Let’s start off with a joke: what do you get when you combine a pregnant woman suffering from all-day “morning sickness,” three kids aged six, three and one, a small dog who is almost blind and a husband who works full time and is in a season of busy travel for work? Give up? You get the perfect time to do a kitchen remodel, that’s what you get!
Stacy and I had been talking about remodeling the kitchen for a long while. We strategized and planned on how we could make it work. We had saved and made sure we had plenty of margin for those extra costs because simply put: we don’t do debt. Finally a break came in my travel schedule with work and it was time to get started. Here’s a run-down of the project, including timeline, cost and key learnings.
We spent roughly six weeks of evenings and Saturdays plus $3,100 transforming our kitchen from an early 1980’s oak and polyurethane wonderland to its new glory. If you’ve ever remodeled your kitchen, you know that is a BARGAIN, especially considering we replaced several appliances. We did all of the work ourselves with the assistance of YouTube and some other online tutorials, as well as a little input from a couple of friends via phone calls.
I’m a woodworker and have some remodeling experience, but I am not a professional builder. Heck, my college degree is in business and accounting. I sit at a desk all day and work on a computer. But if we can remodel our kitchen ourselves and without debt, you probably can too.
Where we saved money
First off, we did ALL the work ourselves. A good builder makes good money, and rightly so. If you factored in the cost of hiring someone to do all this work, it would have cost a lot. I estimate we put 75+ hours of work into this project. Even at a very reasonable rate for a remodeling contractor, that’s a couple of thousand dollars or more.
Second, we shopped around. I called my friend Phil, who is a contractor, to ask him the cheapest place to buy my various supplies. With that knowledge, I was able to save more than half on some of the supplies vs. going to Lowe’s or Home Depot: cabinets, wire, under-cabinet lighting, counter tops, trim.
Third, I made a lot of the customizations from scratch instead of taking the easy way out. For instance, we wanted the cabinets finished to the ceiling. So I framed out the area above the cabinets and used thin plywood and inexpensive waist moulding and basic crown moulding to finish it out before painting. On the island, I used beadboard panels to make the finished backing for those standard cabinets instead of having to buy cabinets that looked finished front and back. For the toe kick, I just cut strips of cheap hardboard leftover from another project and painted them to match. It is stuff like this that saved us a bunch of money and put my woodworking skills to use without sacrificing quality on the finished project.
Last, we didn’t stop living our “normal” lives despite the hectic space and time. Stacy used her crock pot (of course), induction burner, toaster oven, microwave and some other basic kitchen tools to feed us through the time we didn’t have a formal kitchen. We set up two folding tables and used paper products to minimize washing dishes in the basement utility sink. It wasn’t fun, but can you imagine how much it would have cost to eat out or only eat convenience foods during the remodel?
Where we splurged
In 2008, we visited our first Ikea where Stacy fell in love with the Domsjo farmhouse sink. She’s never wavered in her desire for that specific sink. None of our nearby Ikeas (okay, “nearby” is a relative term) had it in stock, but we have family in Cincinnati who were AWESOME and bought one on our behalf and hauled all 105 lbs. of its enameled beauty to us.
We bought really good paint. I did a ton of research online as to the best finish for painting cabinets that would hold up well over time. We ended up using Benjamin Moore Fresh Start primer ($40/gal.) and Benjamin Moore ADVANCE waterborne alkyd paint ($50/gal). I stressed a bit over this decision because the opinions are all over the place, but I can happily give my endorsement to the ADVANCE paint for three reasons: 1) it went on really easy and covered well, 2) it leveled well and dried quickly and, 3) it cured a lot faster than the other brands I’ve used in our home over the past couple of years (Sherwin Williams, Valspar, Behr, Glidden). There are more expensive paint options out there, but there are also a lot less expensive ones.
Do you have any idea how boring it is to watch paint dry? Let’s just say it isn’t exciting at all. Everything got one coat of primer and at least two coats of paint. Stacy brushed on the primer coat and I used a foam roller to put on all the top coats, sanding lightly between each coat. It wasn’t hard work, but it was long, tedious and made us impatient toward the end. I hated just waiting.
I had a really hard time with the base cabinets. Before this project, I had never put in kitchen cabinets. Wall cabinets were pretty easy, but our floor is so out of level and working to get the spaces for appliances correct I had a fit with the base cabinets. I spent most of a day setting base cabinets when if I had called someone with some experience, I’d have saved several hours.
Summary and Cost Breakdown
Overall this project was easier than I thought it would be. That isn’t to say it was easy! I feared we would have a tough time living off the crock pot and toaster oven for several weeks. Stacy would probably disagree with my assessment, but you know what – when she baked the first biscuits in her new oven, I think it was all worth it. 😉
With the limited space available in a reasonably-sized article, I had to skip a lot of stuff. If you have any questions about our remodel project just leave a comment below and I’ll try to get more specific.