Whisk & Hammer

I want to do something a little different today.
There will be no recipe in this post. No mouthwatering food photos.

I recently made a little change to my logo, maybe you noticed? (up top ^^^)
Anyway, it got me to thinking about what my humble little logo is meant to represent. Brace yourself. I’m about to start rambling.

When I started Brooklyn Homemaker I knew that I wanted to talk about food, like, a lot, because I love food and I’ve always spent a lot of my time cooking food and eating food and thinking about food and talking about food.

Food isn’t my only love though. I also love good interior (and exterior) design, home decor, home restoration projects, and DIY. I spend more hours than I’d like to admit reading home improvement blogs and building my dream home on Pinterest. I’ve put a significant investment in time and money fixing up our current space, and I’ve spent even more time dreaming about what more I could do. Nothing would make me happier than eventually buying and fixing up my own home somewhere, but that’s likely a long way off.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tour

When I was just getting started with this blog, I wanted my interest in design and DIY to play a part in the subject matter here right along with the recipes and food porn. Way back when, I did publish a handful of posts talking about our apartment and our garden, but for the most part, the bulk of my time and energy has gone into the food aspect of this “lifestyle” blog.

I’m incredibly self critical, and when I first started doing this whole blogging thing my photography had an amateurish quality that I just couldn’t deal with, even though I knew that I was in fact an amateur and just needed time to learn the ropes. With self improvement in mind, I focused most of my energy on food photography and teaching myself about my camera settings, white balance, photo editing, lighting, food styling, prop collecting, blah blah blah. While I know I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go, I’m finally pretty happy with the way things have been looking around here.

While food will likely always be the main focus of Brooklyn Homemaker, I think I might be ready to bring just a little bit more hammer into the experience.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tour

I’ve said this before, but the bulk of the work needed in our apartment was done in the first few weeks after (and even before) we moved in, back before I called myself a blogger. We painted every surface in the joint back then, because just before we moved in the landlord found the least expensive, most incapable numbskulls he could, to do the worst paint job I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m actually pretty certain that they didn’t even use actual paint, but only primer, to slap up a patchy uneven coat without bothering to first remove any thumbtacks or patch any nail holes. We arranged the lease so that we could get our keys two weeks before moving in, just to give ourselves time to scrape the primer splatters off the hardwood floors, patch the swiss cheese drywall, and put some actual paint on the walls and ceilings.

Even with all the work we’ve already done, one space that I’ve never really been happy with is our kitchen. Over a year ago I repainted the backsplash with chalkboard paint in an attempt to make the space feel a little more chic and modern, and for a while I was happy with the change, but it wasn’t enough and I still kind of hate that room.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tour

As tiny as it is, space isn’t really the issue. I actually kind of like a tight kitchen because everything is within reach. The real issue in there (for me) is cosmetic. I hate the cabinets. The finish on them is super yellow, and they take up so much of the wall surface that they tend to cast a yellow tint on everything else. The countertops are also horrible, made of a cheap faux granite laminate that has swelled and warped at the seams near the sink where water has gotten underneath them. I’d also love to have a real tile backsplash instead of the chalkboard painted surface that looks okay but as an actual backsplash isn’t really all that functional or easily cleaned.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tour

Our landlord truly doesn’t give half a crap what we do in here as long as we pay rent every month, so I’m fortunate enough to be able to realistically dream about doing more. Whatever I do in there will be done to a much higher standard than he would do himself anyway, because I care much more about the quality and longevity of our living space than he does or ever will. The only thing that’s stopped me so far is the thought of putting time and equity into someone else’s property.

We’ve lived here for about four years, and since our apartment is rent stabilized, we’re realistically not going anywhere for a good long time. In the name of comfort and standard of living, I think I’ve finally accepted that putting a few more bucks into our apartment is worth it to me to make us feel more at home.

While my plans are still unclear and I’m not actually tackling any projects just yet, I wanted to discuss my thoughts with all of you today.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tour

The first thing, and probably the cheapest and easiest, I’d like to do is replace the cheap Ikea shelves we installed when we moved in with something more solid. The current metal rod shelves have an uneven surface that’s resulted in more than a few broken jars. There’s also plenty of room to the right for them to extend at least another foot.

