Shopping for my first home, on my own, I knew that not every aspect of it would be perfect as soon as I moved in. I might have to trade curb appeal for square footage, air conditioning for original wood floors, or a beautiful kitchen for a respectable lot size.
Fortunately, after months of searching, I found a 1918 craftsman within my price range with a large lot and good bones. Unfortunately, the previous owners had more or less stripped all of the original craftsman charm from the house with modern updates. Tile replaced the original wood, and traditional doorframes and mouldings were replaced with boring plain edges. As soon as I got the keys, it became my singular mission to restore the personality to this old house.
The thing that irked me the most, that I could not rest until it was fixed, was the “blah” kitchen. It’s actually got a great amount of storage, is spacious for its size, and all of the plumbing and electrical has been updated. But, the previous owners installed wall-to-wall speckled granite that I didn’t even like when it was fashionable in the ’90s. The same goes for the oak cabinets that were more than a little beat up. As an amateur chef, pro hostess, and avid pinner, I knew I couldn’t cook my first meal in this kitchen until it was pretty.
Then came the quotes. Thousands to replace the granite with something white, and clean, and pretty. A few thousand more to refinish the cabinets. Not to mention the fact that I needed to purchase all new appliances. I just bought a house, so money wasn’t something I had much of anymore. Time to get creative!
Still unable to walk by the kitchen without feeling anxiety (and living on take-out), I realized that I could do something to the kitchen, without doing everything. I could improve it, but didn’t have to perfect it. This was a huge, and empowering, revelation.
I decided to redo the whole thing by myself for as little money as possible. Thank you Pinterest and HGTV for leading me to believe this was a good idea.
With pure elbow grease, less than $100 in paint and supplies, a bottle of wine, and a jazz playlist, I finished the kitchen project in three evenings after work, all the while keeping in mind that it didn’t have to be perfect, it just had to be better. The result: not a remodel so much as an upgrade that adds some style, function, and expresses my own personality.
From this guerilla-style makeover, I’ve been sharing some tips with friends who have been oooh-ing and ahhhh-ing over the extremely speedy final results. Here’s what I learned:
You Already Know What You Like
It takes folks so long to pour through catalogs, magazines, and design books with tons of different styles and options that are hard to piece together unless you’re a professional designer. I started this route, then realized I already had literally hundreds of pins on my home decor Pinterest board filled with kitchen ideas I loved.
I checked out my board, deduced trends in my own pinning, and from there was able to narrow down what exactly I liked. I thought I wanted dark cabinets, but based on my pins, I realized I liked light gray ones. I figured out that I liked neutral tones with pops of color, and I definitely wanted open-faced shelves. Who’d have thought all that pinning was actually saving me time and effort!
Cutting Corners Is Okay
I never wanted to paint my cabinets on my own. The very thought of having to paint two coats onto both sides of every cabinet door, taking out all of that hardware — I just wanted to throw money at the problem. But the thing you figure out immediately after you buy a house is that you no longer have any money.
What I learned while painting is something you won’t hear on home improvement shows. This may be a bit controversial, but you don’t have to prime and sand your wood before painting. Is it better to do so? Of course. But I work a full-time job and don’t want to spend the little free time I have sanding cabinets. Modern paint is extremely forgiving, so just go for it, just don’t skimp on brush quality. With the right brush and two coats of paint, any sloppiness or lack of prep will be concealed.
Color Does a Lot with a Little
The main problem with the original kitchen was that it was all the same weird tan color and nothing could pop. Brown cabinets, brown counters, brown tile, and brown walls. By painting the cabinets gray and the walls white, I could now throw in some pops of color that wouldn’t get washed out in that sea of brown. I mainly went with bright teals with some red, and didn’t really try to make anything match. This mix of colors in the same family gave it an eclectic feel, not an “I don’t have money to remodel my kitchen so I went this route” feel.
Show Off What You’ve Got
Sometimes constraints can be inspiring. My instinct when remodeling was that I needed to buy all new everything. New plates, glasses, silverware, decor, plants. When I looked at all the stuff I had in storage, and my budget, I realized I had everything I needed to add personality to this kitchen, without spending a dime.
I found spots for heirlooms I’d inherited, souvenirs from trips, random beautiful glass vessels I’d accumulated, and found ways to showcase them that made the space more homey and bright. I also saved money by deciding to design the kitchen around what I already had, instead of around new accessories that I’d have to buy.
Another great way I was able to showcase trinkets that mean a lot to me was by taking the doors off of several cabinets. I saved these in my garage, then painted the shelves inside. This adds a lot more character to the kitchen by breaking up the monotony of the doors, and shows off pretty bowls and cooking tools that are usually hidden. Not to mention it’s also more convenient for me when I’m cooking.
Ikea Is Not a Crime
When I was thinking “grown-up, permanent kitchen,” I was planning to not spare any expense, to buy the nice stuff for once. Then … mortgage. To acquire some much-needed basics that also helped conceal the basic-ness of my kitchen, I turned to my steadfast friend, Ikea. I found a great solid wood cutting board of generous size that helped camouflage the speckled granite. I was also able to snag an over-the-window wood shelf and brackets for less than $10.
All together, the Ikea spend came to less than $50, which along with $50 in paint and painting supplies, made for an extremely cheap DIY project.
Done Is Better Than Perfect
When I started painting, I was being super overly careful no to spill a drop, to always paint in the same direction, to make it perfect. By the end of this job, I just wanted it done and my painting became pretty sloppy. But it was done, and it looked great! Any mishaps that happened along the way I was able to clean up and go over again with another coat. You seriously cannot tell. Had I been uber careful the whole time, I’d still be painting today instead of enjoying my kitchen, that’s why sometimes done is better than perfect.