As we get deeper and deeper into this whole home renovation/restoration exciting adventure thing, we’ve started to come around to a few basic truths. They aren’t really anything new—a collection of clichés about renovating, honestly—but somehow they never really registered before we were actually living it. Is everything dirty and filthy and dusty all the time, despite our valiant cleaning efforts? Yes. Is the renovation taxing on our relationship and friendships? You betcha. Is it more expensive than we anticipated and more time/energy-draining than we could have dreamed? Yup. It’s all true!
Learning this has prompted me to reevaluate some of the ideas I had at the beginning of all of this, especially those pertaining to the kitchen. The original concept was this:
1. The kitchen is unusable, unsafe, and super ugly.
2. Rather than tearing it all out, since we have neither the money nor a plan for how to replace it, let’s drop about $1,000 in the space on quick-n-dirty DIY repairs and cosmetic upgrades to make it cute and workable for something like the next 5 years.
3. Once this is done, renovate the rest of the house! NBD.
4. Once the rest of the house is looking and feeling fresh and fabulous, we’ll circle back to the kitchen, gut the whole thing, and redo it for real. No more crappy 50s cabinets and crappy 50s soffits. New layout with lots of prep space. Maybe an island. Maybe a couple new windows. Lighting. New floor. Fancy pretty kitchen to go with our fancy pretty rehabbed house.
The first two items on the list seem more or less realistic, and it’s pretty much exactly what we did. The second two? Maybe a little overly-optimistic.
I think we’re going to be working on the rest of the house for a long time. And when it’s feeling done, or done-ish, or whatever, I’m going to go ahead and guess that we might want to take a little breather from things being so chaotic. Maybe we’ll move on to smaller things like restoring our windows. Maybe we’ll take a vacation. A lot of things could happen, but tearing apart a fairly functional and fairly good-looking room might not be high on the priorities list for a longgggggg time, no matter how tempting the potential for the space is. There’s also the whole matter of kitchen renovations being very expensive and money not growing on trees.
Accepting that this might be the only kitchen we have for QUITE a long time, and maybe as long as we own the house (who knows what could happen…), I’ve warmed up to the idea of throwing a little more money down to make some improvements to this kitchen. Kitchen Overhaul Phase 1 ended up leaving some things to be desired, which at first I was very hesitant to do anything about, but now that I feel like we’re in it for the longer haul…
Remember when I made my own countertops last summer? Well. I used 2×12 Fir framing lumber (which had the right thickness but was soft and full of knots and SUPER labor intensive to sand down, since it’s framing lumber after all), which I joined with pocket holes and screws (using my Kreg jig). To achieve the right depth, each countertop had to be composed of 3 different pieces of lumber (2 full-sized pieces and one narrow strip in the back). They looked pretty good at first, and I was happy with them, despite wishing that I had better equipment and know-how to really join and plane the pieces and making them look and function as one continuous piece of wood.
First I sealed them with plain Mineral Oil and later on I coated them with some Danish Oil (note: not food-safe, but we didn’t use the countertops for cutting on…), but over time we found that the wood was really prone to staining, and quickly began to look dingy even after a thorough scrubbing, just as a result of all the debris being kicked up elsewhere (and carted through the kitchen to a Bagster in the backyard). Not cool.
On top of that, the wood warped, the gaps between the boards widened (meaning crumbs and rice and crap would have to be vacuumed out, and even then it just looked crappy and unclean), and one of the countertops sustained a large bleach stain, making the whole countertop situation basically no fun at all.
Nope. Nope Nope Nope. These countertops were not cutting it. It was a good and inexpensive experiment—I’m glad I tried it!—but it wasn’t faring well.
We thought about replacing the countertops in three ways:
1. Investing in actual butcherblock. While this would have been nice, unfortunately it looks like IKEA has discontinued the oak butcher block I used in the apartment, and the birch is out of stock, and I really dislike the faux-butcherblock replacement they’ve started selling. Sources like Lumber Liquidators also make butcher block, but it’s significantly more expensive than IKEA’s was. Both of these options also involve lots of additional costs like shipping or renting a vehicle to transport them, and it just wasn’t an option money-wise. Even if it were, I’d still be hesitant to install something so expensive and specific to this kitchen, and probably not reusable if/when we do tear it out down the line.
2. Revisit the original laminate countertops, which we still have. One of the ideas I had longggg ago was covering the original counters in a concrete finish I’d read about online. It appears all the bloggers are doing this now! It’s supposed to be relatively quick and easy and good-looking and durable. This was probably the cheapest option. BUT when concrete was on the table, that was also when I was considering a plywood plank wood floor, and I felt like replacing our countertops with concrete would make the room feel too cold and sterile and sad. It needs the warmth of the wood countertops, I think, to feel balanced and right.
3. Try another DIY option for cheap wood countertops. I’d just used these wonderful cheap pine panels for the desktop in my office, and to my great excitement they were available in a 24″ depth! So that’s what I did:
I went to Lowe’s and bought two of these! Then I went home, chopped them to size with my circular saw, screwed them in from underneath, face-nailed a 1×2 to the front and side, filled the holes, sanded, and applied three coats of water-based polyurethane. EASY-PEESY. And sooooooooo much better.
Aside from being much better looking (I prefer the blonder tone of the pine, and they now match the little pine dowel knobs!), the poly resists water and staining like a champ. We still don’t cut on them (we have cutting boards and a small area of butcher block by the stove for that), so I think they’re kind of perfect! They also lowered the countertops about 3/4″, which in turn makes the tiling job look better since I had to start the tile at cabinet height instead of above the countertops because of the height of the upper cabinets. Win-win! I’m super happy with this solution, and only spending about $80 on new countertops felt reasonable. We might reuse the old ones as shelving in the pantry or something…I’m not sure yet.
