BOOM. Bet you were expecting a big block of text at the beginning of this post? Like about how this “little stop-gap quick n’ dirty” kitchen renovation spiraled completely out of control and took way more time and a little bit more money than expected? Or how maybe over the course of the project I got a little more ambitious and a little more crazy and a little more perfectionist than when I started out? Or about the time when we thought the kitchen was basically done and then decided to up and add about 40 more square feet of subway tile that you see above? Or like how it robbed me of so many irretrievable hours of my life and maybe some of my sanity and also sent me to the hospital that one crazy time?
Nope. Not gonna do that. So let’s dive right into this business right here, because the water’s warm and time’s a-wastin’.
Here was my kitchen before I embarked on this whole crazy non-stop-fun-and-excitement renovation adventure roughly 10 weeks ago. Aside from the downstairs bathroom (and maybe the side porch), this kitchen held the distinction of being pretty much the worst room in the house. I think it scared more than a few buyers away, who saw it as a total gut-job nightmare that they weren’t trying to get down with. Nobody likes to buy a house and immediately get pushed into a full-on kitchen overhaul (especially when everything else needs so much work), making rash decisions about layout and materials and redoing the plumbing and spending a bajillion dollars, so in a way, this kitchen was probably a huge blessing that got us a great house for way below market value. Thanks, janky kitchen. I owe you one.
The picture above was taken after I removed all the old linoleum floor tiles, but you get the idea. It had a drop ceiling. It had old wood cabinets with lots of wear and tear and corroding hardware and drippy polyurethane. It had leaky pipes running through it that serve the upstairs bathroom. It had weird wires and scary outlets and old grease-stained paint, and vinyl brick-patterned wallpaper, and contact paper backsplashes, and so many other terrible, unspeakable things.
But looky there! We changed all that mess and made it an awesome space that I totally love and am so happy about I could scream. And also take a long nap.
We were able to keep all the big important things——including the sink, the cabinetry, and appliances——so the goal here was to knock out all the the cosmetic changes humanly possible while keeping costs super low. I know I keep repeating that this likely won’t be the kitchen we have forever (those cabinets are already 60 years old or so, and they won’t last forever!), but now I can confidently say that redoing this kitchen “for real” can probably wait until all the other house projects are crossed off the list. We have an absurd amount of work ahead of us with this house, so having the weight of a full-on kitchen renovation off our shoulders for the foreseeable future feels like a great place to be.
As I’ve discussed in past posts, we took down the drop ceiling, patched and prepped all the things, painted the walls, ceiling, moldings, doors, radiator, and all the original cabinetry, crafted up some new DIY wood plank countertops, added a boatload of subway tile, new cabinet hardware, changed all the lighting, and generally worked our adorable little butts off making this space into exactly what I wanted out of a kitchen. It’s clean and fresh, unfussy, utilitarian, cheap, and a great space to cook a meal and have guests over. I love it.
Oof. Just get a load of that mess. Trust me when I say that these pictures make things look WAY better than they actually were.
Forgive the in-progress glimpse of the laundry room! We’re still working out a few things in there (you know, like having working laundry machines and little details like that?), but…KITCHEN.
The whole idea behind the design was to try to minimize the bad, highlight the good, and add some inexpensive features that would up the quality of the whole space. To that end, we decided to paint the ceiling and the walls similar shades of matte white, which minimizes the awkwardness of our semi-awful soffits while still giving the room some dimension and depth. Painting the cabinets covered up the wear and tear and ugly tone of the wood, which allowed the super-simple shape of the doors and drawer fronts to shine. The cabinetry isn’t ideal (it’s very low-quality and strangely proportioned for the space), but we got really lucky that it was so plain and easily salvaged with some paint and elbow grease.
I’ll do a tiny post on the cabinet hardware soon, but they’re just made of simple wood dowels! They were crazy cheap (it would have been so expensive to outfit 33 doors/drawers with traditional hardware, which even at the low end is normally in the $3-$10 per piece range), and I love how they offset with both the white and inky-blue-black cabinets.
Having no prep space next to the stove made the layout of this kitchen really awkward, so we got super lucky that my dear friend Anna just happened to have a (discontinued, sorry) IKEA kitchen cart that fits perfectly on this relatively short wall. Having just this small section of real butcherblock (which we can chop directly on, as opposed to our wood countertops) makes this area super functional, and makes me feel better about skimping on the cost of outfitting the rest of the countertops with real butcherblock.
We were able to salvage the stove from the now-defunct upstairs kitchen, and while it’s just a cheap Sears Kenmore electric model that’s probably something like 40 years old, it actually works great! The gas line is still here, too, so we have the option to easily swap-out with a nicer gas stove down the line. For now, though, this is perfect.
If you’ve been following along closely, you might remember that originally I only planned to tile the backsplashes of the cabinets and the little area surrounding the sink, but once things really started to come together, Max and I both felt like the stove area looked a little unfinished and kind of…busy. Aside from the obvious functional benefits of having a wipeable surface behind a stovetop, the subway tile also really helped unify this wall with the rest of the space, and overall just makes the whole room feel so much more warm and complete. The decision to add the extra tile did mean we had to buy more tile, obviously, and also thinset and grout (for the rest of the tile, I used leftover thinset and grout from my apartment), but it still only tacked on about $100 to the project and was totally worth it.
