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5 Ways to Add New Life to Old Cabinets!

This post is in partnership with my friends at Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Did you see all the before-and-afters of the Burgevin Gardens kitchen renovation?! OK. Cool. Me too.

John the homeowner and I are both thrilled with how it came out, and especially happy with what we were able to accomplish without breaking the bank on new materials! Aside from sourcing everything from Lowe’s, one of the most impactful ways we kept the budget in check was by reusing the old cabinetry.

Yes. THAT old cabinetry. They said it couldn’t be done. They said I was crazy. I feel like I really showed them.*

*Not sure who “they” is. Don’t worry about it.

I never priced out replacing the cabinets, but I’d say MINIMUM that would have tacked on $2,000-3,000 to the overall cost. And dare I say, I’m not sure we would have been as happy with them as we are with these revamped garbage cabinets?! So I’m back to ‘splain myself and show you what I did to make these brown-town basic AF 1970s (80s?) cabinets work in this new kitchen! It was one part creativity, one part strategic hackery, and one part jigsaw puzzle. In other words, it was kinda fun! Let’s! Get! Into it!

Method 1: Rearrange, Strategically Alter, and Reuse.

Typically when we think of reusing tired kitchen cabinets, it’s because the layout of the kitchen is remaining the same, but what about when the layout is changing? Normally in that situation you’d (hopefully) donate the old cabinets (smashing with a sledgehammer is fun for TV I guess, but usually needlessly messy, low-key dangerous, and stupidly wasteful) and get new ones that suit your needs. But cabinets are really just wood boxes, so not a lot tends to actually go wrong with them over time. We had the advantage of reasonably well-built and fairly solid basic plywood cabinets, but they weren’t the right sizes to work with the new layout. Just a small obstacle!

For the base cabinets, I realized that if I kept the one to the left of the range (formerly, left of the refrigerator) as-is, I could simply retain about 2/3rds of the similar one from the other side of the room to fit between the new range and fridge locations.

So I used a combination of my circular saw (currently on sale!), jigsaw (also on sale!), and oscillating saw (you guessed it, ON SALE!) to cut the end of it off. Easy! Often these cabinets would already be divided into separate units, so you wouldn’t have to saw them apart. Everyone’s situation will be a little different but the point is that there’s usually some kind of solution!

See? Now this 60-something-inch bank of cabinets is a mere 37-inch bank of cabinets, and you really can’t tell at all that anything was done. Funsies.

Then to fill in the remaining space, I just subtracted the width of the fridge and built a little cabinet at the end to fill the gap between the fridge and the wall. Make sense? I’ve gone over my very basic cabinet construction method before so I won’t rehash it here, but it’s super easy and straightforward. We can all build a box! Do not fear a box. Unless someone is trying to put you inside one—in which case, run.

THEN, on the wall under the window, I had to get a little crazy. We decided to replace the sink with a larger one, centered, so the old sink base cabinet (which, honestly, might as well have been assembled with chewing gum and good intentions) was too small anyway. So using my same lazy cabinet-box-making-method, I whipped up a 36″ wide sink base and a smaller cabinet to fill the gap to the right.

So then I had to deal with the doors. Because the old doors were not the right size, and I didn’t have a bunch of spare lower doors to play with. But I DID have lots of spare old upper doors to play with, many of them the same size, so this presented an OPPORTUNITY. Check this out:

I realized. If I could take the bottom of one upper door, and combine it with the bottom of a different upper door (as long as they were the same width), I could make one franken-door that would match the profiles of the other lower doors, which by this time I realized were actually kinda fine because they didn’t have the weird arch that makes the upper doors such a bummer. By this point the scope of work had kept expanding, so I gladly took the option of not totally refacing the lowers but instead just figuring out these few missing doors if possible.

Is it worth it? Let me work it. I put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it.

Let me tell you how nice it was to cut one of those upper doors in half. It was very nice.

Actually, it was made nicer by the addition of a new table saw into my life!! And GUESS WHAT?! It’s on sale!

My old one suffered a sad death as a result of neglect and mistreatment (whoopsie), so I had to emergency-buy a new one. After some hemming and hawing, I went with the Kobalt 10-in 15-Amp Portable Table Saw and used it throughout this whole project—no complaints! It folds up fairly compact and rolls around on wheels, and has a nice extendable fence for cuts up to 30″. It’s a great price point for what you get, and I’ve used a lot of different saws.

I used wood glue and my Kreg pocket-hole jig to attach the two ends together. This all seemed extremely iffy but “extremely iffy” is kind of my modus operandi at this point.

IT. ACTUALLY. WORKED. I had my doubts, but a little patch, sand, and paint? You really can’t tell unless you’re reallllllly looking for it. I’m OK with that!

When you’ve got it, you’ve got it! What can I say!

NOW. THE UPPERS. SAME GAME BUT DIFFERENT.

The cabinets shaded in pink are the old cabinets, sans doors, left as-is. But they were about a foot too short to span the width of the wall between the window wall and the range hood. SO, to give them a truly built-in look, I just added a slim filler cabinet to one end by building a box (shaded in green) and then attaching it to the old cabinets with drywall screws. Then I attached a new piece of 3/4″ maple plywood along the entire underside, creating one uniform surface. For class!

On the other side of the hood, I matched the size of my new filler cabinet (for symmetry!) and then used most of an old existing cabinet to fill the remaining space, cut down with just a new side panel added on. Make sense? I have color-coded the new in green and old in pink for visual excitement! I also added the same 3/4″ ply panel on the underside but it’s not installed yet in this picture.

NOW. The bigger problem with the uppers was the height! The plan quickly spiraled from reusing a few of the old cabinets into using the entire wall for cabinetry—from about 20″ above the countertop until just shy of the 10′ ceiling, meaning about 5 vertical feet of cabinet space. But the old cabinets were only 3′ high, so we had a large gap at the top (or the bottom—we could have mounted those cabinets higher and ran a shelf or two below them, but that was way more open storage than John wanted to get into. Understandable—it’s not for everyone.). Much like cutting down the width of the old lowers, I could cut down the height of the old uppers to make them fill the space. Then it was just a matter of attaching a new piece of plywood to the top and re-attaching the top rail on the face-frame. This sounds much more complicated than it was.

The point here is not to freak you out. The point is that if this dummy can figure out piecing all this stuff together, you can also figure it out. Grab a measuring tape and see what you can come up with!

Method 2: Reface them! 

I’ve covered this topic before, but real quick: these cabinets are a partial-overlay style. That means there is the cabinet itself (carcase)—think just a simple box that you don’t see—with a face-frame attached to the front that the door hinges are affixed to. Doors and drawer fronts partially overlay this face-frame. Typically the back edges of the doors are routed so that one part fits within the opening created by the face-frame, and maybe 1/4″-1/2″ sits in front of the face frame.

In terms of stock cabinetry, these partial-overlay types are generally considered the least expensive. The combination of the face-frame and the partial-overlay doors doesn’t require the same precision as frameless cabinets (which are sometimes called “European style” or “full-overlay” and have become increasingly common in the U.S. in the past couple of decades) or inset-style ones. Inset is generally the most expensive option (if it’s an option at all!) and mostly what you see with cabinetry that pre-dates WWII.

Very often you’ll see a hybrid on vintage or antique pieces, where drawer fronts are partial-overlay and the doors are inset, like above! I snapped this picture out in the wild. So pretty, right? Take note of that bead detail on the face-frame surrounding the doors—with the right router bit, this would be easy to replicate and apply to a plain face-frame for even more old-school authenticity and charm!

ANYWAY. All of this to say that the hidden beauty of an old bland partial-overlay cabinet is that the carcase and face-frames are already present, meaning that you can easily convert them to an inset style simply by replacing the doors!!

Refacing cabinets can happen in a number of ways. Sometimes, you can work with your old doors—either by adding wood, cutting away detail, or just turning them around so the intended interior surface of the door becomes the exterior. Other times, it may make sense to buy new doors—local cabinet shops might offer this, or a skilled carpenter, or there are a number of online sources that can take custom measurements and turn them into a wide variety of door styles. You have options!

OR you can make them yourself. Again, there are a number of ways to approach this. With the right tools, you can teach yourself to make new doors with traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery and really impress all your friends. I’ve also seen them assembled with biscuit joints, which is a bit simpler. I’ve also seen them done with the Kreg pocket-hole system…lots of ways to make a door. A cabinet is just a box and a door is just a panel that covers one side of it. Relax already!!

