When I think kitchen renovation, I think expensive. I think 5 figures worth of expensive, because I watch HGTV, where they habitually gut and completely redo kitchens with the highest of high end finishes. And yes, there are plenty of kitchen renovations that are that expensive. Some of them are worth it, and some (in my opinion) are not. But no matter my opinion on other people’s renovations, I didn’t come into this house expecting to do too much to this kitchen until much later. In my opinion, the bathroom needed far more work with far more urgency than the kitchen.

But then the bathroom ended up not needing quite as much immediate work as I’d thought, and so I started looking at the kitchen. And I thought that there were a few things that could definitely be done to fix the place up a bit. I was lucky enough to get all the appliances with the house, and they’re all decent quality, so after a good cleaning (and removing the ice/water unit from the fridge because EW) they were good to use.

…And then I went a little crazy.

Main wall of kitchen.

Side by side, as best as I could. (Click for a larger view!)

The Cabinets

We figure that the cabinets were not original to the house, and that they were very likely reclaimed from a kitchen renovation at another house. That being said, they are very good quality, oak cabinets.

And I decided to paint them.

Now at this point, I would like to tell everyone who is freaking out to take a deep breath. I promise it’s okay to paint woodwork, be it trim or cabinets or floors or anything else. It’s okay. I promise.

What wasn’t okay was how nasty the cabinets were. There isn’t currently a range hood over the stove, so any and all grease from cooking goes into the air and then falls to settle on things. Cabinets being one of those things. And then people touch them with their grimy fingers, and I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

Cabinet Work in progress

It’s me! And door-less cabinets!
(Photo courtesy of K. Lang)

So before I could even think about painting anything, the doors needed to come off, the drawers needed to come out, the hardware needed to be removed, and everything needed to be cleaned. The doors took a scrubbie, a putty knife, and a HIGH powered degreaser to get even close to clean enough. And yeah, it was enough to take some of the finish off too, but I was alright with that. I didn’t sand anything, and I’m sure there are purists out there that would say that I should have. Maybe so, but there comes a point where you just have to go for it. So I cleaned and I primed and I cursed heatedly when some of the primer came off and I moved them out to the garage to dry in a less humid area and then I painted them with a high-gloss cabinet and trim paint. I did the same thing with the outer faces of the cabinets themselves, with considerably less cursing about humidity affecting primer adhesion.

Priming Cabinets

Work, work, work. If you look closely, you can see the ace bandage I started needing to wear because my wrist was very unhappy with the amount of work I was doing.
(Photo courtesy of K. Lang)

Hinges? A few bucks a piece at any big-box hardware superstore. Multiplied by two for every door and it starts to get pricey. A can of glossy black spraypaint? Free when your dad finds it in your parents’ basement from a previous project. Clean and spraypaint those babies instead of replacing them, and you’ve just saved yourself a good few dollars. Cabinet knobs and drawer pulls were replaced, and ooooh look at that high-contrast hardware. Sexy.


Like everything else in this house, they needed to be cleaned.

Can’t let the back door feel left out, especially when it’s so close to the cabinets. That got the same coat of white paint. Gotta love it.

The Countertop

Did you know that if you have a countertop section that is approximately 8 feet long, you can get a new piece of standard countertop for less than $100 (plus any additional installation costs)? It’s true! Especially when your local big-box hardware superstore is running a sale on it. I have to admit that it surprised me – I expected countertop to be much more expensive. And it is, when the typical HGTV homeowner wants to put in granite or marble or even quartz. But if you’re happy with a standard type of countertop and you’re able to find a design you like, you’re good to go.

Countertop Sample

Formica Beluga Beige. It looks like retro fossils!

What’s funny is that I was aiming for a grey theme in my house, and especially in the kitchen. But there weren’t a lot of grey choices in the line of countertops I was looking at. I was able to find this one that was a little browner than I wanted, but that I thought would work, and then I chose a paint color from there. A few weeks later, at a different store, I found the same design but in a different shade. A much greyer shade. And I shook my angry fist because I’d already ordered the first one from the other store.

Let me just tell how glad I am now to have the first shade. It’s definitely grey enough and goes so beautifully with the paint color, and I love it. I LOVE it.

The Plumbing

If you’re going to replace a countertop, you might as well replace the sink. If you’re replacing the sink, it just makes sense to replace the faucet. If you’re doing all that, why on earth would you keep the old garbage disposal? Might as well replace that too.

The Electrical

Do not try this at home. I doubt this is entirely contractor approved.

Awkward over-the-sink lighting gets turned into a circuit for under-cabinet lighting. Overhead light fixture is replaced with a new one. That step wasn’t quite so easy, as opening up the ceiling to do the switch-out revealed that the insulating covering on the old wires was starting to crumble apart. With the home warranty that came with the house, I was able to call in an electrician who came out and did a little poking around and assured me that I did NOT have a massive electrical problem. Thank god! The wires were re-covered and everyone moved on with their lives. And I got a new fixture!

And under-cabinet lighting. Ooooh.

Undercabinet Lighting

Taken at night so you can see how awesome it looks. LED strips that use so little in the way of energy and give off next to no heat. Also a nice shot of the painted back door.

