DIY Kitchen Upgrade

Final product first. Mostly. Some outlet covers missing. I bought my house with the intention of upgrading everything without big remodels (like additions). This is the biggest project yet and I’m incredibly happy with how it turned out! It took about 10 weeks, which is decent considering I work full-time and also took a few vacations during the reno. I don’t know why the cabinets look so green; they’re actually a warm gray (Benj Moore Gray Owl).

This is what my kitchen looked like when I first moved in. Shitshow. They hadn’t touched it since probably 1980. Hideous linoleum, fake counters, contractor-grade everything. W/D in the kitchen wouldn’t be bad if it were a decent looking set but it ain’t. This is the only linoleum picture because I had tile put in when I first moved in 4 years ago. It took me this long to get around to doing the rest.

This is what the under-sink looked like AFTER I pulled up about 5 layers of linoleum. It seems that whenever it started to look bad, the previous owners solved that by tacking on another layer of linoleum.

Amazing how a little wood will transform a space. Gratuitous foot. These are tongue and groove pieces from Lowe’s; not sure what they were intended for because they’re not flooring-grade. I measured and used circular saw to rip them. I nailed them to the cabinetry with finishing nails and used the finisher at the below link to waterproof it. That stuff is amazing for coffee tables, etc. The silver edging is actually a threshold cover, you know for e.g. wood-to-tile transitions between rooms. Looks good here though.


Carnage after removing the W/D. A few years ago, I had the W/D moved to a closet in a bedroom which is now office/utility room. So the electrical and plumbing was removed from this corner years ago and just covered up with a makeshift trash can cover. There was no backsplash before (just the curb thing), so I employed a friend to tile the backsplash. This style tile was above the stove when I moved in so I just used the same tile. He set up a wet saw in my backyard and it took him about 4 hours total to cut tile, smear mastic, lay tile, grout. I would have loved to do this myself but I don’t own a wet saw.

Expanding the cabinet space to where the W/D had been. I had never built cabinets before but I refused to hire that out. I learned some things and will improve next time but I’m generally very happy with how this bit turned out. I used 3/4″ plywood and general purpose construction screws, being sure to take very careful measurements of the existing cabinets and also the empty space so that I could fill the space and match exactly the dimensions of the preexisting frame and kicker. Once I built the assembly and brought it indoors and set it in place, I attached it to the wall on the back and side (in studs). A few shims under the assembly were required to make it exactly level with the other cabinets. Pocket screws attach it to the adjacent cabinet frame and also attach the facade to the rest of the frame. The quarter-round against the wall matches the aesthetic of the rest of the cabinetry and covers the gaps left between wall and cabinet due to wall texturing. Attached with finishing nails I used a waterproof finishing spray lacquer to waterproof the sides and back of the inside of this cabinet frame and drawer to prevent trash odor from seeping into the wood. I also had to waterproof the underside of the counter. More on that later. The main things I learned: (1) pocket screws are your friend. (2) Attach firmly to walls in multiple places. (3) Use a level every 5 – 10 seconds throughout the whole process.

This is a slide-out trash/recycling. Gif next. I have (minimal) experience hanging drawers and this was much easier because there wasn’t a counter in yet so I had much more room to work with. I knew that the most difficult part of hanging drawers would be building the drawer so that the width is within the tolerance of the drawer slides. I.e., the drawers need to be 1″ narrower than the opening in order to fit the slides, with a tolerance of 1/16″. In order to accomplish this, I mounted the drawer slides on each side panel and on the frame before assembling the drawer. Then I set the top piece where it would sit and used wood glue to attach it to the side pieces and clamps to keep everything stable while it dried. The wood glue made it mostly rigid, but I also used pocket screws to more sturdily attach the top to the sides. I later used pocket screws to attach the drawer face to the sides of the drawer. Routing these custom holes was a bitch. I traced the outline of the trash cans on the wood (with pencil; easy to sand off later). Then used a ruler to constrict that rounded rectangle to 1/2″ narrower on each side in order to hold up the lip of the trash can. By hand and straightedge, I drew where I’d want the opening at the back to go. I had a Milwaukee router that broke fairly early on in this project so I upgraded to a Bosch and I love that thing. I don’t think it works as a table router like the Milwaukee did but I didn’t use it as a table router as much as a hand router. I don’t think I could’ve accomplished this part without a router. It’s an important tool, but just as important is being comfortable with it. When I got the new one, I had to learn its mannerisms before really trusting it. A router will kick back or heat up or slow to a stop under different circumstances so it’s important to know the tool before using it on an important piece.