Because we needed NINETEEN doors, ordering them was absolutely not an option budget-wise. I didn’t fully price it out, but I think minimum it would have cost around $1,000 before tax, shipping, hinges, or knobs—around $50 per door. So I wanted to do something VERY simple, VERY inexpensive, and VERY fast because that’s a lot of doors to make, and I was hoping John could mostly take on this job himself with a little guidance from me!

ENTER. THE FAKER SHAKER™. That is what I lovingly call my extremely hack-y solution to shaker doors. It is so simple it bears almost no explanation. Here’s all it is:

Step 1. Measure the door openings. Subtract 3/16″ from the length and width. That’s the size of your door.

Step 2. Cut 1/2″ cabinet-grade plywood (ours is maple) to the size of the door. A table saw is by far the easiest way to do this precisely.

Step 3. Rip 1/4″ thick lumber to the width of the stiles and rails you want. This width is personal preference—to me anything under 2″ tends to look a little dinky. We settled on 2.25″. You can buy 1/4″ x 4″ x 4′ stock at Lowe’s (I can’t find the link! but it’s there.) and rip it down, but in this case we happened to have a bunch of cedar off-cuts from a different project that could be run through the planer a few times to achieve perfectly uniform 1/4″ thickness—so that’s what we did!

Step 4. Cut your strips to size. The sides (stiles) should run the entire vertical length of the doors, and the top and the bottom (rails) fit between the stiles.

Step 5. Glue the back of the 1/4″ boards and face-nail them to the plywood with 1/2″ brad nails. I have an old little Craftsman brad nail gun that I love! I would highly recommend owning a compressor and a couple nail guns—I have nailers for brad nails (18 gauge), finish nails (16 gauge), siding, roofing, and framing, and they allllll get plenty of use depending on the job! Makes everything so much faster and more precise. They can all run off of this compressor that’s been a workhorse for several years now. ANYWAY if you’re in the market, this (currently on sale!) combo is a GREAT value to get ya started!

Step 6. Use your favorite patching compound (I LOVE 3M Patch Plus Primer—easy to work with, dries fast, sands super smooth with ease…it’s a great product!) to fill nail holes. You may also choose to use a patching compound around the edges to smooth out the laminated plywood edge. Bondo would work well for this, or you can use iron-on veneer edge banding if your edges are nice and even!

Step 7. Sand the doors smooth and paint! We painted using a little craft sprayer, and then back-brushed with a good-quality Purdy brush. I personally prefer a brushed finish for things like this, although a sprayer will give you more of that factory-finish look.

Step 8. Install the hinges! There are options for this, including concealed hinges, but I love exposed hinges on inset doors! We used these hinges from Amerock in a “wrought iron” finish, and they’re really very nice. For repetitive tasks like this where uniformity is important, I love this little Kreg multipurpose layout tool. It’s so simple but takes out the measuring and marking part of the process, allowing for faster work!

Step 9. Install the doors! This is definitely easiest with an extra set of hands. We numbered all the doors since many were similar in size but not exactly the same. Some didn’t quite close right away, so it was just a matter of removing them, running one side through the saw to shave off like 1/16″, and then putting them back. Plywood is a very stable material, so I don’t anticipate problems with them expanding and getting stuck.

NOTE: The nature of inset doors is that there will be small gaps around all sides of the door, and those gaps are difficult to make perfectly uniform so there might be some variation. You have to accept a little imperfection to get that old world look. Imperfection is OK, as long as it’s not egregious!

Step 10: Install hardware! We used these knobs from Lowe’s and little magnetic latches inside the cabinets to keep them closed.

That’s the whole thing! I’m super happy with how they look, especially considering they came out to under $4/door rather than like $50/door. You can’t really beat that! Faker Shaker™ for the win!

Method 3. Paint and New Hardware! 

This almost goes without saying, but the cheapest and highest-impact change you can make to existing cabinets is fresh paint and hardware. You know this already because you were, presumably, not born yesterday. Here’s how I did it:

I used 3M Patch Plus Primer to fill nail holes, holes left by the old partial-overlay hinges, and holes left by the old hardware. Check to make sure your new hardware isn’t the same spread as the old hardware (the distance between the screws)—there are a few standard spreads like 3″, so you may not actually have to patch and re-drill the holes.

I used my faithful little $30 Black and Decker mouse sander to smooth out the patching compound and knock off the shiny polyurethane finish. You don’t have to get down to bare wood, but as a general rule you don’t want to paint right over a glossy finish because the paint will have a difficult time adhering.

After sanding, you want to wipe everything clean and remove any dust or old oils or waxes. TSP substitute works well for this, as well as Krud Kutter (ONLY to be said in a thick southern drawl), or a liquid deglosser. In any case, I love microfiber cloths for this. They don’t leave lint, are reusable, and pick up dust exceptionally well.

Let that all dry out! It’ll look really bad at this stage. Everything is under control!

Then paint! Latex paints have really just gotten better and better in the past decade or so, so I didn’t use a special cabinet paint (although Valspar does make one!). I just used Valspar Signature paint in a satin finish (total preference, although I wouldn’t recommend going more matte. Semi-gloss would be nice too!). It’s GREAT paint! We used it for the walls (matte) and moldings (satin) as well. While it’s never a bad idea to prime first, Valspar Signature acts as a paint and primer in one, and is super scrubbable and hard-wearing over time. Kitchen cabinets can take a beating so a good paint is your friend! Two coats on everything, always.

For the face-frames, I used a good-quality 2″ angled brush by Purdy, which gave a nice hand-painted look that I think is most appropriate for this style.

Do yourself a favor and just paint the interior of cabinets as well. I didn’t when I did my first kitchen revamp in my house and always regretted it. It’s just not that hard and makes such a difference over time. To make this go quickly, I used a small foam roller to coat all the interior surfaces with a nice thick layer of paint.

Then I went back in with my brush to hit all the corners and back-brushed the surfaces I rolled. Painting the inside of cabinets sounds like such a drag, but I was actually surprised by how quickly it went. So. Very. Worth. It.

For the doors, I sanded them down a little but didn’t go too crazy. I then used this Liquid Sander Deglosser, which is made specifically to promote adhesion onto glossy surfaces like this. Just follow the instructions on the back! So much more painless than trying to get into all the nooks and crannies with sandpaper. Then it was just the same process of spraying and back-brushing, two coats per side, and reinstalling everything.

OH! And for drilling out for the new hardware, I can’t recommend this little Kreg cabinet hardware jig enough! It’s simple to use, speeds the process soooooooo much, and leads to very uniform and level placement. I use it anytime I have to install a bunch of hardware now and it’s really improved my life.

Method 4. Add shelving!

I’m not sure why, but very often older cabinets aren’t using the interior space very efficiently. It’s not uncommon to see shelves that are fixed in place (my old kitchen cabinets were like that), or adjustable but only within a couple inches. These upper cabinets were originally set up for two interior shelves, but they could easily fit three—thereby increasing storage capacity by 1/3rd! That’s a big deal!

Of course, there are a number of ways to go about this, too! If your shelves are fixed in place, you’ll want to remove them and the cleat that holds them up. It’s possible they’ll be fixed in place with a dado joint into the side of the cabinet itself—this is also surmountable! Just remove the shelf and affix a new piece of plywood or melamine to the interior of the cabinet’s sides to cover the old dado cut-outs.

I think the easiest (and cheapest) approach to adding adjustable shelving is to drill out holes for shelf pins, and luckily there’s a great tool for that! I LOVE the Kreg shelf pin jig—it’s just so SMART and I’m mad I didn’t think of it before Kreg did.

I like to start with the jig resting on the bottom of the cabinet and drill out just the top hole, since it’s unlikely you’d want to mount a shelf lower than that. The jig comes with its own bit, and the collar on the bit stops you from over-drilling through the cabinet. Perfect depth and spacing every time!

The jig also comes with a handy little pin that can be inserted into the first hole you drilled. From there, you just move the entire jig up, drill out all the holes, and repeat the process up the side walls of the cabinet. The smart thing about the jig is that it’s identical when you flip it over, so the spacing is always level and perfect. It gets a little tedious (one cabinet might take, like, 60 holes!) but fast and simple. The jig is sized for a standard 5mm shelf pin, which are readily and inexpensively available at Lowe’s! It’s such a good tool and the results look so pro!

