Budget kitchen renovation: my husband and I gave our kitchen a quick refresh while it was on the market. In less than 7 days and just for ~$1k, we were done.
I’m actually writing to you from the other side. I’m in the fiery level of hell called ‘home renovation.’ I’m kidding. But not.
As you know from my Salty Vanilla Bean Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies post, our house is currently on the market. As you also know, 60+ people walked through our house and complained about the upstairs master bedroom (which we never used as a bedroom) and the kitchen (which was good enough for me to write 3 cookbooks in, but not good enough for anyone else…#bitter), we decided to renovate. While we were on the market.
Renovating while you’re on the market means a few things: wrapping up every project in 8-12 hours just in case you get a showing request, or coming off the market for a few days. We did a mix of both the past few weeks.
I won’t share the details of our upstairs renovation. We basically turned a roughly finished attic space that I was using for my photography studio into a master suite that is actually a nice place to be! We installed central heat & air (super big middle finger at the city inspector for not catching that this space didn’t have central air before we bought it). We ripped out a defunct gas heater wall unit. We painted, tore out a closet and made it a sitting area (because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from HGTV is that people like to sit in their master bedrooms more than sleep in them <insert giant eye roll here>). And we also staged. I spent $500 on shit to make this room look like a bedroom. Things like: new bedding, a chair for sitting in <another eye roll>, an ottoman, two plants, a super amazing candle, and curtains. Phew.
But let’s talk about the kitchen. Kitchens sell houses.
We bought our current 1920s bungalow home for three reasons: it wasn’t on a busy main street (which everything else in our budget seemed to be), it has a creek next to it (which means I see trees when I look out of my windows, which does wonders for my mood), and it didn’t need any cosmetic work. Cosmetic work, meaning the house had been renovated and updated recently, even if it wasn’t to our liking.
A lot of 1920s homes we looked at hadn’t been touched since grandma was a whippersnapper. We were not looking to take on a gut renovation project. When we moved to St. Louis, I had just quit my job to work on Dessert for Two full-time, and we needed something that didn’t need a lot of work.
The kitchen was ‘done’. It was dark brown and I hated it from the first instant I saw it (but at least it had a pantry!–you can see it in the photo above on the far right edge), but for a whole list of reasons: (I live in a Union $tate, renovating was a frustrating, uphill battle that I couldn’t fight), I couldn’t have my kitchen out of commission for more than a few days. In the past 4 years that we’ve lived here, I’ve written 3 cookbooks and maintained this blog. I can’t function without a kitchen, you know?
However. It was time.
It was time to turn my Pinterest Dream Kitchen board into someone else’s reality. (Bitterness is the theme of the day).
I asked my realtor what buyers want today; she said: white cabinets, white subway tile backsplash, and granite counter tops. I threw in ‘open shelving’ because it’s what I want in a kitchen.
Before we get started, I want to explain that we worked with a licensed and bonded contractor for this budget kitchen renovation. I personally believe that people renovating themselves is what’s wrong with a lot of houses in this city. If you’re not up to date with the electrical codes, you shouldn’t be working on a house. Period.
Our relator introduced us to a contractor a few months ago that we used for a laundry list of items to fix before we came on the market. We totally clicked with him, and he quickly assimilated into our family. He is the nicest guy, and my kid adores him. Having someone to work with that you trust is invaluable. He even gave us a discounted hourly rate because we had used him so much lately.
Another thing we loved about Mark is that he was quick to pass off menial jobs to us to save us money.
He was like:
- ‘I’ll lay the tile, but you need to grout it’.
- ‘You demolish the kitchen before I come over and save me 2 hours of work’.
- ‘You paint the cabinets and walls, and then I’ll come back and touch up and install hardware’.
Knowing that Mark would be doing the hard stuff and we would just be doing stuff that we could handle under his guidance was incredible.
So, the first thing we did was rip off the god-awful fake metal backsplash. I’m not kidding when I say that every morning when I walked into my kitchen, I gritted my teeth when I saw it. I hated the color brown, I hated how thin it was, I hated the awkward wood that bound it to the wall. Plus, lately, I had noticed that after a house showing, it would be slightly ajar from the wall: everyone looking at my house was peeling it back and trying to figure out how to get rid of it. I knew it was an issue in selling the house.
Ripping off the backsplash also allowed us to rip off this extra 3″ granite backsplash. Not only is it ugly, but the wood around made me gag daily. It felt so good to take a crowbar to that bitch.
(We’re trying to figure out if the tiny cream tiles are original to the house or not…)
Anyway, tearing off that granite lip actually ripped big holes in the wall. I freaked. I sent my contract a photo at 10:30pm. He said ‘no problem, we can fix it.’ I was scared we had ruined the wall, but I knew that I wanted the counter to be flush with the wall, and was willing to take the risk.
It turns out, it was really no big deal because we had to tear down this entire wall anyway (see above photo) because it was bowed in the middle. There was no way we could tile over it. Mark stripped it down and rebuilt it with dry wall.
Then, I went to the tile store, picked up my white subway tile, a bag of thin set, grout, and grout sealer.
