Painting is a Gateway Drug to Bigger and Better Improvements.

I always get into trouble when I’m repainting a room. It is such a mundane and repetitive task that my mind starts to wander and I notice other things about the room that absolutely NEED to be changed. It was this way with the kitchen. As I was repainting the ceiling and walls I started pondering things like, the cabinets could use a good scrubbing and a new finish, I need to move the cookbooks out from their cabinet storage and into a more accessible place, the possibilities of hanging a microwave over the range instead of having it on the counter are what(?), wouldn’t it be nice to have an incorporated wine rack, how can I bring more light into the kitchen, and so on. It was from here that the “update the kitchen as far as you can go without spending huge dollars” project was born.

Of course there are other improvements that also came to mind, like a new countertop, new flooring, an updated ceiling fan with a light, and a garden window. Unfortunately the budget excludes these things – for now.

Counting down from least to most impact….

#10 Clean, Paint, and Purge

And I mean clean and/or paint everything! Paint the beat-to-heck toe kick, heat register(s), and walls. Patch the holes in the walls. Take down any old, out-of-date wallpaper. Clean the cabinets inside and out; cabinet doors, frames, drawers and drawer fronts, flip the cabinet shelves (where you can), give away or throw away all unneeded items, and put new shelf paper in the drawers and cabinets. Clean out the fridge/freezer and toss anything that has expired or looks, even remotely, like a science experiment, then scrub out the entire fridge. Clean under, over, and behind the fridge and range. Clean the electrical plates. Be a cleaning, painting, purging fiend! This is long and hard work but it will set a very nice stage for the bigger and better improvements to come.

I’m sure that some of you keep up with this sort of regular cleaning thing I’ve heard so much about, however, I do not. Here are some images of the painted toe kick and heat register. (click images to enlarge) These small improvements really do make a big difference!

For the toe kick I used a glossy, Red Devil, black paint. One coat was fine.

For the heat registers, cleaning, sanding, and a wipe down, I used a spray on primer and an eggshell/satin off-white color spray paint.

Please make sure you have adequate ventilation when using spray paints. Open doors and windows, and maybe run a fan, blowing the chemical air away from the project so as not to affect the direction of the spray, of course. A mask is probably a good idea too! Be sure to use tape and newspaper to protect walls and floors from the flying paint.

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#9 Refinish Cabinet Fronts, Sides, and Doors

After scrubbing old fingerprints and gunk off the cabinet doors and drawer fronts with Simple Green, I think, I bought a can of Briwax often recommended by my friend, Caroline, and went to work shining them up. Luckily, the cabinets were not in bad enough shape to warrant a complete refinishing job involving sanding, stain, and polyurethane. Briwax does a terrific job of revitalizing old furniture and cabinet finishes. You just apply it to the wood with a cloth and rub it on with some elbow grease to make sure it shines. Adequate ventilation is advised when using this product.

The other part to refinishing the cabinets is the side panels. For some reason the people who built our house only covered the cabinet sides at about half of the cabinet ends. I don’t know if they only received boards for half, or they forgot to do the rest. Cabinet side boards? This was the best I could find in the family photo archives for a “before” picture. (click image to enlarge)

Maybe your kitchen cabinets came complete with side boards. These are thin pieces of plywood, somewhere around 1/8″ that cover the paper laminated ends of cabinets both above and below. You cannot get these thin pieces of plywood as a shelf item in stores that I know of. Home Depot, however, (and possibly other(s)) sells a cabinet resurfacing program from which you can buy these precious pieces of odd-size plywood. They are cut to size, from the measurements you provide, and sent to your house. The unfinished pieces are less expensive so I bought 3 pieces to cover the sides of the cabinets that needed to be covered. Then put on a clear stain and couple of coats of glossy poly. www.minwax.com I don’t remember how much the new side pieces cost but it was probably around $50 for all three, and well worth it.

Here’s a recent shot of a covered side panel and a lovely Briwax shine on the adjacent cabinet door. (click image to enlarge)

Just glue and clamp the pieces to cabinets. I also put a few 1/2″ nails in to be sure.