We reused all of the original shelves, but still had to make a bunch of our own! The simplest and most cost-effective way I like to do this is with 3/4″ plywood and iron-on veneer edge-banding. Just take the interior measurement of the cabinet, subtract about 1/4″ from the length, and cut the shelf to that size. The iron-on veneer edge-banding is just a little strip of real wood veneer that comes pre-glued, and you just activate the glue with a regular clothing iron to adhere it to the cut plywood edge! That way, it looks like a solid piece of wood. You could do all four sides, but why bother? You only see the outward-facing edge, so just leave the sides and back alone and do that.

To trim the excess, there’s this handy little tool that shaves off the excess and makes the edge-banding flush with the wood. You can also give it a light sanding until it’s all nice and smooth. Boom, you’ve got a shelf!

Just like with the doors, we sprayed the shelves out in the garage and back-brushed by hand. That’s my paint sprayer, by the way! I got it years ago but it took me a while to actually try it out, and it’s AWESOME. A high-end professional paint sprayer will set you back about $500 minimum, whereas this little Wagner Home Decor sprayer is under $100, works great, is very easy to clean, and perfect for small-ish jobs like this. Inexpensive paint sprayers often need the paint thinned out to work effectively, but I’ve never had that experience with this one. Such a handy thing to have around!

YAYYYYYYY, shelves! This is one of the “unaltered” original cabinets, so I just added additional pin holes between the existing ones to allow for more storage possibilities. Getting that third shelf in there made a huge difference!

Here you can get a better sense of how the pin holes look, and how nice and uniform they are! I just love that the Kreg tool makes it so painless and fast. You could really add the pin holes at any point in the cabinet-making process, but I like to do it after the painting is done so that they don’t get clogged up or create opportunity for drips if paint collects in the holes.

Method 5. Add drawers!

I think lower cabinets should pretty much be drawers wherever possible. It’s just better that way? I hate when things get lost in the back of cabinetry and drawers help avoid that issue of major social and economic concern. I will not be told otherwise!

But even if your cabinets have doors with shelves inside, that doesn’t mean you can’t have drawers! Could you build and install drawers? Totally. You could. I, however, would rather not. So I really love these Rev-A-Shelf interior organizers, which can turn any base cabinet into more functional drawers with just a couple screws! They come in a bunch of different sizes to accommodate all the standard cabinet dimensions.

These actually came out of my own kitchen (which is why they weren’t included in the budget), which means they’ve been in use for about 6 years. Just as good as the day I bought them! They are on the somewhat expensive side, but certainly cheaper than new cabinets and such a quick and easy upgrade. I love them and I’m so glad John can put them to use as I wait for new kitchen cabinets to materialize for my own house, ha! I’ll get there someday. I’ve been a little busy!

Is that enough to chew on?! The point is this: whether you’re looking to make a few improvements to your existing space or even if you’re looking at a full kitchen overhaul, don’t completely discount your existing cabinets! Sometimes total replacement makes sense, but I feel like I often see people ripping out perfectly good cabinets to replace them with other perfectly good cabinets (maybe at the expense of a more impactful decision, like amazing backsplash tile or the dream countertops!), when really a little bit of thought could have saved a whole lot of money and hassle and waste. Sometimes little improvements like just adding another shelf can totally change your storage game!

I’m curious: anything you’d add to this list? Smart storage is kinda my main passion and under-exercised skill in life, so I’d love to know what strategies you’ve found or loved to get the most out of your kitchen storage! I’m also planning TWO more kitchen renovations AS WE SPEAK, so help a guy out and tell me your secrets!!

Burgevin Gardens Kitchen Makeover: The Big Reveal!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my amazing sponsors!

WELL. I am pooped.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of months whipping the kitchen at Burgevin Gardens into shape! What started as a “light budget refresh” quickly spiraled into just a little bit more than that, but honestly? This was a challenging project in a lot of ways, but a really fun one that turned out SO much better than I expected! It’s ended up being one of my favorite rooms I’ve ever renovated, and I’m really proud of what we accomplished with such a small budget, so let’s check it out! We’ll talk numbers at the end. I gotchu.

I mean. Can you blame me for having the deep, unshakeable urge to redo this kitchen? Like, if the word “bummer” took the form of a physical space, that’s this kitchen. It felt really cramped and harsh, awkwardly laid out, and spectacularly brown. John and I have talked a lot over time about all the possible renovations for this house (my favorite kind of conversation!), but plans around the kitchen always involved moving walls and doing all sorts of things that, frankly, are just not going to happen. So the choice was basically to radically scale back those plans or do nothing at all…which led to me innocently suggest to John that we should throw a little money and a buttload of elbow grease at it and see what we could make happen. This was not an insignificant demand. But I acted like it was so he’d agree.

He did.

Fixed her up nice, ya know? Where do we begin. There is so much to discuss.

I’d like to note now that this whole project was really made possible by my amazing partners at Lowe’s, who provided all the products to make this renovation so impactful on such a tight budget! It was truly my one-stop shop for all the new materials that went into this room—from the basic construction stuff to the lighting and hardware and that gorgeous tile! Between hitting a sale or two and just selecting from their huge array of super-nice-but-affordable products, Lowe’s kept the budget happy without sacrificing on the vision! I’m so grateful to them for allowing me to take this on!

So. The how. If you’ve fallen victim to my near-daily Instagram stories, you’ve basically watched this unfold in agonizing detail. And there was a lot of flying by the seat of my pants here—which is pretty typical of my approach to things, but this was maybe more than usual? We started with an inkling of plan to get away from a U-shape and really make use of the longest wall by flipping the stove to the fridge’s location and pushing the fridge down toward the end of the wall to create more floor space, since the room is pretty narrow at 9′ wide. The drop ceiling had to go, and that poor window needed to be seen again, and the soffits basically ejected themselves from the situation by being totally worthless, and then we were left with this. Life comes at you fast sometimes.

Then a series of other decisions occurred through no fault (much/all fault) of my own. Firstly, there had to be hardwoods under that vinyl and there WERE but they did not come easy. Secondly I felt a moral responsibility to center up the sink on that stunner window and get the dishwasher to a better spot.

Which necessitated some *minor* work done to the radiator lines to get them out of the way and, well, it’ll be worth it.

Also a vent for the range. But a proper one, to the exterior. Hello huge hole in the ceiling, joining the other huge holes.

Then we had to put this mess back together into a kitchen for a few thousand bucks before Thanksgiving. No biggie! In all honesty I probably should have removed that last bank of cabinetry and put it back later, but I was really clinging to that “light refresh” idea and that was the only thing keeping this room looking remotely like a kitchen.

Trying to keep some semblance of our original timeline intact, I brought in my old friend and cohort, Edwin, to bang out the patching and skim-coating for me in a few days, and then it was ON.

I patched and refinished the floors, made concrete countertops, tiled the backsplash, and spent a lot of time scratching my head over exactly how to make the old cabinets (custom, as it turned out! which made things even more difficult!) work in new locations and arrangements. This plan also expanded rapidly because I hadn’t entirely landed on a plan for how to make the tile work like I wanted it to, and John requested more storage…so the cabinetry plan went from rehanging some of what was there in different spots to reusing nearly all the original cabinets and building various new boxes to fill in where needed. There was also a lot of random carpentry stuff involved like fixing up the window trim, door casings, and adding baseboards. I made a whollllllleeeeee lotta sawdust.

It was a lot of project.

But somehow it never seemed that crazy? Honestly, things proceeded pretty seamlessly! Between John’s garage, my basement, and Lowe’s, we kinda had everything we needed to just keep plugging away at it. And then it was a kitchen again!

Changing the layout made SUCH a big difference. Between that and the two extra feet of ceiling height we got by removing the drop ceiling, this room feels so spacious now! AND there’s so much more storage—so much wasted space before!

A few weeks into this endeavor, John got all excited by the progress and decided on his own accord to buy a new fridge, and I wasn’t going to tell him not to! Nobody was too excited to put the old white french-door honker back in here, but it was an improvement for the vacation rental apartment upstairs. So we moved the upstairs fridge out, the downstairs fridge up, and then John got this slick counter-depth Hisense fridge for $800! It’s still on sale—marked down 46%!—so if you’re in the market…that’s quite a price point for a counter-depth fridge. Unheard of! We weren’t really sure what to make of the Hisense brand, but it’s totally nice! It doesn’t have any fancy features or anything, but it’s nice-looking and the interior organization is really well done. John loves it and reports that it’s performing like a champ!

