AN AFFORDABLE KITCHEN ISLAND UPDATE

I recently shared my “limited” kitchen makeover so if you haven’t already seen that then go take a look. In that post, I briefly mentioned my kitchen island update and promised a post about it. I am delivering on my promise today. 

Let’s start by taking a look at what my kitchen island used to look like:

This is a common builder grade kitchen island. It’s a large stock base cabinet with a countertop stuck on top. Our kitchen cabinets are solid wood fronts, but the rest of the cabinet is made from laminate. So the sides and back of the cabinet are fake wood which looks really cheap. As soon as we moved into our house (over a decade ago), I hated how cheap the island looked and instantly hatched a plan to make it look better. But life and all of its busyness has kept me from doing anything about it until now.

Custom kitchen islands are very popular these days and for good reason. They are very functional and can create an attractive focal point in the room. But they can also be expensive. I certainly didn’t want to invest the money for a brand new island in my low-budget kitchen update. So instead I worked with what I had. 

I decided to add side walls to the island in order to make it look more like a piece of furniture. This would also completely cover both ends of the cheap laminate base cabinet and fill in the gap of the large overhang on my countertop. When we had our countertops replaced many years ago, they installed the island countertop in a weird way that left a large overhang on each end. 

The first thing I did was try to figure out exactly how wide I wanted to make the side walls on my island. They needed to be the right amount to fill in the extra overhang on the countertop, but also look proportionally correct with the overall size of the island. The overhang on each end of my countertop was about 7”. So I decided to make my side walls 5 1/2” wide which would ultimately result in a closer to normal overhang of 2”. The 5 1/2” size also looked proportionally right with the overall size of my island—it wasn’t too narrow and weak looking or too chunky and overwhelming looking.

Here’s a plan drawing of what I did to my island:

Now I know most people don’t have a large overhang on their island countertops like we do, but you could still get the same look even without that situation.

Here’s a plan drawing of what you could do to an island with a normal countertop overhang in order to get the same look:

If you are going to do this with a normal amount of countertop overhang then you will want to not only make sure you choose a side wall width that is proportional with the size of your overall island, but also make sure it isn’t so wide that it takes up too much leg room under the counter.

Now that I knew my wall size, I knew I’d need to use ripped down 2×6’s to frame the wall. I bought some 2×6’s and a sheet of 1/2” cabinet grade plywood. I used a table saw to rip the 2×6’s down to 2×4.5’s based on this simple math:

4 1/2” stud + (2) 1/2” plywood on each side = 5 1/2” wide wall

MY QUARANTINE PROJECT: MY KITCHEN

I’ve been really wanting to renovate our kitchen for many years. As an architect and designer, I know exactly what I would do and I also know how expensive it would all be. As a result, over the past few years I decided to put the kitchen on the back burner and instead focus my time and resources on renovating more affordable areas of our home. It was a good plan. But now that I’ve transformed a lot of spaces in our home into what I want, the kitchen is really starting to bother me even more! It’s a totally different style, color palette and feel than the rest of the house now. It honestly feels like you’re in a totally different home when you’re standing in the kitchen. 

So back in February, I decided I’d had enough… it was time to turn my focus to the kitchen. I decided that I would either go ahead and renovate it and turn it into my dream kitchen, or I would update it enough that I could at least feel okay with the room until I could afford my dream kitchen. After running some specific numbers, I realized that it was going to be very expensive to turn my kitchen into my dream kitchen, and we currently have college tuition for our children to think about so it could end up being maybe 5 years before we can afford to renovate the kitchen. There was no way I could live with the kitchen we have now for the next 5 years so I needed to do something to make it acceptable until then.

I’m guessing I’m not alone. There may be someone else out there looking for a low-cost update to a space until you can finally afford your dream renovation. Well, if you are, here is my tip: Identify your focus and limits before you start. This is something I do on every project anyway, but it was particularly important on this one! 

The first thing I did was take a little time before I started to set my max budget. It’s never wise to put a lot of money into a room only to tear it all out a few years later. So the budget had to be low enough that I was okay tearing it all out at some point. I decided $1500 was my max. This budget became a limit that helped me make decisions along the way in terms of what I should replace now and what I should wait to address when we do our full dream kitchen renovation. 

The second thing I did was identify what I really hated about the room. Basically, what was driving this particular renovation to begin with? What would I need in order to be able to endure this room for awhile? (This is a different list than I would have made if I were designing my dream kitchen.)

Here’s my focus:

  1. The room needed to have a look and feel that fit with the rest of the areas in my home that I’ve already updated
  2. I wanted to improve some areas that weren’t very functional
  3. I needed to fix/remove a few things that were eyesores/damaged (including water stains on the ceiling and a nonfunctional old intercom system)

Every time I wondered whether it was worth updating something in my kitchen, I referred to this list and my budget. It helped me to focus on what was important and what wasn’t.

