The kitchen that wanted to be nice

Who wants to talk about my very slow motion kitchen renovation?

If you actually saw my house, you’d actually fall into two distinct pieces laughing at the idea of me giving renovation tips. But, as the sea captain said to his wife, you are there and I am here; so off we go.

Background: My kitchen was put together by grade A morons.

Some cabinets were built directly over the heating vent, so in the winter, the meat you set out to defrost at 8 a.m. would still be frozen by dinnertime. The built-in drawers were all broken, but the hardware was impossible to remove, so the remaining gap was almost useless for other things.

In another spot, someone mounted what was meant to be a corner cabinet in the middle of the wall, so there were shelves all the way across, but a door on only one side, hinged in the middle.

All the cabinets were dark and malproportioned, and the doors were always flapping open, because our entire house lists to one side like a sinking ship. The bottoms were falling out of the floor cabinets, and must needs be held up with a can of squash. And so on.

The result? A tiny kitchen with several big windows and lots of sun, that was nevertheless dark and cramped-feeling. I was perpetually losing my pans and pie dishes into the Black Hole of Calcutta, so if I wanted to make muffins, I had to lie down on my side and feel around with my arm, right in there with all the exposed staples and cobwebs and astonishingly bold mice.

Not cool, kitchen. Not cool at all.

We had next to no money to spend, but I felt a powerful urge to Do Something. So here is what we did:

Tore out all the floor cabinets, which formerly held pots and pans, with a reciprocating saw ($40).



This took a couple of hours. My husband shored up the remaining countertop (which is not beautiful, but it’s functional) with wooden beams (maybe $20). These were supposed to just be temporary until we could decide what kind of open shelving to put in there; but I think I can live with this:

Functionality is beautiful enough, especially when you’ve been working with dysfunction for so long. So I put the three recycling bins under there, and it’s fine. We keep larger bowls and pots on top of the bins sometimes. Not only can we actually see what’s in there, the whole room looks brighter and more open.
To do: Replace the more Dr. Seuss-looking beams, and put in two shelves under the counter, to store flat pans and cutting boards and such.

Took the doors off most of the remaining cabinets ($0. We do own a screwdriver). Now all the food and plates and stuff are exposed, but it’s so much better and brighter and more open than having the doors always swinging open, bonking people in the face, and blocking the light.



I don’t know if that looks better to you, but I like it! I like knowing what I have and where it is.

To do: paint at least the fronts of the cabinets bright yellow, to match the window frame. I love bright yellow, especially in winter.

Tore the world’s dumbest wall cabinet off, with a screwdriver and my Donkey Kong ambitions ($0). Before (and yes, it was falling off long before I started tearing it down):

I scrubbed the wall, and my husband put up two long shelves ($40 on eBay for a set of six brackets, $15 for lumber). After:

To do: Nothing! I love it! I just need to rearrange stuff so it’s more decorative. But it’s a bazillion times prettier than it was before.

I still have a corner of shame with miscellaneous stuff stored in a laundry basket and a milk crate (which, come to think of it, I stole from the kitchen in my college! More shame!!):

that I need to figure out. Probably I will buy a couple of metal shelving units (maybe $20 each) and keep pans and bowls there. And switch which side of the mini fridge the door opens on.

Things we have already done in the last ten years: moved the washer and dryer out of the kitchen and into the bathroom; replaced the refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove; bought an island with lots of storage space; put in two sets of metal shelves for large appliances and large amounts of fruit; replaced the dreadful tubular fluorescent light fixture with sharp, rusty edges and put in a nice glass fixture that is kind of dangling, but still much better; and replaced the one window that opens. I’m saying this mainly to encourage myself, because sometimes it feels like we’ve been living here forever and haven’t gotten around to anything. But we have!

Still to do: replace this other area of shame,


maybe with more wall shelving and hooks, or possibly a baker’s rack. I’m resigned to always having three baskets of laundry there. Notice the tattered label that says “STUFF ONLY.”

There was originally more to that label, making me seem somewhat less crazy, but only marginally.

Replace the floor. The floor is purgatorial. In some places, you can see through the horrible old linoleum to see patches of the even more horrible even older linoleum. Look at this. It’s not even dirty here, it’s just mean.

I feel like I want a tile floor, but that would mean lots of broken glass and lots of concussions, right? Who can recommend flooring that looks clean even when it’s not?

Replace the ceiling. It’s a crappy, acoustic, water-stained tile ceiling that wants to fall down and rain dead mice on our heads while we’re making stir fry.

