Home Design

Our Kitchen Renovation

When we moved into our house two years ago, we knew we’d love to renovate the kitchen somewhere down the road. It was so dark and dingy, not to mention covered in grease that I had attempted to clean in vain over and over again because the exhaust fan had been broken for years while the previous owners were there. Almost immediately, I took off all the cabinet hardware because they were disgustingly sticky, with every intention of putting them back once they had been thoroughly soaked and cleaned. But alas, they never really came totally clean and I couldn’t stand the look of them. So partly for aesthetic and cleanliness reasons and partly out of laziness, I never did replace them. Plus, Jack was close to crawling and I saw it as a perfect way to baby-proof without doing any work. It also initiated the most hilarious and perplexed conversations with friends who’d come over and wonder where in the world all our handles were.

We decided to live in the kitchen for at least a full year before doing anything to get a good idea of what improvements we’d make and what we actually used on a day-to-day basis. The floor was an off white tile with dark grout and never felt clean, and the countertop literally sloped down a good bit in one corner. The lighting was a little depressing, too, especially during those Pittsburgh winters, and that big old wall with the fridge cutout blocked the view of the rest of the first floor. The appliances were a bit ancient but worked– except for the oven, which would suddenly and unexpectedly turn off midway through cooking a meal, sometimes without me even knowing (which made for a hilariously stressful dinner party one evening when it took me a couple hours to cook salmon because the oven kept turning off and on randomly).

We decided that maybe we’d at least start talking about the renovations a little sooner than we had planned. So we had my aunt and uncle over one night for a brainstorming session.

My uncle is an engineer turned Physics teacher turned general contractor, and I’m so grateful for his help from the beginning. We initially thought we’d just do a couple big things that would make the most difference, like new countertops, a new oven, a new coat of paint on the cabinets, and potentially take down that wall to open up the space (it wasn’t load-bearing, so it wouldn’t be too big of a deal). But after going down the list all of the things that were totally falling apart, we realized it would actually save us money in the long run to do it all at the same time while it was being demoed already; we felt like whatever money we were putting into it now would add significant value to the house and we’d likely get it back if/when we ever sell.

Of course I was absolutely overjoyed at the thought of never seeing or touching those greasy cabinets again. So we came up with a general layout that night and I started hashing out the details of the design.

Here’s a photo of it before the renovations. We had to buy a new refrigerator right when we moved in, which didn’t fit into that allotted space (and we wanted to invest in one we’d use for the future kitchen regardless of this dinky cutout space). So, the new refrigerator just hung out in a random awkward space on the opposite side for a year and a half. Lol.

We had initially met with my uncle in late summer and I was due with our second boy in the beginning of October. Since we weren’t hiring a designer or architect, I was primarily responsible for designing the whole space–from the layout (which my uncle and the Lowes kitchen consultant helped with) to the littlest details like grout color. Who knew grout could make such a monumental difference!? We decided to schedule the construction for early January, which would give me plenty of time to gather ideas, finalize the look and design I wanted, and start ordering everything so that it would all be ready to go and scheduled for delivery during the renovation process. Oh, and have that baby!

We took full advantage of some great Black Friday deals on appliances, and when baby Peter was a couple months old, I started meeting with suppliers to review and order everything. We purchased Shaker style Kraftmaid cabinets in Dove White from Lowes, which I knew from the beginning I wanted. I love the clean, simple, polished lines they create and how bright they make the space. I decided on a sage green/gray color for the center island to break up all the white. I also knew I wanted brass cabinet hardware that would tie into the backslash tile I had in mind.

Just a quick side note: after doing this all myself (but obviously being far from an expert), my biggest piece of advice when designing a space this major is to first develop a clear vision for it–the colors, the feeling you want it to give, the warmth and flow. Bookmark pages in magazines that catch your eye, save blog posts from other designers that include elements you love, and start to curate your own taste and vision. I had a clear picture of the exact kitchen I wanted in my head, so it made the whole process relatively smooth when I went to pick out individual pieces. It then became a matter of finding quality products within our budget that fit my aesthetic and overall vision.

After I met with the Lowes kitchen consultant and finalized the layout, I met with the backsplash tile and countertop supplier. I had seen this one backsplash in a kitchen that instantly caught my eye–it had a way of bringing interesting texture and warmth to the space and completely elevating it. With its beautiful gold streaks and combination of gray, white, and cream, it would pull out the gold hardware but still blend with the stainless steel appliances. I looked it up and saw that a local supplier carried it. It’s called Calacatta Gold Marble and we went with beveled, polished 3×6 subway tiles.

Choosing the countertops was also fairly easy since I knew from the start I wanted mostly white (surprise, surprise). I think my uncle definitely started to question my design choices when the countertops arrived and had the faintest, barely noticeable gray veining amidst a sea of yet another white surface. But I really did just want a space that was bright, clean, and calming. I went with Ceasarstone Quartz in Frosty Carrina (I loved that that the Caesarstone Quartz was going to be durable and easy to maintain, and it had the look of marble).

Even though we had stainless steel appliances, I had my heart set on brass cabinet hardware and light fixtures. Mixing metals can be so pretty and add some variety and interest (although I wouldn’t recommend mixing more than two). Plus, I have such a thing for white and brass. I love that it feels modern and new but still warm and inviting. I found all of the hardware at a great price from Build.com and splurged on the brass light fixtures from one of my absolute favorite brands, Schoolhouse. At some point down the road I might switch out the faucet for a brass one, but this one was from the old kitchen and works just fine.

I could literally devote an entire post to the floors, so maybe I’ll save that for another day, but the abridged version is: we added new wood floors to the kitchen and then restained all of the original hardwoods in the whole first floor to match. They were quite orangey when we moved in, so I decided to go with a more natural stain color that would be lighter and feel a bit more farmhouse-countryish. I love how the natural stain pulls out the diversity and uniqueness of each piece of the red oak wood. The floor really adds tons of warmth and texture to the kitchen, which is another reason I went with white countertops and cabinets.

From the time my uncle began demolition to the finished product, it was only about 4 weeks (we moved into the addition on my parents house in that time). Somehow there were very few setbacks (the floor being the biggest) and everything was delivered and installed on time-ish. I know that’s rarely the case with these things, so I didn’t take it for granted!

It was a total blast to work with my uncle and design this space entirely on my own. We’ve been working on a couple other projects, and I’m excited to do more design work down the road!

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