Here it is friends, the big reveal! The overhaul of our poor sad ugly little kitchen is finally (mostly) finished!!! (for now…)
Tada!!! It’s amazing what a little oil based high gloss white paint can do for a room.
I say it’s mostly finished for now because there are a few additional things I may eventually go back in and revisit, but right now I couldn’t be happier with the changes I’ve made and I don’t plan on doing any more work any time soon. We’ll get to that though.
When I last left off, I’d just painted the backsplash, the lower cabinets had their doors back on, and the uppers were still a work in progress. I was beginning to put their contents back in the cabinets so my living room would look a little less like a canned food drive and the space was finally beginning to feel functional again. The doors for the uppers were slowly coming along in the guest room (paint, dry, flip, paint, dry, flip, one day at a time), but I was still being wishy washy about the shelves on the opposite wall. I hadn’t yet taken the plunge on the base cabinet for under the shelves, but I was definitely sure that that’s what I wanted to do. Or so I thought.
One day while I was waiting for the paint to dry I called my mom to talk about the progress in her new house and I had a big bright idea! The kitchen in her house was too far gone for a simple coat of paint so she’s had all new cabinets installed. One of the features she’s most excited about in her fancy new kitchen is the deep wide drawers she’s put in in most of the lowers rather than traditional cabinets. Drawers are supposed to be easier for storing things like pots and pans and tupperware, rather than having them all heaped into a pile in the back of your cabinets. Since the drawers can be pulled all the way out it’s also easier to find things rather than digging around on your hands and knees to find whatever might be pushed to the back.
Jealous of such a bright new trend in modern cabinet making, I wished that I could share the same benefits without the same made-to-order price tag. Then it hit me!
You know what has nice wide drawers that slide all the way out for easy access to the contents stored within? A dresser! A plain old ordinary dresser that already has it’s own top and wouldn’t need to have a countertop added afterward! In a bank of cabinets in a large kitchen a plain old dresser wouldn’t work because you’d need several of them all the same shape and size and color. For the space I was trying to fill though, it would be easy to find a dresser that was the right(ish) size and would already be finished and ready to use. The tops of normal dressers don’t really make ideal counter surfaces, but in this case I only need something that could be used to rest the occasional bowl of ingredients or tray of cookies, nothing that would ever be used as an actual work surface.
While this solution might not work in most kitchens for primary storage or counter space, I think it’s a great way to add a bit of character along with some extra storage to a blank wall in a kitchen where you don’t mind if everything doesn’t match perfectly. After snooping around on pinterest a bit, I also realized an attractive old dresser also makes a great coffee bar in a kitchen or a dry bar or buffet in a dining room. If you do change out the top for something like a butcher block, a dresser can even make a great kitchen island!
I didn’t want (and didn’t have the budget for) a brand new dresser so I took to the for-sale ads of craigslist to look for something with nice mid-century clean lines. After a few days of looking I found something that looked like it would fit well in the space and was practically being given away for a song. I carted it home in a cab after work and haven’t looked back since. It’s a few inches shy of counter height and about 10 or so inches shorter than I thought it should be to fill the space, but functionally I’m MUCH happier with it than the storage cart that was there before. I also love the looks of it to boot!
While it does have some dings and scratches, it’s in really great shape and I was able to warm up the wood and make it shine using the oil soap, steel wool, wood oil method from Manhattan Nest.
Next it was time to finally make a decision on replacing the uneven metal rod shelves that I hung when we moved in. I thought changing the shelves would be the first (and easiest) project I’d take on in the kitchen, but the options for shelving materials and brackets was overwhelming and crippled my decision making. Most of the bracket options I was coming across in my budget were either too small to support the size and weight load of the shelves I wanted to install, or were too utilitarian and unattractive for me to feel like they were much of an improvement over what I already had.
After much googling I sort of accidentally came across some simple black wooden brackets from Ikea that were just what I wanted for about half the price of most of the other ones I’d seen. I don’t know how I’d missed them before, but they were seriously perfect and couldn’t have come at a better price.
