In 2003 my husband and I bought an old 1910 bungalow. The house still had its original kitchen, which included counters that were four inches shorter than standard and cabinet doors that, when opened, hung crooked as their hinges strained to rip out of the cabinet boxes. The subcounter under the laminate countertop was rotting, and three months before this picture was taken we had to replace the kitchen faucet when it very suddenly, and very surprisingly, simply fell over. After buying a new faucet, we discovered that it did not fit on the sink (the base of the faucet was wider than the lip of the sink), so we found a free sink to replace the old one, only to discover the aforementioned rotting of the countertop (which made the installation of the new sink rather challenging). In short, we knew that a complete kitchen overhaul was looming closely in our future.
The good news was that we had been planning on redoing our kitchen for some time, so in the preceding months we had been visiting building supply warehouses and collecting whatever supplies we thought might be useful. We found a vintage double-drainboard sink for $25 at the ReBuilding Center, and for $300 we bought three huge slabs of cast-off granite from a stone supplier. We had to haul the granite slabs home ourselves (with the help of two other people), but it was well worth it, considering the incredible deal we got.
This may sound obvious, but the most effective way to save money on a kitchen remodel—or any remodel, for that matter—is to commit to doing the work yourself. Savvy purchasing habits are also important, but when you realize that you could easily shell out over $1000 just to have someone demo your small kitchen and haul away the debris, a personal dedication to hard work becomes a real asset.
We encountered an unexpected big break when we purchased ready-made cabinets from a cabinet warehouse. We could never afford custom cabinetry, but once we meticulously measured our kitchen’s dimensions to the nearest centimeter and then scoured the cabinet warehouse for cabinets of the exact right size, we discovered that we could mix and match quite a few sizes of drawer and cabinet combinations to come up with a set up that would fit perfectly in our kitchen. As an added bonus, since we were loading and unloading all of the cabinetry ourselves and wielding a tape measure with a certain level of authority, we apparently looked convincing enough in our paint-splattered and permanently worn-out clothing to warrant a professional builders discount. For just under $3000 we bought brand new kitchen cabinetry with solid maple doors and high quality, full extension drawer slides.
I built a backsplash out of custom-cut lengths of copper sheeting that I ordered from a sheet metal manufacturer. I adhered the copper sheets to plywood panels, then glued them to the wall using an industrial-strength adhesive.
Through friends we located a granite fabricator who was willing to cut and install our countertops for a few hundred dollars. Since we already owned the granite slabs and had recently installed all of our new cabinetry, the fabricator was able to complete the job in record time: from the day he came over to measure the counters to the day he installed the granite, under two weeks had passed.
Through a combination of manufacturer discounts, annual store sales, and Energy Star refunds, we bought a dishwasher for 45% off the regular price. In fact, we saved $80 by choosing to pick up the dishwasher ourselves and install it ourselves, and we’re no wizards when it comes to plumbing and electricity. Neither my husband nor I had even owned a dishwasher before, but spending 20 minutes with our new dishwasher’s instruction manual supplied us with all the installation information we would need.
For less than .75¢ a square foot, we found vinyl composition tiles that were durable, easy to install, and, aesthetically, a good fit for our house’s age and character. Installing the tiles took only one day.
We kept our existing refrigerator, in no small part because it was the only fridge known to all of humankind that could fit in the small little fridge cubby wedged neatly under the stairs. The stove was a wedding present from my parents, and I still often miss its built in griddle that could convert to a fifth burner. We sold this house in 2006, and I’ve probably thought about that stove at least once a week ever since.
When you add in the cost of paint, cabinet hardware, and building supplies, the entire overhaul came in at just under $5000. Additionally, because we weren’t waiting on a contractor to line up subs and make appointments, we completed the entire remodel ourselves in six weeks (with a break for Thanksgiving and a break for Christmas thrown in). Not bad for two people armed with little more than basic power tools and a 25 year-old Toyota pick up truck.
What about you? What’s your greatest do-it-yourself accomplishment, kitchen related or not?