I’m also thinking about trying to find an actual base cabinet to put in instead of the small rolling cart under the shelves. I’m hoping I might be able to find something sturdy and cheap on craigslist or something, but Home Depot has unfinished options that I consider to be in my price range too so I may just go that route.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tour

I’d also really like to paint our kitchen cabinets. It’d be a a lot of work because I’d want to do it right and wash, strip, sand, prime, and paint them with an oil based lacquer that would wear well, clean easily, and be water and stain resistant. I cannot decide if I’d want to paint them all white or if I might go two tone with grey cabinets on the bottom and white uppers. I think all white could look more classic and potentially less “trendy”, but I think grey base cabinets look very stylish and would probably be easier to keep looking clean. I think some decent under cabinet lighting would probably be a good idea at some point too.

I also think I would like to tile my backsplash and cover up the chalkboard paint. White subway tiles are timeless and classic, easy to install, and can be bought for a song. My only worry is that they’d look out of place butted up against our horrible countertops.

Oh the countertops. This is where I’m totally freaking clueless. What I’d like to do, vs. what I actually feel comfortable spending on someone else’s property are two entirely different things. Even the tiny amount of counter space we have works out to several hundreds of dollars to replace if we went with solid surface stone, so I think that’s definitely out. But what should I do? Just deal with them as is? Replacing them with wood is more affordable than stone, but I worry about how it’d hold up around the sink. I’ve thought about doing some kind of DIY stainless steel or copper countertops, but I don’t have the right tools and they’d be just as significant an investment as the countertop materials themselves. I’ve also seen some great DIY concrete skim-coated countertop tutorials that look easy enough but I question their durability. These countertops are definitely the biggest mental stumbling block I run into when I try to reimagine our kitchen as it’s best possible self.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tour

What do you think about all this?

Should I quit worrying about the hammer and stick with the whisk? Would you like to see more DIY and decor projects, or do you think they’d muddy your idea of what Brooklyn Homemaker is supposed to be?

Should I just stop whining and live with the ugly kitchen as is? Or do you also think the kitchen would look nicer with painted cabinets? Should I go all white or two toned? Do you have any ideas on how best to deal with my horrible and past-their-prime countertops? Do you think new crisp white subway tiles would look chic, or would they be out of place and ridiculous sitting against the ugly laminate? Am I just rambling on like a crazy person who should just leave well enough alone? I desperately need your help!

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52 comments

  1. I’m still in shock! Based on the foods you’ve prepared and shown, I mentally put you in a kitchen 4 times that size. Good luck with the advice from readers. Mine is to first deal with the cabinet color. A thin coat of something will tone down the yellow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jim! I do what I can- a lot of my larger pots, electric kitchen gadgets, serving stuff, and blog props get stored in our guest room because of the lack of space, but I’ve learned how to work with the small space.
      I think that I’ll probably change out the shelving first because that’ll be the easiest thing to do without investing too much time or money- but you’re totally right. The cabinet color has got to change and I think I’m finally ready to make it happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, this is so SO exciting Tux!! I do the same thing!! I’m forever looking to fix up the house… I tend to get bored with the colors after a couple of years, so I’m forever painting! I’m taking a week off of work in two weeks, so that I can take my daughter’s old bedroom apart and make it into my own walk in closet/dressing room. I’m doing an Audrey Hepburn theme (love her)…and have been looking at Target for an inexpensive desk and chair to make a makeup table for myself!

    If you look on my blog… do a search for chili with polenta… and you’ll see a photo of the kitchen in our cabin. About three and a half years ago, we went to Home Depot and found those unfurnished cabinets that you’re talking about. I think we bought that whole kitchen for about $700… my husband found a guy who made our counter tops for about $150. Seriously, the man had this huge ring of samples… it was almost too many samples…so hard to choose! I’m telling you this, because I want to let you know that we are really happy with the quality of those cabinets. We weren’t expecting much from them, because they were so cheap…but I have to tell you, we’re there every weekend, and I’m not easy on them. I use my kitchen. The backsplash was on clearance… I can’t remember how much we paid…but it was cheap! All said and done… we did that whole kitchen for less than $1000!!

    We are currently looking into the concrete countertops for our upcoming kitchen remodel in our house… but like you…I’m not sold on them. And honestly….who can possibly afford stone? We’d have to remortgage our house and rob a bank!!

