Before and After: A $1,400 Kitchen Redo Proves the Power of Paint Projects

published Aug 14, 2023
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If there’s one universal truth to home buying, it’s this: A kitchen can make or break a space. Whether that’s one stuck in the 1970s or another that’s far too cramped for modern living, a dated or dilapidated kitchen can make you run for the front door. 

When Guerin Piercy toured this 1941 home in North Carolina, that idea crossed her mind. “The kitchen was almost the deal breaker for me,” she says. She was told that this room had been renovated about 20 years ago, but she didn’t quite believe it. 

The countertops were made of particleboard that was clearly showing its age, and the stove had sunken in from long stretches of neglect. The cabinets were off-white, partly due to dirt, and the walls were a peachy-pink shade that somehow came across as anything but happy. 

“It was unlivable and terrifying as a first-time homebuyer,” Guerin says. But she put in an offer on the house anyway, and it was accepted. Now came the part where she would have to do something about this “completely unlivable” kitchen.

“I had to make a change,” she says. “The cabinets and walls needed to be painted. I had to replace the broken particleboard countertops, and I didn’t have a working stove. Before I could focus on any other rooms in the house, I had to get the kitchen into a livable condition.” 

Upon move-in, Guerin made a few immediate changes: She ordered a new oven as soon as she got the keys, then hired a local carpenter to install butcher block countertops. “I was game to try and do that myself, but I needed to move fast,” she says. A friend who had recently finished a bathroom renovation graciously offered up leftover ceramic tiles, and Guerin asked the carpenter to install those as a backsplash, too. 

She painted the walls and cabinets white, and the kitchen very suddenly became a space she could use. As Guerin caught her breath, she imagined how she wanted to feel in this kitchen next. 

“I quickly got tired of the all-white cabinets and walls,” she says. “My galley kitchen is small and the white made it feel smaller — the shadows made the white feel cold. I didn’t particularly enjoy being in my kitchen, so I needed to make it a true reflection of my personality.”

Guerin noticed that every time she sifted through inspiration images on social media, she gravitated toward one brand in particular. “I am obsessed with DeVOL kitchens out of England,” she explains. (Think: moody-meets-cottage–y kitchens straight out of a storybook.) “They have a couple of delicious dark green kitchens that I used as major inspiration … I knew leaning into a darker paint would give it some depth,” Guerin says.

She thought about painting the entire room with the dark green she landed on for the cabinets (Benjamin Moore’s Essex Green), but instead she decided to add something a bit more visually interesting.

She’d seen a gorgeous wallpaper mural on a DIY blog, and she loved the idea of adding one to her kitchen. “What could be better than feeling like you’re in a wooded wonderland while you scramble eggs on your (working) stovetop?” she says. However, the price tag on these wallpaper designs was far outside Guerin’s budget, so she thought of a plan B: Painting the scene herself.

She’d done some landscape paintings on a smaller scale before and worked with watercolor and acrylics throughout the years, so she felt comfortable taking them on — especially with some visual references. “I found the work of artist Charlotte Terrell, and she does custom wallpaper murals but paints them first on a smaller surface.” Guerin explains. “I needed a guide, and being able to reference her installation photos gave me an idea of proper scale, values, and color.”

After removing the cornice on the window piece by piece and installing molding around it, she started on the largest of the two walls by sketching her design with chalk, which could be washed off later. She used Behr’s Watery and Sherwin-Williams’ French Gray — as well as some water to blend the two together — to create the clouds and sky, which she says was the most fun part. 

The trees were more of a and took two tries to get right. “The second go-around, the trees still felt a tad dark. But I realized that because I was using latex, I could go back over them with a whitewash,” Guerin says. “Doing so not only lightened the areas I wanted, but also gave the scene an aged look.”

After painting the mural and cabinets, the subsequent projects of covering the old floor tiles with a black vinyl — which she then accented with a hand-painted white floral pattern to make it more interesting — and turning the refrigerator white, pulled all the shades she used in the mural together. 

“I’m also not a fan of a smattering of photos and coupons on the fridge, so I hot glued magnets to the back of frames and created a gallery wall out of mine,” Guerin says. Knobs scored on Facebook Marketplace, new drawer pulls, and a light fixture from Habitat for Humanity round out the accessories. 

The entire project cost about $1,400, not including $850 for the stove and $900 for the butcher block countertops and installation in the first iteration of the new kitchen. “I love that I’m no longer embarrassed that I have an older, small kitchen,” Guerin says. And when it comes to one of her favorite details, here’s what it feels like to experience it: “I love that the mirror on the larger wall reflects the window and the mural on the opposite wall,” Guerin adds. “I feel like I’ve stepped into a portal that leads to another land.”

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