 27, 2015 Photo Credit: Ivy Neal

Counter point. When it came to choosing a new countertop, Joan says she knew the one thing she didn't want was anything white. She took a sample of the dark cabinets Viteri showed her, and she went to RAI in Garden City Park. "It's not a regular-looking granite," she says. "It's a dark brown and white."

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Island paradise. Now that the kitchen is opened up to the rest of the room, it's even easier for the Grosses to socialize with family and friends. Having a large central island is key for that. "Luis built a huge island for us, which is so convenient," said Joan. "With five grandchildren, they can all sit on stools around the island, and it's like the kids' table. Plus, the kitchen sink and dishwasher are in the island, and there's cabinets, too. Even the garbage is inside the island."

Details count. The finishing touches were almost as important as the bold strokes when it came to design and convenience. For example, the new faucet has been a lifesaver, she says. "I love the pot filler faucet," adds Joan. "I love being able to fill my pots without having to drag pots around the kitchen. Since we make a lot of seafood and pasta, it's huge."