mint green backsplash

kitchen facelift project- big reveal

Here it is friends, the big reveal! The overhaul of our poor sad ugly little kitchen is finally (mostly) finished!!! (for now…)

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

Tada!!! It’s amazing what a little oil based high gloss white paint can do for a room.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

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.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

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!

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

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.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

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.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

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.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

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!

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big revealBrooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big revealBrooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big revealBrooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

Just in case you were having a hard time remembering what things looked like before, let me remind you…

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tour

And now…

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

aaaaahhh… much better.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tourBrooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

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.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tourBrooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big revealBrooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tourBrooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project - big reveal

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!

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Kitchen facelift project – progress

Remember when I asked what you thought about me sharing more home apartment improvement projects here along with my recipes?

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project

Remember when I said I couldn’t wait to get started giving my kitchen a facelift and that I would hopefully be back in a week or two with some progress and updates? Yeah. Well. It’s officially been over a month since that happened, but in that month A LOT has happened in my ugly duckling little kitchen.

Oh, and remember when I said I’d most likely kick off the whole project by changing out the shelving with something bigger and… flatter? Well that didn’t exactly work out the way I’d planned either.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen tour

After reading all the comments and encouragement on that post I was brimming with confidence and enthusiasm and eager to get started. Unfortunately, I was also really confused about what to do and how to do it. While the whole reason I wrote that post was to ask for advice and ideas, the advice I received was so varied that I started second guessing myself. Originally I wanted to paint the cabinets white, change out the shelves, buy a base cabinet and find a countertop for it, and possibly tile the backsplash. While I thought changing the shelving would be the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to get the project started, I ended up tripping up when faced with all the options for shelving materials and bracket options. When it came to the decision to paint the cabinets, a few readers said they’d had bad luck with painted cabinets chipping and wearing badly, and another (hey Julie!) sung the praises of gel stain. After much hemming and hawing I ordered a small electric sander online and Russell and I were off to the hardware store for some sandpaper and gel stain. We figured that we’d try staining them, and that if we weren’t happy with the results we could always go back and paint them white.

What I (foolishly) didn’t realize was that gel stain comes in a very limited selection of colors, most of them very dark. I wanted to rid my kitchen of the horrible yellow oak, but since the kitchen is pretty tiny and never sees a single beam of natural light, I also didn’t want to go too dark for fear of making the space feel claustrophobic and depressing. Since we were already at the hardware store and I was still riding the comment-driven enthusiasm high, I decided to make a last minute change to the plan and go with regular wood stain in medium walnut tone. Not using gel stain though, meant that the cabinets would need to be completely stripped and sanded before the stain could go on, so we added some “odorless” natural citrus based stripper to our list of supplies.

On my next day off I set to work with high hopes and a heart full of foolhardy hubris.
By about 1 pm I was cursing, crying, and having a completely adult and totally mature temper tantrum.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project

I started by cleaning and removing all the doors from my cabinets, removing all the hardware from the doors, emptying and cleaning out all of the cabinet boxes, and covering my counters with a plastic drop cloth. Since my counter space is limited, I could only start with a few doors at a time, so I got to work brushing the “natural” stipper on the first few doors and waiting for it to do it’s “magic”.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project

In my excitement at the hardware store I somehow neglected to notice where it said that a stripper remover would be needed to take the stripper off of detailed woodwork that couldn’t easily be scraped. When I went to scrape the stuff off the doors, I quickly realized that it was nearly impossible to get the stripper off of any surface that wasn’t completely flat. Maybe I’m missing something, but what’s the point of a stripper if you need stripper stripper to remove it? I also don’t think it did a very good job of evenly and efficiently removing all of the old stain and poly anyway, though honestly that may have been my fault somehow.

I was super frustrated by the stripper but I wanted to keep things moving forward and stay calm and positive so I went to get out my new sander. More bad news. As it turns out, the sander I bought requires proprietary velcro-backed sanding pads and isn’t compatible with just any sheets of sandpaper (like the sheets I bought for instance). Silly me for thinking my sander would use sandpaper. Of course the sander only came with one velcro pad, which lasted all of three minutes on one of my cabinet doors.

Another deep breath. Another “calm down, it’ll be okay” moment.

I took a few minutes to chill out and went back in to see what the stain would look like on the one cabinet that I’d been able to semi-successfully strip/sand. On the back side of the door I brushed some stain on a small section and noticed two things. A) Even though I thought I’d gotten all of the old stain and poly off, the stain wouldn’t soak in in some places, and B) I hated the god damned color.

Aaaand that’s when I had my full grown adult temper tantrum.
Even the dogs were judging me.

I decided it was time to eat lunch and regroup.