Guess what’s under it? STAMPED TIN CEILING. No shit. Do you know how expensive that stuff is? But I haven’t worked up the courage to tear down all the tile and see how salvageable the original ceiling is.

Repaint the walls. I adore the walls. They are wide, tongue in groove wooden planks. Exactly what I would have chosen, given the choice. Maybe they just need a good scrubbing

The dishwasher is also a disaster but I don’t want to talk about it. The only good thing about it is it’s not the previous dishwasher:

It always looked like it wanted to see its son with its own eyes one time before it died.

Thing I am resigned to: This windowsill.

Everyone needs to cram random crap on this windowsill, and I accept that. I clear it off every few months, and they load it up again.

I would like to replace the windows themselves, as they currently house many, many spiders that I can’t get at; but it’s not at the top of my list. The porch outside the window makes it dark anyway. Maybe we just need to tear the porch off . . .

And here’s where I practice saying “Baby steps” to myself, even though “cleansing fire” sounds so much better.

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36 thoughts on “The kitchen that wanted to be nice”

  1. I have checked your website and i have found some
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    1. Yes, KurtSmall, it is the “duplicate content” in this blog that troubles me, too. So many words are repeated! Sometimes right in the same post! And you will agree that the worst is an endless and deplorable recycling of themes – like dinner. She made dinner for her family. Wonderful! They ate it up. That’s as it should be. But then, as you so keenly noticed, Ms. Fisher committed the fatal error: the next day she made them dinner AGAIN. One month later she even made the exact SAME dinner. “Duplicate content” hardly begins to cover the disgraceful issue, in my opinion. And now here we go again with mouse poop in the kitchen ceiling! Will it never end?

  2. We are in the midst of getting a new floor via our homeowner’s insurance which covered “hidden leaks”. Who knew? So I don’t have to worry anymore about the refrigerator rotting through the floor like when the bathtub fell through in the bathroom floor (with my ten year old daughter in it!). I found some lovely sheet vinyl within the pitiful budget we were given by the insurance company that looks like rectangular marble tiles – it actually camouflages the dirt nicely with the marble streaks! My old vinyl was a putred olive green & mustard yellow patterned stuff, with decorative touches of duct tape covering the holes. I took advantage of the empty kitchen during a lull in the construction, and painted the nasty veneer paneling in the dark windowless room- it is now bright & cheery. Oh, and I swear all that stuff (now heaped in boxes & laundry baskets in our living room) is NOT going back in there. Major purge time!

  3. I have come to the conclusion that living in a house with a family and renovating just don’t go well together. We have lived in ours for 21 years, and some things look nice but some things are still awful. Like the carpet in the LR that was old when we moved here. Anyway, about the floor, others have mentioned the vinyl plank flooring. I think if we get around to it, that’s what we will do. We did laminate in the kitchen 14 years ago, and it’s not looking so good, but only when you look up close, we still get compliments. But there are holes in it, so no, we need to replace. But as I started this post, I think I have given up and waiting until they all move out permanently (some come and go with college and stuff like that) and then just downsize. But I like what you have done. Good job!

  4. Ehh, I grew up with ceramic tile in the kitchen, and we never got concussions. Or anyway, not on the kitchen floor. We did break some glasses, but now we’re all good at cleaning up broken glass, and they were mostly 50c yard sale glasses so it wasn’t that big a deal.

    1. Yeah, but it’s so hard on feet. Unless you’re the type who likes to wear shoes in the house, in which case your feet will be okay but your tile floor will get dirtier. I grew up not wearing shoes in the house and cannot resign myself to doing so. The tile floors actually were so hard on my feet I ended up with tendon damage in one of my feet from standing on them when pregnant. Extra weight + unforgiving floors=no bueno.

  5. You do NOT want ceramic tile in a kitchen, no you do not. It is horrible for your feet and your glasses and china. Our last kitchen had it. I lost a good Corning ware dish that way, and it left shards in the grout lines for weeks. I would go with something with more give, for sure.

    We currently rent, and the dishwasher decided to die a passive-aggressive death; it stopped doing the short energy saving wash and would only do the two-hours-long-and-heated-dry wash, and eventually stopped doing even that. We don’t want to bother our landlord, so we just wash dishes by hand (which I actually prefer, the dishes don’t have to get done twice and they are all put away right away after a meal). The dishwasher is now our pots and pan storage. I love it.

    Please keep us posted on further developments, I love the before and after pictures!

