...because home doesn't happen overnight.

Brittany and Greg bought their first home in 2012. It wasn’t the house of their dreams but it fit their budget and had potential. One of the biggest pitfalls was the kitchen situated between the dining room and a side entry.

view to kitchen from dining room

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What little cabinetry there was was outdated and in disrepair. Doors and drawers didn’t open and close properly. The (emerald green laminate) countertops were perpetually cluttered due to lack of storage. An undercabinet radio hogged one of the rare outlets. Too few overhead lights didn’t provide enough lighting at night.

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A freestanding stove blocked access to a nearby base cabinet and countertop. There was no exhaust fan. A shallow pantry was inadequate.

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The location of the refrigerator was such that it jutted out into the already cramped room and impeded traffic flow to / from a side entrance.

However, the kitchen did boast good natural lighting and new stainless steel appliances which Brittany and Greg took full advantage of when they overhauled the kitchen after living with it as-is for over a year.

craigslist kitchen layout

Working on a tight budget, the couple scored a set of custom cabinets via craigslist. The top of the line cabinetry typically sells for >$1,500 PER CABINET! Brittany and Greg negotiated a price of $1,000 for the entire set, including molding and side panels. Armed with mad math skills (they’re both engineers by trade), google Sketch-Up, a little imagination and a lot of DIY ambition, they created an open, functional kitchen that better suits their casual lifestyle. Spoiler alert: a game-changing wall was demo’d. I asked Brittany several questions about the remodel. Find her answers and the “afters” below!

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What were the limitations of your original kitchen?

The biggest limitations included lack of storage and countertop space. With the limited counter space on each side of the sink and an awkward last minute spot for the stove, it was impossible to use the bottom cupboard. Having >2 people in the kitchen utilizing all of the appliances was next to impossible.

Aesthetically and functionally speaking, the biggest source of pain was cooking and entertaining. Anyone cooking was completely segregated from the rest of the house. Too many people standing in the way wasn’t helpful for preparing food either.

How long did you live with the original kitchen? Did you make any short-term improvements?

We lived with the kitchen for a year and a half, through our wedding planning and actual wedding. We were very lucky that the last owners installed new appliances about a year and a half before we moved in, so we did inherit three new beautiful and functional stainless steel appliances which helped aid any limited short-term improvements and allowed us to focus attention on other rooms in the house.

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What were your goals for the remodel?

Our original goals for the kitchen remodel focused mainly on practicalities: <$5k, add resale value to our house, improve functionality. As our first home, we understood it may not be our forever home but it very well could be. Therefore, we tried to ensure it not only met our tastes now, but our needs in the future as well as others’.

We also knew that we wanted to get rid of the wall between the kitchen and dining room, leaving no header and no ledge on the floor. The consistent opening of the space would improve natural light and daily traffic flow throughout our house. Any perks of additional storage, counter space and efficiency would also be required seeing that we’re both engineers and functionality is our #1 priority by trade.

Where did you find inspiration for the remodel?

Inspiration for the kitchen really came from everywhere: blogs, Ikea, pinterest, Houzz, real life kitchens in our friends’ and neighbors’ homes. My husband needed visual pictures before he’d commit to something, so we’d share a photo stream just for our crazy ideas with notes on what we loved and where they would and wouldn’t work.

The ultimate layout of the cabinets was determined after many hours on google Sketch-Up and ultimately on graph paper. My husband was impressed by the fact that in a roughly 12′ x 12′ space we could fit in 40 sq.ft. of countertop, an eat-in bar, a pantry and a wide open space around the stove to prepare food. We were aiming for a flare of modern paired with a classic / vintage-y vibe.

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Which came first: the design or the cabinets? And how in the world did you score those cabinets?!

Cabinets! After we put our offer in on the house we knew the kitchen wouldn’t last forever and that we’d have to remodel at some point. As we were putting in our offer, a co-worker recommended, if we weren’t in a hurry, to keep our eyes out on craigslist. Thinking that was a next to impossible feat, I did some quick searches and spotted the listing for the cabinets. The homeowners were remodeling and anxious to get their two Mercedes back in the 3-car garage where the “old” cabinets were camping out. Their contractor suggested they put the cabinets up for sale on craigslist as they were in great shape.

We ended up getting their entire kitchen worth of cabinets for $1,000. They also provided images and each cabinet’s size / layout attached from when they were originally installed by Wood Mode.

