Making a House a Home: DIY Kitchen Renovations

Making a House a Home: DIY Kitchen Renovations

Kitchen renovations were the first (tied with the stained concrete floor project) on the to-do list for my new home. As most DIY renovations go, these projects occurred about the same time for convenience and budget’s sake.

My fellow hostesses and mother hens out there know the value of a spacious kitchen. This room is the most important to you because it brings everyone together. A well-designed kitchen that happily entertains friends and family is the missing puzzle piece for a homemaker’s heart.

The overall flow of my new kitchen was perfect. But the oak cabinets and chipping laminate counter tops needed an upgrade. While I was at it, a new sink and range hood were in order as well.

Below, I’ll explain what did and didn’t work for me throughout all my kitchen renovations.

Be forewarned, this post is long. I just didn’t want to spare any details.

While you might find a slew of other step-by-step instructions or recommendations out there, I am happy to share my personal experience so you can create your own!

Kitchen cabinet renovations

Obviously, the cost-effective choice between installing new kitchen cabinets and painting the existing ones is the latter. I love natural wood cabinets, like hickory. They just weren’t in my budget. Painting was my only option.

If you are lucky enough to already have smooth cabinets, meaning there is little or no grain, or few grooves and details on the cabinet faces, painting your kitchen cabinets will take half the time it took me.

Oak wood makes for solid furniture and cabinetry, I’ll give it that much.

However, if the sight of outdated oak cabinetry and its prominent grain makes you wrinkle your nose, you need to know what you’re in for. There are several steps before you can begin painting.

In a nutshell, it’s like this (but spelled out in greater detail below):

Strip and scrape the varnish from cabinet exteriors. Sand. Fill the grain with wood putty. Lightly sand. Apply a thick coat of primer. Lightly sand. Spray at least one coat of paint. Finally, touch-up areas which weren’t thoroughly covered.

One thing for sure, you will be a master sander at the end of this renovation.

So let’s break down the process of painting oak cabinetry.

Strip, scrape, and sand varnish from kitchen cabinets

Now, before you go ham tearing off those cabinet doors, I’ve got a strategy for you.

While unhinging them, I numbered each with painter’s tape, marking both the back of the doors and inside the cabinet frames to remember where to re-attach them later.

Cabinet doors and drawers should be placed in a ventilated area. My pool deck and patio table worked perfectly. To protect surrounding surfaces, it doesn’t hurt to lay them on cardboard or plastic sheeting.

Next, put on a mask and goggles and follow the directions on the varnish stripping can. Shake well, then hold about a foot away from the cabinets and spray evenly. You won’t be able to achieve this with cabinets laying flat, so find a way to stand them up relatively straight.

Let the varnish stripper set overnight. Basically, if there’s an ashy white film on the cabinets’ surface, the varnish is dried and ready to be scraped.

I find it easier (but not easy, per se) to scrape the residue off manually first. Then I follow up with a handheld, electric sander.

Admittedly, I realized too late I did not have the right sander. I used my brother’s handheld orbital sander on all of my cabinet doors and drawers.

While it is a great tool, it was difficult to maneuver in the corners and edges. Thus, a few spots were virtually untouched even though I attempted to sand them by hand afterward.

A month later I found this perfectly-named, cordless Mouse Sander by B&D on Home Depot’s clearance shelf, and wanted to cry. I’ve used it for other projects since and could not be more impressed; it comes with a 20v battery and two plies of sandpaper.

All that to say, get yourself a sturdy little sander that can reach into corners and crannies! This will work wonders and save you time, money, sweat, and tears.

Materials needed:
  • Drill to remove cabinet doors and drawer hinges
  • Painter’s tape and permanent marker to number your cabinets
  • Putty knife/flat edge scraper to remove the varnish top coat
  • Varnish stripper – CitriStrip Paint and Varnish Stripper is the same one I used. It is the least toxic option I could find!
  • Good sander with at least 120-220 grit sandpaper
Filling the oak grain

To fill in that prominent oak grain and make the cabinets’ surface smooth, the answer is wood filler, or “plastic wood.”