  6. When we started our kitchen remodel, we tore down a wall and combined what was my laundry room with the kitchen. My husband did the demolition and hung the dry wall himself. I found an old Chef’s stove on eBay and unbelievably found the matching cabinetry from decades ago at Home Depot. It was the stuff they stock without special ordering, and was on closeout so I got the four we bought for pretty cheap. We had to drive a few towns away to get them though. The coolest thing of all was finding a huge cache of talavera tiles to match the old backsplash, and the floor, in an old dumping ground of sorts on the far edge of the property. Some of the tiles were literally submerged in soil and under vines, and the smaller talavera was in old plastic bins on a wood pallet, covered with plastic. Generations of rats had found the location perfect for food next to a Palm tree, and rainwater water and having generations of babies. So the tiles were submerged in a kind of poop stew. I put on rubber gloves. I screamed when four giant adults jumped out. My nephew came and shot the ones that didn’t get away. He speared the last one that wouldn’t die.

    The greatest irony of all? After all my pent up need for a bigger space, we never got to live in it. It is there, still unfinished. We will visit tomorrow, and work on it a bit. It’s not truly ours, but owned collectively with my siblings.

    What’s funny is that we are presently living in a small place that is the complete opposite of that whole wildly Andalusian color and texture extravaganza of our old home. We are in a temporary condo. I never saw the place in person before I moved in, and I’m glad, because I would have said “noooooooooooo!!!!” and maybe cried,– but it’s the strangest thing –the colors are all light/ white/neutral. Nothing is high-end. The cabinets are all from the 70s but painted a crisp white. The floor is fake wood that is supposed to look like weathered gray oak, and the bedrooms are carpet.

    We came here with basically nothing but suitcases of half our clothes and one laundry basket of Char’s toys. There is no clutter. Clutter makes me 20 degrees more worried.

    We bought mid century sale stuff from the West Elm “flea market” section, really discounted couches from World market and beds from Ikea in the return section. Everything is white, off-white, pale beige and medium gray. The only splash of color is the flowers in vases and the big canvases that I’m working on because the walls need them. I had forgotten how happy painting makes me.

    I had told the kids we could live half the year here. Now I don’t want to move back in January like I promised.

    1. I nearly screamed just *reading* that about the rats. Rats are the worst and I am still traumatized from the summer someone stole the barn cat where I worked (because it was cruel that the cat hadn’t been spayed) and the rats took over. They don’t run away from you like mice do… so mild-mannered me, who wouldn’t even use finger paints as a kid because I hated getting dirty, learned in a hurry to kill rats with a shovel. Shudder.

      1. Ha! Yes, they are bold, and those long scaly tales are the stuff of nightmares. Rats loooooove Palm trees, that’s why you see Palms sometimes with those silver bands on them. We have no bands on ours and there are about 40 Palms scattered around the whole place. The cats that live on the property (I think the coyotes picked off a couple) are fat and lazy. One of them is so big she waddles and gets stuck between fence posts. Chasing her is my Poodle Juno’s favorite past time. They have a bag outside, on my sister’s porch that the cats just stick their entire heads into before they come to poop in the planter bed next to my (old) kitchen (which has two palm trees). The skunks and raccoons have that bag on their radar too. I will refrain speaking about the plague of flies that descends like clockwork every August. Or the fact that the house needs to be named “La Casa de La Arana” (with that Spanish thing over the “n”) Apparently the septic system exploded a few weeks after our departure too.

        I really wanted to take a sledgehammer to the original Talavera tile, but then I discovered that they don’t even hand make them anymore (on a knee!) and then hand paint them. I didn’t have the heart to destroy them.

        Did I mention how much I love my neutral, sparse, zen apartment? I have discovered that I can CLEAN it from top to bottom in a single day, and stay on top of the laundry. I felt so disheartened by all of the nooks and crannies (insta cobwebs!)and the thousands of books in the other place, –that I cleaned less rather than more. I’m also really digging the cream colored 1970s formica! No grout joints. The 50 y.o. bathroom faucets are original and super retro. Very cool. Who would of thought?

