Today I write the blog entry I’ve (embarrassingly) been fantasizing about for awhile, the post on our newly renovated midcentury kitchen. We have been planning and slowly chipping away at our kitchen renovation practically from the first moment we moved in.
She was relatively functional, sure, but it wasn’t a place I wanted to spend much time in. And like others, as I grow older and try to become a culinary savant, having a comfortable cooking area has become more and more important to me. To make the space work for us, I spent months flipping through tons of magazines, pinterest boards and blog posts to figure out what would fit our space and our budget. We took it on bit-by-bit, first painting the walls and replacing the light fixtures. Then Heath spent his Christmas vacation sanding down and restaining the original knotty pine cabinets and adding new hardware, and we worked together the following spring break to remove the wood wall paneling and add more shelving and storage. About a month ago we tackled the most costly upgrade, replacing the countertops and redoing the plumbing. And to wrap it all up, last week we put in the tile backsplash, resulting in the nearly finished product we have today, 18 months after moving in.
The original tile work was not a professionally executed job. There were broken pieces around the electrical outlets and jaggedly cut tiles around the sink. So when it came time replace it, we went back and forth on whether we should do it ourselves or have it professionally installed to avoid a debacle like what we began with. In the end, we decided to take it on ourselves, a decision I’m happy with, not only for the financial implications but for the sense of accomplishment and ownership we felt when it was all said and done.
We started as all young 21st century DIYers do, watching a YouTube video on the process. We found this one to be the most helpful.
Contrary to our initial beliefs, installing the backsplash was relatively straight forward.
- If you have uneven drywall like we did, use an all purpose joint compound on the wall to smooth out uneven areas before beginning.
- Butter the walls with adhesive.
- Lay the tile and wait 24 hours.
The tiling was a lot like putting together a puzzle, frustrating at times, but marvelously gratifying when you find the right piece to complete the sequence. The corners and edges were predictably the most challenging areas to finish off, but we had a tile cutter that proved most helpful to create tiny pieces to finish off our pattern.
And installing the tile was a true team effort. We started in the middle and worked our way out to either side. Then I did the grouting and Heath did the caulking. It was couple’s team building through and through.
The tile backsplash was the cherry on top of the renovation sundae, leaving only the dishwasher and garbage disposal installation to be desired. It’s fantastic to be able to stand in our doorway today and take in the finished product that was more than a year in the making. While it’s not completely perfect, I can’t help but beam with pride at the first major renovation we conquered on our own, from the design to the execution (with a little help and support from loving family and friends). It was a long process to be certain and sometimes tested our patience, but it was also an experience we will carry with us as we continue to develop our skills and take on new challenges in the future.
Weeee! My crazy green stenciled wall was featured in a SheKnows article called “Unexpected paint colors for your living room.” It’s comforting to know there are other wannabe design dweebs who appreciate splashy color. Check it out and see what other color-lovers have done to spruce up their pads.
Notice that I said “rethinking countertops?” and not “rethinking countertops!” That question marks means I am in the thinking stage. Not in the doing or acting stage or I-have-definitely-made-up-my-mind stage.
Here’s the deal.
When we bought the house, one of the first things we thought HAD TO GO was the kitchen countertops. First off, they are hideously ugly. They aren’t even ugly in the sense that the style is dated because the tile isn’t even original ’50s tile. It was installed before we moved in by whatever out-of-touch realtor told the homeowners that people like beige and want to live in a neutral beige universe. The entire house was redone in beige. The carpets, the walls, the floors, the countertops. It was a beige nightmare. Secondly, they are poorly installed beige tiles, with uneven corners and unfinished sections. It’s bad. Real bad.
I think if you told someone to imagine a bland kitchen, they could not have come up with something this drab. Fortunately, we have picked things up a little since this photo was taken: refinished the cabinets, painted the walls and created some open shelving. Still left untouched, however, are the countertops.
The original scheme was to put in some pearly white quarts countertops (to match our Big Chill fridge) and pair it with some teal or turquoise subway tile for the backsplash. That scheme, I felt, would give the kitchen a look that’s classic (the cabinets), yet modern (the countertops) and fun (the backsplash) while still being cohesive.
