How to redo your kitchen in one month for $6,500 — 10 simple steps

(And keep your marriage intact)

My husband and I bought our A-frame cabin in the desert in 2015. Surprisingly, we knew what we were getting into. I couldn’t help but think cha-ching! over and over as we walked around the property taking stock of warped siding, dry-rotted deck and a dull plank ceiling that desperately needed refinishing.

One thing at a time, I thought. We’ll just take it one thing at a time.

Having knocked out the necessities for basic living in the first two years — new plumbing, central A/C, updated toilets, etc. — we found ourselves in the position of “what do we do next?” Anyone who’s purchased a “fixer” knows that project lists are infinity long. But once you get past the important stuff, what do you do next?

Looking at the list together, it was easy for us to become overwhelmed and tempted to ignore it.

“Let’s do the bathrooms,” my spouse would say.

“Well, we could do the deck,” I’d say.

“What about the floors?” — so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

I’d start to hear my friends and family’s voices in my head, like some kind of nightmarish flashback: “Well, as long as it’s just cosmetic, you can do the work yourself” (echo yourself, elf, elf).

I don’t necessarily like doing work myself. I have a full-time job, so that I can pay someone else to do the work themself.

I’d cringe each time my husband punctuated our project conversations with “We could do that ourselves.”

The problem with doing it ourselves? We actually have to do it.

Then five weeks ago, my fridge died — my second fridge to die since January. Our little GE Profile died (RIP), and then we fell into a Craigslist trap, as I am wont to do. My new-to-me Jenn-Air now dead, I looked at throwing away the entire contents of our fridge for the second time in two months. How long can Mae Ploy last unrefrigerated, I thought as I hesitated to let my precious condiments fall into the trash, like Rose sending Jack into the depths of the ocean (he coulda fit on the door, btw).

I was fed up. (Who, me?)

“You know what? This is it. If we’re going to get a brand-new fridge” — my spouse had banned me from Craigslist at this point — “then we’re getting the oven to match. And if we’re getting the oven to match, then we’re painting the cabinets. And we’re starting this weekend, and we are going to be done by Memorial Day.” (The “or else” is implied here.)

So the fridge decided our next project for us. We had been saving up all winter for a $5K to $10k project in the spring, and it looked like the kitchen was it. But could we keep it to budget? That was the real question.

TL;DR wanna get to the pics? Here they are, meine Freunde.

Budget

Let’s be real here: Who starts with a budget? Don’t you just go out, buy stuff and assess the damage later? All we knew is that we wanted to keep it to under $10,000 — and the closer to $5k we could get, the better. We could have taken out a loan for home renovation, but I really wanted to see if we could pay in cash.

So I guess that makes our budget $5k? I dunno. Budgets are weird.

The damage

OK, this is the reality of what happened. What we actually spent on the whole thing:

  • Help — $200
  • Track lights — $340
  • Faucet — $180
  • Pendant lights — $180
  • Hinges and handles — $280
  • Paint and supplies — $220
  • Appliances — $4,700
  • Ductwork for hood vent — $150
  • Container Store — $250

Grand total: $6,500

Rules of engagement

Everyone needs ground rules when embarking on a major DIY project with your spouse. Like going on the Amazing Race or climbing Everest together, you need guidelines for sportsmanship.

Here were ours.
1. Use loud communication.

We’re not fighting, we’re just effectively sharing knowledge with one another. This isn’t an argument, it’s consensus building. I’m not yelling, you’re yelling.

Actually, despite a few … misunderstandings, we’ll call them, everything went pretty smoothly. And that’s mostly due to Rule No. 2.

2. Measure at least 7 times, cut twice.

Seriously, whoever measures twice and cuts once needs to tell me their secret, ’cause we went for the overly paranoid, I don’t want to have to go back to the hardware store, ’cause I’ve already been twice today approach.

“I’d rather it be too long and cut it down than too short” — I must have said this phrase 10, maybe 85 times over the 31 days of our project.

3. I’m the queen (not a new rule, so this is more of a reminder).

We can look at everything together and chat all ya like. But in the end — and this may be obvious to those who are wives, or who have a wife or knows what a wife is — I’m just gonna make the decision. I found this month punctuated by moments of looking at my spouse perplexed, listening as he made some ridiculous suggestion, like “Maybe we don’t need to buy KitchenAid,” and thinking Why are you still talking? Uh, yeah, we’re getting KitchenAid. Let’s move on.

Now that we’ve established the ground rules, let’s get started!

Before

How to redo your kitchen in 31 days

Step 1, Day 1: Totally overestimate what you can do in one day.