  7. I would love to take my dropped kitchen and dining room ceilings down but the way the red squirrels are always rolling things around up there I think if I just wait long enough the black walnuts will do the job for me. Sigh…

  8. It took us 15 years to get two bathrooms fully functioning. A non-handy husband required saving for a cheap contractor. Other than that splurge, anything the kids and I couldn’t do, didn’t get done. One year we ripped up two layers of gross carpeting (and shoveled up the disintegrated carpet pad) in our very large living room (which required packing up many boxes of books). We put down laminate plank flooring because 1) it was cheaper than real wood; and 2) it required no power tools to cut. It didn’t hold up to kid abuse and started to look pretty worn after five years. The kitchen hadn’t seen any remodeling since the 70’s. It was dark because the ill-conceived remodel (a theme throughout the house) put it in the center of the house without any windows. I took out the dishwasher and installed shelving in the empty hole. I’d rather have the extra storage than a energy-sucking, marginally-convenient appliance. Then our kids started going to college, and I knew the kitchen make-over was never going to happen. This year we decided to give up the privilege of being home owners. We only had two kids left at home, so we were no longer a liability as renters. We sold the money pit, moved across the country to be near our older children, and are happy as renters. The couple who bought our house started remodeling practically before the ink was dry on the escrow papers. I feel happy for the neglected house. It was a good home for us for many years, but it was a relief to unload.

  9. Have you considered peel and stick vinyl tiles for your kitchen floor? You would be surprised how real they look these days. Much softer and warmer underfoot than ceramic tile, also:

    We installed something similar ( Congoleum durastone I think) about 15 years ago and I’ve been very happy with it. It’s comfortable to walk on, easy to clean, and has held up through kids, many dropped dishes, and two dogs.

    Congrats on the kitchen progress!

  10. I once had a friend move away a few years after my husband and I bought our current house. For YEARS she would ask me every so often “So, do your stairs still look…like they did?”
    It was infuriating because they did. Remodeling takes time, especially when you don’t have great big piles of money to fling at it.

  11. Magic eraser the heck out of the walls. They’ve saved us painting so many times. And yah tile floors are dangerous! We have ancient linoleum tile squares from the 40’s or sonething. I like of love them except we have lots of broken ones and it’s impossible to match them

  12. I have a special love for you for posting this. Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who lives in perpetual fixer-uppedness. We have a bathroom like this. Once you start tearing crap up, at least you can say,”Oh, sorry about the mess, we are remodeling…” which sounds so nice and normal, doesn’t it? Until they come over a year later and there’s still no bathroom floor…

    1. Oh, and I want to put laminate in our kitchen. We had tile in our old house and it was the Death of a Thousand Dishes. And cold. We put laminate in a bedroom here, looks hardwood floors is, and I love it.

      1. I learned this the hard way, but laminate doesn’t like water–and kitchen floors are like water magnets, at least, my kitchen floor is. The laminate will start bubbling, coming unstuck, etc. Vinyl flooring is supposed to be where it is for kitchens and bathrooms.

        1. Yes, laminate is not waterproof!! Vinyl plank is relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and wears decently. Truly, there is no magical flooring solution 😖

        2. The house we’re renting has lovely hardwoods through the house..including the kitchen. And near a bathroom where apparently there was a water leak or a puppy accident, because the wood got swollen and now creaks near the door. It is swollen and creaks near the dishwasher, as well. Wood is not good in kitchens or bathrooms either.

  13. Love this post! In your mudroom area with the baskets, I think you’d love this system. You can have as many books as you want, and there are lots of different types. We made a mudroom area in our garage and it’s super functional and versatile.
    The link here is weird, but you can find these at most hardware stores or on Amazon.

  14. Good luck! For that shame area, I would look at Gorilla shelves. They can go up to the ceiling and have adjustable shelves. Go big! You can look for these at Home Depot or eBay/craigslist.

    Also, I’d keep an eye out at ReStore from Habitat for Humanity if they get any industrial kitchen cabinets. These tend to be stainless steel counters with open shelves and adjustable feet. That would serve you much better than those bottom cabinets.

  15. Incremental steps are so much better than trying to rush & get a ton done at once. You make me think there’s hope for my basement.

  16. I’m still researching this, but so far I’m very interested in the vinyl flooring that looks like hardwood (but isn’t because duh, broke). In mid range shades it supposedly doesn’t show stains, yet also isn’t so dark that it shows dust. Reports are it is forgiving to glassware and the feet of cooks slaving over hot stoves, unlike tile.

    1. Put in in my entire downstairs, including 2 bedrooms. Have already pulled it up, dried it out, and replaced it with the same pieces in a bedroom with a water leak. Best investment I ever made.

    1. I have painted over linoleum in our bathroom and after 3+ high traffic years, it’s still going strong. And I didn’t even do any of the serious prep because most of my home improvement jobs are half-assed at best. I just washed it very thoroughly and painted it in a black and white checkerboard design with porch/floor paint from Lowe’s. No sealing top coat or any of that jazz. Still looks good!

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