As soon as the offer was accepted on our new old home, our wheels started spinning with renovation ideas. We had so many plans, and wouldn’t be able to do them all at once (budget and a 7 week timeline before move in day being the main constraints), so we had to prioritize.
The number one priority for me was patching and painting all of the walls and trim. And removing all of the popcorn ceilings (not for the faint of heart). The walls looked like they hadn’t been repainted in years, and the majority of the house was a flesh toned color that did nothing to brighten the space, in spite of all of the windows and natural light. We also knew we wanted to knock down a wall and another partial wall. Basically, all the dusty and messy stuff needed to get done before we moved us and all of our belongings into the new place.
That left room, realistically, for one more project- renovate the kitchen or renovate the full and half baths. All three of these spaces were in need of renovating, but they were also all in livable condition. It was really a matter of what we wanted to get done more and what we could live with waiting on. We ultimately decided to renovate the kitchen, because I felt like living through a kitchen renovation down the road, while residing in our home, would be more difficult. That, and kitchens are just more fun!
The next question was exactly how much renovating we wanted to do. The only elements of the kitchen we really liked were the bead board walls and the two light filled windows. The cabinets weren’t our favorite by any means, but we could potentially repaint them and save money there. Everything else- the rusty old appliances, the horrible drop ceiling, the even more horrible peel and stick faux marble floor tiles- had to be addressed. We also needed to consider layout- now was our chance to customize the kitchen to our liking, and we really wanted to get it right (which we didn’t, exactly, but more on that later).
The main problem with the kitchen was that it felt really closed off from the rest of the house. I didn’t necessarily want to knock down a bunch of walls and change our entire house into the open concept style that is so popular these days. I actually liked that this home felt like an older home, and there is a certain coziness to having separate spaces. But I also didn’t want the kitchen to feel like an isolated space in the back of the house, so we opted to make a few minor changes that we thought would help add flow to the home while still keeping its’ original integrity.
First, we decided to remove the cabinetry and dated mirrored back splash in that odd little alcove, and knock down that wall. Behind that was our living room, so it would create a nice pass through to that side of the house. Kevin cut that hole in the wall literally the day we closed on the house- it couldn’t come down fast enough! We soon discovered that there was also an old brick chimney that had been plastered over, and we quickly worked to expose that as well.
The other major change we made was cutting out the top half of the wall looking into the dining room, which made a huge difference in opening up both spaces. Because that wall was where the fridge was originally located, we knew we would have to change the layout of the appliances slightly, and thus the cabinets. When we took a closer look at the cabinetry, it became obvious that the age and quality (there were no backs on them), meant that we wouldn’t be able to simply relocate them- they were not worth repainting and would have to be replaced.
Once we had a game plan, I got to work on the fun part- the design plan. Even though we would be doing the labor ourselves, we were still on a tight budget, which would play a major role in the materials and finishes we ended up using. Still, I am no stranger to working within a budget, and was giddy to be renovating a kitchen that would pretty much be a blank slate!
In keeping with the historic style of our colonial home, we opted to go for a modern farmhouse look. Kevin and I started pinning images we liked on Pinterest for inspiration, and were really drawn to photos of kitchens from the 1930s in particular.
What we liked about them was that instead of matching upper and lower cabinets everywhere, the storage pieces were separate pieces of furniture. Even the sink and appliances often stood alone as opposed to being built into the kitchen. As a nod to this style, we knew we would want some separate piece of furniture for storing pantry items, whether a hutch or shelf or buffet, and we also knew that we didn’t want any upper cabinetry. We opted instead for simple shaker style lower cabinets (surprisingly affordable ones from Lowe’s) and open shelving on the walls above, since we really liked the look of our dishes and were happy to display them anyway.
The other sort of controversial choice we made was to go with white appliances. I know everyone feels like they need to get stainless steel these days, but honestly, I’m over it. It felt too modern for this house in particular, and I wanted the appliances to sort of blend into the background rather than stand out. Besides, we knew we wanted gold finishes in the cabinet knobs and pulls (and a gold towel bar instead of putting fake pulls on that drawer below the sink, an idea I saw on Pinterest and loved). A retro style Smeg fridge was the ultimate dream, but out of our price range, so I was happy to find a line of appliances called GE Artistry that still had a retro look to them- I mean, how stinkin’ cute is the little clock on that stove?! I was also really loving the painted cabinetry thing that has been happening all over the design blog world, and thought a deep green would be so striking.
