For anyone upgrading a kitchen on a budget, designer Jeffrey Alan Marks tells how to make small changes with a big impact.

“There is no excuse for a dated-looking kitchen,” says Jeffrey Alan Marks, a Los Angeles–based interior designer. “Sometimes, one or two fresh pieces are all you need.” In his newly renovated Santa Monica kitchen, Marks flirted with a set of stainless steel counter stools and a shocking-yellow bench before settling on three zebrawood stools with abaca-rope seats that he found at the San Francisco antiques store Battersea (415-553-8500 or “All three options looked good, but each changed the attitude of the room,” he says. Marks also includes more subtle elements, like the beveled zinc edge on the stainless steel countertops. His work caught the eye of L.A. chef Suzanne Goin of Lucques and AOC (an F&W Best New Chef 1999), who hired him to design her house and her new Brentwood restaurant. Marks also recently added an eponymous store to his studio that sells his custom furniture, as well as lighting and other accent pieces (310-207-2222 or


“Wallpaper can change the personality of a kitchen,” says Marks, who used the hand-painted “Fishes” by Degournay but also likes “Freshwater Fish” from Stark Wallcovering’s more affordable Estate Collection. “Fishes,” $935 per panel; 212-564-9750 or “Freshwater Fish,” Stark Wallcovering, from $236 per roll; 212-355-7186 or

Open cabinet fronts

Installing chicken wire in one cabinet “can create a focal point in the room,” Marks says. Mirrors in the back of the cabinet and lights at the top give the illusion of more depth.


The bulbs in the “Hudson” pendant lights from Urban Archaeology are antique-style Edison reproductions with exposed filaments that cast a warm, flame-like glow. $13.50 per bulb; 888-223-2545 or

Ceiling paint

“When I can’t add natural light, I use high-gloss paint on the ceiling to make a space feel brighter,” says Marks. His favorite colors include White Tie and Slipper Satin from Farrow & Ball. From $32.50 for 0.8 qt;

Waxed oak cabinets

Marks applied multiple thin coats of shellac with a rubbing pad—a technique called French polishing— to get a high-gloss sheen on his white oak cabinets and island. He uses Johnson’s wax for upkeep.


Marks installed seagrass stone on the island—“If you look closely, you can see very tiny fossilized shells in it,” he says. The countertops along the back wall are stainless steel with a beveled zinc edge. Zinc is less shiny than stainless steel and has charming imperfections, which soften the look.

Oak flooring

Marks bleached the French oak floor a driftwood tone to match the coat of his Labrador retriever for a very practical reason: “When she sheds, you don’t even see it,” he says.