Even after the subway tile was all up and completed, though, we still weren’t sure about what to do with the area above it. The image above is the view walking into the room, so this wall is kind of a focal point, and having nothing there looked pretty flat and weird. I got really lucky finding the big mirror in a junk shop just a couple days before the kitchen was complete, though, and realized after buying it (I couldn’t just pass on that fine thing!) that it would be perfect above the stove. I love how perfectly weathered the frame is, and I think it adds just the right amount of vintage patina to a space that was otherwise feeling a little bit too sterile for my taste.
Anyway. Yeah. Subway tile. It’s the wind beneath my wings. The other thing I like about this stove is that the top is flat and pretty beefy, so it’s a perfect spot for the Muuto pepper mill that I picked up for half-price at the DWR Annex ages ago. The pig is a vintage cast-iron piggy bank from a yard sale, which serves no purpose beyond being cute.
I also took the time to remove and strip all of the old hardware from the doors and window——knobs, hinges, backplates, etc, using the tried-and-true crockpot method. When everything was stripped, cleaned, and dried, I covered it all with Rustoleum matte black spray paint and reattached it to the freshly painted doors and frames. It’s one of those little details that just makes everything look a little more finished and fancy.
I kind of couldn’t handle the idea of screwing into my new subway tile, so the magnetic knife strip (the FINTORP from IKEA) is held on with industrial-stength velcro! It works great for now, but I’ll probably end up attaching it for real soon. I wanted to make sure the placement was exactly what I wanted before rushing into anything, though.
When the very friendly people of West Elm Market caught wind of my kitchen renovation, they sent me an email and were all “hey, need some things to finish it off?” and I was all “UM YES GIVE ME ALL OF THE THINGS PLEASE.” I’ve been a huge fan of West Elm Market since it began, and I think the whole aesthetic is pretty in-line with this kitchen, so it was awesome working with them. The Schmidt Brothers Basic Knife Set is the fanciest thing we got, and I just need to take a moment to say that these knives are SO NICE (and really reasonably priced, too). I’ve never really owned nice knives before, and these are so nice to look at and nice to hold and super sharp and I’m just all-around very thrilled that I get to use them.
The enamel measuring cups are also from West Elm Market, and they’re obviously classic and very adorable and way better than the plastic ones I bought at the grocery store. The pink depression-era glass bowls were a yard sale find, the tea towel is IKEA, and the strawberries are fake. Just kidding, they’re real and I made them into a dessert and it was delicious. Maybe this is a great kitchen for me to start posting recipes from? So you can also explore my culinary delights? Full disclosure: my diet is 47% Top Ramen.
I opted to tile all the way around the wall, which I think finishes things off nicely. Better than having a weird naked little sliver of wall on the right side there.
OK, I’m done talking about the tile. I’m really proud of my tile.
Other improvements to this area included taking down that little piece of weird molding over the sink, changing the light fixture above the sink (sorry it’s blown out in the picture above, but you can see it in the picture at the top of the post. It was salvaged from the upstairs kitchen!) and putting a clock where it’s supposed to be! The clock is actually hanging on an outlet specifically installed for a clock (so cute and quaint and 50s, yes?), but the Newgate Bubble Clock is actually battery-powered anyway. It’s also available at West Elm Market, but Max bought it for me a while ago at Lancelotti in the East Village.
The main light fixture in the room was a thrift find ($7!) in Sweden last summer. I carried it around disassembled in my suitcase for the entire trip and then hoarded it for a year when we got home, so it’s so exciting to see it hung up! It’s cute.
Lesson: always hoard light fixtures. You might buy a house and need them. It happened to me, people.
Obviously marble countertops were not an option (this time around!), but I love how marble mixes with the black/white/wood thing we have going on, so I wanted to incorporate affordable marble pieces in the kitchen with smaller things like cutting boards, coasters, and our paper towel holder. This is the French Kitchen Pastry Slab from Crate & Barrel, which is huge and heavy and totally classes things up ’round these parts.
Also, because Max took and styled some of these pictures (and maybe doesn’t cook so much), I want to point out that we do NOT use our fancy new knives on our fancy marble pastry board. But it looks nice for a picture. The green bowl and measuring cup are vintage junk shop/yard sale finds, respectively.
The olive oil is in the Copper/Glass Pour-Top Soap Dispenser from West Elm Market, by the way. We didn’t like it for dish soap, so we cleaned it really well and filled it with olive oil, and it’s perfect for fancy drizzly oily times.
This kitchen really isn’t supposed to be an eat-in, but we kind of couldn’t say no to a couple of bright yellow faux-Tolix stools for $99 (for both! And now I see they’re on sale for $75, which is bananas.), courtesy of Target. I wasn’t sure how much we’d use them, but we sit on them ALL THE TIME while we work or eat at the counter or just hang out in the kitchen while one of us or a friend is cooking or whatever. They stack and they’re really good quality and they’re yellow. So. That’s that.