    I cannot wait to see what you come up with… and I hope that you share photos along the way. I just love that kind of stuff. And then you can submit your before and after photos with The Kitchn!! <3

    So…I do have to ask you… I've been looking at the knife magnet strips lately, thinking that I want one. I had the knife block on my counter, but got tired of the way it looks. Are you happy with that strip? Does it hold the knives firmly?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is so awesome! Good luck with your fancy dressing room! So cool!
      I’m so glad to here that you’ve actually had experience with those cabinets and like them! I’d hate to spend money on something to only find out they’re terrible quality.
      $150 for countertops is a STEAL! I wish I could be so lucky! That’s definitely the part I’m most unsure about, but I think I’ll get to work hanging new shelves and painting the cabinets before I make a decision about the countertops.
      My mom is in the process of remodeling her kitchen and found a great deal on some granite on sale at home depot- and I have so little counter space that I actually might be able to swing it, but it’s a pretty big investment in someone else’s property and I can’t help but thinking there’s gotta be a cheaper option.
      And- magnetic knife strips are great to keep your knives out of the way and off the counter. They definitely do hold the knives firmly, but I think some are stronger than others. They even have some that are wrapped in a veneer of wood with strong magnets underneath so they’re more stylish. The one I have is Ikea and I’m thinking of replacing it. It’s strong enough to hold the knives firmly but the way it mounts to the wall isn’t as sturdy and the whole strip wobbles just a tiny bit when you pull knives off of it. It’s not that big of a deal really, but I know there are better options out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like Jim said above, I can’t believe you work in such a small space, considering all of your cooking projects! *faint* That being said, write about what interests you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’ve always lived in apartments with tiny kitchens so I’ve learned to make due. My first apartment when I moved to Brooklyn was a tiny studio with this tiny Ikea kitchen “unit” that had two tiny electric burners with a micro-fridge underneath and a tiny sink to the right. No oven. No upper cabinets, just one long open shelf that I used to store my dishes and pantry items. Somehow, I managed to host dinner parties in that studio.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very impressive! A lesson I could learn for sure (in terms of kitchen “stuff” management)! What did you do for oven cooking/baking?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It was tough but I just had to learn to cook things that didn’t require an oven. I was young and single so it was easy most of the time, but dinner parties were tough- especially dessert. I made a lot of pot de creme and chocolate mousse since I couldn’t bake anything!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh the joys of tiny new york city apartments – I love the shelves with mason jars, I will have to try that! I’m pretty much addicted to HGTV and home improvement/DIY blogs – so will love seeing both hammer and whisk posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad to hear that! I’ve read a lot of online “advice” for new bloggers and most of them say to stick to one subject that you’re really good at so your readers have a clear vision of what your blog is all about, but you know what, it’s my blog and my interests aren’t so easily narrowed down! I’m glad to hear that people would be interested in reading about the DIY stuff too!

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  5. Im new to the blogging stratosphere but i totally feel you! I meant my blog to encompass the same home DIY/food and leaned to food! Id love to see how you encorporate DIY and food into your blog as a guide for myself :). With that said (i work for an interior design magazine) i would just take it one project at a time and see how it goes. I vote paint the cabinents all white (in case the gray clashed with the counters) and go from there. I feel lile updating the cabinents seems like your easiest fix and it will be a good one either way :)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love discussions like this. I am not sure how much I will join in, but I will read. I have been doing a lot to my house too. And the ‘want to’ list is big. Interesting idea about the grey cabinets. Mmmmm bright, but not so glaring to keep clean. Also neutral. Well this is going to be fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s what I was thinking Carol- grey would still look light and fresh and neutral, but those lower cabinets sure take a beating in my kitchen! We’ll see though, now I’m thinking all white might be more classic and timeless. A spill is a spill and I’ll have to clean them no matter what color they’re painted!

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  7. Home Depot has installed price for granite on special for $47 per running foot. I would pick that out first. Then you will know what colors you Should choose. One thing at a time. I get overwhelmed when I have a lot to renovate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks mom! I’d love to choose the exact same granite you chose for your kitchen, but it’s still a lot of money to put into someone else’s property. It’s a lot to think about.
      I try to justify spending the money by telling myself that if the kitchen looked the way we want it to when we moved in, we’d probably be paying a lot more in rent. So, if I do it myself I spend the money once and get the fancy kitchen I want but the rent stays the same.

