Before and After: A “Glum and Grubby” 1980s Kitchen Gets an Under-$600 Refresh

published Jul 24, 2023
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Dated kitchen with small cloth covered dining table near window and neutral colored cabinets.

Revamping a kitchen that feels very dated can be a bit daunting, even if your kitchen is on the smaller side. If you want to modernize things, and especially if you want to DIY your upgrades, it’s helpful to think about it . Perhaps first you’ll address the cabinet hardware, then the backsplash, and then the appliances — or maybe your priorities are in the reverse order. Either way, splitting a large project into pieces can make it more manageable.

Homeowner Nicola McCart’s kitchen redo is a great example of small steps coming together to create a big room transformation. Before, her kitchen was “glum and grubby,” she says, and “very dated.” Its fruit tiles, tan color scheme, and melamine cabinets were straight out of the ’80s — 1985, to be specific, which is when the home was built.

With small changes — first to the cabinets and walls, then to the backsplash and counters, then to the furniture and lighting — Nicola created a kitchen that “feels cleaner, bigger, and brighter,” she says. 

Nicola used kitchen cabinet paint from a U.K. brand called Wilko for a base over top of her existing melamine cabinets, and then she used a satin brilliant white gloss over that. Painting the cabinets was easier than expected, she says. But she also did a couple of paint projects that she’d skip next time around. For instance, Nicola bought wooden cabinet pulls and painted them black, but that eventually wore off — if she were to do the project over again, she’d just buy black handles, she says — and she also tried to spray paint her sink with enamel paint, which she says wasn’t worth it. Learnings abound!

One upgrade that definitely was worth it to Nicola was the new breakfast bar. It was a “great low-cost addition” from Amazon, she says. She found a basic bar table with white legs and a plain top and covered it with marble vinyl to match her newly upgraded countertops. Nicola says adding the vinyl to the worktops and the peel-and-stick subway tile backsplash made the biggest difference in the space, and the time spent smoothing out the bubbles underneath the vinyl (the most difficult part of the project) was well spent. Nicola also replaced the ’80s fluorescent light with three black pendants for a more contemporary look. 

Nicola owns her place, but for renters, this is certainly an example of a kitchen redo with little additions that are reversible or that you can take with you if you move. In total, Nicola spent £450, or about $578 USD, on the kitchen redo, and she says she loves the big impact of all her mini-changes. 

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