Dark and Gloomy to Bright and Roomy: Our Kitchen Remodel

This post was originally shared in Fall 2017 on my former website, OurFiftiesFixerUpper.com. 

When we walked into our home on the day of the open house, our first view was of the living room and the giant wall separating it from the rest of the house. Straight through the living room, we found the kitchen. Walking in, we were overwhelmed, and not in a good way! It had tan formica countertops, old dark wood cabinets, grayish-green tile floors, almond-colored appliances, and wood paneling everywhere. There must’ve been a sale on wood paneling because the whole house was COVERED in it. Not exactly picture perfect!

The kitchen was one of our first projects, because in order to live in the house, we needed a functional kitchen. In my head (and my Pinterest board) I was envisioning a light, bright, shiny, modern kitchen with white and glass cabinets, white subway tile backsplash, and carrara marble counters with stainless steel appliances and medium-toned wood floors. I honestly didn’t think that could happen- I assumed it would be way too expensive! As it turns out, saving money is one of the major pros of a DIY renovation, and it allowed us to create the kitchen I dreamed of.

Right away, we took the washer and dryer out of the kitchen and re-routed the plumbing and vent to the basement. There was a tiny space between the basement and exterior walls so Josh could fit in the new pipes and vents. After that, we tore up the tile floors (which was very labor intensive and messy), the linoleum that was underneath, and then ripped out the cabinets. At this point, we were using our bathroom for running water, our fridge was in the living room, and a table in the living room had our microwave and food stored on it. Definitely not the most fun way of living!

Once we had a “blank slate,” we laid the new oak hardwood, which we got from Menards for $2.99/sqft. The goal was to match it to our existing floors, but the widths were just slightly different; they just don’t make the “old school” hardwood anymore. We probably could’ve found some at a reclaimed shop somewhere, but we decided to get new hardwood. We laid and nailed it, and then sanded, stained, and poly’d it.

In the meantime, I was designing and shopping around for our kitchen. After a few quotes, we decided to go with a company based out of a suburb of the Twin Cities for both our cabinets and countertops. Locals- I’d definitely recommend them, so email me if you’re interested! I chose white wood cabinets with a shaker-style door, and glass doors surrounding the sink and stove. I got the hardware, light fixtures, and sink from Amazon.com. I fell in love with the carrara marble countertop and after some bargaining, we determined we could afford it. We decide to hire the company to install the cabinets and countertops, and were so glad we did, as it turned out to be a lot more difficult than we had imagined!

Next came the backsplash, lighting, and appliance installation. I chose a classic white subway tile backsplash with a very light gray grout- it almost looks white. After a lesson in tiling from my dad, who has tiled his fair share of bathrooms, I got to work- and was finished in two days! It really wasn’t hard to do, but did require a lot of attention to detail as far as leveling, spacing, and special cuts.

Although we would have liked to install can lights to brighten up the space, the majority of our walls and ceilings are plaster and would’ve been very difficult to work with. Instead, I chose bright pendant lights from Amazon. I wanted something that looked slightly rustic or vintage but still modern, and fell within our budget. I bought some LED dimmable Edison lights for all of the pendants and our dining room chandelier. Ultimately, our kitchen is plenty bright even without can lights, so we’re happy that we didn’t put a ton of extra work into something that wasn’t necessary.

To keep the space feeling “open” and to save money, we decided on open shelves at the end of the upper cabinets. We chose a reclaimed walnut barnwood board from a local shop (Rustic Revival Barnwood) and cut four shelves from it. As it turns out, reclaimed walnut isn’t the cheapest wood around, so we didn’t save as much as we’d hoped! But I wanted a warm, rustic, open feel and I think the shelves helped accomplish that perfectly. Due to the worn nature of the boards, one of the shelves appears slightly crooked even though it’s level- this was one of many imperfections I’ve gotten used to!

The final step in the remodel occurred quite a few months after we were finished with everything else in the kitchen and dining room. The house had textured plaster ceilings, and after we had ripped out the pantry and cabinets surrounding the wall oven, we were left with gaping holes that needed to be patched with new drywall. Because the plaster texture is difficult to imitate perfectly and we both liked the modern look of a flat ceiling, we decided to skimcoat all of the ceilings. We got 3 quotes, each coming in around $1500, which we didn’t love. Instead, we did it ourselves for maybe $200 total in supplies. It took a few days of thin coat skimming, touching up, and then a long day of sanding and painting, but the end result was definitely worth it, as was the cost savings- I think it’s safe to say that we finished our master bedroom AND guest bedroom for less than the charge for someone else doing the skimcoating for us!


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Author: Laura Sima

Hi, I'm Laura! I have a passion for all things home design, decor, and renovation. My husband Josh and I are DIY renovators, currently working on our 1952 home in St. Paul, MN. I hope that by following along with us, you'll become inspired to find and create the beauty in your home.

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