Unnecessary video, but I was excited about finishing it and making a gif. I ended up having to swap out the drawer slides for longer ones so that the counter lip didn’t prevent the cans from lifting out.

Demo and cabinet frame painting. The demo wasn’t too complicated. I removed the drawer faces and cabinet doors, detached all plumbing and electrical, used a crow bar and beer strength to pull the old counter off. The funny thing is that although I got it off in one piece, I couldn’t get it out the door by myself in one piece so I took a circular saw to it. Plywood and laminate rips easily. I had recently installed the dishwasher myself so it was quick to detach and remove. The cabinet frames are still in really good shape and it seems are permanently bonded to the walls of the house (1950 house). I’m glad I kept them but probably in 15 years when it’s remodeled again it’s going to have to be a complete gut. I bought custom cabinet doors at I cannot recommend them enough. Superb quality and service. Due to the previous owner’s work, I knew how bad hand-painted cabinet doors can look so I found a professional a few blocks away with a paint sprayer and studio built for that purpose. He painted them but I measured out hardware locations and hung all of the doors and drawer faces myself. A piece of paper is all you need for a template; measure out one knob exactly where you want it, hold the paper in the corner of the door, mark the hole spot, and replicate it on all other doors. The same method works for the hinges. Remember that hinge placement needs to be identical on all doors, but can vary a little on the cabinet frame because it’s not seen usually. I.e., attach hinges to doors first, then frames.

Even during demo, all coffee-making equipment must remain usable.

This is the oh-shit moment when I realized how hard it was going to be to route the hole for my undermount sink. I’m not sure how this process is supposed to go. Or maybe I do but the template that came with the sink did not fit my sink. It showed a few sink varieties but didn’t have my exact version. What worked is this: get thin / nearly translucent paper and mark and cut an original template. Transfer that template to the wood with pencil. Route the hole, being VERY conservative. This means erring inward instead of outward because you can’t back that shit out. Then slowly perfect the edge with the router and sand a lot because these edges are sink edges where your hands rest often. Don’t leave any rough spots or it will drive you crazy later.

Start by joining (not jointing) planks to fit the space. I bought these planks at IKEA and they are incredible. Hammarp Oak counter. All of the wood cost about $600 said and done. I joined them by drilling holes in the ends of each board. Then I put dowels and a lot of wood glue in and clamped the pieces together. This is where a jointer would have helped: You’d be amazed at how one small imperfection in the edge cut can result in a 1/2″ gap. I reduced the gap to as small as I could (1/32″ maybe) and then made a wood glue & sawdust potion and rubbed that shit in on top and let it dry and then sanded it. The joints aren’t perfect but unless you’re a DIYer or woodworker, you won’t notice. I also put clamps on the underside a la the link below. Then because I’m anxiety-driven, I covered the clamps in epoxy. Those bad boys should hold until the dinosaurs come back. I’m not sure what that saying means. Just made it up. I use a 50/50 linseed/orange peel mix from to keep the counters conditioned and it works really well. Very waterproof after a few rounds of conditioning. If I leave messes too long, then I have to take a knife and sanding block to it. The oak is so dense that I can sand a lot and it never becomes a noticeable indention. After sanding, just recondition and honestly it’s like brand new again.

Turns out I don’t own an 11-foot clamp so makeshift it’ll be. This is the sawdust & wood glue potion working its magic to cover any imperfections in the butt joint. Originally I covered the edges with tape to prevent spillover but I had to do so much sanding anyway that it didn’t hurt to have extra sawdust thrown in there.