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    1. Julie, I’ve totally had my heart set on a white kitchen for years, but I’ve been worried about the durability of DIY painted cabinets. I really wanted to lighten things up, but I also worry that crisp white would look weird against my pinky faux terra cotta floor tiles that definitely aren’t going anywhere.
      Your has me questioning myself all over again- and Russell and I have been looking at gel stain color options online all morning!
      Now we have to rethink our whole plan all over again! But that’s a good thing!
      Now I really have NO CLUE what’s going to happen, but I’m thinking of painting the walls a lighter color and going for a walnut colored stain on the cabinets.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Painting cabinets scare me because if they chip it looks crappy! The lighter walls would look fresh and go with anything and your darker cabinets would provide a nice contrast. A rug on the floor, and you have an entire new space. Good luck. Let me know what you decide.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. So Rambling Tux (that’s my line-rambling) how about simulated granite (countertops) in shiny black, dude! Paint the cabinets high gloss White for the love of Governor Cuomo! Use a laminate wood gray on the flooring (larger boards in thickness) for the color contrast. Keep the chalkboard back splash I love that! Be Happy! All the best. Love the post. I am serious with suggestions…Your Florida Bud. Cheryl
    PS No charge for consultation LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Cheryl! I like the way you think! I’m thinking the cabinets will definitely be painted white- but I’m still not sure about the counters. I like the idea of going with a less expensive solid surface material though. That might be my best option.
      The flooring, as much as I hate that too, has to stay. There’s just too much of it- it goes through into the hallway too, and replacing the flooring is kind of where I draw the line when it comes to fixing up someone else’s property haha!
      I like that idea though- my mom is redoing her kitchen too and she actually went with that exact same grey wood laminate and it’s gorgeous! I wish I could!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Down here in Florida they have really cool counter tops to simulate granite (a fraction of cost), from glossy, with jagged shards inlay in multiple colors-too cool. Gray, white, black. Subway tile is boringggggggg!!! I thought after you paint cabinets get some cool hardware to put on them, how about that idea? If you are sick of chalk board back splash there are millions of options at a fair cost! Cheryl
        PS No charge for further consultation_HA!
        Oh I see about flooring; glad your Mom chose the gray laminate boards they are super cool!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re so generous to waive your fee just for lil’ ol’ me!
        haha!
        I’m definitely going to have to take a trip to the hardware store to check out my options for countertops! So much fun!
        I gotta say though, I know white subway tile has been done, but I LOVE how clean and classic it looks- and I’d probably do a dark colored grout to break it up a bit. If the painted cupboards make the kitchen feel light and bright enough though, I may just leave the chalkboard.
        New shiny hardware is a must though! We’re definitely on the same page there! Haha!
        Thanks again Cheryl!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Ok so let’s recap. If you use subway (boring) tile do something radical like instead of horizontal place vertically with a dark grout! Lines up with cabinetry. Or at the end of wall (back splash) starting point do two rows horizontal then several rows vertical-change it up. Oh my this is fun. You have definitely found your mental match here. My mind can think of a trillion things to do in a small space for less cost. Stainless counter tops? The area is small Tux, don’t freak out yet! If you and Russell are going to stay there 3-5 more years do the makeover for sure! Fee waived-LOL Your Florida Bud, Cheryl.
      PS I am a licensed Real Estate Broker and have seen it all…just sayin” (yes, really)…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m so living it, Tux. You really have a great nice and I wish you can help us decorating our home too! Totally in love with your bedroom, and living room, and kitchen…well everything! I’m sure whatever you have in mind/ plan to change will look awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Painting the cabinets would be a good start. I painted our kitchen cabinets white in our rental and it was pretty painless. It changed the whole space. If you start there, you may get more inspired on the counter and backsplash. I ended up not hating our ugly countertop once the cabinets were painted. It was a whole new room.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m thinking that’s where I’m going to have to start anyway- so that’s probably the best action plan. I’ll start with the cabinets and once they’re done I’ll see what else (if anything) I feel like I need to do from there.
      So glad to hear it made such a dramatic difference for you. I’m sure that it will for us too, but it’s hard to imagine it right now!

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  11. Wow, Tux! I cannot believe you work in such a small space either. The presentation of your beautiful food is so awesome you’d think your kitchen would be the size of a small house! I for one, have been in a small kitchen, and felt like I could not function. I love and need counter space!! :)
    Having fixed up a kitchen in the past, I do not recommend white. We redid our nasty grease coated doo-doo brown (excuse the French) cabinets years ago in our townhouse. After burning up one sander from over use, we finally got all the old finish off. Getting inside nooks and crannies is a nightmare. Not to mention getting a smooth coat of paint across the flat surfaces. It took forever, but was well worth the effort. I only discourage white because even if you have knobs on the doors, they still get dirty from opening them. I used to keep a small jar of pant and had to retouch from where a fingernail (I have no fingernails, so it doesn’t take much) would bite into the paint around the knob. I think I have seen applications that do not require as much labor to resurface cabinets on Pinterest and various places on the web. Perhaps there is a better alternative to sanding, cleaning and repainting out there…
    We created a space that needing another cabinet similar to yours and we went to Home Depot also.
    That is my two cents. I really like your post and look forward to seeing what you come up with. It is your space and you have to do what makes you happy.
    If remodeling makes you happier with your kitchen, then I’m pretty sure by visiting your blog, instead of the pictures popping off the screen, the food will hop on a plate and sit down in front of the reader’s keyboard, so GO FOR IT! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Debbie! I truly love the look of a white kitchen, but I know that DIY painted cabinets are not nearly as durable as ones that are professionally painted. You’ve got my wheels spinning. I guess that was the point of writing this, to get more ideas and great advice!
      Julie from HostessatHeart mentioned that she’s used gel stain that was a synch to apply and held up well- and now Russell and I have been looking at gel stain color options and rethinking out whole plan!
      Who knows what’ll happen now! Haha!