So my plan was to start my “limited makeover” of my kitchen in March having no idea that COVID-19 would hit then. Right before COVID, my schedule was crazy busy. The firm I work for was swamped and I was upping my hours, plus my kids had many activities and events planned for the spring, and I was also interviewing contractors to start a big project in our back yard which I would be managing during the spring. Add to that my kitchen reno that I was working on by myself, and looking back, I’m not sure how I was planning to fit it all in. Once COVID-19 came to the US my schedule was completely turned upside down. My kids activities were cancelled, events were cancelled, and the work at my firm came to a grinding halt. We put the back yard project on hold and then quarantine started in our state. With plenty of time stuck at home, I knew I wanted to focus on getting my kitchen done. And so this is what I did…

Here is what my kitchen used to look like:

After:

No, this is not my dream kitchen… at all! I was hesitant to even share this project on the blog because there’s still a lot I don’t like about the final result. But it works for now until I can afford my dream kitchen. It’s certainly better than what I had before. And I kept the total cost to $1500! I did all the work myself, but I think it was worth all of the time and hard work.

A SPECIAL FURNITURE PROJECT

I’ve recently started work on a couple different areas of our house and will be sharing posts about these various projects over the coming months. One of the rooms I’m working on is our guest bedroom which we want to move from a spare room upstairs to a spare room downstairs in order to create a first floor guest suite. I won’t be reusing anything from our current guest room so I am working on sourcing all new furniture and decor for the new bedroom. Fortunately, I have a set of inherited nightstands I can use, and they became my first project for this room.

About 5 years ago, I was at my parents’ house in their guest bedroom when the pair of nightstands they had in the room caught my eye. They were a mid-century modern style which is unusual because my parents didn’t own any other modern furniture. I asked my mom where they came from and she told me my grandfather made them many years ago. I immediately asked if she’d be willing to pass them down to me, and she said yes. I love mid-century modern furniture and the fact that my grandfather handmade these makes them very special to me.

My Grandpa Irv passed away 20 years ago. He was Swedish American and lived in Michigan, which was far away from where I grew up so I didn’t get to know him real well. But I knew him well enough to have great admiration for him. He was part of America’s Greatest Generation and fought in World War II surviving the horrible Battle of the Bulge despite being significantly injured. He was a kind-hearted hard working man who was always willing to help others and liked to joke around with his grandkids.

My grandfather was very creative and resourceful which meant that if my grandmother wanted some new furniture my Grandpa Irv would often make it for her from anything he had lying around his garage. His large detached garage was a complete woodworking shop, and I think he enjoyed working out there fixing up old things and creating unique pieces. These matching mid-century nightstands were just a couple examples of what he made decades ago, and thankfully, they ultimately got passed down to me.

This is how the nightstands looked when I got them

I had originally planned to use these in our master bedroom, but then I realized they won’t work in there because they are very small and we have a king size bed so proportionally they would look weird next to each other. But our guest bedroom is a much smaller room with a smaller bed so they would be perfect in that room.

While I love the shape of these pieces, the color and drawer handles looked very dated and don’t work well with the mid-century style (again, I bet my grandfather used stain and drawer handles he already had instead of buying anything new), so I knew these needed a quick makeover before I put them in our new guest bedroom.

I started by removing the backing from each nightstand. I guess my grandfather had chosen to use a cheap piece of fiberboard for the backing. I didn’t like the faux pattern painted on it and it couldn’t be stained to match the rest of the wood, so I knew I wanted to replace the backings with some plywood that I would be able to stain to match everything else.

With the backings removed, I got started sanding off all of the old stain. This process revealed more about my grandfather. I discovered that all of one nightstand and part of the other one appear to be made from a wood species that I can’t quite figure out. The rest of the one nightstand was made from pine. My guess is he ran out of the wood he was originally using and had to finish it up with some pine. My grandfather was not a trained furniture maker, and the way these were built wasn’t the way a high quality furniture maker would have built them. But I’m sure my grandfather didn’t care. He was using what he had—including his own creativity—to make what he could.

The sanded nightstands with the backings removed

REVEAL: MY GREAT ROOM BECOMES GREAT

I am so excited to share my new Great Room reveal!!! This makeover has taken longer than usual because my schedule has been very limited this year with my kids’ activities and my job working in a firm demanding a lot of my time, but I tried to squeeze out every minute of free time I could to slowly work on this room… and every minute I spent was well worth it!

Let’s begin with the before photos…

Our great room is very important in our home because it’s physically and figuratively the center of the whole house. We spend a lot of time in this room hanging out or watching tv, and whenever we have guests over we usually congregate in here and the adjacent kitchen. Because of the amount of use this room gets it was important for me to make it a space people really want to be in. And after years of waiting to get to transform this room, I’m grateful that it has turned into what I originally envisioned—a bright and comfortable room I don’t want to leave!

Take a look at the photos…