I had to make a butt joint at the corner and another near the sink (underneath the painter’s tape). I’ll take it as a compliment that you didn’t notice until I pointed it out. Top-right you can see where I fucked up the first sink hole and had to start over. Luckily it only took two goes.

Some friends helped test-fit the counter at 10 pm. It was a big puzzle that I hadn’t considered before: if the counter runs the length of the room, it’s no easy task to maneuver it around doorways and cabinet frames to get it into place.

I love it. Notice the tile doesn’t come down to the counter yet. I wrestled with how to do the backplash-counter meetup for a long time. Here it is: I made the counter so that it would sit no more than 1/2″ from the wall on every side. Then I used “cove base” tiles at the junction so that there were no unfinished tile edges showing and only a slight air gap, which I caulked over. Link to cove base tile below. These were sort of hard to find, but necessary because all other shapes such as bullnose would either not cover the 1/2″ gap or would leave an unfinished tile edge facing outward.

Placing epoxy mounts to hold up the sink. This was done with very careful planning. The epoxy mounts screws on the underside of the cabinet. Then the undersink clamps are attached with a wingnut and tightened a lot. I haven’t had any stability problems. I’m a firm believer in epoxy. At this point I realized that although I’ll be conditioning the top of the counter, the underside is unprotected. I needed something to prevent dishwasher moisture or trash odor from seeping into the underside of the counter. After thinking for a few days about how to do this, I realized, “Hey! Wood glue is waterproof!” Even though I wasn’t attaching wood to wood, I could just lay down a layer of wood glue alone to waterproof the area. This had to be done while the counter was still upside down for gravity reasons. The glued area is the shiny area in this photo beneath the chisel and paper towels.

I paid a plumber to install new sink, faucet, disposal, dishwasher, and all new piping. I wouldn’t have minded doing it myself but then the real fee to pay is the anxiety of waking up at 3am wondering if there’s a leak. Plumbing isn’t my specialty so I hired it out. I used a drill paddle blade to drill the holes for the faucet and soap dispenser before the plumber arrived and boy was that nervewracking. If I was just a little off, basically the whole counter would have to be scrapped. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to have running water in the kitchen again after 10 weeks. I HIGHLY recommend the Delta faucets with magnetic head. Every faucet will lose its draw-back feature over time and this magnetic feature allows it to never look shitty. Just put it back in place yourself and it snaps to perfectly. In this pic the plumber just didn’t care to put it back after installation. The counter could have just rested upon the cabinet frame because it’s so heavy but I did secure it to the frame underneath with 5 small angle brackets that came in the packaging with the oak planks.

Aldous going crazy because he is bored with this project. People have asked so I’ll say he’s 50% beauceron and obviously 50% lab.

Before/After from outside the kitchen. I hired a contractor to chop out this wall. It involved installing an LVL beam at the ceiling for structural reasons so I didn’t want to touch it and I’m glad I didn’t. A bar-height breakfast bar in this area is just what it needed. Especially because I’m 6’2″. Often, working at a cutting board on a normal-height counter will hurt my neck and back (and 2 other things) after awhile due to hunching.

Before/After from inside the kitchen. This totally transformed the space. Totally worth the $3k to hire it out. They even did all of the drywall and texturing.

Subcontractors did a decent job of keeping my house clean while texturing. I was very impressed.

Refrigerator and electric range removed for upgrading. I had a gas range in school and I missed it so very much. I bought Whirlpool’s $600 model and no complaints yet. While delivery guys were getting the new refrigerator, I took the opportunity to thoroughly clean behind and underneath where the appliances sit.

While this was all going on, my friend’s dog ripped up my carpet. I was actually thankful this happened because the carpet was shitty so I had been waiting for a good reason to replace it. But it just had to happen in the middle of the other project. Yes, I tore the carpet out of the living room to reveal the wood but I like carpet in the bedrooms so I replaced the carpet here with carpet. Not part of this project.