This is sort of old news, but we were also lucky enough to get a new fridge!! After about 7 years of use over at Door Sixteen, Anna decided to replace this large stainless steel LG fridge with an adorable little Smeg (which is perrrrrfection in her kitchen!), and the logistics of getting the old one out of her house were sort of complicated. As it happened, my parents had just sold my childhood home and were sending a moving truck of crap up to Kingston (some furniture, lots of boxes of my stuff, etc…) on the same day that Anna’s new fridge was arriving, so we asked the movers to make a quick pitstop in Newburgh to pick up the old fridge on the way! Anna very kindly refused to let me pay her for it, which is ridiculous, but I’ll take it!
(I forgot to retake the photos post-countertop-replacement, so you’ll have to use your imagination!)
There wasn’t really anything wrong with our old fridge, admittedly. It was about 10 years old and a totally fine, standard Frigidaire model, but we had space for a larger one and I wasn’t about to turn down a free upgrade.
This one is a bit newer, works beautifully, looks nice, has a few features that higher-end fridges tend to have, and sucks less power. I’ve never had a fridge with a bottom pull-out freezer, and I have to say I’m a total convert! It’s really nice to have the refrigerated section at eye level. I love it. (thank you, Anna!!)
We still have the old fridge (our friends encouraged us to put it in the basement and keep it for big parties and stuff, but as far as we got was moving it out to the mudroom), but I think we’re just going to try to sell it for a couple hundred bucks and see what happens. I can’t imagine really needing it, and even a little bit of cash for it would be nice.
Since we were on a kitchen improvement kick, we also made some upgrades to the base cabinets. The base cabinets in our kitchen had one half-depth stationary shelf, and organizing pots and pans and bakeware and appliances and whatever kind of immediately turned into a huge jumbled mess. It wasn’t a huge problem, but more like a day-to-day annoyance that made me feel shitty about the state of things. It was hard to find anything and hard to develop a good organizational system.
WELL. Lowe’s also sells these fabulous Rev-A-Shelf cabinet organizer things, which are terrific. It was easy to remove the half-depth shelf with a hammer (they were just nailed in with some side supports), assemble these drawers, and screw them into place. The whole thing took maybe an hour from start to finish. The Rev-A-Shelf components come in all different sizes to fit standard cabinet openings, and the quality is excellent and have completely made the kitchen feel a million times more organized and functional and easy to use. Outfitting 6 base cabinets with them (5 sets of drawers and one for pull-out trash and recycling) was definitely a splurge that I still feel a little funny about, but honestly? No regrets. They increase our storage space, and they really took the kitchen from feeling like “eh, good enough” to “wow, I could see myself cooking in here for as long as my heart/bank account desires.” They’re still cheaper and farrrrr less invasive than buying and installing new cabinets, but functionally do the same thing. I’m so happy with them, I can’t even stand it! Total organizational high.
After a lot of pestering from Max, I installed a few hooks to the right of the door to the mudroom for coats and dog leashes and whatnot. I took them from our closet upstairs, so they were free, and attached to the walls with some plastic anchors and black screws. They’re nice! They’re handy! They’re old!
I am getting reallllllly tired of looking at that faux-wood paneling and general despair through the door to the mudroom. I know it seems like we have a thousand projects on the go, but I’m so fed up with the mudroom that I might be bumping it up the priority list. It’s a big space (about 9’x10’!), and with a little TLC I think it would be perfect for tool storage and project building. The tool situation has kind of ballooned out of control and I’d really love to have one space to keep all of it—right now it’s scattered around the house, which is mega-impractical and inefficient and makes it impossible to keep organized. I keep setting up shop in other rooms in the house, which in turn gets sawdust and mess EVERYWHERE, and I want that to stop…particularly since we’re hoping to be renovating those other rooms soon. I don’t want to do this in the basement because it’s creepy, there aren’t any outlets, and I don’t want to impede access for plumbers/electricians, and I don’t want to do it in the garage because right now it’s literally FULL of construction debris and garbage (shammeeeeee) and it also would require a trip outdoors to get whatever I needed, and in the winter that’s going to be hugely annoying and uncool and hard to maintain. A garage workshop sounds nice someday, but not while we’re in full-on renovation mode, where we constantly need tons of tools on hand and ready for service. The mudroom definitely deserves its own horrifying post, but I’m starting to formulate a plan…which may or may not be realistic and may or may not be cute. We’ll see! It’s kind of a complete and total wreck and honestly might get torn down completely someday, but until that time I guess it makes sense to spend a weekend sprucing it up and making it a usable space.
Now that Kitchen Overhaul Phase 1.5 has seen us replace the faucet, the countertops, the fridge, add some much-needed organizational things, and a few hooks, I really feel settled in this kitchen for a much longer haul. Moving forward, I’d love to add a little sconce over the stove (I’m in love with the Radar Sconce from Schoolhouse Electric, and I think it would look great there…), and…get a new stove. I actually don’t mind the way this one looks AT ALL and it functions admirably well for a cheap appliance probably pushing at least 40 years old, but it seems like anything we put in the oven comes out charred and unevenly cooked, which kind of sucks. Now that we have a functioning gas line (we didn’t when we put this stove in, which we took from the now-defunct upstairs kitchen in the house), I’d really like to switch to a gas stove/oven. That’s definitely not happening now, but just maybe if I found something really discounted on Craigslist or something, it would be worth it. I guess I’ll start looking, just in case…
I’m really glad we did all this stuff, especially since small-scale improvements like this can really increase the longevity of a space. I can stop obsessing about all the things I’d do if I had 20K to blow on a kitchen renovation, and move on to the stuff that really needs attention! Those ceilings aren’t about to drywall themselves!