This is the part where I draw your attention to that glorious monolithic structure between the cabinets and the door. THAT, my friends, is the fancy chase I built to hide the unsightly plumbing that runs from the basement through the kitchen to feed the toilet, sink, and shower in the upstairs bathroom. BEHOLD:
Yeah, I kind of outdid myself? I’m super proud of this thing. Maybe it doesn’t look like much, but there’s a whole lot of complicated framing under those luscious tongue-and-groove boards that required many hours of confusion and terror (also, yes, it has to be that wide for reasons I won’t bore you with in this joyous moment of kitchen revealing and general excitement). I think I have to do a whole post about it. It’s probably a two-way tie between this and the tile for what I’m most proud of in here.
This is the main door into the room from the dining room, in case you weren’t turned around enough? Sorry for all the redundant photos…I’m just very excited about this kitchen.
I love how the pantry door looks with the white paint and the black hardware and the pretty knob and the apron! The hook was salvaged from another area of the room (where it had been coated with a million layers of paint and left to die). I love that I get to reuse things like this——every time I hang that apron up, I think about where that hook was hanging before and what it looked like and how happy I am to give it a second life. I’m a sap.
Also, this hook next to the sink! It was lurking around the gross plumbing pipes before (there’s a picture of it in this post!), but now it’s all stripped and pretty and hanging by the sink with a cute tea towel from Dry Goods. Yes, I need to dab a little black paint on the screw heads, but whatever. I like it!
Speaking of the sink, it cleaned up SUPER WELL. We still need to get a new faucet (this one is old and crappy and leaks), but the sink! I scrubbed it with lots of Barkeeper’s Friend, and it looks great. The enamel pans are also from West Elm Market (the Jelly Roll and the Roasting Pan), and we use them all the time for roasting and baking stuff. I like that they’re pretty enough to go right from the oven to the table.
I love how the hardware on the window above the sink came out. It was covered in tons of paint and didn’t really move before, and now it glides in and out like it’s supposed to. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen hardware like this, but I love it!
I’m still SO HAPPY with how the black radiator looks! I’m also really happy with the little shelving unit over it. I’d love to have more open shelving in the kitchen, but this little wall over the radiator was our only option, so I wanted to take advantage of it. I’ve been wanting to use these IKEA shelving brackets for FOREVER, and this was the perfect spot. I bought my own wood from Lowes for the actual shelves and cut them to size and sanded and sealed them with satin water-based polyurethane. The top shelf is all thrifted, the middle shelf holds the Marimekko tea pot that Max got me (that guy…he’s pretty great.) and the ÄDELSTON mortar and pestle from IKEA (everything from that line is so pretty and such great quality). The glass jars are also IKEA, and the enamel canisters are from West Elm Market and hold flour and sugar. The enamel canisters have a rubber seal to keep everything fresh and are overall super nice, gotta say.
SO. Budget? Budget.
PAINT AND STUFF:
Caulk (4 tubes white, 1 tube black): $18.27
Ready Patch (1 quart): $8.99
Paint Rollers (4-pack. I never reuse paint rollers. Sue me.): $11.98
Clark + Kensington Paint: $138*
+ Walls: 2 gallons Casablanca, flat enamel
+ Ceiling: 1 gallon Designer White, flat enamel
+ Moldings/Upper Cabinets: 1 gallon Designer White, satin enamel
+ Base Cabinets: 1 quart Arabian Nights, satin enamel
Rustoleum Matte Black spray paint: $5.49
High-Heat Gloss Black Spray Paint, Ace Hardware Brand, 2 cans for Radiator: $12.98
Spray-on clear matte varnish for knobs: $3.87
1 gallon B-I-N Shellac-Based Primer: $41.98
Screws and nails: $20.22
Dowels for cabinet knobs: $7.92
Baseboard/Quarterround/trim pieces: $74.12
Tongue-and-groove for plumbing chase: $44.58
Framing for chase—7 pieces of 2″x3″x8″ framing: $15.12
VCT tiles: $142.56
Swtichplate covers: $5.53
GFCI outlets: $49.96
Fiddle Leaf Fig tree, IKEA: $12.99
Marble Pastry board, Crate and Barrel: $49.95
Jute Rug, clearance outlet: $40
Paper towel holder, Crate and Barrel: $19.95
Mirror, junk shop: $42
Knife Rack, IKEA: $12.99
Stools, Target: $99
Crock, Good Will: $4
Shelving Brackets + Wood, IKEA/Lowes: $45.36
GRAND TOTAL: $1,230.74
*paint was generously sponsored by Ace Hardware, so I didn’t actually pay for it.
I think that’s it! I’m so happy with how the kitchen turned out. I think this is probably the most dramatic and ambitious project I’ve ever taken on, and I feel really proud for pulling it off, even if it was a bit of a bumpy ride. Also, hugely thankful to Max and friends who were so generous with their time and helped us out!
This post was in collaboration with West Elm Market.