I’m really glad to have done this because one of the paper covered sides had partially peeled off. The memory of what it looked like is horrifying.

Stay tuned. Remember, we’re counting down and the best are yet to come!



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#8 Update Your Appliances

Admittedly, I hemmed and hawed about including this point in the post, because although buying new appliances is quick and easy, new appliances are expensive. Our original Kenmore appliances served us well, and lasted for at least as long as they should have, but it was time, AND it made a huge difference to our kitchen life. The energy savings and updated features were well worth the expense. Besides, as I said, it was time. The old appliances were an almond color with black trim, very stylish in the 1980s and early ’90s. The range is shown in the nest segment. Here are the new range and fridge. (click images to enlarge)

We love them.






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#7 Move the Microwave Off the Counter

Duh, right? In modern kitchens you’ll find the Microwave oven situated in a wall or in an integrated cabinet space. These preferable, choices were not an option in our 12×12 kitchen. Our Microwave was situated on precious counter square footage! Soooo, I had the cabinet above the range hood re-sized to allow enough space above to hang a Microwave oven with an exhaust. We chose a Bosch model that matches the range.

I hired a carpenter who makes high-end furniture for a local designer to shorten the cabinet by, I think 6 inches. We did lose cabinet space, and I have trouble reaching the cabinet now, but it’s the junk food cabinet so it’s all good. Below are before and after pictures. (click images to enlarge)








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#6 Let the Light In!

The wood valence over the sink had to go, along with its companion florescent light-so conveniently tucked in behind it. Bye bye also to the cloth window valence. Over Done Gone. I left the mini blind because it is unobtrusive and useful in the summer. Here’s a before picture. (click image to enlarge)

After unscrewing the wood valence over the sink from the inside of the adjacent cabinets, and taking down the spring rod that held the fabric valence we hired our best in the world electrician, Joe, to install 2 small recessed lights to replace the florescent fixture.



It’s funny, really not so much in a way, that the lights could not be centered to the cabinets because of the location of the beams overhead, but since the window is not centered between the cabinets, they end up perfectly spaced to the window. We had dimmers installed here and at the other overhead lights. Since the dining room is so open to the kitchen it’s nice to be able to block out the kitchen during a meal. Here’s the update. (click image to enlarge)


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#5 Add New Hinges and Pulls to your Cabinets

Before this little project our kitchen cabinets did not have knobs or pulls. I kind of liked the plain look back then. Nowadays I like a little more bling. I was tempted to get contemporary looking pulls but since the cabinet style is more traditional, I settled for all pulls in a transitional style (bought at Home Depot), hoping that all pulls (no knobs) would make the cabinets look more a little more modern. To mount the pulls I used a template that you can buy at Home Depot (and other places). Here’s a link for the templates- Cabinet Hardware Templates You use one piece for the cabinets and the other for the drawers. Since the cabinets and drawers had never had hardware before I had to drill new holes. It was terrifying to be truthful. I only had about 1/8″ of play so getting it right the first time was pretty much imperative. With the help of the template I was able to line them up acceptably well, although you wouldn’t want to hire me for this job. Here are picture of the new cabinet pulls and hinges.

The original hinges were an antique brass and encrusted with rust and grime. It was really easy to replace the hinges. All I had to do was choose new hinges that were the same type, except this time nickle instead of brass. The holes in the new hinges were placed differently, so I did have to drill new holes for these as well, except nobody can see them!

It was shocking to see how much of a difference the new hardware made. The effect was sort of the same as adding some nice pieces of jewelry to an otherwise plain outfit. Bling! Fine jewelry for your kitchen cabinets!



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#4 Make Your Trash Can a Pull-out

It probably sounds crazy but the minor addition of a pull-out trash can rocks our kitchen world! Again, no room in the 12×12 kitchen for a stand alone trash can, ergo, under the sink. Before the trash can slider it was a comparative headache to open the cabinet door in the traditional way and then have to pretty much lift the can out to throw anything significant into it, like vacuum cleaner bags, old shoes, massive amounts of cooking debris…you name it, it was a pain. Here is our lovely new(ish) sliding trash can cabinet.