I’m so happy (and relieved, haha!) with how our concrete countertops came out! We used this Quikrete Countertop Mix, built forms out of melamine, and poured them to 1.5″ thickness. They’re sealed with Waterlox (an old school tung oil based finish), which added a lot of warmth and dimension, as well as some sheen! It’s food-safe once fully cured. I’m not even usually a fan of concrete countertops, but I really think these came out so pretty and work well for this space. They also cost less than $175 to countertop this whole kitchen, which is kind of nuts! Poor man’s natural stone—I’ll take it! I think in this context it doesn’t scream “industrial” like it usually comes across.

Moving the stove and losing this wall of built-in cabinetry provided space for a nice freestanding piece. Originally this was going to be a butcherblock-topped storage piece (specifically, the one with the microwave on top in the before pic!), but at the last minute John suggested this sweet china cabinet that belonged to his grandparents! Sold! I love when I get to incorporate special things like that into someone’s space, and he’s excited for it to be put to use!

The other reason to lose the stove and cabinetry on this wall was that it allowed me to move the dishwasher over and center a nice big sink under the window. Like so.

We kept the faucet modern with this matte black Delta number, and I love it! The quality really seems excellent, and at $230 it’s very well-priced. I think my kitchen faucet was more than double that price, and this Delta is nicer.

I’m not mad.

I’m a little mad.

And the SINK! Love this sink; love the PRICE of this sink. Several years ago I got to go visit the Kohler factories in Wisconsin and see these being made, so I have a real soft spot for Kohler. Once you’ve seen a raw cast iron clawfoot tub glowing red-hot and getting enameled, the image kind of never leaves you! This heavy, deep, double-basin specimen can be installed both as undermount and drop-in, and it’s only $250! And made in Wisconsin! Just like Mark Ruffalo.

SHALL WE DISCUSS this gorgeous tile? This Bedrosians Cloe Tile from Lowe’s was really the jumping off point for this whole kitchen—that’s how much John loved it! It’s really beautiful stuff, and at $7.85/square foot it’s about half the price of similar tile from more boutique sources, which allowed us to use a generous amount of it here! It comes in white, gray, black, blue, and pink as well, and all in either this 5×5 format or a subway style. John wanted the subway but I pushed him into the square and I’m not sorry. I used a black epoxy grout and this charcoal-colored caulk where it meets the countertop.

I may be weird, but I was very excited to have a good reason to use a brown outlet. I got fancy with these nice metal plate covers that are sort of an oil-rubbed bronze finish—I couldn’t put a plastic cover on that tile!

Lights! I really love how the lighting all worked out! The pendant over the sink is this one by Progress Lighting ($67!), and the two hurricane-style pendants are by Kichler! At $135 a pop, those pendants are a STEAL. The scale is so nice, they’re really well-made, and they come with about a mile of extra cord and chain for all different types of installs. The glass shades are so substantial and pretty, too, and easily removed if you wanted to just stick them in the dishwasher every now and then. Now that I have a dishwasher, I will put nearly anything in it.

I’ll need a whole post to get into all the cabinet shenanigans I got into during this—stay tuned for that—but for now suffice to say it was a process. I decided to keep the lowers more or less as-is, with just paint and new hardware rather than totally refacing them. The uppers are also mostly the original cabinets, but hacked here and there with some new filler cabinets where I needed more! These cabinets were really nothing special at all, so I’m kind of extra-proud that we were able to reuse and totally transform them. Utilizing the original face-frames to go from those partial-overlay doors to inset ones on the uppers worked out great.

John and I tag-teamed making new very simple shaker-style doors for the uppers, and I think they came out really nicely! The drawers all have these classic Sumner Street Home bin pulls, and the doors have these coordinating knobs! I ordered the hinges on the new inset doors from Amerock, and just reused the old hinges for the lowers.

We didn’t have budget for a new stove, but this one works just fine so we put it back! The nice thing about stoves and dishwashers is that sizes are standardized and they can be easily replaced at any time—if they still work and budget is an issue, I’d take new counters and a backsplash over a new appliance any day! You don’t have to do everything at once to make a big difference.

Also, the range hood! I got this affordable but well-reviewed GE vent insert, which is tucked up about 2 inches inside that hood structure. We just boxed it in with a simple wood frame and drywalled the whole thing—I don’t love the way hood vents look generally, but I’m into this solution! I love that you can’t really see it, but it still has all the function including a task light with two brightness settings! It even has a remote control!

I agonized over paint colors a little more than usual in this space—that green tile is amazing but I had a hard time landing on the rest of the colors to complement it! The ceiling is Valspar “Wispy White,” a nice creamy white I planned to use on the walls as well…until I painted a coat and felt like it it was too stark with the cabinets. I then switched gears to a Benjamin Moore color called York Gray that I had color-matched at Lowe’s in Valspar Signature paint (matte) and mixed at 75% strength to lighten it up a touch. For trim, I used the York Gray at full strength—also color-matched to Valspar Signature paint—in a satin finish so it’s ever-so-slightly darker and has a sheen.

The cabinets are Valspar’s Cobalt Cannon in satin finish—a color we landed on after painting about 10,000 samples. Ha! We debated dark vs. light cabinetry up until the very last minute, but this nice slate blue/grey with just a hint of green won out in the end and I’m glad it did! I love the way it plays with the backsplash tile, and feels kind of rich and neutral at the same time.

That Valspar Signature paint, by the way? GOOD STUFF. At like $30 a gallon, the price is amazing for the quality. I did sand and prep the doors to some extent, but skipped primer, and the paint has adhered beautifully and I really don’t anticipate any problems with it over time.

Then. On the window. You may have noted. I really swung for the fences and painted her pink! I used the dregs of what I had leftover from painting my laundry room floor, so it’s a color-match of a Farrow & Ball color called “Setting Plaster.” Am I cool enough to pull this off? Not especially. But it’s kind of my nod to that good good British quirk that helped inspire this space, and it’s really delightful in real life. And John LOVES it, which is what’s important! Painting it the cabinet color was my back-up plan if the pink didn’t work, and I still think that would look great but more expected and less fun.

I also just live for a little controversy. It’s how I get my kicks.

Oh also! I was *this close* to just painting over the sash lock again like every other painter of this window in the last 100 years, but I just couldn’t do it. So I stripped it in the crock pot and put it back—I love this kinda mottled copper finish that was hiding under all that paint!

Also! The newly re-routed radiator lines got a fresh couple coats of the wall paint, and I like them! I feel like they add some utilitarian kinda charm to this room, and I’d so much rather see those than a big soffit or something! Breaking a couple joints and getting them re-routed into that corner chase really wasn’t such a big deal, but it ended up being unexpectedly expensive—to the tune of about $500—which honestly was a bit of a shock and I’m not especially clear on why it cost so much, just that it did. Plumbing has a way of doing that to you. Luckily since the sink only moved about a foot, we didn’t have to mess with any of the other plumbing, and I do think it was a worthwhile change.

What else! I hung a couple of vintage hooks I had floating around next to the china cabinet for aprons, tea towels, dog leashes, ya know! I’m still getting used to seeing that cabinet there, but I like it a lot! The microwave fits in the lower part (I love a concealed microwave!!) and I just went ahead and threw a bunch of dishware in the top primarily so I could take these pictures. STORAGE. FOR. DAYS. IN. HERE! I would guess the cabinet is from the 1950s—that colonial revival style has never really been my favorite and not what I would have chosen necessarily, but I think it looks so cute in this room! I’m so glad John suggested it.

I found these two antique portraits of George Washington and good ole’ Abe Lincoln laying around in John’s house and nabbed them for this little wall between the doorways to the dining room and the hallway. I think they’re charming! Sadly the previous owners appear to have removed and disposed of all the original doors on the first floor (second floor doors at least went up to the attic for safe keeping…but why remove them in the first place?!?!), but John and I found a bunch of salvage doors to address that! I think it would be nice for this room to have doors again. The one into the dining room is supposed to swing!

That being said, I am NOT mad about this view from the dining room into the kitchen! It used to look like a portal to another dimension, whereas now the kitchen really feels like a natural part of the house. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

(By the way, the wood flooring in the dining room is quartersawn oak, and the kitchen is douglas fir—getting them to match would be a losing battle anyway, especially without refinishing both, but I don’t mind that they look different. They are different!)

Guys. I really like this kitchen a lot. Let’s talk numbers!