While we were happy to stumble upon them, the biggest challenges were storing them for a year and a half and coming up with a functional design that incorporated them. We have <8′ ceilings and the uppers we acquired were 44″ tall. That left <12″ between the countertop and upper cabinetry. Standard work height is at least 18″. Therefore, we ended up having to modify some of the cabinets and, once we learned additional uppers would be ~$1,200 each, we agreed open shelving was the best option for us. In addition, one window is on a brick exterior wall and is not counter height. It posed a challenge when coming up with a layout.

FYI – We’re deciding whether to retrofit the upper cabinets, extra base cabinets & pantry into a hutch for the sunroom or use them for custom built-ins in the basement family room.

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Did you do all the work yourselves? What help, if any, did you hire out? What was the most difficult project you tackled?

We conquered almost every project ourselves with help from volunteer family & friends. From demo to electrical, to drywall, to support beam, to 1.5″ wood floor installation, to cabinet install, tile work, plumbing and sink hook-up, cabinet modifications & shelving and paint and aesthetic styling. Youtube and DIY blogs were definitely our friends during that time…and necessary!

As first-time home buyers of a 1950’s house and learning DIYers, it seemed each task came with its own set of challenges. For example, deciding on flooring left me mailing off a sample of our VCT floor for asbestos testing just in case. And the electrical wiring that we thought would take two weeks actually took 4-6 weeks due to two wires being cut during demo that provided power to the rest of the house. It’s worth noting while we were generous with our original schedule, we forgot we’d occasionally want a project-free night or day of rest.

We hired out:

*ceiling plaster repair – We had attempted this before and got a great recommendation of what I would call a plaster “artist” who seamlessly patched all of our damaged spots. After ceiling paint, no one is the wiser as to where the holes or wall used to be. I would hire this out again anytime in the future! Worth. every. penny.

*gas line moving – I hired this out thinking it would be a more complex task to move 4′ of piping for the stove. However, after seeing them run to the store and move it with flexible pipe, we wish we would have saved our money and done it ourselves.

*load bearing calculations & approval – Despite my husband & I both being mechanical engineers, we brought in a PE (professional engineer) just to confirm our thoughts and calculations on the load bearing aspect of our wall removal. Nothing surprising, but worth the extra insurance.

How long did it take from design to completion?

We started Labor Day 2013, used the long weekend for demo, and worked mainly on weekends and weeknights when necessary. The final project as it looks today was probably completed Labor Day 2014. We are both working engineering & management professionals with long weekday business hours and frequent weeks of business travel. A majority of the work was left for the remaining weekends.

However, we had cabinets installed by Christmas 2013. Countertops arrived a month later in early January. The finishing touches were completed somewhere between then and Labor day. Once the kitchen was functional in January, we tried to return to a normal life and complete smaller tasks each weekend to bring it up to its new identity as seen today.

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What is your favorite aspect of your new kitchen? Least favorite?

Overall, we both love the improved flow and functionality. Separately, I think we both love some of the smaller and finer details as our blood, sweat and tears are in almost every corner. For example, I love the open shelves for ease of cooking and cleaning, in addition to having the ability to display all of our wonderful wedding gifts. And my husband loves the USB outlets for charging devices, the instant hot water heater (makes oatmeal and tea in the morning super easy), and the tiled wall and the wood floors (where most of his tears were shed).

On the flip slide, we each have small flaws that bug us. Mine being the missing topcoat of paint on the end of the peninsula, and his being a few imperfect marks on the open shelves. But we’re the only ones who notice, and we have to remind ourselves of that every now and then. My least favorite thing (but not my husband’s – ha!) is that I didn’t take the half wall opening near the stove all the way back to the stove hood wall. *I think* the extra 2′ would have opened up the space even more and resulted in better sight lines while adding an extra few inches of counterspace. But, by the time I thought about it, the electrical and drywall were done. My husband just laughed because there was absolutely no turning back.

