A Kitchen for the Rest of Us

Keep it simple Shaker-style doors on sleek white cabinets, a backsplash with a nickel gap, and countertops made from maple butcher’s blocks create a timeless kitchen without breaking the bank.

Summary: With a limited budget, this contractor made a number of design decisions to remodel and update their kitchen. He describes how he selected affordable materials and inventory items to maximize cost savings, and explains how inexpensive cabinets can be reinforced with additional carpentry.

I am a contractor based in Portland, Maine focusing on kitchens, bathrooms, and home accessories. Although a lot of my work has been kitchen renovation, this project was for my own home that I share with my three sons aged 8, 9 and 11. The kitchen we’d lived in since 1946 was missing a dishwasher and with Three Hungry Boys I spent way too much time washing dishes. I gave myself a budget of $ 10,000 – about a quarter or less of my client’s typical kitchen remodeling budget.

Unfortunately, adding a dishwasher had to move all of the other equipment around to make space next to the sink. Two doors – one to the outside and one to the hallway on the first floor – and an existing window limited the renovation to the existing kitchen space, as the move would have blown the budget.

Working with an old house

The style and era of the house, a square from 1909, meant that it had very simple finishes compared to today’s kitchens. So I kept the details simple: nickel-gap backsplash and paneling, maple butcher’s block countertops, and simple shaker-inspired doors and drawer fronts. I stayed away from tiles and stones, not only because they are more expensive, but also because those materials would only have been reserved for the very wealthy at the time this house was built. To add a little more interest to the cabinets, I added a standard crown molding that I finished myself.

Kitchen table for four peopleRoom for four. A small dining area on the wall opposite the sink consists of a countertop screwed to a wall-mounted cleat and supported by a painted post. Nickel gap siding is easy to clean and add texture without being too busy.

I wanted to save the house’s original horsehair trim, but the kitchen needed a plumbing and electrical upgrade, so it just wasn’t practical. I left much of the bar in place and pelted the studs to match where they needed to be removed. This allowed me to leave existing door, window and floor paneling in place. A 1/2-inch-thick layer of new drywall over the ledge replaced the original 1/2-inch-thick two-layer plaster. That extra work and expense on equipment got me about $ 2,000 over my initial budget.

I’ve added five inexpensive 4-in. Can lights from the home center, and the light over the sink was a $ 22 find from Lowes. One thing this frugality exercise taught me is that there is good design in home centers, but you have to look around patiently – in my experience, the chance of finding something functional, good looking, and inexpensive is about 1 inch 20th

Working with inexpensive cabinets

Simple kitchen sinkSimple sink. Now that the kitchen has a dishwasher, only a single washbasin is sufficient for cleaning and preparing the dishes. A small shelf above repeats the natural hues of the maple countertops.

Home Depot’s Hampton Bay line includes some of the most affordable kitchen cabinets available. I spent a total of $ 2,200 on the boxes and about $ 50 on buttons and pulls. Granted, the appeal of this line of cabinets lies in the price, not in the strength. The secret of working with smaller cabinets is to make sure the floors are well balanced on all sides so that the box is fully supported. I also use about twice as many screws to secure them both to the wall and to each other. They have adjustable hinges and soft-close drawers, and while the hardware isn’t as good as better cabinets, it isn’t bad. I was ready to make some adjustments and ordered extra foils and hinges and stowed them away in case I need them in the future.

There are few options for odd-shaped cabinets and equipment cabinets. So I used a standard 16 inch tall cabinet above the refrigerator and attached the panels to the sides that support it. I also made a storage room under a standard cabinet for the microwave. I didn’t mean to sacrifice space for a countertop model, and I don’t like the look of over-the-range versions. Instead of using a shorter case over the area so that the case tops line up, I used a standard 30-inch case. Closet to add visual interest.

Wooden elements provide warmth

To add a contemporary feel to the kitchen and create a little contrast to the white walls and cabinets, I opted for 1 1/2 inch thick maple butcher block countertops from Lumber Liquidators. At around $ 16 per square foot, they’re good value for money and they look and feel good too.

The maple floor in the kitchen is original for the house. I found it under seven layers of Lauan plywood and board floors. I’ve spent dozens of hours with a 1/2-inch. Chisel to scrape off the black glue that held the first layer in place, but it was totally worth the effort.

Given my budget, I think I have successfully completed this love work project.

A kitchen opened up for the rest of us

From Fine Homebuilding # 295

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