40 sq-ft of subway tile = $99
Thin Set & Sealer: $33
Grout & tools: $30
In the middle of demolishing the kitchen, we notice this yellow wire semi-buried and taped to the wall between the stove and microwave. Does this look illegal to you?
It is very illegal.
I’m not blaming the previous owners by any means (we’re actually friends and they’re probably reading this post..hi Dan & Megan!). The city codes had recently changed and this was no longer legal. It probably was legal when they installed it (if they were the ones that even did it!)
However, our contractor sent a photo to his electrician friend who promptly said ‘those wires deteriorate in a wall in about 7 years and then they start fires.’
Oh, okay then. Let’s fix that. And here’s my plea that I want to say: please don’t ever cover up code violations in a house. Don’t ever think you can pass on problems to the next owners, because seriously, if we covered this up (which we easily could have) and the house caught on fire in a few years and someone was hurt, we would have to live with ourselves. Take a quick google at home fires in your area and know that it’s your responsibility. It’s called being a decent human being.
So, we got delayed by 3 days because we discovered this problem on Friday and the electrician couldn’t come until Monday (of course).
But he came. For the extra low price of $160 (he was $80/hour), he removed the illegal plug-in at the floor and wrapped the electrical cords in a fire-proof metal sheath. It looks much safer now, doesn’t it?
So, Mark came back and finished the tile. My husband finished his last day of work (we were supposed to be moved to Dallas by now and my husband had already given his notice to quit at work!), he came home and grouted it. And I got to watch my former Marine husband grout tile with his shirt off. Do you know how much upper body strength grout work requires? It was a great night (for me, not him).
We were back in business on Tuesday morning, just in time for 3 showings!
At this point, I’m thinking the kitchen is good enough. I know the cabinets are still espresso brown (gag), but hey, can we please just do the bare minimum amount of work for the maximum results? The answer to that question in life is always NO.
SO. We came up with a plan. We needed to paint the wall an updated shade of white (the yellow-y beige was crumbling at the corners and needed to go…you can see it above the cabinets in these photos) and we needed to paint the cabinets. But that wasn’t enough for my husband. He’s always hated these corner cabinets (the ones with the design on them). They’re huge and bulky, so you think they’re great for storage, but they’re not. You really can’t reach anything in them. He proposed to rip them off the wall and replace them with open shelves. And if you know Blane, he will execute every idea he has. So, I agreed.
Ten trips (literally T E N) to 5 different hardware stores later, we found our shelves. However, we couldn’t find any that fit the space perfectly, and we didn’t trust ourselves to cut them straight. Mark to the rescue! He has an extensive background in carpentry and was the perfect guy for the job. (Read: he had a nail gun and we didn’t).
Also, when we ripped off the corner cabinet shelf to the left of the microwave, we discovered an outlet sticking straight out of the wall that had been installed to run the under-cabinet lighting. Shit. So, we had Mark build a mini box around the microwave to hide it. It actually ended up framing the space better, so let’s call it a win.
We used Houzz to chose paint colors, which I probably wouldn’t do again because Benjamin Moore ‘Lily White’ was actually freaking baby blue on the walls. It ended up being okay, because we needed some color in the kitchen…white walls with white cabinets would have been too modern for a 1920s house.
While my husband painted the walls in typical obsessive Blane fashion (3 coats), Camille and I painted the cabinets in the basement. No, seriously, my 2-year old painted the base coat on the cabinets. She’s surprisingly dexterous for her age, and had so much fun doing it. And after 2 days of no sleep, I needed the entertainment. I put her to bed and did two more coats on my own, and let them dry overnight.
Cabinet & Wall Paint: $190
Cabinet Hardware: $40
And there you have it. This is my all-white kitchen with open shelves. So we’re a tad over $1k, but it’s okay. It’s not exactly my dream kitchen (no island!), but it’s definitely something that I like. I really wish we did this work right when we moved in. I know that everyone feels that way when they update a home to sell it. But onwards and upwards, friends! The city of Dallas awaits us, as does my entire family.
Thanks for reading this 2000-word mess. I’m happy to answer any questions you have, and if you live in St. Louis, I’m happy to pass on our amazing contractor’s name.
I wanted to give you a rough timeline for this, but it was kinda hard. The backsplash and grout work was about 3 days. And the rest was about 2.5 days. We worked from 5am-12:30am three nights in a row. It took me almost a week to catch up on sleep. Not to mention, we did all of this work with a toddler in tow. I typically have childcare early in the week, but all of this work fell from Wednesday-Sunday (of course), so Camille was around the entire time. She was such a trooper. She went to 5 hardware stores in 2 hours with me, and didn’t complain one bit. Brian and I took turns taking care of her, but mainly, we worked before she woke up, during nap time, and after she went to bed.
Furthermore, we fully admit this kitchen needs more work. If we were staying, we would have replaced the light fixture, ripped out the microwave and replaced it with a vent hood, changed out the sink and faucet, and replaced the granite, and installed glass-front cabinets. (And probably bought nicer cabinet pulls, but hey, that’s what you get: if you want a kitchen done your way, buy the house as-is). But this has got to be enough to sell, right? Right?
Thanks for your support. If you want more behind-the-scenes stuff, I over-share on Instagram all day long.