Welcome back! If you’re just showing up, you’re late. The party at my place started yesterday. Go catch up, then come on in…everyone’s in the kitchen, which is FINALLY (hopefully?) a place you wanna be.
Some of you just disobeyed the “go catch up” part of what I just said. Shame on you…the Cliff’s notes:
- Entire house renovated and furnished for under $55K
- No money, gross house
- Making decade-old Craigslist finds work over and over again
- Not yet a designer; no training or experience
- Tons of sweating out equity and DIY-ing by our “team”: My mom, her wife, my 11- and 13-year-old sisters, some very good friends, my wife, myself and one brave contractor
Now for our budget kitchen. While in school, I heard from other students a professor had taught, “you can’t renovate (truly renovate…not update) a kitchen for less than $20K.” Challenge accepted. We barely made it under that mark. Once again, I’ll be sharing all the numbers later. But here’s what we had to work with:
First impression: Barney & Friends.
This tragic little (4’x10′) galley kitchen was claustrophobic, unfunctional and apparently painted purple by a 5-year-old. Beyond it: a laundry room (8’x8′) that opened into the tiniest 5’x5′ bathroom. (More to come on that soon). I’m assuming this utility space is where past tenants shoved both their laundry and refrigerator because there was zero space for a fridge in the actual kitchen. Everything in the room was sticky since there was no hood or ventilation, so clean up was fun *vomit emoji.
Redoing this tiny beast meant saving a second round of funds, so for years, the kitchen was a lingering project. But some changes had to be made early. When we bought the house in 2012, while we were still doing permitted work upfront (windows, plumbing and electrical), it was time to commit to some long-term decisions. We couldn’t afford to push out exterior walls to really add space to this room, but I wanted to change the layout/open it up as much as possible. There wasn’t yet a design, so, we knocked out some walls (with help from our contractor) and hoped for the best. Then, we lived in it for five years. It looked something like this:
The only thing good about the kitchen during this hold period (besides the memories we made…awww) were a couple of these initial changes. We replaced the door that leads outside with a glass-panel option which visually expands the space a ton. Then, inspired by the arched entry of the dining room (bet you stragglers wish you were caught up now), we opened up the claustrophobia-inducing doorways that divided the kitchen from the adjoining spaces. On top of turning oddly-divided tiny rooms into one now “larger” space, this added an extra dose of the home’s original character. Wiring for a line of (IKEA) pendants also helped visually connect the once-divided spaces.
Other than these permitted upgrades, we basically knocked down half the cabinets to make room for a refrigerator, painted the remaining cabinets, and utilized a lot of IKEA storage solutions. Oh right… and painted the walls really gloomy colors! That always helps.
We spent five years stepping over chunks of missing floor where walls used to be and dodging jagged-edges where cabinets/tiling came to abrupt ends. But in 2016, it was FINALLY time to officially undertake this project…
The renovation in 2016, including all supplies, appliances and labor cost $18K and for this round, the team included Rick (same contractor), Katie and myself…with a friend popping in here and there (my mom was in chemo at the time, so our free-labor was called away. Excuses, excuses.).
Our DIY contributions: Anything we could do to limit Rick’s time. Demolition!!!! So fun. I took a jackhammer to the old floor tiles (and now I want to be a demolisher when I grow up). The clean up/disposal was not so fun. There was a lot of lugging along the way, but we handled it ourselves thanks to Bagster.
It’s mind-blowing what haul away can cost! I was really impressed with Bagster. We bought a $30 bag at Home Depot, filled it while it sat in our driveway, then called to have it picked up for less than a couple hundred bucks! We had to do this twice (during the entire reno), but it cost a fraction of what dumpster rentals and other alternatives would’ve. Don’t throw you money in the garbage, folks!
Adding to our DIY endeavors, Katie and I assembled ready-made cabinet boxes (not IKEA). Our contractor, Rick, secured them into place/balanced them once they were built and then we stepped back in to install every door, knob and pull (sacrificing a few additional years off our lives. Never again!).
