Well, that can of worms is officially open. We’ve started making some changes in the kitchen. I realize this isn’t totally new news, since we removed the wallpaper in there a few weeks ago, but towards the end of last week we used that little jolt of momentum to start down the path of some more serious changes.
We still want to live in this house for a nice long time (and save up some money) before we take on our full kitchen reno – we’re still changing our minds daily about what configurations and countertop materials we’d like for the long haul – but this is officially the beginning of a series of what we hope to be pretty transformative “Phase 1” improvements so that we can enjoy this room and make the best of it in the meantime (you can read more about those Phase 1 updates and why we like them here).
We had hoped getting the wallpaper out would make a greater aesthetic improvement on the space. But instead it just kinda underscored how brown, beige and blah everything is in there. The appliances, counters, and walls kinda wash together in color that certainly isn’t improved by the fluorescent light – while the dark cabinets, trim, and doors just feel looming and heavy in person. Our first course of action was something Sherry’s been ready to do since day one: remove some upper cabinets. Both of us miss the look and the functionality of the open shelves that we had in our last kitchen, so pretty much since move in day, Sherry has dreamed of swapping this long upper to the right of the window for some open shelves to lighten things up.
So Sherry unloaded everything that was in them (fortunately we’ve barely used the uppers flanking the microwave, so there was plenty of room for all of this displaced stuff), and then I could start demoing away. First I carefully pried off the crown molding with a crowbar (since I planned to reuse it) and then pounded at this header piece across the window with a rubber mallet.
That was the easy part.
Taking the cabinet down was tougher than we anticipated. We figured it’d just call for removing a few screws like the last kitchen, but it turns out these cabinets were nailed in. So instead it took lots of prying and good ol’ fashioned jostling to free it from the wall. Since it was pretty heavy I took the doors off (so they weren’t flapping in my face the whole time) and I put a can of paint on the countertop to prevent it from crashing down directly on the counter when it eventually came loose. It also saved my foot from getting smashed.
Despite some lack of paint behind it, we consider it an instant improvement. Especially when you’re sitting at the table on the other side of the kitchen. To have a clear shot of the window (which we’ll maintain with some open shelving) is really nice.
So much so, actually, that we decided to take down the small upper on the other side of the window too. We realized that would keep that wall looking more balanced and would let the window breathe visually.
The plan will be to put a pair of floating shelves on either side of the window. We actually already own a set of long white for the right side (we purchased them about two years ago with plans to put them in our last home’s sunroom, but that idea fell by the wayside and we never even took the shrinkwrap off). And they sell a that will be perfect for the left side. So even though we’ve removed some cabinetry (which we plan to reuse in the garage) we won’t be losing lots of kitchen storage.
Before we hang those open shelves, we’ve got some painting (and priming) to do to those walls first. But with our cabinet mojo firing at full steam, we turned our attention 180 degrees to another cabinet issue. This utterly useless upper cabinet that was tucked waaaaay back behind the fridge.
It was so far back that neither of us could reach it without a stool (and I’m a pretty tall guy, so that’s saying something), which is why we threw the basket up there as a lose attempt at disguising it. We wanted to move it forward to be flush with the wall so that it’d be reachable and make it look a bit more like the built-in fridges you see in modern kitchens. Like the other cabinets, I pried off the trim and shimmied its nails loose from the wall. Aaaaaaand then it got stuck.
Turns out the wall narrows slightly as you come out and the cabinet was built-in quite snugly. But with a few more pulls (and a couple of drywall dents) it eventually came out. And happily, the dents were covered when we rehung the cabinet.
The snug fit alerted me to another problem though. Since the nook narrowed towards the front, I’d have to trim it before putting it back up to get a nice seamless fit. Fortunately the overlapping part is just the face of the cabinet, so it was easy enough to shave off a quarter of an inch on each side with my circular saw. I put tape down on the edges before cutting to help discourage the wood from chipping or scratching during sawing, which worked (the tape sort of shreds itself but protects the wood).
The other problem to solve was how to hang it. It previously had been nailed to the back wall, but now that we were looking to float it about 14″ away from the back, I decided to construct two simple braces out of 2 x 4″s. They were sort of U-shaped, with the short side pieces that would be screwed into studs on both side walls for stability. That gave me a nice, long, sturdy front board into which I could secure the cabinet with screws.
I made two braces – one for the top and one for the bottom of the cabinet – so you can see the bottom one wasn’t installed yet in the photo above. I was very very careful with my measurements during this step, because if I attached the braces too far forward or back, the cabinet wouldn’t sit flush to the wall. There was a lot of measuring three times before cutting once.
Thankfully my triple-checked measurements worked out great and the cabinet sat perfectly where we wanted it. I propped it up in place with some wood, checked that it was level, and then screwed through the back of it into the braces (being sure that my screws went through the thick framing of the cabinet, not just the thin, flimsy back panel).
Not only did it look much nicer, but now we could actually put stuff in it. Functionality for the win! The last step in this project was reinstalling the crown molding – a careful process since I was matching existing cuts (of the pieces I didn’t take down) and because I didn’t have any spare pieces on hand- just the ones I had removed at the start of this project. So all it would take is one bad cut and I’d be, well, very angry at myself.