I cut and installed the breakfast bar using the same IKEA Hammarp material. No butt joints needed here thankfully. Just a couple mostly-matching supports and some shims. My 60-year old neighbor actually helped me install this piece. She is the one that recommended I tear the wall out so it was fun to have her involved in the process, however small a piece. She worked the level while I sat under there supporting the bar and adjusting the shims. Then screws in studs and wood glue all over the shims and in the gaps to keep the shims in place. I used caulk all around the underside of the bar because as you can imagine, there was a significant and inconsistent gap between the counter and the contractor’s rough slice through the drywall. I then painted the caulk, but left the underside wood unpainted. God I hated how messy my house became.

Starting to look like a place where things happen. New refrigerator in. I also had LED recessed lights installed to match the living room ones. Having lights away from the ceiling center really helps illuminate the counter while you’re working at it. I picked out and planned all lighting details but I made someone else climb up in the attic because the blow-in insulation up there is awful stuff. I put in a dimmer for the overhead lights in here and a separate dimmer in the living room. This has been nice for when one person is watching TV and another is cooking. I live alone so that has never happened but I have such an imagination. These LED fixtures are amazing. The converter (AC->DC) is part of the unit so it’s a simple Red-Red Black-Black Green-Green hookup. A drywall saw cuts a hole in the ceiling and the unit mounts easily to the drywall. It doesn’t get hot so there’s no fire risk provided you don’t leave wiring exposed. And there are no bulbs to replace! Well, there’s a bulb but its life is so long that when it burns out, you just go buy a new fixture entirely. I suppose it wasn’t worth the engineering cost to make a 10-year bulb easily replaceable.

Cabinet doors installed! Here you can see the floating shelf I installed. I don’t usually like those but it fit the space here well. You can kind of see that the corner of it is deeper than the part nearer the sink. This is because it was all the wood I had left and IKEA is an hour away and I like how it looks. I put my toaster oven there (toaster oven users unite! I don’t like microwaves) and it fits perfectly so no one notices anything odd about it. I think that will have to be a dedicated toaster oven / microwave space if someone else lives here. Otherwise that corner may look funny. To install the floating shelf, I bought one of the brackets intended for that purpose off of etsy. I drilled 1/2″ holes in the back of the wood, and after the bracket was mounted on the wall, the wood slid right on. Also the backsplash tiling is complete, save for the caulking between wood and tile. You can see how the cove base shape worked out nicely.

Almost finished.

I love this part. An area dedicated to my coffee obsession. That lipped rubber mat is great at preventing water from sitting on the wood. I bought it for this purpose but it was made to sit under cat feeding bowls so it came with 2 cat bowls that my friend got for free. Coffee lovers: I’ve been using pressurized portafilters and just yesterday bought a bottomless PF. I cannot wait to use it. I’d be interested in any tips from you while I learn to tamp and grind. That’s a burr grinder and the reliable Proteo Barista (now branded Saeco Via Venezia) so I should be able to achieve something decent.

Liquor shelf up. At first I liked it neat like this but now there are about 3x as many bottles on it and I like it much better that way. I attached it to the wall using steel angle brackets. It’s similar to a floating shelf except the brackets are unapologetically obvious behind the liquor. I like it simple but not magic-looking.

Now it’s a working kitchen. I never cooked in the kitchen before but now I do often. Having a space you care about makes a big difference and I’m thankful that I was able to take on this project. It ended up costing about $10k. The wall cutout was $3k, the cabinets $1.2k ordered and painted. Appliances $1.2k. Then wood, tile, hardware, etc. It adds up. Thanks for visiting! I’m happy to answer questions. Some answers to questions I’ve gotten: The dishwasher was replaced very shortly before deciding to remodel so I couldn’t bring myself to replace it again just to match the other appliances. It’s not near the refrigerator but it is near the white sink and tile so I don’t think it’s glaringly obvious but I agree, not optimal. I love the undermount sink but it did force me to use a smaller sink. Next time I’ll make cuts in the cabinet frame and get a farm sink.



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