Can-Do Kitchen Renovation

Hello, Internet. It has been a while. As I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve read my last few posts, I have been quite busy in 2015. There never seems to be enough minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in a week and so forth for me to accomplish everything that I’d like, and still remain sane.

I am VERY happy to announce that Carvel and I have been officially moved into our downtown apartment! This is amazing news that I have been waiting for over a year to be able to say. It has been a huge adjustment for us (whose idea was it to put the master bedroom on the third floor?) and even more so for our fur babies. Through that, we are loving it.

Now that we’re finished catching up, let’s get onto the topic of this post. While speaking with some of the people in our downtown community, we discussed the fact that a large reason that we have had trouble revitalizing our area is the daunting amount of renovations that are needed for the buildings. But here’s the thing; it only seems overwhelming if you stand back and look at it all at once. If you break it down into buildings, then each storefront (some are wide enough to host multiple stores), and then top and bottom, it stops looking like a horrifying task and starts taking on the appearance of a very doable project. Not to say it's easy by any means, but that it's a worthwhile endeavor. What I have found that with enough inspiration, creativity, and motivation, anything can be done on a budget.

So with that thought, I would like to share the process and the pricing on one of my favorite rooms in our apartment: the kitchen. This is one of the biggest money holes of renovations, but it doesn’t have to be. Making wise choices, and getting your own hands dirty versus paying someone else saves big bucks.

This is how our kitchen started out:

The cabinets were painted black and blue, with the inside being the original faux wood circa 1970’s. Walls: not terrible but in need of a facelift. The flooring was peel and stick tiles that had been placed over the original hardwood flooring. Although technically livable by all means, it wasn’t quite the vision I had for the room. There were no appliances, but we did have a nice sink to work with.

First thing was removing the cabinets. Easily done in one night with a drill, muscle, and a little ingenuity. One cabinet in particular really wanted to be a permanent fixture.

Next I happened across the first big money saver: the cabinets. They are one of the first things people notice, and can easily set the style for the kitchen: either taking it up or bringing it down. I wanted to stay true to the character of the building, while also putting my own spirit into it. When I came across a set of old white cabinets at the Lexington ReStore, I knew that there was some life still left in them. And look, they were on clearance with an extra 10% off. Full set of cabinets with usable pulls: $389

From here I started with a GOOD cleaning, then onto priming and painting the cabinets ($30 Kiltz Oil Primer, $25 White latex paint). I wanted to add a little something to dress up the front of the cabinets; this is where luck and asking folks for help pays off. My parents have been doing a renovation of there own, and needed 2x4’s without the rounded sides. The leftovers were perfect for me to sand down and glue onto the cabinet doors, giving them depth and a country style. Wood additions ($0).

Back in the kitchen, we started building something that I have been dreaming of my entire adult life: a pantry. Is that angels I hear singing? Yes, a pantry. This is a cost that could have been cut, but not only was it a big part of the aesthetic design of the kitchen, giving your eye an anchor as you walked in, I also really, really, really, really wanted one. Luckily for me, my father is a carpenter and all-around handyman. I did pay him for his time, and that will be added into the labor toll at the end. For now, the cost of the 2x4’s, sheetrock, and drywall mud: rough $100


Alright, we are ready for the cabinets to go up. Once again, my dad lent me a (hired) hand. Hanging cabinets isn’t the easiest task, but as long as you know the right height and where the studs are in your wall, you’re good. From here, we had a few gaps to fill with open shelving. Instead of buying the premade shelving, we bought cabinet grade plywood in 4x8 sheets. This was not only cost-effective, but allowed us to customize everything to fit perfectly. Cost of the 3 sheets needed for the cabinets and the pantry shelves: $150. Cost of crown molding: $45 Cost of new hinges and drawer rolling tracks: $36 + $49.

We needed a door for the pantry, and this is another place that the community area and asking your neighbors for help will pay off. The Winchester Federal Bank downtown in Winchester had recently changed their back double doors and had tossed out the old ones. Before they were thrown into the dumpster, I snagged the door that was in the best shape. With a little elbow grease, my mom and I were able to pop the metal off, revealing a beautiful door with a true aged patina. The other side received a coat of primer and paint to match an accent wall. Cost of pantry door: Roughly $30 for paint and primer.

Next up, the floors. This was one of the more nightmarish ordeals of the whole renovations (other than a bird being trapped in the attic, and my husband stepping through the attic rafters and into our downstairs bathroom). The press and stick tiles left an awful residue on the flooring, which I was wanting to sand and stain. Sanding did nothing but gum up my sandpaper, so after much trial and error we landed on using lacquer thinner and scrappers to get the residue up. It took about 24 man hours to do this. But it looks great now and I can barely even remember crying on the floor in a fume induced depression. Cost of flooring – (Lacquer thinner, stain, polyurethane, cost of industrial sander, small piece of my soul): $126. NOTE: I am splitting the cost of all things except the thinner between the other rooms that had their floors refinished).


Now for the countertops. I had my eye and heart set on soapstone countertops. We had a place in Lexington price it out for us at $75 a square foot. With 32 sq ft of countertops to cover, it would cost around $2,400 for countertops, plus installation. Not bad, if you didn’t have the rest of the apartment and a 3,000 sq ft commercial space to renovate, as well as buying expensive ceramic equipment and starting your own business. To say the least, we needed to cut that number by quite a bit. Another trip to the ReStore led us to 3 solid birch doors for $270 and an idea. We cut the doors to fit our countertops, used wood filler to cover the seams, stained and coated them with matte polyurethane. All together, doors included: $300. Much better on both my wallet and nerves.


Quick project that saved money: the island lighting. To rewire the existing overhead light to its own switch, and to then buy and hang lighting was going to be too much. Instead, I bought some chain, flipped a candle holder I bought on clearance at Target upside down, and added remote controlled flameless candles. Cost: $40. We also refaced the beam going across the ceiling using the backside of pine beadboard from Lowes. Cost: $20.

The last project I am going to talk about is the kitchen island. I bought the base at the ReStore (shocker!) for $30, and all it really needed was a good cleaning and a paint job, with some new hardware for a little umph. The countertop for it was the source of many debates, and we finally landed on doing a penny countertop. It’s as easy as cutting and painting a piece of plywood, cutting a small strips of wood for the side (we did birch and stained them to match the countertops), glueing the appropriate amount of pennies down ($25 worth for a 4x4 square), and mixing and pouring resin to seal. I could go into more detail, but I’m trying to just list the necessities here. Cost of the island (paint, new hardware, countertop): $150.

You also must consider the small things that make a huge difference, like the baseboards in the pantry, the cleaning supplies, paintbrushes, etc. For those, let’s round up and say an extra $100. We also bought our appliances as a set of 6 (including washer and dryer) on Black Friday last year for $3,350. So let's say $2,200 for the 4 appliances for the kitchen.

Math Time:

Supplies: $1,590
Appliances: $2,200
Labor: $600

TOTAL: $4,390

For what is revered as the most expensive room to renovate, $4,400 is a steal. This kitchen was a complete gut beside the drywall, and we did it for less than $5,000. I consider this a huge success. With all this being said, it is important to note that the electrical and plumbing had already been put in place from a prior renovation. And we had an existing floor to work with. Every building will be different and have its own challenges, but no building is a lost cause. If you have the time and ingenuity to devote to the project, anything is possible. Think about who you know. Other than being a carpenter's daughter and being born with a 'can-do' attitude, I had no background in construction or home improvement. I researched, planned, budgeted and took the surprises when they came along. Try not to set anything in stone, be flexible, shop around, and try to recycle as much as possible!


Ashley Norman

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