Resources of note:

cabinets – Wood Mode hallmark cabinetry in winter white oak
wall paint – Benjamin Moore northern cliffs mixed in Behr Ultra
trim paint – Benjamin Moore simply white mixed in Behr Ultra
flooring – 1.5″ solid oak from a local supplier called National Lumber. It was finished in Golden Oak to match the original flooring throughout the house. (We LOVE the seamless transition.)
backsplash tile – American Olean (1/16″ spacers), Lowe’s
grout – dove gray, The Tile Shop
side entry floor tile – clearances porcelain with charcoal gray grout, The Tile Shop
EZ mount cabinet levelers – My husband thought these were amazing.
granite countertops, sink – a local supply store called Shell Fab (They actually cut the stones and do the installation for the local big box stores, which allowed us to save $$ and shop direct from the local supplier.) We LOVE the deep sink and granite.*
appliances – Frigidaire, c/o the previous homeowners
charcoal vent hood – eBay
open shelves – DIY, inspired by Young House Love / Ana White
spice rack – wine bin from flea market
spice jars – Ikea
faucet  – Moen motion sense in spot-resistant stainless
hot water heater – Amazon*
garbage disposal – Amazon*
hanging pendant lights – Hampton Bay, Home Depot / ebay
pod lights – LED Sylvania 6″ retro fit to standard j-box, Lowe’s
knobs – satin nickel, Home Depot
motion lights – Lutron dimmable LED 3-way*
USB outlets – Leviton*
cake domes – Amazon, Macy’s
bread boxes – Ikea
clock – Target
glass jars – Amazon
copper bowls & colander – ebay
marble rolling pin – Amazon
mortar & pestle – Amazon
dishes – white Corelle (no worries about breaking them!)
dish towels – Etsy
apron – Ikea

*Denotes items / features we’re especially fond of and highly recommend.

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Thank you so much, Brittany and Greg, for sharing your space!

I love the ingenuity and hard work that went into this budget-friendly remodel. $1,000 for those cabinets? Are you kidding me?! And, of course, I love the open shelving and subway tile. Bringing down the wall between the kitchen and dining room solved two problems. It opened up the kitchen AND allowed more light to shine into the windowless dining room. This kitchen a far cry from the jumbled, dysfunctional space it once was. You can read more about this project on Brittany’s blog.

Have you ever thought of sourcing kitchen cabinets from craigslist? It seems like a cost-effective option if you aren’t pressed for time and are willing to be imaginative with your design.

images: Brittany Semrau

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With the major renovations completed, we’ve been able to turn our attention to smaller projects here and there. Most of these pesky projects are leftovers from bigger projects. We never truly finished some projects because we let minor details fall by the wayside in favor of: pretending we did them, feeding the kids, going outside, sleeping, working on our fitness, drinking wine, watching “New Girl,” smothering all the edible things in Trader Joe’s cookie butter, reading, showering, singing karaoke to “All About That Bass,” petting the cat, talking with our faces, (insert any action or inaction here). Whatever. It happens. And when we finally do get around to tackling these measly projects, they don’t seem blog-worthy.

But lump all those lil’ effers together and, BAM!, blog post. At least, that’s how I see this playing out. I don’t know. I might be wrong. Let’s give it a go anyway, shall we?

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We replaced the ceiling fans. We loved the look of the first fans (seen here) but they hummed and whirred so loudly. In the fans’ defense, they were listed as commercial fans and we overlooked the possibility that they might not be ideal for a residential setting. The other problem we had with them was the fact that, due to unique installation requirements, the canopies didn’t mount flush against the ridge beam so there was a visible gap.

Last month Steve said, “All I want for Christmas is new ceiling fans.” Santa came through with these plus coordinating downrods. (Apparently, Steve made the nice list.) Installation was uneventful which is always a good thing when it comes to DIY. But the best thing? They are quiet. Like, silent. The canopies are flush with the ridge beam. No gap! And we really like the aesthetic. The fans are matte white and super sleek. Functionally, they’re better too. They’re slightly larger than the previous fans and a better fit for the room. They also have reverse switches at the motor so we can change the rotation based on our needs. (Clockwise in winter; counter-clockwise in summer.) The only thing that would make them more awesome is if they were self-cleaning. Someone please invent a ceiling fan that cleans itself.

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We installed and painted trim around the fireplace surround. After painting the brick surround and building & painting the TV wall, we lived with gaps at the mantel-wall and brick-floor seams for several months. We added trim last spring (that can’t be right?!) and I just got around to painting it a few weeks ago with the same paint I used on the surround. It’s Benjamin Moore white dove, semi-gloss finish, mixed in Clark + Kensington’s primer + paint in one. It’s really, really good.

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Notice anything else?

