Thursday, February 19, 2015

Project [Bitchin'] Kitchen

Over Valentine's weekend, in addition to having family photos taken, treating Coco's ear infection, and dealing with Zuzu's stomach virus, we decided to update the kitchen by raising our cabinets and adding a backsplash and a shelf. Because we like to take on just a little bit more than we can handle. It's what we do.

Just to give you a quick reminder... Here's a flashback to the kitchen over a year ago, when we first moved in.

(The wood actually photographs better than it looked in person.) Then we had the cabinets painted:

That was just about a year ago exactly. So it was time for the next phase of our project.

We started by raising the cabinets. One other thing the "before" pictures don't really show is that the cabinet piece was off-center. You can see in the photo below that we split a piece of wood that had been up to the left side of the cabinets and centered the cabinets on the wall. The wood didn't fit perfectly because our walls aren't perfectly straight--they get wider toward the top (#oldhouseproblems) but we were able to caulk it to make it work (#makeitwork).

If you think the cabinets look really high, you're right. They are really high. All part of the plan!

I thought raising the cabinets would be simple--unscrew, lift them up, rescrew, right? But it actually took way more time/effort than I'd anticipated (of course!). It was a little tricky because we have plaster walls up against a brick exterior, and because the walls aren't perfectly square. We really couldn't have done it without the expertise of my dad who is an engineer/former contractor/has lots of construction experience/and is a multi-talented jack-of-all-trades, and we are VERY grateful that he was there to help us out (with only a little bit of grumbling).

We also added crown moulding to the top of the cabinet to create a more finished line. And here you can see the sides all caulked and painted. The paint is still wet here, so the moulding looks a bit brighter than the doors, but it dried just fine.

Having your dad (or at least my dad) help with projects is great because he works for free beer, but you also get some pushback that you wouldn't get from someone you just hired to do the job.

For example, we selected white subway tiles. I like the simple, classic look. I thought it would look appropriate in our older home and wouldn't be too flashy, especially considering we are still working with laminate countertops (perhaps those will be replaced in Phase 3 of the kitchen project). It helps that they are all over Pinterest and have been trending for a while in DIY blog land, but the clincher was that they are very affordable.

I'd followed Decor and the Dog's kitchen backsplash install, and I liked the look of their contrasting grout. I thought it would be a nice way for us to tie in our darker cabinets and countertops, and obviously dark grout doesn't stain if chili or red sauce splatters. I wanted 1/8" grout lines, so I bought 1/8" spacers.

Here's where my dad and I disagreed. He didn't think we should use spacers at all. (He also thought the tiles would look good lined up straight instead of staggered like bricks.) I told him that I knew what I wanted--I've only been looking at kitchens on Pinterest and in magazines and reading blogs for years. We actually ended up having this exchange, pretty much verbatim:

     Dad: This is why I don't work for other people anymore!

     Me: Because you can't handle it when they don't want to do what you want?

     Dad: No! Because they look at some pictures and think they know what they want, but they don't!

     Me: ...

(LOL. I mean, how do you respond to that? There are many things I don't know, but my opinion of what I happen to like in terms of backsplash grout is actually pretty solid.)

In spite of my dad's claims to know better than I do what I actually wanted, I was determined to have my 1/8" grout lines.

But I am actually glad that his point about the shape of the tiles made me reconsider the spacers. He observed that the tiles were designed to be slightly wider (about 1/8") in the back than they are in the front (so yes, one could, if she wanted, grout them without using spacers). This means that I would create a larger grout line than I'd originally intended if I used 1/8" spacers because it would have increased the space at the front of the tile. I decided I didn't want that, but I still overruled my dad's idea that we go with no spacers. So we'll call it a compromise... we went with 1/16" spacers.

And because he is my dad and he loves me and he knows that I'm as stubborn as he is, he obliged me and the tiling began!

After raising the cabinets, we had 30" between the counters and the cabinet bottoms that needed tiling. David also cut and painted a thin piece of plywood to cover the unfinished bottom of the cabinets. (Not pictured, but very noticeable in person).

We (ok, my dad) wrapped around the corner and did the sink side the same height--30" up the wall, but with 2" high border tiles at the top.

