I’ve never really been a fan of stopgap measures when it comes to renovating and decorating. If I have some sort of grand vision for a space that will take a while to accomplish, it’s just not in my nature to spend any additional time, money, or effort to do anything makeshift of half-assed, or anything that I’ll eventually have to undo, thereby creating more work for myself down the road. If it isn’t directly in the service of the final goal, you can usually count me out.
This is why I’m more or less OK with living in squalor, as long as there’s a bright beacon of hope somewhere in the distance. As long as I get from Point A to Point B at some point, what does it matter how things look in the interim?
But what I’ve found in the kitchen is that it does matter. Each additional thing I’ve decided to do to it requires hours of work, not to mention added expenses, and after a year and a half, I just got totally tired of cooking and living in a space that just felt so rag-tag and unfinished, particularly after all the work I had put into making it better (like replacing and adding cabinets).
So, one weekend several weeks ago (camera troubles delayed this post a while, sorry!), I just decided to pull my shit together and do everything that I could do for the kitchen without dropping a bunch of money. I knew that some of the work would only make an appreciable difference in the short term and I’d be spending a little extra money and effort, but it just got to a point where that felt very worth it.
The biggest issue, aesthetically, was this back wall behind the stove. After removing and replacing the upper cabinets, the wall had this big unpainted section and tons of holes, and it didn’t help that at some point I decided to tack stuff to the wall just to…fill the space? I don’t know why I did that. Also, when I painted the rest of the kitchen, I left this wall unpainted because I ran out of paint and figured that some of it would eventually be covered in tile, anyway, so there wasn’t too much point in worrying about it. But one can only live with greasy seafoam green paint for so long before it starts to wear on you. This kitchen has been through some seriously sad times under my care.
The first order of business was removing the crap on the wall, patching the holes, and finally finishing the painting. I did have to buy a new gallon of paint (Benjamin Moore’s Dove White in matte, from the Aura Bath and Spa line) to make this happen, but FINALLY eliminating the last of the previous tenants’ paint was such a relief. Seriously, I cannot recommend this enough: even if I’d done nothing else, just whiting everything out made the space feel so much bigger, cleaner, and fresher, and it really only took a couple hours from start to finish. Paint really is the easiest and cheapest way to refresh a room.
The other thing was lighting. I had a plan for the lighting AND the lights themselves, so I figured I might as well hang them already and stop moping about how bad the lighting was in the kitchen. Having a good lighting plan goes a really long way toward making a kitchen feel more functional and finished, and I was tired of the two existing overhead lights that were super unflattering and made the kitchen feel overly sterile and prison-like.
First, I replaced both of the overhead fixtures with these vintage lights that I bought in Buffalo over the summer at a weird yard sale. They were only $5 each, and I liked that they were kind of boring and understated, but a style that would play well with the dramatic pendants. Since the pendants are such a big presence in the room, I didn’t want anything that might compete.
And then there were these lights. You might remember them from this post a while back. I bought them when Max and I were up in Buffalo in June, 2011 (OMG, SHAME), with absolutely zero plan of where I’d use them. They were $50 a piece, but even underneath all the dirt and grime, I could tell they were super amazing and something I’d keep for a long time, so I went for it. I love the detail work and substantial nature of the vintage hardware, and you can’t really go wrong with vintage industrial enamel. Right?
Only one of the lights had its original cage, which was a little bit too industrial and creepy for my taste, so I opted to discard it. After a good cleaning, both lights basically looked brand new, so all that was left to do was rewire and hang! Easy! So I put them in an awkward pile on top of the fridge for the time being.
And there they sat for a good year and a half (give or take a couple months), which I spent waffling over exactly where and how to hang them. There was something very intimidating about deciding on mounting hardware, the mechanics of rewiring (and wiring into the existing ceiling boxes), and picking the chain to suspend them from, so I just avoided it altogether. Eventually, I talked the whole thing out with an Ace Hardware employee and MADE. IT. HAPPEN.
I was a little worried that the scale would be totally out of control in the space, but I LOVE them. They’re a little unexpected and make a huge visual impact, and I think they’re just really beautiful as objects.
The chain is a basic thick steel chain from Ace, which I was able to cut to size using my little Dremel tool after figuring out exactly how low I wanted the lights to hang. I probably could have figured this out before going to the hardware store and saved myself some work (and waste), but I’m dumb.
Because these lights are super heavy and I wasn’t able to screw them into studs, I bought these heavy-duty 1/4″ toggle anchors. The anchor is inserted through a hole I drilled in the ceiling, which a big washer covers, and then a nut keeps it in place. (Here’s a really good video on how toggle bolts work if that’s confusing!)
After hanging the lights, I just threaded the clear plastic wire up the chain and across the ceiling to the ceiling box. These flush-mount fixtures happen to have a hole in them for cord to run through already, so this part was pretty simple. I’m still not totally sure how to deal with the exposed wire running across the ceiling, but I think I’ll probably end up using some kind of cord channel and just painting it with ceiling paint.
Again, the whole thing took an hour or two, and all the hardware only cost me about $20.
After replacing all the lighting, I figured I might as well go whole-hog and hang this 4′ steel ledge I ordered from CB2 a while ago. Even though I’ll have to take it down when I get around to tiling the backsplash, it was really nice to finally get it out of its box and throw it on the wall to get an idea of how it would look and function when the kitchen is done. Originally, I’d planned to do a wood shelf here (and maybe a bit deeper), but according to code, nothing flammable can be within 30″ above the stove, so steel was really the only safe option. The ledge has been awesome for getting some stuff off the counter, and I think it looks pretty good, too!
I have a second ledge, too, but it needs to be cut down before it can be hung (and an even surface to hang on), so that’ll have to wait. It’s going to be so awesome though.
The pendants have 40W bulbs in them, which are beautiful and bright and light up this whole prep/stove area super well.
And oh look! I also finally got my ass over to IKEA to buy two lousy hinges so that I could finally hang the last door on the new cabinets.
Oh, and I finally hung up this little porcelain hook I bought a year ago. It’s so cute! It took no work! I don’t think this is where it will be in the long run, but it’s nice to have it up and serving a purpose.
I’m by no means done with the kitchen, but getting it to this point was really exciting. I finally don’t feel like I have to apologize for it when people come over, and it just feels so much happier and more efficient and pulled together. It’s finally actually nice to cook in, and consequently we’ve been cooking more (and better!) food.
Now I just need to finish it. GULP.