Catch up on our kitchen renovation with Parts 1 and 2 of the series:
I love glamorous before and after shots of DIY projects. Who doesn't want to simply see two photos - one, the hideous, dirty before, the other the shining, new after? It's so satisfying and it takes only the click of a mouse button. Real life is not as easy. There are a million and one steps in a project like our kitchen. So many of these things are not really that noticeable, even in the "after" photo, and largely go unnoticed. In fact, it can be a kind of compliment in a way when someone doesn't notice your hard work. Just like with graphic design, you know you've done your job well when something just seems "right" and like it was there all along. This post will celebrate a few of the small but necessary steps we took in our journey toward our new kitchen.
Our countertops were a huge labor of love. After researching multiple options and weighing the pros and cons of each, we finally decided to go with oak butcher block counters from Ikea. There were a lot of reasons for our decision with the primary one being cost. The wooden countertops were a quarter of the price of the other options we were considering, namely quartz and a few other granite and marble-like composite options. Plus they were customizable because they could be stained any color and sealed in any finish. Our house is a craftsman style house, and wood plays a major part in the rest of the house so choosing wood for our countertops eventually became a no-brainer.
The trade off was that these babies needed work. We're talking layers and layers and more layers of oil-based stain and sealant. I followed the guide at This and That's blog which has become the manifesto of DIY butcher block Ikea countertops across the internet. And with good reason as the guide worked well for us. I would have done a lot of things wrong had I just jumped into this without research. The basic steps were:
- Sand to remove factory finish
- Pre-stain to prepare the wood*
- Stain with as many coats as it takes to be satisfied with the color (ours took four)
- Apply several coats of a water tight sealant to the top and two to the bottom to prevent warping from moisture. (I used four coats of Waterlox)
* And make sure that if you're using an oil-based stain, don't use a water-based pre-stain or you'll have to start all over again like I did.
With the countertops finished, fully dried, and put away, we could focus on other details, like lighting. Previously, we had a ceiling fan for the main light which sounds like a great idea in a kitchen but we actually didn't use it very often because it would make the open gas flames on the stove blow out or away from the base of our pans while cooking. So when we needed it most, when the kitchen was hot from cooking, we couldn't use it! Not to mention that we couldn't find a cover for the bulb that actually fit so for a long time we just had a single bare bulb lighting the entire kitchen - not inviting or effective in any way. It had to go.
The three other lights in the room, one above the sink, one in the breakfast nook, and one in the doorway between the built in cabinets and the pantry, also needed to be replaced, so we headed off to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore to see what we could find.
The ReStore has a ton of lighting options, most old and used, some new in the box. The great thing about it is that you can buy several parts and build yourself a custom light. We ended up finding two new fixtures for the breakfast nook and the doorway, and a bonus fixture for the dining room:
The 3-light fixture for above the breakfast table was missing its shades but we were able to use the glass shades from the ceiling fan that we removed in the dining room.
The doorway light was ever so slightly off centered, so Denny crawled up into the attic to drill a new hole and center our new fixture which resembles a mason jar.
To replace the ceiling fan light, we went with a new track light fixture from Lowe's. This gave us the option to have several directional lights for task lighting throughout the kitchen. The change from incandescent to LED bulbs made a huge difference in the overall light quality of the kitchen.
The light above the sink was a bit more complicated. Our old light had a pull chain rather than a wall switch which severely limited our design options. Not to mention that pulling a chain with wet, soapy fingers to turn on the light mid-dishwash was not a fun experience. Lights generally have a switch and if we were going to replace this light, we were going to do it right! That required a rewiring courtesy of Denny's dad, Dennis. He got up into the attic and spliced the light wire into a switch that we placed on the opposite side of the door frame from the main kitchen light.
I agonized for longer than I care to admit on the light choice for this area of the room. It's very prominently placed, and the style of this light would contribute a lot to the overall style of the room. I finally settled on a schoolhouse pendant from Amazon.
The cost breakdown for the lighting was:
- Dining room (ReStore): $50
- Doorway (ReStore): $2
- Breakfast nook (ReStore): $10
- Main light (Lowe's): $100
- Sink light (Amazon): $89
And now that we could properly see, that meant we could finish up the painting. We used three colors of pant, a blue-green for the walls called Woody Rosemary (forever a source of disagreement as to whether it's actually blue or green), a brown for the prominent beams dividing the kitchen and the breakfast nook, and a white for the rest of the trim.
The decision to paint the beams brown was a gamble inspired by the beams in our living room. Obviously, at some point, these beams would have been beautiful, rich wood like the rest of the house. But sadly they had been painted over multiple times and we had no hope of refinishing them back to their original luster. So we took the shortcut and painted them a brown that approximates the wood in the rest of the house. I'm happy with this decision, but I kind of wish we would have tried some faux-wood painting techniques or considered covering the beams with a thin veneer of wood that we could have then stained. For the price and the amount of effort, though, this was the way to go, and it really lends a nice visual separation between the main kitchen and the dining room and back door.
And finally, we come to the windows. Oh, the windows. How could two little windows be so much work?
We had planned to remove the curtains and blinds and not replace them, opting instead for open windows that would let in the maximum amount of light. However, this meant we could no longer hide the hideous state of the windows, and that their functionality would have to be addressed. They are both sash hung windows with a rope and pulley system, and the north window was missing one of its sash cords, making the opening and closing operation difficult to say the least. And the east window wasn't much better with its paint-caked sash cords and hardware. Not to mention the sheer filth all over the windows themselves.
When I finally got around to cleaning the outside of these suckers, I realized that we weren't looking at dirt on the windows. No, it was oversprayed paint which had landed in tiny, impossible to remove speckles all over the outside of the window. Enter my trusty Mötsenböcker's Lift Off Paint and Varnish Remover!
This stuff is the best. I don't even know if they sell it anymore since I bought this eons ago to clean paint in my old house. But it works like a dream.
Step 1: Goop it on.
Step 2: Wipe it off and smile.
What a difference! I can actually see the outside world now. And the light coming in is unreal compared to what we had before.
Of course, the work didn't end there. The next step was to prepare the windows for painting and to replace the old sash cords. This sounded like a simple enough endeavor. As shown in this diagram, the sash cord connects to a weight inside the window casing that helps pull the window using a pulley.
Inspired by a cheerful This Old House video, I gleefully cut the remaining sash cords and went on the lookout for the little sash weight access door mentioned in the video. Except we don't have one. The builders of our house left no way for future home owners to access the sash weights or install new sash cord. Left with few options, Denny brought out the crowbar and this happened:
In the process, we found out that we had double hung windows, meaning that the top part could move up and down independently of the bottom. Well, that was the idea anyway. By the time we had spent an hour hammering and jiggling the thing just to be able to move it down four inches, we decided that the functionality wasn't worth digging out the second sash weight and replacing the cord.
So we simply replaced the cord in the bottom half and closed the casing back up, ready for putty, sanding, priming and painting.
With the casings ready to be painted, I sanded and prepared the windows which meant removing years and years of grime and paint before finally adding back a nice, fresh coat of white.
And that, my friends, is what DIY is all about. The hundreds and hundreds of unglamorous hours spent scraping old paint, cleaning dirt, muscling old moving parts back into motion, and making things how they should be, whether anyone notices or not...