Meanwhile, David got to work tiling the stove side. We couldn't move the cabinets up on this side due to an air vent over the top, so this was the more standard 16" high.

Once all the tile was up, they grouted with the contrasting gray grout. I know it's a love or hate it kinda thing for many people, but I'm very happy with the contrast and really like the look for my kitchen.

We hit another tricky moment in the process when it came time to add the shelf under the cabinets. We had to drill through the tile, so once again we were really glad to have my dad here since he actually knew what he doing and I'd just watched a few You Tube videos...

David is touch-up painting the shelf here. I wanted the clean "floating" look, so we installed it by using screwing crown moulding into the tile all along the back on on each side underneath the shelf for it to rest on. We used plywood shelving [correction: MDF board] for this, so to strengthen it, we followed my dad's suggestion to add a piece of hardwood (oak [correction: poplar, because it has a less pronounced grain and takes paint well]) trim across the front. This gave the shelf its thicker appearance and helped make it sturdy. And when it was dry (finally) we filled it up!

Doesn't it look dreamy? I mean, I don't know why more magazines don't feature a Boon drying rack with breast pump valves in their photo shoots of kitchens. #keepingitreal

Here's the stove side. You can see we added moulding to these cabinets as well, even though they don't reach the ceiling. I still think it gives them a finished look.

And the other side of the kitchen. The glare from the light makes some of the grout lines look funky--the closer up picture of the shelf (above) is more accurate.

So back to the before...

And after!

And one more shot of the whole thing from floor to ceiling. The red step stool definitely comes in handy for those upper shelves in the cabinets, but we keep the stuff we use every day out on the shelf or on the lowest level of the cabinet. Some of the stuff isn't necessarily pretty (the drying rack, the mixing bowls) but we won't have those out forever, either--it's crazy to think I'll be finished with bottles and washing pump parts in just a few more months.

So there you have it! Our weekend kitchen project. It took every bit of a three day weekend, plus another day to get it all put away and reorganized, and I was twitchy by the end of it since the cabinets were emptied onto the dining room table. But I am so, so happy with the result, and very grateful to my dad and David for being patient with my demands requests. They did such great work. It really transformed the space.

And since the labor was free and my dad had most of the tools we needed on hand already, the whole project cost us less than $200. No kidding. The tiles are really affordable, grout and mortar is not very costly, and we worked with the cabinets we had, so the only additional costs were the crown moulding and wood for the shelf. Not too shabby, right? I am very lucky to have a dad who is handy and a husband who is a quick learner.

Our kitchen may still be a work in progress... we'd eventually like to replace the floor (the tile photographs ok, but it's not my favorite) and the countertops, but I'm also really happy with where things are right now.

As I said when I posted a sneak peak on IG, it's almost enough to make me want to cook!


  1. The raising of those cabinets looks complicated...

    Great work, though! Looks beautiful!

  2. Can you feel me SQUEEEEEING from California? I need to get your dad's number....

  3. lol

    it looks soooo good. I AM STILL WORKING ON MINE AND I STARTED IN DEC! lol

  4. See - you got to use your BK name!

  5. Lurker here. :) Looks great! The white tile helps to tie in and ground your upper cabinets. Love the shelf. We have trim on our upper cabinets too, I put lots of knickknacks (#dustcollectors) up there, on little blocks of wood that raises them up above the trim, but you can't see the blocks of wood.

    Look how little Zuzu is in the before pictures. Hard to believe it's been a year already

  6. Love it! And appreciate that you wrote this before we begin our backsplash this weekend! We were going to go with no spacers but now I'm torn! And I do love the look of your gray grout - it's a nice blend with your wall color (ours is a beighy gray so it could work, but I picked up "pearl" grout which should be minor with no spacers) hmmm, decisions, decisions

    Also, love the higher up shelves.

  7. Can I leave that "picture perfect" hand emoji here? Lol. Because that's what id do after seeing the after. I love it. You all rock over there

  8. Looks awesome. Do you think if I paid your dad in beer AND whiskey he'd consider it "not working" for someone else??

  9. Wow wow wow! I love it! Those shelves are awesome!

  10. This is a really nice upgrade!! You made great choices. We have the red mixer too and keep it out on the counter. I think it's pretty. We struggle with where to store bread... :-)