Archive for the ‘Kitchen fixes’ Category


Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve been woeful about this blog, not from lack of interest but rather sheer laziness (and a pinch of feeling overwhelmed recently with my day job). But today seems a fitting day to start writing again because I have a few brief words of wisdom to offer: don’t start a large household project (like, say, repainting your kitchen cabinets and adding new hardware) a couple of weeks before hosting out-of-town guests for a major holiday. There’s the slimmest of chances that, despite your best intentions, you may not finish the project before the guests arrive. And, on the morning of the major holiday, your house may just look like this:

Fortunately, my dear guests (who arrived Tuesday), have pretended to turn a blind eye to the chaos for which I can’t thank them enough.

In other news, today I’m cooking a turkey for the first time ever. Whoa. I’m a little intimidated. After conducting an enormous amount of Internet research on ways to cook a turkey, I’ve settled on brining it.

That’s the bird in the brining bag now.

Meanwhile, to the readers who are celebrating Thanksgiving today, have a wonderful day. To the readers who aren’t celebrating Thanksgiving today, I hope your day goes alright too.

I’ll write again (soon!) to tell you how the turkey turned out and to give you all the details on the kitchen project.


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Our 1950s kitchen has the original cabinetry. I have mixed feelings about the cabinetry. On the one hand, I hate that it’s so dated. On the other, I’m trying to appreciate its vintage character. For the most part, I find it easier to hate than to appreciate. However, I do regularly read Retro Renovation, a blog devoted to love of all post-war, mid-century homes. This blog celebrates kitchen cabinetry like mine. And thus, I hope that no enthusiasts of Retro Renovation are reading this post, because they might throw things to see what I’ve done. Check out this photo of my kitchen (taken just before we installed the new backsplash):

See that scalloped wooden valance? I tried to love it. I tried to appreciate it for its vintage character.

But in the end, I took a hammer to it. Technically, Mark took a hammer to it, but I placed it in his hand.

That scalloped wooden piece didn’t go down without a fight though. It took a lot of effort (from Mark) to loosen it and bring it down.

Let’s look a little closer. Uh oh, that’s a big piece of split wood on the front of the adjacent cabinet.

I think we’ll be able to fix it with some wood glue and filler. And, of course, we’re planning on painting the cabinetry anyhow.

You can see more split wood on the other side. We’ll have to figure out what to do with that inch long space that’s left between the two pieces of molding.

But despite these problems that arose with taking down the wood valence, and despite my efforts to love my vintage kitchen, I’m so glad the scalloped beast is gone.

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It’s time to paint the kitchen cabinets. We bought a new countertop and backsplash, both of which look great. We also installed new under cabinet lights, but I’m not so happy with those. Now we’re talking paint colors. Here’s a photo of our very white kitchen.

I happen to love white kitchens and would be happy repainting the cabinets white, but Mark is really keen on adding color. So we decided to compromise: we’d repaint the upper cabinets white and the lower cabinets some other color. Inspired by photos of these gray cabinets I found here, I tried to sell Mark on the idea of gray cabinets. His response to the photos: “very pretty, but cold and institutional.” Hmm. After much discussion, we settled on searching for a blue-gray color which would add some color but still be fairly neutral, go with the countertops, and feel warm and inviting. That’s when we brought home every blue-gray paint swatch known to man and started taping them on our cabinets (you can see just a few of them of them in the photo above).

Over and over our eyes was drawn to “Winter’s Day” by Martha Stewart. Not wanting to repeat the mistakes I made searching for a porch ceiling color (which you can read about here and here), I tried to do some research on “Winter’s Day,” googling to see if I could find photos of it on other people’s cabinets. No luck. So we made a $3 investment and bought a test can which I used to paint a portion of the bottom cabinets.

Pardon the less-than-stellar photos. I’m not a great photographer on my best day, but I really don’t know how to take photos when dealing with light from a window.

Sadly, we don’t love Winter’s Day. We like it, but we’re going for love here, not simple affection. So it looks like we’re back to the negotiation phase of searching for a paint color.

It’s probably a good thing that we decided not to go with Winter’s Day because it has a rather unfortunate side-effect. “A winter’s day” is the opening line to the famous Simon and Garfunkel song, “I am a Rock.” If you’re not familiar with that tune, it builds to the following lines which every time I look at Winter’s Day I can’t help but sing at full volume: “I have no need for friendship; friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock. I am an island.”

Yeah, thank God we’re picking a new color.

