The 1947 condo had been updated only once, in the 1960s. The original oak-paneled floors suffocated under sad wall-to-wall carpet, stained by what could only be circus animals with digestive issues. I can still picture the kitchen: drab vinyl floor, avocado green electric stove, virgin cabinets unpainted save for a coat of dark stain. Somewhere under this macabre mess lived a gracious two-bedroom apartment, with moldings on the walls, bright light and sweet neighbors. Once I moved in, I wanted the place to look like my own, but didnâ€™t have a lot of cash to spare.
When we consider renovating, design magazines and HGTV shows like us to think itâ€™s all or nothing â€” ripping out cabinets, tearing up floors, removing entire walls. But those remodels come with a steep price tag: an average kitchen remodel costs upward of $20,000; a bathroom, between $6,000 and $14,000, according to HomeAdvisor. And with a tight housing market, more people are staying put, choosing to refresh the look, feel and functionality of their home.
Bonjour, Rose et Noir
For my kitchenâ€™s evolution between 2005 and 2009, I wanted to pay homage to the buildingâ€™s era, yet express my funky feminine side. A small design devil stood on my shoulder and I heard it say, â€śPerhaps this kitchen should be reminiscent of a charming French bordello,â€ť so I chose large Italian pink ceramic tiles offset by small shiny black marble squares. I upped the ante by painting the trim black and the walls light pink, and installing a black-and-white granite countertop that immediately looked dated.
I recently entertained the thought that it would be nice to have an actual house with a yard for my daughter and our dog, but realized that even a teardown in our neighborhood was out of my range. So I made a choice. I would love my home, and keep working on every single piece of it until puttering would make me feel like Julie Andrews singing and twirling in a Bavarian meadow.
The greatest frustration to me was the kitchen â€” it would require the most transformation. I wanted an upgrade, but couldnâ€™t justify the expense of a full remodel, so I decided to splurge where necessary, and save where I could.
The Kitchen Remodel Savings
I scoured the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store and scored a stainless steel double sink for $15, and later went back and picked up a Kohler almond-color double enamel over cast iron one for $20 and sold the stainless one for $60.
Instead of the expensive Moroccan-inspired backsplash I liked, I opted for gleaming white subway tiles from a home improvement store. Subway tiles are one of the lowest-cost improvements that deliver the highest impact, plus they never become dated and give off that cool coffee shop vibe.
Iâ€™d originally settled for inexpensive butcher-block counters, but the guy I hired to put them in upsold me to a snow-white slab of quartz for $1,500 installed. Iâ€™m a million times happier I went for the quartz, even though I had to face the returns department at IKEA, where the crestfallen spirits, defeated by complex furniture-assembly gymnastics, reminded me of a sad Sunday afternoon trip back from Las Vegas in coach on a discount airline.
The Grand Finale
There was still the issue of the floor. I couldnâ€™t justify ripping up my French brothel tiles and starting over to the tune of $2,000 or more. Then I stumbled upon Mysha Bolenâ€™s tutorial on her DIY blog, Remington Avenue, where she painted over boring ceramic tiles like mine and turned them into what looks like an Indian palace floor. I followed the directions religiously, and when I was done, nearly wept for joy. My kitchen floor is now a deep sea blue punctuated with creamy white mandalas. I am, dare I say, floored by the result.
The Price of Happiness
When you go the high-low route, expect to do a lot more work sourcing materials and putting in sweat equity. There were a few things I wish Iâ€™d done differently. I should have chosen the undermount stainless sink instead, and I wish I hadnâ€™t paid the counter guy so much upfront because he disappeared for three days, and plumbed the sink so badly I had to bring in another plumber to correct his work.
In all, hereâ€™s what I spent:
- Sink: $15
- Countertops: $1,500
- Tile backsplash, adhesive, grout and installation: $500
- Floor paint and tools: $125
- Additional plumber: $75
- New matching curtain (actually, itâ€™s a shower curtain from Ross I got on clearance): $8
In all, my price of happiness rings up at $2,208 (plus a $40 profit from selling the second sink). I am thrilled with Â my kitchen. In this case, a little bit of money actually can buy a lot of love that will last for years to come.
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