The problem with this little operation, like with most things, is the price. To get ‘er done we’re gonna drop probably around $3,000, and that doesn’t even include the actual necessary must-have upgrades like a dishwasher and garbage disposal (we need a new electric box for that, which is a whole other blog post). So I’m starting to think that I need to either be really, really, really patient (which I am really bad at being) and wait a few years until I can do my upscale remodel, or I can start thinking of more affordable alternatives. (Before you tell me to be patient, I will once again refer you to photo one and ask how long you could exist comfortably in that kitchen.*)
*Note to self: you are so lucky to have the kitchen and house you have and you should probably stop complaining about it on the internet. You’ve been to India. You know what “existing comfortably” truly means, so buck up.
One alternative is to replace the existing tile with tile that’s a bit more colorful and perhaps more professionally installed. Where, say, the tilers (Heath and me) opt to actually attempt to finish placing tiles around those “hard-to-get-to” spaces like electrical outlets.
And I feel like we can’t talk about ’50s kitchen remodels without considering Formica. Come on. That’s classic ’50s business.
From what I see, it looks like (while perhaps not as crisp and upscale as my original vision) Formica or tile counters can be a really good option for homeowners on a budget. And since I’m not willing to forgo our annual anniversary vacations (to places like San Francisco, Mexico City, and this year Seattle and Portland), a budget kitchen reno may very well be in the cards. So, rethinking countertops? Or rethinking countertops!
Months and months and months ago I posted about how I have pined for a bar cart for our living room. Why? Because they are fancy and decorative and useful and classy and awesome. Allow these next few photos to demonstrate my point for me (from houzz.com).
After months of online shopping, vintage-store cruising and craigslist scouring I finally found a decent looking bar cart for less than $100. It was Etsy that came to the rescue, with a ’50s brass bar cart for an affordable $60 (versus the $100, $200 and $300 pricetags most online retailers charge). Hallelujah! My dream of being a Mad Men cast member is that much closer to being a reality.
As a belated Christmas gift, last weekend Heath mounted the TV for me. For us, this is one of those pesky projects that (in the grand scheme of things) is pretty easy and affordable to accomplish but, for one reason or another, never made its way to the top of our to-do list. Though I don’t know why, as the end result has made a HUGE difference to our GDH. Just to jog your memory, here’s what our TV setup used to look like.
And here is what it looks like today.
It’s like people actually live here now! The project took about an hour and half to complete from start to finish. That time span includes Heath putting the TV up, me deciding it was too high, and him redoing the whole project again. Plus the time it took to hide the cables and arrange the fixins’ on the dresser. So basically, I’m embarrassed we didn’t get to this DIY fix earlier.
To say the living room has gone through many iterations would be an understatement. We’ve (I’ve) changed furniture and wall colors in here so many times I can’t event begin to give you the actual number of layout switch ups (maybe 5). Fortunately for Heath, now that the TV is on the wall, we are pretty well set with our current layout, and that’s just great with me. It’s quite possible I’m close to reaching my goal of having a living room that fits the modern eclectic description I was aiming for. Of course, once I achieve that, I’ll probably decide to switch things up again to fit a more Downton Abbey-ish lifestyle. I wonder how a flat screen fits into that arrangement…
Great news! I made good on my promise (to myself) to stencil an accent wall in my living room. (Bless Heath for going along willingly with my wacky, wacky ideas for designing the house.) I started the project Dec. 15 and finished about a week later, just before the fam came down for Christmas. What timing!
Thus far I’m really loving our dizzying scalloped wall. I’ve always been a fan of bright and bold patterns on my blankets and pillows, so an entire wall of a retro and repetitious pattern is right up my alley. Since it has been up, I find myself zoning out on the couch, getting lost in the sequence of scallops.