Disclosure: this stuff literally smells like formaldehyde. You might gag.

To spread it on smoothly like a paste, I mixed in a bit of water. A tub is less than $10 and went a long way.

If you’re trying this at home, don’t be afraid to lather it on liberally. Work it in the direction of the grain, whether you use an old paintbrush or a putty knife. Just work it in well!

Once dry (likely within a few hours), use a fine grit sandpaper to lightly sand the cabinets by hand. You don’t want to undo all your work and scrape the filler out!

*Another word to the wise, I was not meticulous enough sanding or scraping the raised grooves inside my cabinet door frames. Unfortunately, these areas were not as smooth and clear as they should have been prior to priming, which caused the primer and paint to pool or cake up.*

Pick a primer

Most anyone will tell you KILZ is the best brand out there, and they aren’t wrong. At $40 a gallon, the highest bonding primer is worth it. I promise.

Keep your cabinet doors and drawers free of dust by using a tack cloth or damp rag before you get started.

Another tip for you avoid making the same mistake I did: do not use a paintbrush to prime your cabinets.

I thought surely the primer was thick enough that it would not matter. I was oh so wrong. On many of my cabinets, the subtle streaks of primer are visible under the paint. *Face palm*

Do yourself a favor and spend a few bucks on some fine-detail foam rollers to lay the primer on thick. But do it slow to avoid bubbles.

Let dry overnight.

Choosing paint for kitchen cabinets

To be fair, picking out a color is one of the most challenging steps in the painting process, even if your color scheme consists of neutrals and whites.

Find some paint colors you like via Pinterest or a magazine. Then, grab those swatches as well as a few others that catch your eye at the paint store (again, my first choice is ""/” target=”_blank” aria-label=”undefined (opens in a new tab)” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>Cathedral Glass by Glidden in eggshell is a medium turquoise with subtle hints of gray.

One gallon covered all 20 cabinet doors, 8 drawers, and all cabinet frames including the island, with just a bit leftover for touch-ups later.

Painting kitchen cabinets

Once the primer dried, I ran a tack cloth over each cabinet and drawer. I didn’t want any speck of dust or hair or bug to get fossilized on my finished product.

Then, I took the 12’x4′ painter’s plastic I’d used during my tile-removal project and taped it up on all sides to the stone wall in my backyard. I also put the DIY bench from my patio table behind that to set my cabinet doors on something while spraying them.

The paint sprayer I bought came with a few different nozzles. I used the one with the largest opening.

After filling the container with paint, I tested the sprayer on the plastic to the side of the cabinet door first to make sure it sprayed evenly. While still holding the trigger, I moved slowly about 10 inches over the cabinet door in straight, even strokes, without turning my wrist.

The sprayer provided great coverage with efficient speed. I only had to refill once while spraying the front sides.

I had to get creative finding dry spots on the backdrop to avoid smudges, though. One of those things you just don’t know to plan for!

There were also small areas like the edges or inside grooves that didn’t get completely covered. But I ignored these at the time and laid the cabinet doors flat, face-up on a raised surface, and only smoothed out any drips that formed on the sides.

Additional thoughts on the kitchen cabinet painting process

Just a tip, don’t let drying cabinets stay under intense heat for too long. Either the wood or paint could warp and you’ll have a bigger problem.

For the record, I didn’t follow all the steps above for the existing cabinet structures inside. I actually only stripped the varnish and primed the surfaces before painting with the foam roller and brushes for the molding.

Although trying to fill the grain wouldn’t hurt, there wasn’t as much to hide on the cabinet frames like the doors and drawers. Totally your call!

I also decided to paint the cabinet frames while the original laminate counter tops were still attached. I didn’t care too much if I got paint on them.

Materials needed to fill oak grain and paint cabinets:
  • Flat metal putty knife or old paintbrush to apply plastic wood.
  • DAP Plastic Wood Filler, Natural – less than $10 on Amazon!
  • KILZ Adhesion High-Bonding primer – this stuff is thick and reduces the need for additional sanding.
  • High quality paint of your choice in whatever sheen you prefer 🙂
  • REXBETI 700 watt paint sprayer – this one was less than $70 and comes with 4 different nozzles. This will save so much time and apply an even, streak-free coat of paint, so it’s worth it!
  • You’ll likely need an extension cord if you’re spraying your cabinets outside.
  • Latex paintbrushes; a 3-pack with at least one angled tip for touch-ups in the corners, edges, and molding is advised.
  • 4-inch foam paint roller – for applying a thick but smooth coat to the existing cabinet frames and laying on the primer.

Soft-close hinges, drawer slides, and new handles

Turns out, kitchen renovations are much more detailed than just adding new paint! Those little details usually take up the most time, too.

We were in limbo for a time when circumstances were out of our control (see below). So while everything was torn apart, we kept ourselves busy.

I bought a 50 pack of soft-close hinges, 10 pairs of soft-close drawer slides, and 25 brushed nickel cabinet handles. Oh, and a few packages of tiny, adhesive, clear bumpers to dampen the cabinet doors upon closure.

Since most of my cabinet doors already had the little plastic anchors near the hinge holes, we had to use a drill and wrench to pull off the white ones attached to the new hinges.

The process of screwing each of these hinges in is pretty simple, albeit tedious. Most of the supplies needed come with each hinge, but you might need longer screws since they’ll be going back into the original holes.

Getting the drawer slides just right is a little trickier.

We found it most convenient to install them with no counter tops in our way, so we could work from above.

First, we separated the slide into two parts: the part that anchors into the back of the cabinets from the section that slides into it.

We used a level and measuring tape to mark where they needed to be screwed onto the cabinet interiors. Then, we attached the interior slide to the outside of my cabinet drawers.

These came pre-greased, but as no structure is completely straight, we had to adjust some of the slides to get them to glide in smooth. Keep in mind, having them filled and weighted and used more will make them glide properly.

The fun part is no matter how hard you slam the cabinets or drawers, they slow down within an inch of shutting!

Picking out cabinet handles was the easy part for me.

I’m not a fan of knobs. I just wanted something simple that would minimize fingerprints and match my appliances.

Again, we used a measuring tape to mark where each screw should be drilled for the handles.

I’m not usually too particular, but one thing that makes me almost OCD is when cabinet handles are not symmetrical with the cabinet doors!

As you can see from the pictures below, we measured the bottom of the handles to start where the inside grooves did, then attached them up from there. Having them start toward the bottom of the cabinet would throw off your eyes.

Just something to keep in mind!

Lastly, I removed sticker after sticker from the backs of pinky-tip sized clear bumpers and stuck them to both corners of the inside of the cabinet doors.

Although the soft close hinges help a lot, these bumpers prevent rattling and keep the doors from wearing away at the paint over time.

Products and materials needed:

Kitchen renovations continued: sink and counter tops

Stainless or white porcelain sink? Two bowls or one giant basin? Quartz or granite or man-made corian counter tops?

I spent countless hours and evenings debating between these options.

Since the rest of my appliances are stainless, a white farmhouse sink wouldn’t flow well with the existing style. Plus, I wanted bright and neutral counter tops to offset my now turquoise cabinets. Finding a color that wouldn’t clash or look dirty against a white sink would be difficult.

Ultimately, I decided a stainless apron front sink would enhance the kitchen’s contemporary look.

Besides, stainless is timeless. Durable, sleek, stain and scratch resistant–it’s made to last. I didn’t want to worry about being too careful with a kitchen sink or to have to replace it in a few years.

The 60+ lb. box arrived in good time containing a solid 16 gauge stainless, double bowl sink with drain fittings and two wire racks.

For the record, the lower the gauge, the better the quality of the stainless!

But, it ended up sitting in the garage until I finally decided on a counter top…

Counter top decisions

I’m a visual person. Not being able to see every one of my ideas together was torture! Sometimes a girl just needs some professional reassurance, amiright?

Thankfully, 20+ year designer and Home Depot employee, Kathy, came in clutch. We sat down and I explained the vision. She immediately made me feel better when she oohed and awed over my selections so far.

I already knew I wanted a butcher block island, and timeless and neutral counter tops that would enhance the overall value of my home.

I seriously considered solid surface (otherwise known as corian) to save some dough. Nowadays, there really are some classy options that make it hard to tell the difference.

But, c’mon, there’s no comparison to the value of quartz!

Sure, granite is right up there too, but it’s often more expensive, and it requires more maintenance.

Quartz is tough. No, you still shouldn’t put a hot pan directly on its surface or forego a cutting board when chopping veggies on it. But it’s definitely low maintenance, just like me 😉

Considering the investment, though, I wanted to be absolutely sure. Kathy told me to take some samples home to compare in the light. In fact, she told me to keep it until the real deal was installed even after I’d made my decision.

As luck would have it, Home Depot had a President’s Day sale the weekend I was ready to purchase. Ten percent off doesn’t sound like a lot, but when we’re talking a couple grand up front, anything helps.

Ruvati 32″ apron front 60/40 bowl, 16 gauge stainless kitchen sink – of course, shipping was free and fast, and it cost less than $300!

  • 2×4 or shim brace to set sink for counter top measurement
  • Box cutter or thin knife to cut laminate edges
  • Crow bar to pry or loosen laminate counter tops from cabinet frames
  • Butcher block island

    From the get-go, I had my heart set on a butcher block island. I love the natural variations of acacia wood especially.

    Hardwood Reflection’s 6 foot by 3 foot, unfinished

    Final thoughts and total costs of my kitchen renovations

    If you take nothing else away from this post, hear this:

    Do not cave to current trends!

    When considering your own kitchen renovations, don’t go with something simply because “it’s in style” at the moment. Ask yourself what you like, and what you think you can live with for a few years minimum.

    Even if you take weeks to decide, who cares? This is your project, your home. Other people’s praise is nice, but you’re the one living in it. Your opinion matters most.

    Second piece of advice: be gracious with yourself. As with any DIY renovation, there will be flaws. But don’t nitpick your handiwork (preaching to the choir here).

    If you still aren’t loving everything after it’s completed, don’t be discouraged. Nothing is permanent.

    If nothing else, you’ll learn invaluable lessons from your projects.

    For instance, I learned the importance of asking for help. Whether it’s a second opinion or an extra umph in the muscle department. If you don’t ask, people won’t know how to assist.

    Time and money

    How long did my kitchen renovations take me? Difficult to say–about three months.

    However, I spent a lot of time waiting for deliveries due to COVID19 delays. Plus, I only took a few PTO days. The rest of the renovations were squeezed in on weekends.

    Straight through, expect maybe three weeks worth of work, at least.

    But, in the end, a $4000 total investment likely increased my home value by $10,000, if not more. That includes everything from tools and paint to counter tops and new installations.

    Before and After

    Below are before, during, and after photos. The first one is a Pinterest screenshot which served as my inspiration.

    As you can see, I also painted over those mint green walls with Behr’s “Essential Shade” in matte.

    I’m honestly not sold on the color yet. I don’t hate it; I’m just avoiding white shades because they clash with my white quartz. But even though there are grey veins in the quartz, I don’t want the walls so dark that the blue cabinets don’t pop.

    Sigh. We’ll see what happens when I get a backsplash put up.

    The range hood is the latest addition to my kitchen. I got a great deal for it at a local liquidation store. While it isn’t a name brand, it’s definitely high quality and similar to this style.

    The only difference is mine actually ducts out the side of my house, thanks to a contractor friend I’m happy to refer. Hey, it’s who you know!

    If you are a Phoenix local wanting a specific business recommendation, or have any questions at all about my kitchen renovation process, leave a comment below!

    Now, go forth and conquer your own renovations! I can’t wait to see what you accomplish.

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