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  12. Whisk or hammer, it’s all good! I am here for your breezy, honest writing as much as the cake.

    I completely understand your dilemma about adding value to a place that is not yours. Story of my life. We’ve always lived in rented places everywhere we’ve moved, except Houston where we have a home. When we moved overseas again after that purchase, we decided to keep it because it was just so nice to be able to make improvements that we would enjoy in perpetuity. That said, since your apartment is rent controlled, you’d be silly to move until you can afford to buy so a few upgrades that don’t break the bank would be justified. Call it a mental health expense.

    Question: Are the cabinets a standard size? Before you start sanding and priming and painting with expensive oil-based paint, it might be worth figuring out what that would cost in time, effort and supplies vs buying replacement cabinet doors at Ikea. Their plain Jane white ones are quite reasonable and look neat and clean.

    The first thing I thought when I saw your shelves with glass bottles, was “Holy crap! How do those not fall off and break?!” I’d definitely replace that, probably first before the other projects, as a wider one will increase your storage and keep your ingredients more safely stored.

    That countertop doesn’t offend me at all. Sure, real granite or stone would be better than the faux stuff but what you’ve got is not bad looking. That’s probably the last thing I’d consider spending money on.

    All in all, you’ve got a tidy, functional kitchen, Tux, where you are free to create beauty and deliciousness for friends and family. And those are the most important attributes a kitchen can have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Stacy- I’m glad to hear that you have a similar outlook on renting as I do. If I’m going to be here for a good long time, I may as well spend a modest amount to make my living space feel more comfortable. I think of it like this: If we were to rent an apartment that was newly renovated and perfect, our rent every month would be much much higher. What I want to spend in our current kitchen would probably work out to the difference between our current rent and our dream apartment’s rent for two or three months. But I only have to spend that money once, not every month for the rest of time!

      The ikea cabinet door idea is brilliant!!!! I hadn’t thought of that but it’s definitely worth checking out to see what it’d cost.
      As for our countertops- While I personally think they’re hideous, the real reason I’d like to replace them is because they’re in pretty rough shape. I mentioned in the post that they’ve experienced some water damage- but didn’t really get into the details.
      Under the laminate they’re made of compressed wood fiber- which soaks up water like a sponge.
      If you look at the last photo- you might be able to notice that the counter looks like it’s bowing under the sink. That’s because it is. There’s now a gap under the lip of the sink that means whenever I wash dishes water gets under the sink and drips on everything under there. There’s also a diagonal seam that starts in the front corner and cuts across to the back counter under our dish rack. That seam was not properly sealed and has completely warped upward in the middle and sinks in the back.
      I’m actually a little worried that we may have a mold issue or that our countertops may eventually just give out from the damage under the sink.
      As much as I think the landlord should be responsible for fixing them, A) he would drag his feet or flat out refuse until they completely fall apart, and B) He’d probably replace them with something just as shoddy or worse.
      Having said all that though, they’ve still got some life left in them so that’s probably the last step I take if I decide to deal with them at all.

      Aaanyway- that was a long comment! Thank you so much for your advice- I really appreciate it and I’m definitely going to look into the Ikea doors!

      Like

  13. You are fortunate to have a rent stabilized nest in the Big Apple, my cousin was forced into an 1.5 hour commute as a result of his rent escalating! Go for it and enter the dark side though! Going dark will make your kitchen feel larger, trust me. Worse case scenario it’s just paint and you can redo that without a dent to your budget. Paint those cabinets an inky black and add sleek gold (I adore gold in the kitchen) horizontal or vertical narrow handles. As for the counter space, its not that large so it won’t be too costly if you select a lighter more durable material at IKEA. Best of luck with that hammer…I can’t wait for my next project…it’s so exciting working with a hammer. Here is some inspiration for you! http://www.designsponge.com/2015/01/before-after-the-power-of-removing-a-wall.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+designsponge%2Fnjjl+%28Design*Sponge%29 or http://www.remodelista.com/posts/steal-this-look-a-star-london-chefs-kitchen

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