The stencil pattern was ordered from Cutting Edge Stencils and set me back about $40. I already had the paint and rollers, so the cost of the stencil and my time was all I ended up investing on the project. So, I’d say it’s worth it to give stenciling a shot if it’s a look you’re keen on, though, admittedly it’s not for everyone. Should you give it a go, I’d recommend the following:
- Keep a level handy. I eyeballed everything, which works OK with the guide of a stencil, but as I was finishing the project, I noticed a slight upward movement of the pattern as I went along. It’s not something that’s really visible when you’re just glancing at it, but during my long stare-down sessions with the wall, I can notice the slight slope of the pattern. It’s minimal, but were I to do it over, I’d definitely recruit the aid of a ruler.
- Start at the very edge of the wall and work your way over. When I got going, i didn’t exactly start at the very edge of the wall, leaving instead a small gap between where my pattern started and where the wall started. It ultimately affected the all-over, saturating effect of the pattern I was going for, and I had to go in with my individual stencil to fill in the gaps. Start the stencil so that parts of the pattern flow off the edge of the wall so you don’t have to go back and fill in the holes when it’s done.
- Keep a blow dryer handy. When stenciling, you don’t load up the roller with paint, so the wall itself drys fairly quickly. However, when you’re layering the plastic stencil with paint, it takes a little longer to dry. So moving the stencil pattern over the wall can result in wet splotches of paint where you don’t want it. I got in the habit of using a blow dryer on the stencil so I could move through the project more quickly.
- Use a small brush for touch ups. Careful as I may be, it seemed inevitable that there would be drips and smudges as I went along. A tiny paint brush was crucial to cleaning up the oops-ies.
The whole thing took a few days to complete, but I wasn’t the most committed of painters. I stopped to bake, attend holiday parties and watch Christmas clay-mation movies…leaving only a couple hours a day devoted to stenciling. Should you choose to get your stencil on, I’d say it’s a project that could easily be knocked out in a day if you were truly diligent.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll offer a peek at the good, bad and ugly of the project.
Everyone here, dogs included, agrees the end result is bad ass.
For many moons now, I’ve been flirting with the idea of wallpapering a surface of the house. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out which wall, much less nail down the sort of pattern I wanted to lose my wallpaper virginity to. Then I got scared off by all the reasons wallpaper naysayers give for not tackling the project. Primarily, it’s not easy to put up and it’s not easy to take down. And taking into consideration my tendency to obsessively rearrange furniture and redesign my living spaces, something as permanent as wallpaper probably wouldn’t be a good fit for little old me. Stenciling though, stenciling is genius. I can get behind stenciling.
For whatever reason, stenciling seems more manageable. I mean, it’s essentially painting, and your girl has painted her fair share of walls before. It also seems to be a cheaper alternative to ordering designer wallpaper. And, if I screw it up, which is likely, it’s much easier to fix or paint over than wallpaper. So stenciling it is!
The lime green wall below is the one I’ve singled out to be my stenciling guinea pig. In the picture, it’s home to a collection of friends’ photos, but I’ve since moved those to the hallway and the bare wall has been screaming for some quirky new treatment, STAT.
At first I was toying with the idea of using painter’s tape to create some kind of geometric wall art. Maybe something a-like-a-this….
Or even better, this…
Inevitably, all that searching for inspirational images led me to stenciling, and then all bets were off. Stenciling it would be. I found Cutting Edge Stencils and Royal Design Studio to have the best collection of stencils in the look I’m after. But settling on a pattern might be easier said than done with so many cool options to choose from.
I love the modern edginess of the chevron, but also the movement and flow of the peacock pattern. Our design style is a little modern and a little eclectic, so I think after much searching, I’ve decided on the same pattern I would have been likely to choose as a three-year-old…the mermaid.
I think it does a good job of combining what it is I like about the other two patterns. The mathematical repetition fits in nicely with our modern style, but the cloud-like arches soften it, for an effect that just feels good in all the right places.
The Internets have me believing that stenciling an accent wall is a DIY project that can be completed relatively quickly, and for someone with as little patience as me, “quick” is a word to be cherished as much as “cheap” or “easy” or “fun”. Of course, when I’ve actually started the stenciling process and am growing increasingly frustrated by the painstaking attention to detail it requires, I might be singing another tune. As it stands now though, stenciling and I have a date. If you’re looking for me this weekend, you’ll know where to find me.