My Budget Kitchen Makeover

Despite appearances, I don’t particularly love to spray paint., and at 10 PM Jason would rather be watching The Walking Dead than sanding trim. The dirty truth is, Diddy was right. When it comes to renovating houses, it’s all about the Benjamin’s.


In January we put our first house on the market to "test the waters".   Boy, were we shocked when it went under contract in a week.  With a settlement date looming and a slim real estate market,  we were running out of time.  In a last ditch effort to get into a neighborhood we adored, we went to look at a house out of our price range.  It met none of the requirements on our list.  Our realtor had to twist our arm to get us through the front door.   Then we walked in and fell instantly in love.


Once our hormones settled down, it was time for a reality check.  The house was out of our price range, plain and simple.  Even if we used the money we planned on saving for renovations, we would still have to go in low.  How we decide on a purchase price could be a whole blog in itself, so I'll just say that we don't low ball or haggle.  We'll only make an offer if a house is priced correctly.  I've learned from previous experience that people who price their house significantly higher than its worth are usually unreasonable, and it isn't worth my time.  This house was priced right.  So, we laid our cards (i.e. dollars) on the table and went in with our first, best, (and final) offer.  I don't know if it was the attached photo of Grant, or the candle Jason's grandmother lit for us at mass, but the next thing I knew, we were at settlement.


After that whirlwind love affair, we walked back into the house.  In the harsh light of morning, we took a better look at her, and said, “Oh my God, what have we done?”


It was tiny. And orange.  And our renovation budget consisted of the change from my car floor.  We didn't even have that "First Time Homebuyer's Tax Credit" to blow on countertops.  Luckily we made up for it in experience.


First stop, the kitchen. In all of its-tangerine paint and carnation pink laminate-glory.


Budget-$3,250.  Where it went:

Countertops: $2,300

Cabinet Painting: $92

Nutone Range Hood: $350

Faucet: id="mce_marker"50

Cabinet Door Hardware: $50

Spray Paint: $7

Backsplash Tile: $220

Backsplash Supplies: $30


How I got the most bank for my buck:

1. Prioritize the least expensive tasks.

Before we got out sledge hammers and started moving walls, we toned down the paint colors and took out a cabinet. As often happens, the space felt twice as large without any major renovations.

2.Paint your kitchen cabinets instead of replacing them.

New cabinets are the most expensive part of a kitchen renovation. Even the ugliest cabinets look better painted. These got two coats and were hanging back up in 24 hours. Total cost-$92. If your cabinets are beyond salvageable, I’ve heard good things about Rockler Cabinets for replacement doors.

3. Use trim to bring cabinets into the 21st century.

This wasn't part of our process here, but for those of you still thinking the builder grade cabinets have to go, check out these before and afters from our first house:


Using crown molding and 1 x 4, we brought our cabinets up to ceiling height in one afternoon. Not too shabby for a $200 project.

4. Spray paint old hardware.

When you’re outfitting 30-40 doors and drawers, cabinet hardware adds up quickly. I bought $400 worth of mix and match drawer pulls and knobs at the Restoration Hardware Outlet for $50. They were an assortment of brass, satin, and chrome, and if you look closely not all of my knobs are even the same style. I spray painted them with Rustoleum’s Oil-Rubbed Bronze to get matching finishes. High end hardware for $2 apiece.

5. Tile your own backsplash.

I always use marble tile because, in all honesty, it looks expensive.  My 3 x 6 Carrera cost less than those sheets of glass mosaic, though. Admittedly, at $7 a square foot, I’m not buying the highest end marble, so it’s almost completely white. I seal it four times with Enrich N Seal, a stone enhancer that brings out the gray tones for a high end finish. White subway tile is another classic choice, at only id="mce_marker" a square foot. Check out my tiling and grouting posts for a how-to.  Total costs-$250, including supplies.

6. Replace a built in microwave with a stylish range hood.

I realize this isn’t for everyone. I’ve seen the look of horror on a few friend’s faces as they gasp, “What do you mean you don’t have a microwave??!” Well, to answer that question, we reheat in the oven. But, for all of you not living in the dark ages, it could easily be replaced with a smaller countertop model. The microwave over our stovetop was seriously cramping our style (not to mention cooking space). The Nutone range hood from Home Depot was $350 and took about an hour to install. Every similar style hood I found was well over id="mce_marker",000. (TIP: buy heavy items from stores with good return policies, online prices look great until it doesn’t fit and you have to pay return shipping on a 50 pound appliance).

7. Avoid hardware stores for countertops and nix the extras.

All the cabinet painting and backsplash tile in the world won’t make up for a laminate countertop on resale, and as much as I love the look of concrete, I don’t have the upper body strength or the patience to DIY them. So, the bulk of my budget went here. Home Depot and Lowe’s are middle men (Home Depot’s $29 a sq ft special recently turned into id="mce_marker"00/sq ft for a friend, after adding “installation costs”), so I recommend using a granite company. Often, your number one google result is supplying Home Depot anyway. Our mid-grade granite cost $65 a square foot including an undermount stainless sink.  It was an extra $300 for the sink cutout. We saved $600 by doing our own plumbing and removing the old countertops ourselves (J chopped them up with a circular saw and put them out with the trash). Instead of using the standard 4” granite backsplash, our Carrera marble runs the entire length of the wall, saving $400 and creating a sleeker finish:

8.  Budget flooring options.

This didn't factor into our budget here, but our first house was saturated with 80's rose-print vinyl.  My favorite DIY flooring choice is this groutable vinyl tile by Traffic Master. It’s about id="mce_marker".69 a square foot at Home Depot. Tiling ceramic floors isn’t a beginner project.  If you don’t do it correctly the tiles will break when you step on them (I’ve learned this the hard way), but these peel and stick tiles are so easy, even I can’t screw them up. Because they’re grouted, no one will ever know they aren’t ceramic, and you save the hassle of a wet saw.

9.  Don’t skimp on appliances. 

We were fortunate enough to have stainless appliances, but if you're debating whether or not to switch out that white fridge-go for it.  Stainless appliances get a 100% return on resale. Whether or not that SubZero fridge or Viking range is a good investment is dependent on your neighborhood, but if you have black or white appliances, a reasonably priced stainless fridge is worth the expense. If you’re comfortable with financing, Home Depot offers 0% interest for 24 months.


Here are a few shots from different angles:


I think it looks pretty fancy, until we start cooking fish sticks.  Now, back to wiping tiny, sticky hand-prints from my white cabinet doors.

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