Now, floor-to-ceiling cabinetry maximizes storage space and creates a clean, simple line where giant appliances used to jut out awkwardly. The added height (plus light reflecting off of white) makes the space feel bigger. My two cents on white cabinets: yes, white kitchens can be boring, BUT white cabinets don’t have to mean a white kitchen…it’s what I love about white (and other neutral cabinet options)—the flexibility. At the time of this renovation, I was obsessed with the idea of green cabinets, but I worried green cabinets could end up being a very pretty, but more quickly-passing trend. Since cabinets are one of the biggest ticket items in a kitchen reno, I’m unlikely to afford being able to swap them out anytime soon. Even painting (if done really well) is expensive…so, I stuck to something classic/timeless and neutral, knowing I can update the wall color and even backsplash tiles easily with each passing whim. Though maybe not show-stopping, It’s a lot harder to go wrong with white.
The cabinets weren’t IKEA, but were still incredibly affordable (we got the through Cabinet City). I’m pretty sure they’re from China and I have mixed reviews as far as the quality. Now three years later, they still look great! But what made them extra affordable is we did pickups from the warehouse ourselves, so we saved on shipping costs. I can’t tell you how many times we had to make a lengthy drive back and forth swapping out door faces that turned out to be juuuuust warped enough not to close. There’s one door that still has a tiny gap when closed because after two exchanges, we finally gave up. If we had been dealing with shipping back and forth, I can’t imagine how far behind our project would’ve run. Still, I love that these are real wood and the paint finish/shaker detail feel high-quality (and is easy to clean). I’d rate the quality higher than IKEA.
We added lower cabinets/countertop space, wrapping them around the corner into the former laundry room…which now serves as a bar (pro tip: in any design, whiskey bar = must have). The space still also functions as a utility room, with 24-inch counter-height electric washer/dryer. It’s surprisingly hard to find non-massive washing units in the US and it required installing a 220V for an additional $600. (Are they making this size in an affordable, gas option yet??) I did a TON of research for these because opinions of electric washer/dryers were low…but we love this pair and are so happy they don’t consume more of the very limited space.
Our appliances were sourced from all over (Craigslist included OF COURSE…new Bosch dishwasher score!). All machines are as compact as possible to avoid projecting into the 3-foot wide walking path (and to maximize storage). Instead of going deep or wide with the fridge, we utilized height to gain additional cubic feet (13 in total?). Enough space? For sure. If Katie and I had a child (in theory…not in the works), we’d keep this fridge. If we had two (god help this imaginary us), probably not. (Quick shout out to Ashleigh Ninos of Nino Studios before moving on; she created that small white artwork on the bottom shelf.)
The white tile (on the other side of the kitchen) was chosen because it’s classic and the original tile was square, so it’s a nod. The backsplash tile here was chosen as a nod to the home’s Mediterranean soul and by 2016, I was into the graphic simplicity of black and white. We kept the original nook and extended the wood flooring to make it feel bigger by unifying the rooms.
- I wouldn’t change a thing about what we DIYed. It was all doable, but if you’re headed toward the same boat, expect a breakdown or two. It’s overwhelming, especially when you’re eating from a fridge in your living room while dodging giant boxes of dust-covered “inventory.”
- Despite the mentioned frustration, I’d source from Cabinet City again over IKEA. But that’s only because I live close enough to assess in person/make exchanges in a timely manner. Now, if I could afford to have custom doors made for an IKEA base (which I definitely couldn’t at the time), I’d splurge for that.
- Engineered countertops are my friends. On our budget, natural stone (though gorgeous) wasn’t an option. But, engineered quartz (along with the porcelain in my basement kitchen) can be simple, clean and pretty PLUS so user-friendly! I don’t personally mind this “faux” option. But take a careful look if you’re choosing a faux stone with veining… laser-printed veining can look super cheap super fast. Proceed with caution.
- I regret cheap plumbing fixtures! The sink faucet is a China buy (eBay) and it will NOT stop spinning/wiggling due to cheap hardware/threading that won’t fasten tightly enough to stay put. Spoiler: This “save” didn’t serve me well in the bathroom either (stay tuned for that tomorrow).
- Affordable cabinet hardware can be good. These knobs are heavy, print-resistant and cost a fraction of what I was finding in my research. I worried they’d feel cheap. They don’t.
Before we get to the budget, let’s look at just a few satisfying side-by-side before and afters:
Ahh, that feels good. Now! The numbers! Here’s how it all broke down. Full disclosure, a small portion of the general reno cost went toward the original kitchen changes in 2012, so add a couple thousand for that…but still, we are standing right at $20K. (Come back tomorrow to join me in the bedroom and bathroom…warning there’s only one bath in this bungalow, so get your tickets now. We’ll be wrapping this party up tomorrow!)
*that are still available, because it’s been three years
***photography by Veronica Crawford