The Backsplashes

One thing I don’t entirely understand about this house is its love affair with plastic tile. I’ll admit I didn’t even know there was such a thing as plastic tile until I looked at this place, but at some point in the decorating and redecorating process, plastic tile was invited in. The bathroom is the main culprit for it, but there was a fair amount in the kitchen as well – both as a backsplash for the stove and for the entire sink and cabinet wall. And while I’m (temporarily) making it work in the bathroom, the kitchen ended up being another story. Unlike the yellow tile in the bathroom, the kitchen tile was white. At least, it was white at one point in its life. By the time I “inherited” it, especially with the grease and other kitchen substances, it had gone a weird sort of dirty beigey yellow color.

Plastic Backsplash Tile

GROSS. Though, to be fair, the swirls are part of the tile, not some weird dirt/grease pattern. Does that make it better or worse?

I was at the house by myself one night doing one or two other things, and I hadn’t planned on being there very long. But then I pulled at the piece of plastic “caulking” strip between the countertop and the wall, and a few of the tiles came with it. And then there was a putty knife and a hammer and a razor scraper in my hands, and shattered pieces of plastic tile all over the place.

Tile Removal

So gratifying.

It left the wall a little worse for wear though, especially with the junction box for the old light fixture. Here comes bead board to save the day! A few dollars buys you a giant sheet of the stuff that can be cut to size and (along with some plywood backing) attached to the wall. It’s primed and ready to be painted right from the store, but I left it white for a little while because I didn’t know what color I wanted it to be. After a few days of looking at it, I decided that with the cabinets on that wall, it was too much white, and so it got a dose of the wall color. Which is just about perfect, in my opinion.


Painting the beadboard. It blends in with the other walls, but has enough of a textural difference to stand out. It’s a little old-fashioned, but not in a bad way! You also get a good look at my new sink/faucet here.

The stove backsplash was a problem all its own, as when we started taking down the tiles, they did not come off nearly as easily as the tiles on the cabinet wall. I have no idea what sort of adhesive they’d used, but it was hanging on for dear life and was starting to result in big gouges from the wall. We decided it would likely be easier to just cut the whole section of wall and patch in a section of new drywall.

And that was the tentative plan until my mom went “…or we could try painting those too”. Of course, at this point three rows of the tile had already been removed. But! There were extra tiles in the basement! And while they did not match at all (due to the age and kitchen grossness of the ones on the wall), it didn’t matter because they were all getting painted!

I used the same primer and paint as the cabinets, which means the tiles are still shiny, and they tie in nicely with the nearby cabinet wall. The roller that I used gave the paint a neat sort of texture, and while it’s obvious that they’re painted, I really like the look. Oh sure, someday they’ll need to come down and that section of wall will need to be patched, but for now it’s clean and bright and coordinates with the rest of the kitchen. What more could I ask for?

The Paint

You know how I said I chose a paint color based off the countertop I picked out? Look at this color:

Kitchen Paint Swatch

Thank you, Lowes, for this picture.

Look how gorgeous it is. How soft and velvety. How beautifully it contrasts with the painted white woodwork and cabinets. How it helps to warm everything up and tie it all together. Just look at it.

I know you’re jealous. It’s okay. I don’t blame you.

And okay, I totally admit that for a kitchen I should have found a satin or semi-gloss instead of the eggshell I ended up with, and maybe someday I’ll change that, but the color is everything I wanted. It’s a Valspar Historical Trust color called Woodlawn Colonial Gray, and it’s just the right level of warmth and contrast for this room. I was worried about going too dark and making the room feel like a little cave, but the white paint on the cabinets and door and trim helps to lighten it all up.

Decorating and “Other things”

One of the things the previous kitchen had (that I got rid of) was a stubby cabinet pair (upper and lower) across from the stove. I hated it, and it was one of the first things to go. It really opened up the kitchen, but due to my lack of kitchen storage and countertop, I knew I needed to put something there to replace it. I’d been planning on refinishing a buffet type cabinet that had been left behind in the basement, and I’d gotten a start on it in the fall but then stalled on it. Luckily, IKEA came to the rescue, with a shelf just perfect for that space.

Kitchen Shelf from IKEA

I want to say it’s a Bleeberderben, but I’m pretty sure that’s not right.

In the future, if I want, I can put doors on it to make it more of a hutch, but for now I’m very pleased with it as a shelf. Even though it had a flub that I didn’t notice until it was put together and in place, and it required some minor disassembly and another trip to the store to swap that part out.

Kitchen Table

The other side of the kitchen! The weird light patterns are due to the “warped” glass shades on my ceiling fan. My bedroom has the same problem. It shall be remedied soon.

I also needed a kitchen table! And with a little hunting, the table and chairs came courtesy of craigslist and $40! I still need to find at least one more chair, because two isn’t really enough. And between the stove and the fridge (which you can almost see) is a kitchen cart with wheels. It’s where my toaster oven lives.

I’m still in the process (as with all of my rooms) of trying to decide what goes up on the walls. In the kitchen I’m lucky enough to have blinds on the windows, so while I’ve been thinking of adding some valences, the fact that I haven’t been able to decide on fabric for them isn’t a huge deal. The problem is choosing the actual colors I want to go in there. With the gray foundation, I can add just about any other colors, and it’s overwhelming! It’s getting there though. It’s getting there.