I bought the slider at our local Lowe’s but I can’t find it online, sorry. There are several different models available. I vaguely remember measuring the inside width and height of the cabinet, and gauging the location of the pipes from the dishwasher and sink to make sure it was going to fit. The can came with the slider. You screw the frame for the slides into the bottom of the cabinet and then screw the front into the inside of the cabinet front. It cost around $40-$50. I also carefully considered installing sliding options in other cabinets but in the end they take up too much space inside the cabinet for our needs. Anyhow, awesome kitchen convenience addition! Moving on….

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#3 An Integrated Wine Rack

While this project was going on I scoured the kitchen brochures from Home Depot and Lowe’s looking for ideas. One thing most “perfect” kitchens have is a wine rack that is integrated into the cabinets. Many of these are located, horizontally above the refrigerator or vertically along the side of a lower cabinet in kitchen islands. I’ve never seen one placed like this one but it works for our configuration.

The wine rack is made of oak, like the cabinets. The boards were cut by my friends at Home Depot because of my lack of skill, (working on it). I tried to be really organized about building it and get the center boards in order by numbering the them in sequence across the rack. Tough too was getting the vertical boards to line up equidistant across the rack. I think I had to call for math genius husband help for the measurements. In the end it’s fine and serves its purpose with aplomb.

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#2 Convert Your Cabinet Door Panels to Glass

This is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done but it was easily doable in retrospect. That is, after having done it. It wasn’t until I was part way through this project that I remembered where I saw the idea. It was in an episode of “This Old House” that I slept most of the way through. Luckily I was awake during this part when they used a jig saw to remove the panels from the cabinet fronts.

Out came the center panels of six cabinet fronts. I was left with a lovely L-shaped area along the inside edge for a piece of glass and an unfortunate ridge on the inside of the frame that had to be carefully removed. Carefully, lest we accidentally shave off some of the front trim. The center panels were encased in the oak frame, in a dado, if you will. The back edge of the dado had to be taken off and not in a sloppy way. Since using a router for this sort of thing was out of the question for me at this point in time (due to lack of skill), I ended up painstakingly removing the inside edge with a Dremel and its circular saw bit. I was so obsessed with this that I came home from work at lunchtime as often as I could just to saw off an inside edge or two. Six AM, I was out in the garage removing that annoying inside edge. It really seemed to take forever!

I spent some time while this was going on trying to find clips to hold the glass in place. Finally, I ended up taking them to my glass guy, Lucas, at a local glass shop. Lucas skillfully applied silicone to the inside of the cabinets to hold the glass in place. We have not had even a hint of a problem in the 4-5 years since. I believe the cost was $5-$10 per door, depending upon Lucas’s mood that day. I took them in as they were ready so it was several trips to the glass shop.

My oh my! What a difference the glass panels make! Being able to see the depth of the cabinets and the reflection of the glass opens up the room is a huge way. I am really pleased with this outcome. (click to enlarge image)


Here’s a pic of the silicone job.







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#1 Build an In-the-wall Shelf for Your Cookbooks and Much More

At the beginning of this post I mentioned the need to create a handy space for our cookbooks. At the time the cookbooks were living in a lower cabinet. We tried lining they up on the counter but quickly put them back because they started to get food splattered on them and we really couldn’t sacrifice the counter space.

My daughter, home visiting, walked in the door and said, “Dad is going to kill you”. Using a drywall saw I was removing the front layer of drywall in a wall between the kitchen and dining room. The idea was to create shelves that recessed into the wall between the wall studs. They would stick out into the room only as far as the adjacent doorway. My building buddy, John, very kindly ripped the oak stock with his table saw so it would fit into the wall. He also cut dadoes in the side pieces for the shelves to slide into. I painted the inside drywall and used a jig saw to make cuts in the shelves that allowed them to extend beyond the frame on the left side, thus, centering the shelf on the wall. I could not be more pleased with this creation. (click image to enlarge)

My husband was unhappy about the cut-outs in the wall. In fact, he was irritated with the entire project because it was disruptive, as any kitchen project is. After everything was finished though he could not have been happier with each of the updates. Seemingly, after this project TK became a gourmet chef!



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