But it worked out well and I got those gaps filled. We’ll eventually be painting these, so I can do some caulk touch-ups then so they’re even more seamless in the long run. And man, it looks a whole lot better than the strange empty wall-hole-looking thing above the fridge that we started with:
I also hung the crown molding on the other side of the room so it goes all the way around again. This wall looks especially crazy right now, but with some paint and shelves and a pendant over the sink, we think it’ll be a huge improvement.
While I wouldn’t consider the space amazingly transformed yet (it’s far from that!) we think these first couple of changes are steps in the right direction. It’s hard to tell in the photos, but in person it already feels noticeably more open and less heavy.
I felt kinda silly putting “After” on that photo above because it doesn’t really deserve that title yet. And actually, there are quite a few steps in this “Phase 1” kitchen makeover before we’re ready to call it done. So here’s our Phase 1 To-Do List as we’re currently envisioning it:
Remove wallpaper Move fridge cabinet forward Remove upper cabinets on window wall to prep for open shelves
Reinstall crown molding
- Paint pantry and garage doors
- Paint walls and ceiling
- Hang floating shelves on window wall
- Paint trim and paneling
- Possibly craigslist the existing microwave and get a countertop one (the we can put in the pantry?) and add a cheap range hood (we’ve seen some for $20 on craigslist) to lighten up that wall?
- Update or upgrade the old cabinet hinges and knobs
- Paint the cabinets
- Make solid back to the peninsula (the cabinet doors aren’t functional on that side, and we think it’ll be less busy with a sheet of beadboard or nicely framed out wooden look)
- Replace florescent lights (including the one over sink)
- Replace and center the light over table
- Get a rug for eat-in area? Possibly install peel and stick tiles everywhere?
- Curtains for windows?
Lots of bullets, huh? But thankfully almost every one of these steps will also be “paid forward” to Phase 2 (for example, painting the trim and walls and ceilings and doors and replacing lights will all be things we can carry into Phase 2 of the renovation down the road as well). So there aren’t very many things we’re doing just for Phase 1 that won’t come in handy for Phase 2 later. It’s sort of like the before is the first step on a staircase, and the major reno is the third step, and Phase 1 will just act as that second step to bridge the gap and bring us closer to a bigger transformation down the line (and make us smile in the meantime).
You can also see that there are a whole lot of question marks going on, but we have faith that if we just focus on the one-step-at-a-time approach we can figure things out as we go. Oh and one thing missing from that list is new appliances (except for possibly a tabletop microwave/inexpensive craigslist range hood) which is because as much as we don’t adore the creamy oven and fridge (and as much as we know they might interfere with the final look of Phase 1) we’re trying to be smart and hold off on getting new stuff ’til we’re ready to do a full reno because that way we can stay open to future options like a wall oven, or a gas range, or who knows what else.
In addition to working around those appliances, we’re going to try to work with the off-white counters for this phase since we’ll likely reconfigure things in here down the line (so our final countertops will likely have different dimensions). Sherry has already brainstormed some colors that she thinks will lighten up the space while working with the existing counters and the cream appliances, and this time we’re not going to our default “paint the cabinets white” instinct!
Speaking of replacing the cabinets – I know a few folks have wondered why we’re not going to permanently work with these guys. We’ve talked before about how not getting new cabinets was one in-hindsight regret of our last kitchen reno. But also, these cabinets aren’t in great shape when you get closer. There are so many chips and dents and scratches and gnaw marks (??) in both the doors/drawers and the cabinet frames themselves, that despite any amount of attempting to putty and sand them before painting, we don’t think they’ll ever look flawless (and even if we got new doors, the frames are still gnawed). But the good news is that I plan to repurpose them for a garage workshop, so they won’t go to waste – and painting them will not only allow us to enjoy them more in here before our bigger reno later, but it’ll also accomplish a nice clean look for the garage when we eventually use them out there.
The other question that comes up a lot is why we don’t try doing something with our fake brick floors, like painting them like . We would LOVE to be able to do that, but our floors are faux brick vinyl, not brick pavers – so they’re one solid vinyl sheet as opposed to a grouted stone-like material. And while we’ve seen some great tutorials from folks who have painted theirs, ours already scratch so easily that we’re pretty sure it’d be a lost cause. The top layer of vinyl is so old and crusty that it flakes off when we do things like roll the fridge out or move a chair too suddenly. Boo. Update: the side of this situation is that our house was built after asbestos was phased out, so we don’t believe there’s a risk for that with the flaking floor – just extreme ugliness.
So if we really can’t take them any longer, we’ll probably do some cheap peel-and-stick tiles over them like we did for Phase 1 in our first kitchen (it took us about a day and ran us $100 but we were so happy about the difference they made for the year or so before we could afford our major kitchen reno in there).
Has anyone else opened up a can of project worms lately? Sherry’s crazy excited about it, but I’ll admit that I didn’t quite realize that taking down a few cabinets would result in a page long to-do list (silly me, after seven years of this I should know that by now). But as much as I’m bracing myself for all of the work that we’re about to dive into (priming and painting all of that trim, woodwork, and cabinetry is going to take a while), I’m kinda relieved just to be doing something instead of groaning every time that we walk into the room. Bring it on kitchen!