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In my plan to update our kitchen (you can read about the new counters and backsplash here and here), I decided to get new under cabinet lights. When we moved in, there were three fluorescent lights under the cabinets that looked similar to these, but one of the lights never worked and would have cost more to repair than to replace. Though the fluorescent lights were bulky and sort of ugly, they were bright and I liked how well they lit up the counters when I was preparing meals. But I let myself be swept up with the idea of new lights and getting rid of the one light that never worked. I decided not to get more fluorescent lights, but instead became enamored with the sleek sexiness of puck lights. Puck lights look exactly like their name suggests — like hockey pucks, but thinner and, well, lit. I crossed halogen and xenon lights off my list of puck light possibilities when I discovered that they get ridiculously hot and little fingers reaching under cabinets could easily get burned (you can check out a brief Consumer Reports under cabinet lighting guide here). Instead, I opted for LED puck lights. I liked that they were energy efficient, cool to the touch, and would, in fact, most likely never burn out. Also, they were inexpensive. I found this three-pack for about $35. I bought two three-packs to use for the entire under cabinet area. Here’s one installed under the cabinets:

While I like the fact that the LED puck lights are basically invisible unless you’re underneath the cabinets looking at them, I’m nonetheless quite disappointed in these lights. Compared to the fluorescent lights, they are very dim. Mark calls them “good mood lighting,” but the only thing I’m in the mood to do in the kitchen is cook, and as task lighting for food preparation they’re terrible. Also, the LED light is blue which, although I’d read about the blueness of the lights in various critiques before I’d bought the lights, I sort of thought the blue wouldn’t bother me (actually, I’m pretty sure what I thought was, “How blue can they be?” Answer: blue enough to be noticeably annoying).

Granted, in the photo above I used a flash which inexplicably makes the LED lights appear extra blue, but still, they’re blue. And that’s weird, right?

In addition to the $70 I spent on the lights, I spent $80 to have them installed (I never attempt DIY electrical; I think it’s important to know my own limitations). While I wouldn’t go so far as to say these lights were a $150 mistake, I sure do miss my fluorescents.

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While I love our new backsplash, getting it installed wasn’t without complications. The most obvious of the complications happened when Mark and I forgot to tell the tile guy that part of our kitchen is put together with spit and a smile. Actually, there are areas throughout our entire house that at best are odd, and at worst impinge on our basic quality of life. I’m pretty sure that these “peculiarities” about our house can all be traced back to one set of previous owners who were DIY enthusiasts. Don’t get me wrong, I love a DIYed project, but a potential problem with DIY is that some jobs really are better left to people who know what they’re doing.

Anyhow, back to the kitchen backsplash. I noted before how the walls in our kitchen are knotty pine wood paneling, which made putting tile on them a tad tricky. What I neglected to mention, however, was that not all four walls are wood paneling. Check out the area underneath the cabinets on the wall to the left versus the wall to the right in the photo below:

On the right is wood paneling and on the left, well, it’s a piece of plywood. Mark and I wondered why that wall wasn’t like the other four. In fact, it pretty much bugged us. Then one day when Mark was home someone knocked on the front door. An elderly man, accompanied by his daughter, introduced himself as the original owner of our 50+ year-old house and wondered if might he have a look around. Mark invited him inside and gave him a tour. (Here’s a disclaimer. It’s probably not a good idea to let strangers into your home solely on the basis that they claim they used to live there. In this case, however, Mark felt comfortable and all went well.)  Anyhow, the original owner said that the kitchen used to be open to the dining room underneath the cabinets. At some point, some other owner clearly wanted to close off the two rooms and decided to do so with a piece of plywood. Seriously, how was that the best idea? Surely there was more than one idea for how to separate the two spaces and in what world is, “Hey, let’s just put up plywood and paint it?” the winning idea?

So we forgot to tell the tile guy about the fact that there was a mere piece of plywood separating the kitchen from the dining room. Imagine his surprise when the tips of the screws he was drilling into the backer board came through on the other side of the plywood, otherwise known as our dining room wall. In fact, as seen from the dining room side of the wall, the whole configuration of screw tips looked like some miniature Medieval torture device. I wish I’d gotten a photo of it, but the tile guy removed the screws too fast. You can sort of get an idea by the holes that were left behind in the dining room wall (just imagine sharp screws pointing out of each hole):

The tile guy was mortified. After apologizing profusely (and in response we apologized to him for not remembering this goofy little detail of our house), he said, “Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that.” And that, I assure you, was not meant as a compliment.

Fortunately, Mark and I had all the tools on hand to fix the torture device, so we told the tile guy not to worry about it. We just filled the holes with spackle, let it dry, and then sanded the spackle to ensure a smooth surface.


After some spackle and a little sanding

Then we just touched up the entire area with the original wall paint we still had in the garage.

Good as new. And now that the wall in the kitchen is tiled, no one would ever guess our plywood secret.

