Our kitchen renovation seemed straightforward enough.
Step 1. Remove all the yuck.
Step 2. Paint all the things.
Step 3. Yay new kitchen!
But there’s this finicky little step between steps 1 and 2 that I may not have totally accounted for in my mental schedule of events (in which our kitchen has been long done by now because, you know, it’ll take like 4 days start to finish). That step is called PREP. And there is so much of it.
A quick word about this renovation: this is not really the kitchen we intend to have forever. It was probably installed in the 1950s, and was done using pretty cheap materials, even at the time. I think most potential buyers saw this space as a total gut-job (probably one of the several reasons the house sat vacant for 2+ years), but with all the other work that needs to be done in the house, there is just NO way we’re about to gut and replace an entire kitchen. Even though the kitchen looked terrible, the cabinets are solid wood and workable (not in great condition, and not nice cabinets to begin with, but there are lots of them!), the fridge is fine, etc. etc. All of that is good news, since I don’t want to rush designing and planning the layout and materials of whatever kitchen we end up installing here. We want to get at least a few more years out of the existing kitchen, and Max and I both feel like it’s top priority to have a space where it’s actually nice to prepare a meal and feel comfortable and clean——both for ourselves and guests. Especially when we’re in the midst of doing so much other work, I think having a nice kitchen will go a long way toward maintaining our sanity.
The point is, this kitchen is a very extended exercise in trying to do things on the mega-cheap without compromising quality and aesthetics (ideally, I’d like to spend $500-$1,000 total in here). We also want to get it done quickly so that we have more time to devote to other stuff (and, obviously, so we have a kitchen!), so we also need to strike a balance between doing things perfectly and 100% right and just doing things so they’re good enough to last as long as this kitchen realistically needs to. All of this is my way of explaining that seasoned renovators might be rolling their eyes and gasping in horror at some of the decisions I’ve made during the process, but just remember that this kitchen isn’t forever.
SO. ANYWAY. PREP. When we left off, I’d been busy patching all the walls and ceiling from where the drop ceiling had been attached (holes in the walls, holes in the ceiling, holes everywhere) and generally lamenting the state of everything. It felt like maybe it would only be a couple of days until I was happily painting the walls and feeling very satisfied and validated about all my hard work, but every time I turned around, it seemed like there was more craziness to un-do and conquer before paint could happen. I’ve painted a lot of rooms at this point in my life, and this one far surpasses any amount of work I’ve ever had to do to get a space prepped. That includes sanding all of the walls of my apartment hallway. Neva4get.
This was a dark time.
One thing that had been staring me in the face was the fancy contact-paper backsplashes. I won’t lie, I kind of like this cutesy poppy pattern, but the paper was in bad shape and generally dirty and gross and completely at odds with the plan for this room, so it had to go.
I might have saved a scrap of it for…whatever reason. This kitchen has turned my brain to mush.
Consider this a PSA: don’t put contact paper on your backsplashes. Don’t then leave it there for 50 years. This stuff was a NIGHTMARE to get off. It’s possible some kind of wallpaper remover would have helped, but it seemed like a really small area and wasn’t worth the hassle. We don’t have a steamer (heard very mixed things about their usefulness from a lot of different people, and now I’m crippled with indecision), but I did try to loosen some of it with my iron on the steam setting. This made zero difference.
The only thing to do was peel, in tiny pieces, forever. It became like a kind of sick game, where every time a scrap came loose larger than about the size of a child’s palm, I would rejoice and cackle in manic glee. I played this for hours, until the laughter became tears.
Next I turned my attention to the sink area. Remember that thing I mentioned about everything in our house being fixed with caulk, various types of tape, and metal wire?
Well. The sink area is a very good example. Check out how the sink is totally, like, being swallowed by the wall in the first picture. That’s all caulk. See the wall above the sink and to the right? ALSO ALL CAULK.
Yeah. Not only had the edges of the sink been filled and covered and overflowed with years of very hard, very serious caulk, the walls had also been skim-coated with it. I suppose this is a semi-valid way to waterproof this area around the sink, so I respect the ingenuity. But that is just…not what caulk is for.
Since this area is also getting tiled, I had to do my best to remove all the caulk and level the surfaces.
There’s this episode of The X-Files in which Scully gets kidnapped by deranged small-townsfolk who worship a bulbous yellow-ish worm thing that needs a human host to survive. It burrows in a person’s back, along the upper vertebrae, and sort of incubates there for a while before killing the host and moving on. It’s all very gory and horrific.
This caulk was a lot like that. Big and bulbous and yellow and emerging from around the sink like a thick moldy worm thing. I was legitimately a little frightened of it. The amount of caulk removed from this area was bananas. It had actual weight when I put it all in a bag to throw it away. It was heavy.
