A Complete Colorful Kitchen Renovation...On a Budget

A Complete Colorful Kitchen Renovation...On a Budget

Janel Laban
Sep 17, 2009

Names: Susannah and Jeff

Location: Seattle

Renovation Budget: $9,000 (and they came in under!)

Susannah and Jeff used to live in Chicago and we were lucky enough to be able to feature their small Hyde Park condo in a house tour just before they packed up and headed west to Seattle. At home in their new city and new life, they have pulled off a big reno and sent us photos and info to share...

Susannah writes:

I believe the Apartment Therapy forum to be a force in the design world and it is a huge complement to be a part of your community. I also feel that our approach to this kitchen renovation addresses some of the concerns I feel to be paramount to interior design today – how to make design economically feasible, sustainable and joyful. We decided to do a super low-cost but ecologically sound rehab.

The original kitchen featured waterlogged, lowered ceilings, cracked vinyl, broken Formica counter tops and tired cabinets. In short, not fabulous!

We started at the top. Pulling down the severely water damaged sheetrock revealed – no insulation! We priced sheetrock installation and realized we could do better. Since the house was built in 1953, a wood paneled ceiling would restore some retro charm. By doing the labor ourselves, we would actually save money. Energy star rated rigid foam insulation and a crash course in ceiling installation followed. We found sustainable, locally grown, hemlock tongue-in-groove paneling at a local lumberyard. We patched and painted the newly exposed douglas-fir beams and installed a dropped ceiling above the countertops to hold recessed lighting.

Our objective was to reuse building components. The 'new' cabinets were an incredible $200 craigslist find! My husband and I spent a Saturday afternoon removing them from a 1965 house, and made friends with the homeowners in the bargain. We built floating open shelving to create interest and variety and kept the cabinets original Moroccan orange; it was just too perfect! The existing cabinets were transferred to the garage and put to use for much needed storage.

After evaluating available green countertop options, including recycled glass composites and various engineered solid-surface materials; we decided to go with a centuries old kitchen favorite: ceramic tile - artisan-made Mexican Talavera tile, to be exact. At about $8/sf materials cost (including ¾" plywood, cement board, grout etc), this was by far the least costly (and most colorful) option. Ebay was the source. We both cook a lot and love the versatility of this surface – hot pots are not a problem and we can expect decades of worry free use. Terra cotta tile is biodegradable, or can be re-used for another application. The grout is a specially blended chocolate brown that references the ceiling beams. We sealed it with a heavy duty, very durable, high gloss sealer.

The sink, a Kohler executive chef from the 80's, was another craigslist steal at $50! It accomodates huge soup pots. The faucet came from ebay and has a built in sprayer and cab be raised to fill tall vases.

The SeaSide recycled glass tile backsplash simulates the sun, cheering up even the rainiest Seattle winter day. We bought the tile as a closeout lot, and used it for different applications in the house including a fireplace wall and a tub surround. Actually, the epoxy grout at about $9/sf was more expensive than the glass tile. The kitchen receives very little natural light; we solved this problem by installing a transom and creating a reflective back-splash.

We selected a Marmoleum Forbo click tile, floating floor for it's ease of installation, antiseptic qualities and, of course it's ecological soundness. At about $6/sf – self installed, it was a bargain.

We found the appliances locally and bought energy star rated floor and scratch-and-dent models – all under warranty.

The entire materials cost for the job including: ceilings, flooring, all appliances, new sheetrock, all lighting (under the cabinet, recessed and track), glass and ceramic tile and all fixtures, came to $7,600 – well under our upper limit budget of $9,000.

Until the adjoining laundry room can be converted into a dining room - the wall separating the two has already been knocked out - we placed a Saarinen pedestal table and Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chairs to make the kitchen do double duty. The chairs were an astonishing thrift store find. Although they were extremely delapidated - with gouged plywood and rotting rubber bumpers - Zinsser Ready Patch, much sanding, rust-remover and many, many coats of Moroccan red enamel paint gave the mid-century gems a new and more colorful life.

Research, careful planning, a commitment to sustainable design, luck and okay, having two licensed contractors in the family, added up to a joyful, functional and low-cost space.

Thanks, Susannah and Jeff!


  • House Tour: Susannah and Jeff's Hyde Park Home

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