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The backsplash

When we last left our heroine, she had confessed to her fall down the money pit of kitchen upgrades, moving from this:

to this, with the addition of a new countertop, sink, and faucet:

I’m here to chronicle more of the fall. Is that a high-pitched scream I hear?

Anyhow, those fancy new countertops left behind a pretty darn ugly brown strip covered in dried glue. The old counters had a 6″ backsplash but I really didn’t want the same thing with the new countertops. I wanted a proper backsplash that would go from the counters all the way up to the base of the cabinets. The walls of our kitchen are almost entirely knotty pine wood paneling (that has long been painted). You know what I’m talking about, right? The paneling that you’re just about guaranteed to come face to face with when you enter a ranch house from the 1950s or ’60s (and maybe even the ’70s). While I really hated the paneling when we first moved in, I’ve not only come to tolerate it, I actually sort of like it now. I think that’s because I really love the look of beadboard in older homes and if I squint, I can kind of convince myself that the painted paneling is beadboard. What I don’t love, however, is that the wall behind our countertops is wood paneling. I just couldn’t love the look no matter how hard I squinted. So after the countertops were installed, Mark and I pretty quickly decided that the next upgrade would be a backsplash.

While I would love to report that Mark and I DIYed that sucker ourselves — believe me, I would LOVE to report that — we didn’t. We wanted to do it ourselves, but we did a lot of online research and realized that we’d be in over our heads. We only came to this conclusion reluctantly however because homeowners on HGTV tile backsplashes all the time and I figured if they could do it, so could we. However, we had one obstacle that we found difficult to overcome: the wood paneling. We did a lot of research to try to figure out what we should do about the paneling. We searched online and we talked to a lot of kitchen and bath people. The consensus: there was none. All we got was conflicting advice. That advice took three different forms:

  1. Tile directly over the wood paneling.
  2. Cut out the wood paneling and install backer board in its place.
  3. Put backer board over the wood paneling and tile over that.

The problem with the paneling, according to some, is that wood tends to contract and expand depending on temperature and humidity. Thus, if you tile over wood paneling, the contracting and expanding might crack the tile (or the grout around the tile).

So we hired a tile guy to come do the backsplash. He decided to install backer board over the wood paneling. He took two days to do the backsplash. The first day he installed the backer board.

Mark and I took an agonizing amount of time trying to decide on tile for the backsplash. Mark really wanted something colorful. That was his only requirement for the backsplash (actually, that’s pretty much his only requirement for the kitchen in general). He didn’t want to feel like we had an all white kitchen because our cabinets are white as is our new countertop. Personally, I love an all white kitchen, but I don’t live here by myself, so I felt I should listen to Mark’s opinion. So we talked about backsplashes, then we looked at photos of backsplashes, then we visited the tile store many, many times. Fortunately, our local tile store lets you bring home samples of tiles you’re interested in so we borrowed a ton of different tiles and tried them out in our kitchen. You might think that after all this effort we would have ended up with something surprising or otherwise original. Nope. Not at all. Here’s what we got:

And another “in progress” shot of the other side of the sink:

That’s 3″ x 6″ white subway tile, otherwise known as perhaps the most ubiquitous backsplash choice. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it, it’s just that we looked at A LOT of options and it seems strange that we ended up with this. We almost got this really lovely 1″ x 9″ pale green tile that we would have used in addition to the white subway tile, running the green tiles as a single stripe about 2/3 up the backsplash, wrapping all the way around the backsplash. It would have been gorgeous. It also would have cost an additional $200-$300 so we reluctantly ditched that idea. I can’t say I regret it because I really love how the backsplash turned out (and I’ve promised Mark that we’ll add color in other ways).

This backsplash cost us $625, and the majority of that was for labor. We could have saved a bunch of money if we’d done this ourselves, but in addition to not knowing how to tile a backsplash, doing it ourselves would have presented other problems: it would have taken us at least twice as long as it did the professional, wouldn’t look as nice, and probably would have caused marital strife. So I have no regrets about hiring out the job. We’ll DIY the next big kitchen project: painting the cabinets. In fact, if you look closely at the backsplash photos above you’ll see all the paint swatches we brought home to try out on the cabinets. And we’re really close to picking one of those colors. Should just take a few more weeks. I’m kidding! We’ve actually already bought one of the colors (there will likely be two colors), so we’re halfway there. Stay tuned.

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Charlie, Mark, and Jean are overjoyed to announce the arrival of the newest member of the Yikes Money family:

The Kenmore Elite Slide-in Induction Range
Also affectionately called

Arrival: Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 5:56 pm
Length: 30″
Weight: 1000 lbs (or so it feels like)

The happy family are enjoying getting to know one another.

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