Before & After: A Remarkable $1,300 Kitchen Facelift

published Jan 29, 2018
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(Image credit: Layla Schlack)

We feature a lot of amazing kitchen projects, but this kitchen makeover might just have the very best dollars-to-damn ratio yet. It went from oh-so-’70s to totally timeless, thanks to some hard work, tile bravery, and some stickers.

(Image credit: Layla Schlack)

So charming! I love the interplay of the hexagonal tiles of the backsplash and the ornately patterned floor tiles. The combination of black, white, grey, and stainless is fresh and modern, while the wood counters add warmth and coziness. The nearly monochromatic palette also adds a freshness to the cabinetry, which could look dated if not handled so well. Layla Schlack designed her kitchen and did most of the work herself—very impressive.

(Image credit: Layla Schlack)

Here’s a closer look at the kitchen before, with the—is it seed packet wallpaper? Whatever the pattern is, it’s very ’70s, and apparently quite greasy:

When we toured this house, the first thing our realtor said was “kitchen’s a gut!” We liked the floorplan of it, compact and practical with good counter and storage space, open to the living/dining area, but enclosed enough to feel like its own room. But obviously, it was dark and claustrophobic, with dated wallpaper that was just saturated with grease. I didn’t want to do a full gut because a.) everything’s already so timely and costly when you’re buying your first house; and b.) it still won’t be the dream kitchen until we can dig in a gas line for a gas cooktop. I don’t know when that will be, but that’s when we’ll assess whether we want to do new cabinetry.

This is a great reminder at the larger forces so often at play in renovations: sure, a gorgeous gas stove or a [insert covetable appliance here] might be nice, but it’s rarely as simple as all that. Sometimes, a simple stop-gap makeover is just what you need.

(Image credit: Layla Schlack)

Ooh, that blue wall is such a fun surprise! It adds a further feeling of coziness and contrasts beautifully with the warm metals of the pendant light and the KitchenAid. This is one of those fun renovations in which you can still see all the elements of the original kitchen, but it now has a totally new feel.

Layla was generous enough to provide a ton of details about her renovation. Here’s how the process to get from dated to darling went:

It happened in stages. We took down most of the wallpaper before moving in. (It was put up when the house was built, in 1978, when they made wallpaper glue indestructible.) Next was degreasing, sanding and painting the upper cabinets, which took about four days. The bulkhead is made of laminate, the casings are a different sort of laminate, and the doors are wood, so it was a puzzle figuring out how many coats and which type of brush or roller to use on each.

We bought builder-grade oak butcher block at Lumber Liquidators for $540, and my dad cut, installed and sealed them. During that process, we also put in a new, 12-inch deep sink and the oil-rubbed bronze faucet. I got the set on sale for $290, which was a total steal. Once the counters were in, I painted the lower cabinets and bought new hardware to put everything back together, which was $110 or so. I ended up spending around $100 on paint, because I needed several coats, especially on that laminate bulkhead.

I ordered the tile from a discount supplier for $168, which, again, felt like a great price. (Plus an additional $40 for thin-set and grout.) There was a lot of consternation about that. I wanted something neutral enough that wouldn’t feel dated anytime soon, but also that had some interest to it and wouldn’t feel out of place in a 1970s home. And obviously, I didn’t want to spend too much money! This ticked all the boxes. I’d never tiled anything before, so I cut two sheets before declaring this project too difficult. My boyfriend responded by buying me a sandwich, eggplant parm I think, which gave me the strength to keep trying.

I did the entire back wall in a day, realizing toward the end that I hadn’t received my entire order and wouldn’t be able to finish. I got the rest of the order a few weeks later and did the other two walls. Once the tile was done, I changed the light fixtures. The one in the center was a gift, and the one over the sink was $77 (Mercer41 St Helen’s from Wayfair, which looks to be discontinued or maybe just out of stock). I also painted the bit of wall around the window with leftover from the living/dining area (Behr Gray Wool MQ6-4).

After living in this bright, clean-feeling kitchen for a few months, I realized the floors were really bugging me. They’re sort of ombre on purpose, to look like stone or maybe concrete, but they just looked faded to me, and had several cracks, so I requested decals, custom from Snazzy Decals on Etsy, as a birthday gift.

Sandwiches fix everything. Whenever you buy a bunch of DIY stuff at Home Depot, they should send you a sandwich every day for the next week. Beyond the eggplant parm, this renovation is remarkably affordable, and the idea of tile stickers is fascinating (I believe these are the ones Layla used). Does anyone have experience with them, especially on a floor?

(Image credit: Layla Schlack)

This is one of those kitchens that could really use a counter-depth refrigerator—as we discussed regarding Malcolm of Mas Means More’s kitchen—but other than that, this kitchen seems as practical as it is lovely. Here’s how Layla feels about it now that it’s complete (for now):

I love the white tile against the wood counter, and overall how bright and clean the kitchen feels. I wasn’t into the all-white kitchen trend—I think my dream kitchen would have light- or medium-brown wood cabinets, with a white or light gray stone countertop. In this case, though, new cabinets weren’t in the budget, and we couldn’t change the wood to a different shade of wood, but it doesn’t really feel like a compromise because the white cabinets just make the space feel so much bigger and airier. Plus, with the wood counters, it’s not ALL white. I’m glad we kept functional parts of the kitchen intact and just made them work better for us.

But probably the thing I love most of all about this kitchen is looking around and knowing we did it all with our own hands. It’s coming up on a year since we bought this house, and there are still projects to be done, so it’s a nice feeling that we tackled this one big one right away, and it came out so beautifully. I still very much want a new fridge, though! But we’ll wait until the current one dies to replace it. I don’t think we have too long to go.

Admiring a beautiful aspect of your home is one thing, but admiring something beautiful that you created yourself—priceless.

Thank you, Layla Schlack!