Lastly, a combination of butcher block counter tops by the dining room cut out and quartz counter tops by the farmhouse apron front sink would bring in both some warm wood tones and the cool marble look I had been coveting. For the floors, we would go with a classic black and white tile- timeless and affordable. Thus my first design board for our kitchen was born:
We planned on moving the stove over and putting the fridge next to it, with a shelf above for storage. By the sink, we wanted to remove the upper cabinets and replace with 2 more shelves on each side. Finally, under the cute arched window by the walkway to the living room, I toyed with the idea of a little bistro table and chairs. It was all looking pretty good, and we were getting excited about our vision for the space. And then life happened.
The first issue was with the cabinets and the fact that we were buying them from a big box store instead of having them custom made. Because the drawer fronts were not deep enough, we wouldn’t be able to do the apron front sink of my dreams, and would instead have to do a drop mounted white sink. The other problem was paint- even though I loved the look of painted cabinets, the reality was that we were buying new white cabinets with a very slick factory finish, and it would have been nearly impossible for us to sand them down enough for the paint to stick, then paint them well enough to look professionally done. The last thing I wanted was for us to do all of that work, only for the paint to start peeling off. Had we been refinishing the old cabinets, I would have definitely done it, but it was just feeling like too much work for brand new cabinets with not the best quality wood. Who knows what we would have found once we started sanding them? Plus, we started to wonder if maybe the dark green painted cabinet look was a trend that we would eventually tire of. The cabinets were new, white, a safe color that would always suit our tastes, and it would save us a ton of time and effort to just leave them as is.
The next thing I had to give up was the quartz counter tops. I really loved them, truly, but I also really loved the butcher block, and as the renovations went on and more and more things kept coming up (thus bleeding more and more money from the budget), we ultimately decided to save and just go with the butcher block everywhere. I wasn’t too upset, as I really loved the warm look of it (especially since our cabinetry would now be white on white walls with white appliances), but promised myself I would find a way to bring in that marble look I loved elsewhere, perhaps in the form of a marble tray or other kitchen accessory.
As we got to demoing and painting, we realized that not all of the bead board on the walls would be salvageable, particularly where the upper cabinets had been flanking the window above the sink. We made a last minute decision to do white subway tile all the way to the ceiling on that wall instead, and I am so glad that we did. It’s such a simple but classic detail that adds just another subtle, interesting element to our kitchen.
Another last minute decision was to go a little bolder with the floor tiles.
I had been coveting the aged cement tiles that are becoming really popular with kitchens as of late, (but again they were not in our price range), and then I stumbled upon a porcelain tile on Wayfair with a similar look for a fraction of the price. I loved how the bold pattern would create interest in our otherwise white and understated kitchen, and Kevin agreed.
So here is our revised design board- I changed out the wooden hutch for a gray washed buffet, because of all of the wood tones that would now be brought in with our counter tops. I also love how it pulls some of the gray tones from the floor tiles. You may also notice that the fridge is different- once we went to order the first one, they couldn’t find it in stock anywhere and we had to find a new one very quickly. Still, I think it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I love having a freezer on the bottom (we hardly ever use it), and the shorter french doors definitely help in the tight space. Still got that cute little retro style stove though!
cabinets / floor tiles / fridge / stove / butcher block counter tops and shelves / faucet / cabinet pulls / cabinet knobs / towel bar / milk glass pendant / black library sconce / cast iron shelf brackets
So there you have it! The kitchen is almost done (with the exception of some trim work that needs to be installed and painted), and we really do love it. Its such a pretty space, white and bright the way I like it, but with lots of warm textures in the walls and counter tops. I am obsessed with our open shelving- the cast iron cobweb brackets bring in so much character, and I love being able to put away and get dishes down so easily from those shelves.
Still, after living with it for a few months, there are some more changes we are now planning on making. We want to move the fridge from its’ current location beside the stove, as it just feels like it sticks out too far and blocks to much of my favorite view when coming in from the living room. The plan is to steal some space from the half bath behind the wall (along the walkway toward the living room) and recess it into the wall. Then, we can get another lower cabinet to place beside the stove instead. We are also still on the hunt for the perfect buffet piece for under the arched window- I am hoping to find something vintage and full of character, that can conceal our pantry items and microwave (which is currently and most inconveniently residing outside in the shed, as I refuse to take up all that precious counter space on an ugly ol’ appliance).
For a full tour of the finished product, head over to the Tour of Our Modern Farmhouse Kitchen post!
Tell me your thoughts! Would you have chosen to renovate the kitchen or the bathrooms? Do you prefer the first design plan or the second? Would you ever consider doing butcher block counter tops in your own kitchen? Do you think we’re crazy for going with white appliances? I want to hear it all!