Day 1 was supposed to be “Take everything out of the cabinets and just fling it all over the rest of our house. Then remove the giant microwave box (side note, how big were microwaves in the ’80s?), move the cabinet that’s over the stove to where the microwave box use to be, remove the cabinet doors, put up the crown molding and prime everything.”

I like how we just casually tossed in “prime everything” at the end, lol.

Crown molding is one of those choices where, in the moment, you’re livid that you added just one more thing that you just had to have, and it added that much more to do and pushed your project back that much more time, requiring that much more work and measuring and cutting. And then you see it as a finished project and are like: OMG I’M SOOOOO GLAD WE DID THAT WE ARE FULL OF FANTASTIC IDEAS!

So we got everything done but the priming. A bit of news to me: Painting is time-consuming.

Step 2, Days 2 to 6: Hire a guy that eventually stops showing up.

Let’s call him Jimmy. We knew that by working five days a week at our real jobs, we weren’t going to be able to do anything except on the weekends, so maybe we should hire someone to help us push the painting along during the week.

Jimmy was somewhat helpful the first few days. He got some priming done, then he … well, I guess all he did was priming. ‘Cause he started showing up later and later — who starts a workday at 1 p.m.? — and eventually went MIA around Day 6.

Jimmy, if you’re reading this, can you come pick up your tools?

Current status:

kitchen-reno-during

Step 3, Days 7 to 9: Realize you need to move on without Jimmy and get a shitload of stuff done over the weekend.

Maybe it was coming off the success of the first weekend, maybe it was realizing that we were moving forward alone. But we got a bunnnnch of stuff done the second weekend.

We added trim to the bottom of the cabinets where the veneer was peeling, and we primed and painted the upper cabinets and doors. We opted for the same color white as the wall — which I think I chose solely so I didn’t need to tape anything off. ‘Cause I’m lazy.

Current status:

kitchen-reno-during2

Step 4, Days 10 to 15: Decide doing stuff after work was necessary?

It’s amazing how you walk into Home Depot for hinges and think, “Geez, these are all $2.99? That’s sooo cheap.” And then you get to checkout and remember you’re buying 50 hinges — and Oh, that’s $150, lol. Add to that another gallon of paint and some supplies, and I cringe all the way home.

So now it’s Monday, and it’s 8 p.m., and we’ve finished dinner, which is takeout, because our kitchen has exploded and we’re putting hinges onto the upper cabinets.

And I am wicked tired.

I would like to send out a formal apology to all of my friends I follow on Instagram for every time I rolled my eyes so far back into my head after you posted your DIY before-and-after photos.

Before I would see pictures of someone’s new bathroom or floor-refinishing project and be like, “Kewl bro.” But now I’m like, “OMG! Good on you. No, seriously — you are amazing!”

So over the course of the week, we dabbled after dinner, attaching hinges and handles, until we passed out, exhausted.

Current status:
kitchen-reno-hinges-handles

Step 5, Days 16 to 20: Intermission

This is the period where we languish, go away on business for a few days, then return and freak out because we got nothing done over four days.

Current status:

kitchen-reno-during4

Step 6, Days 21 to 25: Kinda lose it a lil.

Now we’re behind, and we have no appliances yet. I have a minor {heart attack, freakout, tantrum, etc.} over the appliances. Wanna know why? This is why:

diy-kitchen-renovation-appliance-cost

We bought them from Home Depot, because we had a few leftover gift cards from the holidays and knew that even if we got a screaming deal somewhere else, they’d still be cheaper from the Depot.

But holy hell, that was a lot of money.

The appliances in our cart: A KitchenAid bottom-freezer two-door refrigerator, a KitchenAid 30-inch gas range with double oven, a KitchenAid 30-inch oven hood and a KitchenAid dishwasher.

KitchenAid 30 in. Convertible Range Hood
Home Depot
KitchenAid Convection Oven and Gas Range
Home Depot
KitchenAid 20 cu. ft. French Door Refrigerator
Home Depot

Here’s where we give up on the dishwasher dream.

The sales lady is doing that thing, where I’m like, “We can’t do the dishwasher right now, because it requires that we remove the countertop, and we can’t afford that right now.” And she’s like, “Well, it’s such. an. amazing. sale. You could just hold on to it until you’re ready.” And for a moment I’m like, “Well, she has a point.” And then I’m like, OMG, snap out of it! She’s just trying to sell you a dishwasher.

So, we took the dishwasher out of our cart. By passing on the dishwasher, keeping the floors and countertop, I estimate we saved at least $5,000. I realize that no dishwasher is a deal breaker for many people. But we have not had a dishwasher for 10 years, and when we had one (briefly), we never used it. I’m not too sad about the dishwasher, honestly. The square tile is coming back into trend in the Southwest, so overall not too sad about the counter either.