First, I’d like to recognize that two major things contributed to the success of this budget because I do not like pushing unrealistic budgets. The first is that we relied a lot on reuse of materials—restoring what was already here, and excess supplies we both had leftover from other projects. I’ll try to note those items where appropriate! I am also not including myself in this budget. Mostly that’s because this was not a standard client gig due to my partnership with Lowe’s on this project, which really allowed me to treat this like a DIY project for myself even though it’s not my house! And that’s really kinda the point—to demonstrate what can be done in terms of high-impact work for a modest cost. So while this renovation was involved, there really isn’t any part of it that’s beyond the skill level of a hardworking DIYer! All of the projects in combination made it a lot of work, but none of them are all that difficult even if you’ve never, say, hacked a bunch of existing cabinets or poured concrete counters (I hadn’t either!).

Here’s how it broke down:

WALL REPAIR/NEW WORK:
1 Sheet 1/2″ Lightweight Drywall: $13.58
1 Sheet 3/8″ Lightweight Drywall: $12.57
Metal Corner Beads: $10.31
Drywall Nails (for corner bead): $4.48
11 Bags Quikset 90 Joint Compound: $131.78
Fiberglass Window Screening (which we embed in the skim-coat to prevent cracks): $17.98
*I had plaster washers, drywall screws, fiber mesh tape, scraps of 5/8″ drywall, and some window screening on hand.
TOTAL: $190.70

COUNTERTOPS:
6 Bags Quikrete High-Strength Countertop Mix: $107.64
1 sheet 4×8 Melamine (for the forms): $28.97
Steel Rebar (to reinforce around the sink cut-out): $7.74
2 sheets Metal Lath (embedded for reinforcement): $21.20
Gorilla Epoxy (for the seam): $5.31
*we had an old can of Waterlox on hand to seal the counters.
TOTAL: $170.86

BACKSPLASH:
5 Boxes Bedrosians Cloe Tile: $425.00
MAPEI Sanded Caulk: $8.48
*I had enough thinset and black epoxy grout on hand, so no need to buy additional!
TOTAL: $433.48

APPLIANCES:
GE 30-in Convertible Range Hood Insert: $328.75
Ducting Components: $101.65
Hisense Counter-Depth Refrigerator: $800 (the homeowner bought this so technically it wasn’t part of my budget, but I’m including it here for completeness)
*I had foil tape for the ducting on hand.
TOTAL: $1,230.40

ELECTRICAL:
Cable, Boxes, Wire nuts, etc: $113.33
New Range Outlet: $6.62
4 Brown 20-Amp countertop outlets: $23.92
Decorative Outlet Covers: $24.72
Progress Lighting Small Pendant (over sink): $75.57
Kichler Large Pendants: $270.88
Lightbulbs: $31.62
*we had electrical tape, NM cable staples, wire nuts, white outlets and GFCIs, plastic covers, dimmer switches, and assorted electrical screws on hand.
TOTAL: $546.66

PLUMBING:
Kohler Deerfield 33-in Cast Iron Sink: $70 (this is our actual cost because we returned two hundred dollars worth of extra joist hangers from the porch project for store credit to offset the cost of the new sink. I love a…flexible return policy)
Sink Strainers: $19.96
Delta Faucet: $236.09 (John also bought this so it wasn’t part of my budget. We could have reused the old faucet but he understandably didn’t want to. It’s pretty blah.)
New P-Trap and End Waste Outlet parts: $15.56
*we had teflon tape and plumber’s putty on hand.
TOTAL: $341.61

FLOORING:
Drum floor sander and edger rental, including sanding pads: $204.15
Mastic/Adhesive Remover: 28.98
*We had scrap wood for patching and a gallon of Bona Traffic HD polyurethane on hand.
TOTAL: $233.13

CABINETRY/HARDWARE/CARPENTRY:
2 Sheets of 3/4″ Maple Plywood: $96.86
2 Sheets of 1/2″ Maple Plywood: $89.36
Dowel for the Corner Guard: $5.97
2 Oak table legs (used for corner guard): 5.96
Shims: $3.38
Magnetic Catch with Strike for cabinet doors: $25.48
8 Sumner Street Home Bin Pulls: $24.64
27 Sumner Street Home Knobs: $76.95
38 Hinges for Inset doors: $125.40
*We had about 4 sheets of plywood, a little MDF, framing lumber, and a lot of scrap 1x, screws, finish nails, and brad nails on hand. We reused the crown molding from the old soffits to top off the cabinetry!
TOTAL: $454.00

PAINT:
Valspar Color Samples (various colors): $31.84
1 Gallon Valspar Signature Paint, Flat (Walls): $29.98
1 Quart Valspar Signature Paint, Satin (Trim): $16.98
2 Gallons Valspar Signature Paint, Satin (Cabinetry): $59.96
*I had the ceiling paint on hand, as well as patching compound, caulk, brushes, and rollers.
TOTAL: $138.76

MATERIALS TOTAL: $3,739.60

Now, that’s just the materials cost! Which I think is PRETTY DARN GOOD for everything we took on, and the result we got! Originally we weren’t planning to need a plumber (we did) or hire out the wall repair (worth every penny, thus is my hatred for DIYing that particular job), so that added about $1,500 to our actual cost. But still! Getting in and out of that NEARLY GUTTED kitchen for like $5K? I am JUST FINE with that!

Lastly, I just want to say a big HUGE thanks to John the homeowner for, once again, trusting me to tear apart his house for a little while! And to Lowe’s for seeing those before pictures and still letting me run wild with this kitchen—they really made this project possible and I’m so glad I got to do it!

And to you guys! I’ve never really shared quite so much of the process as I did with this kitchen over on Instagram stories, and it’s been so much fun talking with so many people about stuff I usually think I’m the only one who cares about! That really made the work more enjoyable for me and was a great motivator to keep going when I felt unsure or overwhelmed. I’m a lucky duck! I hope ya like it!

Back to Burgevin Gardens: Kitchen Edition!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

As we well know by now, I love a makeover. Always have; always will. I expect this information to shock exactly nobody. But even if all my past and present projects hold special places in my heart (and, maybe, ulcers in my stomach), frankly some makeovers are less exciting than others. Some projects involve more grunt work than creativity, or the balance is tipped more heavily toward practicality and function than aesthetics, or the space just isn’t especially inspiring and you kinda have to force it. Ya know?

This? IS BASICALLY EVERYTHING I LOVE IN A PROJECT. I MEAN LOOK AT ALL THAT HIDEOUSNESS.

HOW.

MUCH.

FUN.

Allow me to elaborate.

Over time, I’ve worked on a few projects over at my friend John’s house in Kingston, which I have named Burgevin Gardens—not because John is a Burgevin, but the original owners were. The Burgevins were a fascinating family—florists by trade—who appear to have built the original house in the 1880s and then did a major renovation around 1920 that doubled the size of the house and reworked the original 1880s structure. They built the house in an area of Kingston that wasn’t really developed at the time, and owned and operated the Burgevin Florist Shop in Uptown Kingston for close to 100 years—it was actually still open when I moved here (it’s currently being beaaautttiffullly renovated and restored as part of a new hotel project)! When the Burgevins built the house, they also had something like 50,000 square feet of greenhouse space erected on adjacent land, which kept the florist in operation year-round in the days long before fresh flowers could be easily shipped across the world.

Based on all this, I’m gonna go ahead and say they were a family of means, and they built one helluva house to show for it! Here it is around 1950, still largely intact (although already missing its shutters, and after rectangular storm windows obscured the arched tops on the upper sashes!):

It is fabulous, and huge, and full of huge projects. It’s been updated and messed with over the years in generally extremely bummer ways, and John has spent the last few years slowly chipping away at restoring it to some version of its original glory as time and money allow. It’s a truly massive undertaking and he’s doing a great job of it.

Last year, he enlisted me to design and rebuild the original 800 square foot wraparound front porch (indeed, that is bigger than my entire Brooklyn apartment!)—I shared a lot of that process over on Instagram stories as it was unfolding (the good bits are saved to highlights!).

Before that we restored the fireplace mantel in the sprawling living room (I think it’s 32 feet long??), and a little later I did a quick n’ dirty laundry room makeover because friends don’t let friends have terrible laundry spaces, right?

(For those curious about the porch project, you didn’t miss anything! Unfortunately it’s still not quite complete, and I’m hesitant to share it until it is…but I’m really hoping that can happen this fall because I’m so excited to show you!! Also, even though it’s not mine, I’d really love to close the book on that particular project because I’m really very proud of it. So standby on that.)

SO ANYWAY. The house is a center hall layout, meaning the entryway and staircase are in the center with rooms on either side. Turn right and you enter the ENORMOUS living room. Turn left and there’s a small foyer sort of space, followed by a massive dining room with beautiful oak panel details on the walls and a beamed ceiling. I somehow managed to never take a good picture of this room, so I made John dig one up…shockingly most normal people don’t obsessively take naturally-lit photos of rooms in their house all the time, so give the guy a break:

And then there’s a doorway from the dining room into the kitchen (out of frame, far right—see the edge of the door casing?), and it’s kind of like entering a different world? Based on the grand scale and relative intactness of these other spaces, the kitchen reads almost like a bad joke. BEHOLD:

I think part of me was excited when John bought this house just so I could have the honor of tearing out this mess. It’s so ugly, you guys. Should we count the ways?

From what I’ve been able to deduce, here we have an early-80s special of basically all the things people hate nowadays in a kitchen. Outdated dark oak cabinetry. Sheet linoleum covering the hardwoods. Laminate faux-granite (I guess? that seems generous.) countertops. Matching laminate backsplashes, which mysteriously stop short of the stove (you know, where one might functionally want a backsplash??). Granny wallpaper. Small upper cabinets with big huge soffits, which look not-so-big only because the top TWO FEET of them are obscured by the dropped ceiling. Bizarrely placed recessed can lights. Florescent box over the sink. A cheap metal venetian blind obscuring a beautiful arched original window. Have I missed anything? It’s truly a brown-town masterpiece of bad decisions.

I guess the faux-granite laminate was supposed to be an improvement over the faux-butcherblock laminate?! The mind boggles.

AND THEN IT GETS WORSE! Because the whole room is only about 9’x16′, but only about half of it is currently being used for the kitchen! Presumably because a prior owner wanted an eat-in kitchen, so left half the room empty—leaving a crowded U-shaped kitchen on one side and a bunch of wasted space on the other. Obviously it’s not being used as an eat-in kitchen now, and neither John nor I understand why anyone would waste their time eating in here with that GLORIOUS dining room just steps away. (I know actual dining rooms are out of fashion for many people. Those people are wrong. End of story; don’t @ me.)

The problem is, John doesn’t have the cash to renovate this kitchen (did I mention the enormous old house with endless projects that still has to be maintained and heated in the winter?), and that’s unlikely to really change any time soon. There are bigger priorities and even though it’s ugly as hell and no fun to cook in, it does function, more or less. So he bravely perseveres.

But with holidays around the corner (I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M WRITING THOSE WORDS) and plans to host family for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, he asked me if I thought there was something that could be done to makeover this space on a budget. Don’t tempt me with a good time!

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Gimme it.

So, in turn, I approached my friends at Lowe’s to see if they would be interested in partnering up on this project, and they generously agreed! But there’s a catch. I have like…$2,500 to turn this thing around. That number is not missing a zero. That’s basically pocket change in the world of kitchen renovations that involve more than a little paint and maybe some tile. For some reason I am still convinced a total overhaul is possible.

How, you may be asking? Because we have three things going for us:

  1. Unfounded optimism and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned delusion. This is my main fuel source and I’ve learned to embrace it up until the point that I start hating myself.
  2. Underneath all this disaster, there are good bones. There’s gotta be, because this is a good old house! There have got to be hardwoods under that linoleum, right? We know there’s a beautiful original window, half-covered by nonsense. A peek above the drop ceiling confirms a TEN FOOT actual ceiling height. And there’s more space to work with than is currently being utilized, so we can play a little with the existing layout. We can and we WILL!
  3. We have a wonderful and free renewable resource: ELBOW GREASE. Rather than rip it all out, send it to a landfill, and throw money at the problem, we’re going to approach this very carefully, working what we’re working with and making some strategic decisions to maximize the impact of our budget. Luckily, Lowe’s has allllll the products we could possibly need to do just that, which is why I love working with them so much. High-end looks for budget-friendly prices! (they don’t tell me to say these things; I just have a lot of enthusiasm.)

Current financial constraints and impending family arrivals aside, why do a more budget-friendly renovation of this space? Because a) nothing will happen otherwise and b) I’d wager this is the last renovation this kitchen will ever see. Ideally, I’d love to see this house returned to a single-family someday (currently there’s a whole apartment upstairs, but it would be easily converted back), and the wall behind the refrigerator is just a non-load-bearing wall into a room 2-3x the size of this one. Which is to say, in another reality, I can totally see somebody ripping this whole thing out, knocking down the wall between this room and the next one, and putting in a big big kitchen to match the big big house. Old houses generally don’t have big kitchens like that, and while I’m usually not one to tear out walls in old houses, I actually think it would be a good approach for this particular house. The existing layout isn’t all that nice and it would be more suited to modern living. It wouldn’t be a crime here, and this is coming from someone who considers most decisions about old houses to be crimes against them. Ha!

But the reality is, that could easily be a $100,000+ project and, short of a new owner moving in or John winning the lottery, there’s just no way. So let’s make this kitchen as nice as we can without going insane so John can enjoy his big Jersey family and, maybe, someday sell the house to someone who will see this space as totally workable at least for however long they want/need it to be.

NOW. THE HOW. HOW WILL WE DO THIS. Here are a few strategies that I think are helpful to think about if you, too, are considering upgrades but not equipped for the type of FULL, EVERYTHING MUST GO remodels we tend to mostly see on TV and online and stuff.

  1. Have appliances? KEEP THEM. Even if they don’t match. Even if you don’t love them. If they work, save your money and upgrade down the line if you want, and throw those not-ideal but still-functioning appliances back in there. Your dishwasher will still be 24″ when you go to replace it. This kitchen is going to have a KitchenAid stainless dishwasher, a stainless Kenmore stove, and a white Whirlpool fridge and I truly do not care. If you want a bigger fridge or something down the line, just leave enough space for it and use your smaller one in the meantime. You aren’t the queen of England. (Unless you are! In which case, a warm welcome, Your Majesty. Thank you for dropping by.)
  2. Have cabinets? CONSIDER KEEPING THEM TOO. You can often change a layout without scrapping all the cabinets, and I’ll be showing you some strategies to upgrade their looks and their function. These are NOT NICE cabinets by any means, but even your most basic cabinets can still often benefit from a few upgrades and strategic hackery.
  3. Embrace negative thinking. What I mean by this is: identify what you DON’T need or want, and strip that stuff out. In this case, that includes wallpaper, the drop ceiling, the recessed lighting, the linoleum floor…there’s a lot we can accomplish just by simply stripping out the bad and giving some TLC to what’s left behind. That’s basically free!
  4. Fill in the gaps with budget-friendly new and vintage. This is another not-so-subtle plug for Lowe’s because S E R I O U S L Y even if you feel kind of “meh” about your in-store displays, they have THOUSANDS of products online that might be more your speed. I’ve noticed they’ve also been making incremental improvements to their website which makes online shopping and sorting through products a lot easier, and so far I haven’t felt limited by options and this is coming from someone who literally hates everything.
  5. Consider less fitted. As Americans we are conditioned to think of kitchens as long continuous runs of matching cabinets punctuated by appliances, but there are so many more ways to kitchen! Consider freestanding vintage or antique furniture pieces like armoires, dressers, dry sinks, side tables…these things can often be bought CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP and provide TONS of storage and a totally unique look.

OHHHHHHH BOY HERE WE GO! John and I did a couple days of initial/exploratory demo just to really figure out what we were working with and so I could get to designing and figuring out how to make this budget work, and CAN YOU SEE IT ALREADY?! Am I the only one that would run screaming from the kitchen in the first picture but be completely thrilled about the kitchen in the second one? This is a fun one. I think it’s going to be really cool.

Here’s the basic layout plan! My goal is to really use the whole space, go from two awkward corners to just one, and allow for two people to comfortably prep and cook in here since currently I’d call it a one-butt kitchen. I think prep space on both sides of the stove will be a game-changer, and increased floor space and ceiling height will give the illusion of more space. Plus centering the sink under the window will just bring everyone joy and I aim to please.

OK so this is a pretty basic mood board but check it out. These are my thoughts.