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I have been cropping out the man door to the garage for years. It’s solid wood but was orange-y and drafty. I kept an old towel pushed up against the bottom to prevent cold air from blowing in but you can imagine how (in)effective my efforts were.

We reworked the door frame and added a new threshold, weatherstripping, hardware and trim. I painted the door and trim when I had the paint out for the fireplace trim. Now the mudroom / dining room isn’t nearly as cold as it used to be but I still wish we would have added radiant floor heating.

painted man door 3

I added a double hook to the back of the door for my purse and reusable shopping bags. The three wall hooks in the mudroom have been overtaken by the kids’ coats, hats and backpacks. And a certain toddler likes to play “Quick! Take and hide all the things in mom’s purse!” So this seemingly trivial hook is, in all actuality, a game-changer. There’s a set of key hooks to the left of the door which recently caught the attention of said toddler, ifyaknowwhatimean.

You might also notice that we rotated the sisal rug in the living room. See the corner in the image above? That corner used to live over by the media cabinet and the corner that was here (now by the media cabinet) sported a perpetual roll that drove Steve mad. (You can catch a glimpse of it in the seventh image of this post.) He tried everything. It was comical. If you can’t beat ‘em, rotate ‘em.

kitchen plinth

Finally, FINALLY!, we added a piece of filler plinth to the corner in the kitchen. (You can see the gap here.) This was one of those minor details that we overlooked when we installed the cabinets. We bought the plinth shortly after “finishing” the kitchen but didn’t put it up until, oh, THREE YEARS LATER. We still need to caulk at the wall seam. According to my highly technical estimates, that should happen in 2018. Don’t worry. It will be a blog post.

Have you been putting off little finishing projects too? What’s your excuse? It can’t be any worse than ours.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

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Recently, I’ve had several readers contact me about the globe lights that are suspended above the kitchen island. I thought it would be helpful to address the questions in a post since others might have similar queries. The lights are the 11″ clear globe pendants from West Elm. I love how they punctuate the island. Since purchasing them 3 years ago, they’re now available in a larger size (14″) and a different finish (milk finish with antique brass base).

One of the most popular questions I receive regarding the lights are “How do you clean them?” A few times a year, I give them a deep cleaning. Here’s what I do…

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1 – I carefully remove the glass globes and clean them one at a time. The globe separates from the base with the twist of two screws. A screwdriver isn’t necessary.

2 – I place the globe in a plastic laundry basket in the kitchen sink to keep it from rolling into the sink or countertop and shattering. (You could do the same thing in a tub if your sink isn’t large enough.) *BONUS* – It cleans your laundry basket at the same time! #twobirdsonestone

3 – Using a microfiber cloth, I wash the globe, inside and out, with warm water and dish soap to remove grease and dust.

4 – I rinse the globe, inside and out, with warm water. I dry the globe with a streak-free, lint-free cloth.

FYI – My grandma, who is the queen of clean, gifted me the microfiber and streak-free cloths several years ago. THEY ARE THE BOMB. Especially the white ones. I use them to clean windows (house & car), mirrors, the TV screen, the computer screen, etc. I don’t use any cleaner – just water! And they’re reusable which makes them eco-friendly and cost-effective. I’ve had mine for 5+ years. They are machine washable – just be sure to avoid fabric softener!

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To clean the bases, I use just a tad of Bar Keepers Friend (less than $2) with water on one of the green microfiber cloths. I’m careful not to scrub so hard that I leave scratches. Rinse well. It works like a charm. I use it to clean the canopies (seen on the ceiling in the reflection), too. I have to stand on a counter stool on the island in order to reach them but, hey, whatever works. Sorry, no circus act photos ;)

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I slip the globe back on the base, tighten the screws and, voilà, a crystal clear light! Here you can see the difference between a dirty (on the left) and clean (on the right) globe. World. Of. Difference.

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I should probably do it more often but I average ~4 of these deep cleanings per year. On a more regular basis, I wipe the globes down with vinegar + water on one of the green microfiber cloths then follow up with a little water on a streak-free cloth.

I’m always afraid I’m going to break one of the lights when I’m removing / cleaning them. Every time I clean them I think, “I should order a replacement…just in case…while they’re still available.” But I never do.

Everett came home from school after I cleaned the lights this week and said, “Hey! You got new shiny lights!” That same night Steve was all “Whoa. These lights are extra bright.” Yep, they were that dirty.

Any deep cleaning going on at your house this month?

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking