Extreme Budget DIY Kitchen Makeover

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you’ll know that my husband and I bought and moved into our first home about six years ago. It was a 1970’s design nightmare, but came at a very digestible price-point for first-time home buyers. It was complete with wall-to-wall musty shag carpets, mint green walls and truly heinous light fixtures throughout. I wish we’d taken more before photos, but it just wasn’t a priority at the time. We got the keys and had just two short weeks to do as much as we could before move-in day; ripping out carpet and painting every. single. wall. were our top priorities. 

By the time moving day arrived we had newly painted walls, new hardwood floors in most of the rooms, and one fully updated bathroom (gone were the blue seashell sinks and pink cast iron tub, and in their place was new tile, a new tub and toilet, along with new - and fully functioning - Moen fixtures). 

The one space that didn’t look any different though, was the kitchen. At first we figured we’d just save up and redo the whole space at once. So for two and a half years we lived with it the way it was - ugly brown laminate cabinets, cracked and uneven faux-marble Formica countertops, bare sub-floor, and gold floral light fixtures. And somehow, other home projects, life events, and costs kept cropping up (as they do) and the project kept getting pushed further and further back. And I was OK with it, until all of a sudden I wasn’t. Haha. I had a spare weekend, and I decided that even if they were just ‘lipstick’ updates, I had to make some changes. This was a space we used multiple times a day every day, and I just couldn’t deal with the brown on brown on brown, broken cabinets and unfinished surfaces any longer. So, as any good DIYer worth her salt does, I took to YouTube and Pinterest. I spent about half a day researching, planning and making shopping lists. Then I got to work.

Step 1: Deal with the cabinets. 

I knew I had to work with what was already here, but decided to give our cabinets a new look on the cheap. I chose to cover up the dated detail on our cabinet door fronts with some very affordable, thin sheets of plywood. We cut them to size, sanded, and then glued them onto the existing cabinet and drawer fronts using Gorilla glue and some clamps. Then all we did was caulk around the seams, and paint everything white. This entire process is documented in the video below. I apologize in advance for the poor video quality! It was several years ago and I was filming on an old phone. In this video you can get a good look at the sub-floor (along with the piece of linoleum we laid down to catch spills #classy), the original cabinetry and hardware, as well as the layout of our space.

Here’s what we used: 

    • Rustoleum Chalked Paint in Linen White (1 1/2 cans) 
    • Water based polycrylic (1 can) 
    • Brass hardware (similar here, but at the time I got them for much cheaper) 
    • Gorilla glue 
    • 1/4 inch thick plywood (we only needed four sheets of this to do all our cabinets and I believe they were only a few dollars each) 

It took a few days, but I think it was well worth the effort considering the whole project cost us just under $150 (paint, sealer, plywood, and hardware included). I also ended up using the same Rustoleum Chalked Paint to give the range hood a quick makeover. I just couldn’t live with that brown any longer!

Step 2: Deal with the floors.

After we finished up the cabinets I instantly felt so so so much better about this space. I started to enjoy being in the kitchen, which was actually low-key life-changing. So we lived with it for a few months, and then I casually started looking for an affordable flooring option. I say casually, but in reality I was a woman obsessed. At first my plan was simply to lay down fresh sub-floor, stain it and seal it; this would give it a face-lift and improve the overall look of the space until we decided to lay down the slate tile of our dreams. But as I dug deeper into all the options, I came across LVT - luxury vinyl tile. I was actually blown away by how affordable LVT can be, and by all the style options. I also really like that you can use spacers when laying them and grout between tiles to give a more realistic ceramic tile effect. That was our original plan, but LVT is seriously hard to install (or it was for us), and since it’s probably not our forever floor in this space, we just installed it sans grout lines. The tiles are intended to just slide together, but guys, this stuff was seriously frustrating to work with. Looking back, we mayyyyyyybbbeee should have paid someone to install them. But in the end, we’re happy with them.

We ended up buying our LVT from Home Depot as they had the best price at the time. We used the Allure Locking Sandstone Taupe 12-inch x 23.82-inch Luxury Vinyl Tile Flooring (19.8 sq ft./case). In total for the whole kitchen we paid a little under $650 (CAD). 

Note: The remainder of our main floor has thick hardwood flooring throughout, and because our kitchen connects to both our foyer and our living room, we wanted to make sure the floors were all the same height. To do this, we had to install a thin layer of plywood sub-floor before we laid down the vinyl tiles. This bumped everything up just enough so that there was no drop at the floor transitions (doorways). You can see what the floors look like in the photos below…

For me, the price of these possibly temporary floors was totally worth it. I can sweep, mop and clean them, which believe it or not is a total dream haha. When we had just the plywood sub-floor in here, cleaning it was near impossible. Anything we dropped onto the floor would immediately absorb, stain and smell. Yuck. 

Step 3: Deal with the countertops & sink.

Again, end-goal in this space is to have higher-end finishes and a stone countertop of some sort. However, our current cabinets are way too flimsy to hold up anything heavier than laminate countertops, so going with Formica was a pretty easy decision. At this point, since I was on a roll, I just wanted to upgrade the countertops to something prettier than this dated faux-marble laminate.

I searched for awhile to find something that looked a little more like stone, and finally came across this random 10-foot piece of Formica from Lowes. The style/pattern is call Travertine Silver, and the ready-to-go 10-foot piece was perfect for the long side of our galley-style kitchen. You can custom order this Formica so that it has nicer/fancier edging, but we just went with the basic style that Lowes keeps in stock. This kept the price down and allowed us to to buy and install all in the same day. In total, for the 10-foot piece and the small 3-foot piece for between the fridge and stove, we spent $350 CAD (tax included).

This 10-foot piece was actually two feet too long, but Shawn quickly built some shelving to hold up the overhang beside the dishwasher and we gained two extra feet of counter space - I was thrilled to say the least.

Below are some close-up shots of our new countertops to show you the detail in them - I kind of sort of think it looks a bit like concrete countertops, which I’m into.

We also got super lucky at this point and scored a free extra wide single-basin sink from my in-laws. They had it sitting in their garage, and brought it down when they helped us to install the counters. And then obviously we needed to upgrade our kitchen faucet, so we went with this guy from Amazon Basics

Step 4: Create a pantry. 

Straight up, our kitchen is small. There is barely enough storage space for dishes, cookware and flatware, let alone actual food. So, we decided to transform this bare nook into a makeshift pantry for the time being. Eventually I think we’ll put upper and lower cabinets here, complete with a counter and backsplash. For now, we’ve settled on a painted IKEA dresser and a few open shelves, and even I was surprised by how much I like this area now that it’s all finished! 

I searched and searched to find an affordable dresser to tuck into this space, and finally found this pine TARVA dresser from IKEA for just $150 (it was on sale during their bedroom event!). I painted it with the same paint I used on the cabinets, added some drawer pulls to match the rest, and we were pretty much good-to-go. Shawn and his dad humored me and added some outlets to this space as well, so now we stash our small microwave here to keep it off the main counters. 

The shelves were a quick $25 DIY. We used very basic black brackets from Home Depot along with $10 stained knotty pine boards. Et voila! I’m a seriously happy camper.

A few weeks ago, I got the itch to warm up this space a bit, and decided to repaint all the cabinets and walls in a warmer cream color, as well as make a few improvements to the finishes (baseboards, trim, knife strip, etc.). Here are the videos I made over on my YouTube channel documenting that process.

Video 1: Watch it here

Video 2: Watch it here

Video 3: Watch it here

And that’s pretty much where we’re going to leave the kitchen for the next few years until we get the itch to fully upgrade the space; at this point it’s really just about finding the time and energy for a total kitchen reno. But honestly, it’s improved so much both in form and in function, that I would be perfectly happy living with it like it is for the rest of the time we spend in this home. Here’s what our kitchen looks like today, as I’m writing up this post (please don’t mind the dirty dishes in the sink haha #reallife)…

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