  1. LIGHTING! I want two big-ish pendants for the main lighting and one small one over the sink. No recessed. John doesn’t like under cabinet lighting so we’re not doing that. I found this little pendant and these larger more impactful ones that both have a turn-of-the-century vibe I can get down with. The prices and reviews are GREAT so I’m waiting with anxious anticipation to see them in real life!
  2. WALLS! I think a nice warm white on the walls and ceiling will look best. I have my eye on Valspar’s “Hint of Cream” but have to grab a sample.
  3. BACKSPLASH! It’s the tile du jour for bloggers everywhere, except green! And square! This Cloe Bedrosians tile is really beautiful in real life, with a lot of variation in the glaze and a handmade look. At $7.85/square foot, the price point is great considering that it looks like a much more expensive handmade tile from a more boutique source. Anyway John LOVED it so I made it my business to include it in the budget and design a kitchen that’ll pull it off. I think I can, I think I can! (It also comes in white, gray, black, blue, and this SO SO CUTE pink that I am dying to use somewhere, sometime. All in both square and subway formats!)
  4. COUNTERS! My initial instinct/plan was butcherblock, which John was OK with but not thrilled. Unlike me, he will not cut directly on a counter which kind of defeats the purpose of butcherblock in my opinion. This left laminate (nope) or stone (no $) or composite (also no $) but guess what’s cheap? CONCRETE. So we’re going to try to make our own. May or may not pigment them darker. I think they’ll read much like a natural stone, but it should cost about $350 to countertop the whole kitchen. Not bad! I have 15 bags of this concrete countertop mix waiting and ready to go because I’m ON IT.
  5. FLOORS! Y’all know I’m refinishing that wood come hell or high water; don’t play. They’re douglas fir.
  6. CABINETRY! I want to rework the existing cabinets with a little strategic carpentry and, of course, paint. I’m thinking beige-y. I’ve been real into a beige-y cabinet for a few years. I can’t help it! I’ll probably end up building some cabinets from scratch but I really want to reuse what we have already because $ and time.
  7. HARDWARE! I’m thinking simple and traditional? Simple black knobs on the cabinet doors and traditional bin pulls on the drawers. I really like the shape of these bin pulls—a little different than the norm but still totally classic. Oh also! I’m going to attempt to make these partial-overlay cabinets into inset cabinets, so I will need new hinges and I *think* these ones are just the ticket. I’ve ordered a couple as a test.
  8. SINK! FAUCET! We are debating a new sink. Which is my way of saying we’re getting a new sink (maybe this guy??! although that will blow the budget, pretty sure). Or maybe a vintage sink, if the price is right and the condition is good and the size works? Either way, I’d like it to be charming, and white, with a new faucet. To be honest, I like having a simple practical single-lever pull-down-hose modern faucet and don’t think that we need to perform plumbing cosplay to make this kitchen feel appropriate for this house. My approach to that is to go fully the other direction, totally mod, and keep it inconspicuous which I think black does. Brass would be too matchy in a bad way, I think.
  9. HOOD VENT! I generally do not like hood vents. But I think I will like this hood vent! It’s an insert, so we can build whatever we want around it, and I’m thinking just keep it VERY VERY VERY simple and try to avoid being able to see the actual device inside the enclosure. I’m weirdly excited, John is weirdly excited, and this is a real functional improvement since this space hasn’t had a vent as long as John’s been here.

Golly that post took a long time to write. But this’ll be fun! I’m trying to update Instagram stories (@DanielKanter) on the daily as we move through this renovation EVENT, so check that out! You can listen to my terrible vocal fry and watch my chaotic job site filming for entire minutes as this all unfolds! Yay!

Giveaway! Before and After! Hygge & West Home!!

So something cool happened. Gather ’round.

Several years ago now, when I still lived in Brooklyn, I got to do a really fun job for a really cool client—multi-talented woman of the stage, screen, and audio recording, Ana Gasteyer! You might remember her glamfabulous master bathroom makeover I posted about with the incredible metallic pineapple wallpaper, and thennnnnnnnn…we never spoke of it again?

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

That’s my fault. Blogger fail. In reality I was lucky enough to work with Ana on a few major spaces in her home, but I never circled back to it on the blog. Evidently I didn’t even really shoot the spaces when I was done, unless those photos are hiding in a file somewhere deep in my hard drive, which is effectively the same thing. So stupid! Ana and I are still in touch—she’s good people!—but I’m rarely in Brooklyn, and asking to come photograph someone’s house like 5 years after the fact feels…I don’t know, not how it’s done. There’s an illusion of professionalism I have to maintain here, people!

Cut to: earlier this year. I received a book in the mail I’d been looking forward to: Hygge & West’s first book, Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Life! I swear these things are related. Hygge & West has been my favorite wallpaper company for years (in fact…I don’t think I’ve ever used wallpaper on a project from anywhere else? nothing comes to mind? that’s kinda crazy.), and here they went and put together this beautiful book that brilliantly combines gorgeous interiors with profiles of the people who inhabit them and the things big and small that lend uniqueness and personality and coziness to these homes. The book is truly beautiful and such an achievement—I’m so proud to kinda-sorta know the amazing women who have built this company over the past decade, Aimee and Christiana. I want to be like them when I grow up.

ANYWAY. I’m looking through this book and all of a sudden—that’s Ana’s house!! I did that!! And then I started reading and I’m mentioned by name and everything, and…well. Surreal! My work, photographed by a professional and published in this glorious book! So, yes. I am taking a moment to brag because that was really fucking cool and a first for me. It looks very much as it did the day I left, which warms my heart.

Ana was such a great client—YES she’s a successful actress and overall class act, but she totally spoke my language of thriftiness, vintage, IKEA (I knew when she started spitting product names like a true aficionado that we’d get along), antique rugs, weird art…basically all the things I like. She and her family are all genuinely kind, smart, wonderful people, who were exceedingly gracious with this little 23 year old blogger guy who didn’t totally know what he was doing, flitting around their house rearranging all the things. With two young kids (not so young anymore!), she wasn’t looking to spend crazy money on fussy, fancy stuff and didn’t want a space that felt overdone—she wanted clean and practical and functional and calm. A place for everything, including so many cool and unique treasures accumulated over she and her husband Charlie’s rich and interesting lives thus far. I’m kind of freaked out by the interior decorate-y concept of buying decor items to fill out a shelf vignette or whatever that don’t actually mean a thing to the client, except that they paid for them, but Ana had so much great stuff to work with. So it was really a matter of trying to honor her existing things by pulling it all together in a way that felt cohesive and fun and stylish and livable.

Same area of the living room, before and after style! The building is an old factory/warehouse kinda deal, converted into living units, which is pretty common in Brooklyn. A lot of the work was adding little things to update and upgrade from the builder-basic finishes, and trying to make kinda weird areas and soffits and stuff like this look special and intentional rather than awkward. We removed track lighting in favor of more impactful pendants (this one from Flos was so so pretty), and added those little Alabax fixtures from Schoolhouse Electric to the soffit which evidently housed a duct, the vent for which I believe was photoshopped out of the “after” image—ha!

We papered the wall in Hygge & West’s Andanza and that shimmery copper backdrop was just…GAH! Gorgeous, gorgeous. The sofa was IKEA and I built a realllllllly long and narrow plant table for behind it (Ana loves a house plant, especially geraniums!). The rug was from Rugs USA (holy shit, it’s so cheap right now), the coffee table was from Organic Modernism (god I love that table), and the lounge chair was our big ticket item from Anthropologie. The guitar hook is from OneFortyThree! On either side of the piano we did two little “fauxdenzas,” the IKEA hack gift that just keeps on giving that Anna from Door Sixteen gave to the world many moons ago. I think I installed…5 different fauxdenzas in Ana’s place? Just so damn practical!

Don’t worry—we just moved that pretty antique china cabinet to a better wall! Aside from the beautiful vintage credenza, there isn’t a single thing in this photo that I purchased. I think Ana grew up with that incredible mirror, and the lamp (we called it the jellyfish lamp) was a gift from a cast mate, if memory serves. I spent the entire job terrified I’d break it somehow—that’s a helluva lot of crystal to be responsible for.

Not to get all weird and dark on you, but seeing these rooms presented in this way was really the first time I ever gave myself credit for doing a good job here. I think that happens a lot with creative work—by the time a project is nearing completion, you’ve poured a lot of time and emotional and physical energy into it, and you lose objectivity. Combine that with major insecurity (oh hiiiiiii) and it’s really hard to gauge whether something is good or not because to you it’s become a collection of projects that may not have turned out as perfectly as expected, or purchases that pushed you over budget, or back-and-forths with the client where you wish you had pushed harder for some option you liked better, or some flaw you hope nobody else notices, and so on. And yet: DAMNIT, DANIEL. It’s in a fucking book. A beautiful book. It looks great. And most importantly, it fits the people it was designed for, who have loved and lived and partied and chilled and, now, grown up in it. In what universe is that not a success? So this book, to me, feels like a real gift—a good reminder to not do that stupid thing anymore. It’s OK to want to do better and celebrate where you’re at. We’re often doing better than we think we are.