Just when I was about to throw in the towel and admit defeat, I remembered that I had a can of adhesive spray-mount in a drawer somewhere. I wasn’t sure if it’d work, but I had to sand my cabinets somehow and didn’t have anything to lose. I cut a few pieces of sandpaper into the same shape as the now dull and useless velcro pad, and sprayed the back of the cutouts with spray-mount. I pressed the new sandpaper onto the used pad and fired up the sander. To my shock and great relief, the sandpaper stayed put and totally did the trick. Angels sang as fairies flittered about my kitchen and there may have been a unicorn.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project

I still wasn’t completely sure what I was going to do, but with my cabinets half stripped I knew I just had to keep moving forward so I just kept sanding and hoped I’d have a plan by the time I finished.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project

With all the doors and boxes sanded up real good, off I went again to the hardware store, this time for paint, primer, brushes, and paint thinner. I already suspected that oil based paint was probably a better, more durable way to go than latex, but I made sure to confirm that with the man at the hardware store and was finally able to feel like I knew what I was doing again.

Now, I’m not going to go into all the details of the exact technique I used to paint the cabinets because (as I think we’ve already established) I’m no expert, and I’m sure there are already plenty of places on the internets with better tutorials than I can provide.

What I will say though is this: If you want your paint to look professional and last years, it’s important that you use a primer before painting to make sure that the old stain doesn’t bleed through and the new paint completely adheres to the surface and doesn’t chip or crack in the future. Sand well before starting, and lightly sand after each coat dries. Oh, and don’t put the paint on too thick or it could look gloppy and drip easily.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project

I applied my paint with brushes, and while I do think a paint sprayer probably would have given me an even more smooth and professional look, I’m actually really happy with my results. To make sure there weren’t drips I tried to keep doors flat as possible and did a few thin coats. I started with the lower doors laid out on the counters, and since each side of the doors needed to dry before they could be flipped to paint the other side, the whole thing took several days. Paint, dry, flip, paint, dry, flip. Meanwhile my pantry was in grocery bags on the living room floor, and the upper doors hadn’t even been touched.

Once the cabinet boxes and lower doors were done, I was ready to get my kitchen back into a state of semi-normalcy so I put everything back into my doorless cabinets. Then I decided to move the next phase of the project into my guest room (for lack of any other space to work in). I stripped the bed down to the sheets, covered it with a thick plastic drop cloth, and used disposable cups to lift the doors up off the bed so the paint could dry more evenly.

 Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project

I should mention that this is not a job that should be done indoors in the winter. I tried to keep all of my windows open for as long as I could stand, but we’ve been having lots of fun single-digit temperature days here in Brooklyn so that presented it’s own special challenges. If you can do this kind of thing in a garage or a room with big windows and doors that can be opened completely, do that.

I am not that smart, and now thanks to the help of lots of paint fumes, I’m even more not that smart.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project

Back in the kitchen, I’d set my sites on the backsplash. As much as I loved the look of the chalkboard paint in the kitchen, I have to admit that it was kind of hard to keep clean, and I felt like I should change it while the kitchen was already torn apart. While we still may eventually tile the backsplash, our budget is already tapped out by everything else we’ve done, so tiling will have to wait if it happens at all.  Since that particular wall surface sees so many spills and splashes I decided to go with an easy-to-clean semi-gloss paint. So, in the midst of all this chaos we were off to the hardware store yet again to choose a paint color for the backsplash.

We stared at a few of those paint color sample strips for a couple days before deciding on a pale pistachio/mint green. Those little strips of color just aren’t big enough to help you make a really well informed decision though, so if you can afford it, buy the little sample jars of tinted paint and try test patches.

When the color first went on the walls we both kind of hated it and I thought I’d screwed everything up yet again. I was really hoping for a mature pale green/grey but when it first went up it was reading more as “gender neutral nursery” or “baby’s first backsplash”. It was much more minty and much less grey than I had in mind, and I was totally bummed.

Brooklyn Homemaker ugly kitchen facelift project

Now that the kitchen is coming back together though, and we have art hung and things on the counter to break up all that solid color, we’re both feeling much better about it and I think it’s growing on us both. If I had to do it over again I’d choose a shade with a bit more grey in it, but I don’t think it’s worth repainting (not yet anyway) for such a small and subtle difference in color.

So, now that I’ve written one bajillion words on almost nothing, I’m sorry but that’s where we have to leave off for today. While I do have much more to share, I’m still not entirely finished so you’ll just have to wait to see the final results. I’m sorry to do you like that, I know you’re ready for the big reveal after all that drama, but in the words of some wise grandmother somewhere, “Good things come to those who wait”.

See you real soon y’all!