As for the shelving material, for a while I was thinking of trying to find a nice warm wood to match with the dresser I’d found. I even thought that the stain I’d originally bought (and didn’t use) for the cabinets would match the dresser perfectly. The more I thought of it though, the more I worried that the color would be just off enough to make them look strange against the dresser, and just dark enough to make that side of the room feel dark and heavy and distinctly separate from the other side of the kitchen.
So I decided white was the way to go, and I planned to get some wood from the hardware store that I’d paint with the same paint as the cabinets. When I went to Ikea to pick up the brackets though, I realized that they also had great shelves I could buy already finished without having to inhale any more paint fumes.
Another thing I stumbled on while meandering through the labyrinth that is Ikea, is a simple white picture rail that I thought I could repurpose as something entirely different. I’d been looking for a very plain and unassuming spice rack that I could mount on the wall just below the cabinets, but most of what I’d come across so far was either too ugly or too expensive or had too many shelves or was meant to sit on a countertop or inside a cabinet, rather than being mounted on the wall.
I’ve mentioned before that the upper cabinets in my kitchen are hung absurdly high, so the very bottom of the uppers hits me right at eye level. This means that the top shelves in the cabinets can only be used for things I don’t need to access easily, and the wall space below the cabinets feel like wasted space and missed opportunity.
That’s why I wanted to hang a single spice shelf in one long row under the cabinets, and from the halls of Ikea this picture rail called out to me. It’s just the right color (white, duh), with nice straight clean lines. It may be a little too long for some kitchens, but the length was perfect for my purposes. They make these in shorter spans too if you’d like to try this for yourself.
I hung it nice and high, with just enough clearance beneath the cabinets to fit some of my taller jars of spices. This way they’re sort of visually out of the way and inconspicuous, and they don’t see any bright direct light that could otherwise affect the freshness my spices.
I also changed out my knife magnet for this more attractive one made of a wood veneer with super strong magnets underneath. This was a purely unnecessary aesthetic change, and I probably spent too much on it, but I really love the way it looks and I refuse to apologize for that.
After that, the last order of business was finding a nice simple knob to put on the newly painted cabinet doors. They were all finished and hung by this point, but I knew I wanted to add knobs to make sure the white cabinets stayed as white as possible rather than being covered in smudges and dirty fingerprints. It took another couple of trips to the hardware store and plenty of time spent on the old googler before I found something I really liked, but when I did I lucked out again, finding something that was both attractive and very affordable. My favorite part is that with the white cabinets these unassuming black knobs help to make the white shelves and black brackets on the opposite wall feel cohesive with the rest of the kitchen.
With the shelves up and the new knobs installed, all that was left to do was put everything away and and start styling and making things look right purdy!
Just in case you were having a hard time remembering what things looked like before, let me remind you…
aaaaahhh… much better.
There are still a few projects I may want to go back in and do later, but right now I’m considering the kitchen to be finished. If, in a few months, I get bored and want to make even more changes to the space I’m considering adding some under-cabinet lighting, tiling the backsplash with real ceramic tile, and maybe even eventually changing out the dresser for something larger.
Even with the kitchen feeling so much lighter and brighter, I do think that I’d like more direct light over the counters for washing dishes and doing all my chopping and prepping. I mentioned before that I’d love to tile the backsplash, both for aesthetic and functional reasons, but I still keep going back and forth trying to decide it’s worth my time and money investing in someone else’s property. I also really love the dresser I found, but the new shelves came longer than I originally intended and they make it feel a little undersized visually (though functionally I still think it’s perfect and I don’t think changing it is really necessary).
I may even change out the overhead light fixture for something larger with an additional (third) bulb. Something that looks a little more attractive and a little less… landlordy.
All in all, I’m happier with the results than I could ever have imagined.
I still can’t believe what a huge change a little paint and some hard work made. It’s only a little over a month now, and I still find myself just standing in the kitchen in silence, turning slowly as I take it all in. The space feels so much bigger and brighter and more efficient and more comfortable. You already know I spent plenty of time in the kitchen before, but I have a feeling that I’ll want to be in there even more now!