SO. I asked Christiana and Aimee if I could extend that gift to you, too, in the form of a good old fashioned Manhattan Nest giveaway, and they did us one better! Because it’s almost Christmas and we should have a little fun!

Up for grabs is not only a copy of Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Life, where you can see the rest of Ana’s house as well as a ton of other spectacular homes, but also…TWO rolls of one of their newest papers, Piedmont! Any color! That’s 60 feet of wallpaper THAT IS SO CUTE AND PRETTY I JUST DIE. And knowing what I know of Hygge & West’s paper, it’s roughly 14,000 times more beautiful, somehow, in real life.

TO ENTER: Let’s run this old school. Leave a comment telling us where you’d use the wallpaper and/or who you’d give the gift of Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Life to—which can totally be yourself! No judgment.

UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed! Thank you, everyone! The winner will be notified by email! :). A winner will be selected at random and notified via email! Please note that international entries are welcome and Hygge & West will pay the shipping, however the winner may be responsible for international duties & taxes.

Good luck!

I was generously supplied a copy of Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Life. All opinions and nonsense are my own. Photos from the book used in this post are by James Carriére and used with permission from the authors. 

Here! There! Everywhere!

OH HELLO! It’s June! How did that happen?! There’s so much going on. Let’s run it down in no particular order because my brain’s all over the place.

The gang is back together! Edwin, Edgar and I are in the midst of building a large-and-in-charge wraparound front porch on a circa-1900 house in Kingston! Perhaps I should say rebuilding, since the porch was demolished long ago. So we’re constructing a close resemblance of the original porch, based on the bits of information we have—a few photos, dimensions from old tax assessment records, and the few pieces of the original porch that remained. It’s a big huge project that’s been in the works for a couple of YEARS now, so it’s super exciting that it’s finally happening. It’s also daunting! Partially because it’s HUGE at almost 800 square feet, and partially because it’s a significant addition that will completely change the appearance of this old house and I have to make it look right and like it’s always been there! Part of my job is keeping everyone occupied and PAID, so aside from this big project I’ve also been hustling my ass around town on a bunch of smaller projects that the guys can hit when it rains, or a product order is late, or whatever. It’s kinda a lot to manage.

Let me tell you a story! Last summer, I reluctantly dove into the waters of Instagram Stories while we were working on a different house just outside of Kingston. Admittedly, I’m an extremely rare story-watcher, but evidently I’m a semi-prolific story-maker. It’s fun! It’s easy! As we know by now, as much as I like to write, I frequently struggle with actually having the time to dedicate entire blog posts to stuff that I plan to dedicate entire blog posts to while they’re happening, so Instagram Stories have been a nice alternate way to document things in real time. If you’re not following me already, first of all get your life together, and second of all go find me @DanielKanter. Then just keep an eye out for new posts, I guess! I try to archive the more relevant bits into the Highlights feature at the top of my profile, if you need to catch up a little on the aforementioned porch project.

What’s that you say? A different house outside of Kingston? Yeah! I guess if you don’t follow me on Instagram, you wouldn’t have a way of knowing about the cool quirky old farmhouse the guys and I renovated last summer/fall/winter! Honestly it was another doozy—not quite Olivebridge proportions, but still managed to go from a couple changes and a bunch of sprucing up to a top-to-bottom overhaul of…everything? 2 bathrooms! Kitchen! Laundry! All the rooms! The whole outside! Mechanicals! The bulk of the work ended in February but I just did a final install last week. I have to go back and photograph it but it’s nice to have this 8-week-turned-8-month project off my plate a bit.

Speaking of Olivebridge. If you read even one of those tumultuous posts about the Olivebridge house, I owe you some resolution. We don’t have to get into all the mostly-stupid reasons that hasn’t yet come to pass, but I haven’t forgotten. Honestly the fact that I haven’t blogged about it makes me feel like the book is still open on that project—in spite of the house’s successful completion!—and that feeling sucks so it’s high time to get my shit together on that front. MAYBE IT COULD ACTUALLY BE FUN! At the very least I think it will really and truly feel finished in terms of big life events I’d never want to repeat. Ha!

5 years! So I didn’t even think about it until the day after, but Friday marked the five year anniversary of owning my house! What a journey we’ve been on, this house and I. I still love it. I’m still overwhelmed by it. There are still parts of it I haven’t tackled and a lot of other parts in some stage of progress, but (knock on ALL the wood) I think the worst of the renovation is pretty much over and that feels GOOD. The past 2 years or so were particularly rocky, but it’s finally started to feel like a real home again—my home—and I’m more grateful than ever that I get to call this special house mine.

Laundry! Kitchen! Anticipating that this summer would be exactly as crazy as it’s shaping up to be, I set some concrete goals for myself and my renovation for the first four months of the year. We can talk about this more later, but experience is a valuable thing—and it’s taught me that working on multiple major renovation projects at different properties at the same time is a recipe for inefficiency and frazzled-ness and general misery, but I also obviously can’t just work on my own house all the time. So, I try to give myself a little time between client projects to re-focus on my own stuff and get as much done as I can. May 1st became the goal for having a functioning laundry room, a functioning kitchen, and doing some MAJOR clean-up and space-reclamation everywhere else once the first two items were accomplished and there’d be a bit more room to spread out. I DID IT! Having laundry again is amazing and having it on the second floor lights up my life. The kitchen is FAR from complete, but IT HAS WALLS and electric and plumbing—enough to hook up a sink, move in a few of my old cabinets, and start using the space again AS A KITCHEN for the first time in almost 2 years. And now that my dining room isn’t also a kitchen, and my living room isn’t also an enormous glorified dog kennel, I spent a weekend just rearranging my own shit for hours and now those two rooms look and feel so much better than they have in a LONG TIME. I even had two friends over for dinner! Like I said—still a ton to do, but getting to this point of basic usability feels huge.

So interior progress at my house will slow, but hopefully exterior work will continue. There’s a lot to do on the outside of my house—between gardening on the street-facing sides (and just maintaining what I have!), finally putting the finishing touches on the major exterior work that started last summer and the one before, and trying to get SOMETHING good going on in the backyard, I hope I can bang it out in my “free time” before fall/winter hits again. I’ve already decided that this summer I’m going to skip tearing off more vinyl siding in favor of just polishing off what’s already started—I can’t stand all the loose ends out there right now.

I have a major itch to landscape. Or hardscape maybe, more specifically? Getting the backyard just to square one was so labor-intensive and expensive that gathering the motivation (or setting aside the time, with the house itself needing so much attention!) to do much else with it has been tough. I’ve done two things that helped get my ass in gear, though: first, I asked a friend with a great garden to help me prioritize and plan and make a few decisions. FRIENDS! THEY’RE SO HELPFUL! Second, the Brinson’s invited me last minute to the Trade Secrets garden show in Connecticut, where we toured 3 amazing gardens including living legend Bunny Williams’ property, which I really just need to do a photo-dump kind of blog post about because it was so insanely good. Going to see this stuff IN MY CLIMATE (“omg, I can actually grow that too!!!”) was really valuable and the whole thing was for-real inspiring. Like I literally got home and began construction on a dry-stacked bluestone wall because I just had to get my inspo-overload ya-yas out somehow.

But don’t get carried away about my house, because there’s still Bluestone CottageI feel I owe a longer explanation about this than I want to get into right this instant, but long and short of it is—I MUST finish that house. Personally, professionally, emotionally, physically, financially—it needs to happen. I think I successfully enlisted an electrician last week, and the plumber has finally (sort of) reemerged after beginning the rough-in a YEAR ago, and my own living situation is finally back out of complete shambles, and life will go on and the house will get done and then I can stop feeling shitty about bad decisions I made when I was younger and dumber. Well, at least one of them.

Mekko is the best dog. We’ve also been dealing with some health stuff over the past few months, requiring visits to vet offices in 3 different states and a whole lotta money. It’s certainly not good but seems to be surmountable (yay!), and it’s been stressful and expensive and basically I’m trying to not freak out. I lost one dog 7 months ago. I refuse to entertain that this could resolve any way other than completely fine and she’ll go on to be the longest-living dog on record and then I’ll clone her. So anyway. That’s been awful, no lie, but could be way worse. Surgery, again, this Friday. Sigh.

I’ve bought some stuff. You know, since the last time I showed you some stuff I bought. I like pretty old stuff.

So that’s basically what’s up in my little corner of the world. What’s up in your little corner of the world? Do we want to hear about any of the above items in particular more than others? Watched any good TV lately?

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