Shudder. Horrors. Caulk horrors.
In an attempt to feel better about things, I needed to get some paint on something. This seemed like as good a time as any to throw some primer on the floor. Since the original linoleum tiles pretty much popped up en masse, the plan is to just paint this plywood underlayment black. It won’t be the fanciest floor in the world, but I think the black paint will make the imperfections less noticeable, and a kitchen rug on top will keep it from seeming like our floor is made of sadness.
I’d LOVE to rip up this underlayment and expose the original pine plank subfloor, but that’s probably going to wait for the REAL kitchen renovation down the line. Aside from having to remove the radiator and base cabinets to make that happen, there’s a whole SECOND layer of linoleum and plywood underlayment under this plywood underlayment, and then we don’t really know what the subfloor is even going to look like when we get down to it. It could have rot (doesn’t look like it from the basement, but that’s the bottom side…) or tons of damage, or be hideous, or whatever, and we’re just not ready to deal with that whole process. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I have to refinish a floor OR cover it up with new flooring (and new underlayment…), both of which would suck more time and money from our lives that we don’t have.
SO. I decided to paint the floor with Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-base primer, which is the same stuff I used in Max’s childhood bedroom. I like this line of primers generally, but the shellac stuff is AMAZING for blocking/sealing in all kinds of weird grossness, and it goes on super thin, dries EXTREMELY fast (like 15 minutes), and provides a good surface for paint to adhere to.
I prepped the floor basically just by sweeping and vacuuming it (use the wand to get into all the edges and corners, where dust and debris tend to accumulate), and then I painted it like I would anything else——cutting in around the edges, roller on the rest. I just used a regular old roller made for semi-smooth surfaces and it worked great. The paint is sort of self-leveling since it’s so thin, so it didn’t leave any roller texture once it dried.
I also decided to paint the hearth, since it was so little extra effort and it seemed like a good idea. Even though I cleaned it really well, it still probably had some wallpaper paste/grease remnants that might have messed up the regular paint adhesion and coverage.
Even though it’s just a coat of primer and the floor is going to be black, not white, painting this felt SO GOOD. It happened really fast and COMPLETELY changed the feeling of the room. All of a sudden, it felt like a blank canvas full of possibilities instead of a shoddy room full of gross shit and generally lousy vibes. We won’t paint the floor until after the walls and cabinets are painted (since I don’t want to paint the floor and then drip paint on my newly painted floor while painting the walls, you know?), but anyway. FINALLY! PAINT!
After the floor was primed, I was feeling extra excited and paint-happy, so I decided to paint the radiator! This radiator was…so vile. Same dirty-custard yellow as the walls, covered in tons of grease and dirt and dust and grime. I spent a long time cleaning it, starting with a flexible dryer vent brush (mine is like this, and it’s the best thing ever for cleaning old radiators!) and finishing with reaching my gloved hands as far into that spaces as they would fit to try to further clean it. The whole thing was very gross and enlightening and took about 2 hours.
Once it was prepped, I taped some cardboard onto the wall behind it. Since the room still needs paint on the walls and the floor, I didn’t care so much about getting off-spray on anything in the surrounding area. However, it’s going to be basically impossible to paint fully behind the radiator (the space between the back of the radiator and the drywall is only about 1/2″!), so I didn’t want to get a bunch of paint back there that I wouldn’t be able to cover up.
I chose this high-heat glossy spray paint in black for the radiator. Because who doesn’t love a black radiator?
The folks at the hardware store assured me that any type of spray paint would probably be fine for a radiator, but I wanted to play it safe with the high-heat. Rust-oleum actually makes a radiator enamel specifically for this, but it wasn’t at the hardware store and I figured it was probably more or less the same stuff.
The actual painting part went really fast. I did about 3 light coats to fully cover it, and used 2 cans of spray paint. I know it would have been better to remove the radiator, power-wash the whole thing, paint it in a well-ventilated space with access to all sides (or better yet, sand-blast and powder coat it!), but all of that would have been way too much time and way too much effort for this. This solution only cost me some scrap cardboard and about $12 in spray paint.
I need to take better pictures when the room starts to come together (this one is terrible, apologies!!), but the radiator looks soooooooo gooooooood. It’s like super beautiful and jet black and shiny and amazing. Once everything around it doesn’t look so crappy, it’s going to be great. Trust.
I don’t have a picture from this angle after the radiator got painted, but you can imagine. Getting there…
p.s.—I did a little interview thingy over at West Elm’s blog, Front&Main! In case you want to read me blather on about thrifting and being cheap and Brooklyn and stuff, you can find it here.