With a new plan in place — and a bunch of Memorial Day sale prices — our Home Depot total comes to $4,700. I can stomach that. I have not had a working refrigerator since January.

The appliances now ordered, they’re coming in four days. Which means we spend the next four days painting the lower cabinets.

The color we used on the lower cabinets is called Kendall Charcoal, a taupe-y gray from Benjamin Moore. We saved a separate trip and a few bucks by having Home Depot color match it using Behr Marquee.

Current status:

kitchen-reno-during3

Step 7, Days 25 to 27: Talk yourself off the cliff.

Memorial Day weekend is approaching, and the appliances arrive. Two men appear and take away our old range and our old fridge and drop beautiful, shiny, plastic-wrapped machines in the center of our kitchen.

The guy hooks up the water line to the fridge, presses a button and WATER COMES OUT OF THE REFRIGERATOR.

This is the moment where the light appears at the end of the tunnel: We are almost there.

We chose a fridge with an internal water dispenser because we wanted the reduced risk of repair and a cleaner look, plus extra door storage.

Watch the KitchenAid unboxing:

Step 8, Day 28: Get reaaaal impatient.

After getting in some practice on the upper cabinets, the hinges and handles on the lower cabinets actually go quite swimmingly.

We decide to save another $400 by installing the hood and range ourselves. This was a calculated risk: We are on propane and need to install an adapter in order to convert the fuel source from natural gas to propane. We’ve messed around with electricity before, but not gas — which should have made me more nervous than it did. But, hey, if you’re gonna go up in flames, it may as well be surrounded by brand-new stainless steel.

After matching a few YouTube videos to steps in the instruction booklet, like the Goonies deciphering a treasure map, we safely installed the adapter. That was surprisingly straightforward.

But it’s now Friday, and there are three days left until Memorial Day. My heart fluttered when we turned on the gas, and all I could dream about was the absolutely perfect grilled cheese I was going to create soon. But excitement turned to panic when I remembered how much there was left to do.

Next, the hood. Then another trip to the hardware store. Then after that, the ventilation goes in. Then another trip to the hardware store. And then finally, kick plates.

Current status:

IMG_2041

Step 9, Day 29: Play with electricity.

It is now Sunday. Time for track lights.

So we also completed this part with, like, little to no surprises whatsoever. Why is the end of this project going so smoothly?! Isn’t now when something is supposed to break, dragging us way past our budget and deadline?

The track lights, we purchased from Wayfair. My spouse turned off the breaker, we installed the track and wired in the canopy (new word I learned) and the lights snapped right into the track without any extra wiring.

Current status:

IMG_2133

It may look done to you. Technically, it is. But there is one last, crucial step.

Step 10, Day 31: Spend far, far too much money at the Container Store.

So get this: There’s an entire store that sells only containers. Its sole existence is to sell you apparatus in which to store actual objects — objects that you must purchase at other different stores, because this store is solely for containers to hold those objects.

Not only did the prospect of a box-and-basket store thrill me, but I also drove an hour to get there.

Within minutes, my cart (which is a kind of container of its own, but this is getting kind of meta) overfloweth with organizers and wire baskets, lazy susans for my spice cabinet, but really the single most important thing: a bamboo tray.

I have a thing about turning cups upside down in my cabinet. I would not kiss my cabinet shelf. My solution? A wooden tray that can be taken out to be washed every once in a while and raises the cups off the shelf.

So I did what any normal person would do: I drove an hour to a store that sells fancy boxes and purchased several items that amounted to far more than anyone should spend in one sitting on fancy boxes. And they all fit perfectly in the cabinet.

I also purchased cork adhesive for the inside of a few drawers, a knife organizer and an expandable tray. All in all, quite satisfied with my container purchases.

Step 11: Would you like some ice?

So, this is it. I walked around the kitchen, touching up random paint spots and putting things back.

“It feels like there should be more to do or something,” my spouse says.

“Right? I guess, let’s just cook something with our new stove?” I reply, dreaming of grilled cheese. Then we hear the beautiful sound of ice dropping into the ice tray. Automatically. My refrigerator, which can read my mind, knew I wanted ice and, without me asking, took it upon itself to put water in a tray, freeze it into ice cubes and then drop them into the ice tray.

Asking each other “So, do you want some ice?” every time we hear the ice maker is still not old.

So there you have it, folks. How to redo your kitchen in 31 days, in 10 easy steps, for $6,500 — and stay married at the end of it. It is possible.

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