Kitchen Renovation on a Budget

by nrvmagaz

Being from Vermont and my husband from Wisconsin, we were somewhat enamored with the stencil cows in the kitchen when we purchased this house, one of the first built by Shelter Alternatives in 1990, give or take a year. The previous owner apparently loved stenciling as not only the kitchen, but also four other rooms, had stencil work. After five or six years, however, the cows started to lose their appeal. They never moved or mooed, but coupled with the stationary sink faucet, dings and stains on the laminate countertops and an annoying double hung window whose top dropped a couple inches every time it was opened, the idea of a kitchen renovation grew more attractive.
We are do-it-yourselfers for almost everything — a practical combination of budget constraints and being married to someone who is skilled, capable and willing to do almost anything. John designed our beautiful barn, calling out every nut, bolt, board and hinge, ordered the wood to dry for 10 months, then built it over the next nine months. But, that’s another story.
Once we started pricing kitchen countertops, backsplash materials, new window, sink, faucet, light fixture and appliances, we immediately abandoned new appliances. The Yankee practicality comes through on the premise that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They all work, so buying shiny, new things for the sake of it didn’t fit in any budget.
I like the oak cupboards and brushed nickel knobs, so they could stay. We had replaced the two ceiling lights over the stove with drop pendant lamps a few years ago, so I thought a similar hanging lamp over the table would blend much better than the brown, stained glass, ceiling fan-light combo (which found its way, along with other stuff, to the ReStore). The new window was a no-brainer. The double hung top part fell a couple inches (all of them in this house do that), so to close the window always entailed getting a stepladder from the garage, standing in the sink and pushing the top up and latching it. For someone who loves fresh air as much as I do, this gets old quickly.
Even though my husband grew up on a potato farm in central Wisconsin, he has a sense of style, and early on, he determined we should go with black countertops. We ordered a Silestone® product from Home Depot, which, in case you don’t know, is staffed with knowledgeable, helpful Interior Designers. I would not recommend black Silestone® for the imperfections that run through it that you don’t see on the little store sample. Perhaps lighter colors don’t show the splotches as much as black.
National Window in Christiansburg supplied and installed the casement window, which has at least 30 percent more glass. It’s Energy Star-rated (think: tax credit) and is very easy to open and close. There’s even a little windowsill. Electrical Supply in Cambria has many cool ceiling fixtures and lots of books of lighting products from which they can order. The glass pendants on the one I purchased are identical in texture to the pendants over the stove, if not precisely the same shape.
The most challenging aspect was the backsplash, both for design and installation. I wanted brick, but not red, and when we got all ready to install it, we had one-half inch of vertical space to spare. Remembering the skinny, black, porcelain strips at Lowe’s, we took off just before mixing the glue part and bought all they had. In hindsight, I think the black strip about two-thirds of the way up the gray brick makes the whole kitchen. Any home renovation project, big or small, DIY or not, is really sweet ~ once it’s over.

Painting: Hall, kitchen, dining area (hired labor)

Paint: Hall, kitchen, dining area (materials)

Window: (includes removal and installation)

Countertops: (includes new sink and removal/installation)

Light fixture over table:

Backsplash materials:

Sink faucet:

Fabric: (John re-covered kitchen chair seats)

Husband’s labor:


Anyone who has ever embarked on renovation and home improvement projects knows there’s much more to the process than the glossy HGTV shows imply. Whole house designer Kathi Fleck of Lone Star Property Solutions has written Renovate, Remodel … Relax, a 130-page, large format, soft cover book which can lead you step by step through the process from concept to planning, budgets, contractors and contracts, managing upsets and change orders and having a “relax” component throughout the project. With a subtitle of “Take Your Home Improvement from How to Wow”, this is a valuable resource for the newbie or well-seasoned homeowner. Available from or

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