Experiments in home decorating, DIYing, and vintage furniture collecting.

The cheapest kitchen renovation ever

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December 18, 2016

We bought our place knowing that we'd need to at some point invest in the kitchen. The layout is a little funky with the kitchen sink in a corner smack dab in the middle of the fridge and dishwasher (I've done many demos for my friends and family as to the logistical issues with this design decision obviously made by someone who never used a kitchen...)

However, we wanted to live with our current kitchen for at least a year to think about what we really wanted to do with it. Living with it just as it looked when we closed wasn't an option for me, so I decided to undertake the lightest, cheapest renovation possible and make upgrades with paint, furniture and fixtures. Below is the "before" picture from the listing, followed by the "after" photos of what it looks like today along with the steps and prices to get it done.

The Before Picture:
Great bones, right? The huge windows and natural, east-facing light was one of the elements that sold me. However, the dated cherry trim, bad paint job, builder grade fixtures and dark kitchen all needed work for this place to be amazing.

The After Pictures and Process:

#1 Paint the trim white and walls a very pale gray

We hired painters to do this before we moved in, and had literally every surface painted for everything in the entire house including all of the trim, doors, walls and ceilings. We held off on the kitchen cabinets because it was an additional $1,800 to do it and we weren't sure if we were going to rip out the cabinets within a year. Total price for our entire house was ~$8,000 which I'm not counting as part of our cheap kitchen renovation since it needed to be done universally.


#2 Replace the ugly light fixture

Immediately after closing, I went to our new home and took down that ugly fixture. After the painters were done, I put up this Crate and Barrel Clive chandelier
. It took me several weeks to find the perfect fixture, and I settled on this one because it was so simple yet had an edgy element that knew this room needed.

#3 Add simple window treatments

The previous owners had dark curtains blocking the light, and they were so dusty and dirty. I know I wanted simple shades that would allow the natural light to filter in while still lending some privacy. The windows were all non-standard heights, so it was a challenge to find the right style and fit. Natural bamboo roman shades won the style battle, and I ended up ordering these from Overstock because I could enter the custom dimensions for every window at a super affordable price (it was $310 including shipping for eight shades of varying dimensions)!


#4 Update the furniture

The combined living, dining and kitchen layout of this room meant that it was meant for entertaining. We sold our old dining room set and decided to keep the furniture very simple and minimalist. We ended up purchasing a modern white table (the Aqua Virgo from CB2) that would work with vintage captain chairs we already owned, and added a gray upholstered dining bench from West Elm so we could have plenty of space for traffic around the table. I added mid-century Bertoia-esque bar stools (found on Amazon) to the island, knowing that eventually our ugly cherry kitchen would become simple and white and would require a little personality.

Total cost of our kitchen and dining furniture: ~$1,200.

#5 Paint the cabinets

After hemming and hawing about this for a few months, I woke up at 4 a.m. one day with an insatiable urge to paint the cabinets white and just get it over with. We already had Stix primer, which is a bonding agent that doesn't require stripping and sanding, and a couple of gallons of leftover trim paint from our painters along with paint brushes and rollers in my art supply stash. Since I knew this was a temporary fix, I decided that a DIY attempt was low-risk. The only cost was my time, about a two-day job to prep (label and then take down all the cabinet doors, lay them out in the garage, and prime them) and paint. 

#6 Replace the cabinet hardware

After measuring the existing hardware, I went on eBay and found modern chrome T-bar hardware that would fit the existing holes... for $35 total.



Grand total of this update, excluding the cost of the furniture (because we'll take it with us if / when we move) and the paint job for the whole house: $724.

We're not quite done yet: the dishwasher front panel is cracked and needs a replacement, and we're caught in analysis paralysis whether to order to replacement part for $350 or just update all of the appliances... I'm leaning towards just ordering the part and living with what we have for now.

I'm also currently stalking eBay for a vintage 10' kilim runner to put between the island and cabinets to add a little color and personality that the kitchen is currently lacking...


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