Our complete kitchen redo for under $4,000

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The kitchen, before. Click on a photo to go to a slideshow.

The kitchen, before. Click on a photo to go to a slideshow.

We moved into a foreclosure property with every intention of completing only some cosmetic updates -- mainly repainting and replacing carpet. The bathrooms had been modernized and we thought the kitchen would be adequate for a while.

But we found we couldn't make do with the kitchen for very long.

Its aging electric range was flanked by a single wall of mismatched cabinets, there was no exhaust hood, and the disposal and dishwasher were non-functioning. We purchased a new range, but our refrigerator looked out of place sitting in its corner. And the lighting -- a lonely pair of exposed receptacles in the ceiling.

As an adventurous and impetuous former design-builder, I looked at my contractor husband and proclaimed, "OK, we'll just get creative and rework this old kitchen." He gave me his look -- the one that says, "I think you're crazy, but I'll help you anyway." We really had no choice. We had to redo this kitchen. We set a budget of $3,500.

We needed to accomplish the work quickly; we had already moved into the house and needed to cook and eat and get on with our lives. Plus, we know how disruptive remodeling is and we had no desire to live at a construction site.

Planning was crucial -- as was the ability to handle surprises. I drew up a plan. We would reuse existing cabinets, box in the refrigerator, and add counter space and new storage. We'd add a microwave hood and install up-to-date task lighting. We'd keep the stainless steel sink and existing faucet. A new garbage disposal was on the list, and we hoped that the dishwasher would work.

The plan called for painting the existing wood cabinets and moving some of them to new locations in the redesigned space. We considered countertop materials.

Demolition was easy, but what we found during demolition caused problems. Reconfiguring the pantry to hold a refrigerator and planning for new lighting required opening up the ceiling. One look at the wiring and we immediately called an electrician, and then proceeded to remove all existing ceiling sheetrock. A good decision.

Our project involved rerouting some of the electrical circuits. This also allowed us to add switches and countertop task lighting where we really needed it. The cost was about $600 and an additional three days to the planned 10-day work schedule. It was worth every penny and every minute!

The timetable slipped a little, but work continued. In the meantime, we framed the new refrigerator space, which would also include a small bookcase for cookbooks and a display shelf. We removed the soffit above the upper cabinets. We purchased 12-inch-by-12-inch granite tiles for the countertops and tumbled travertine with a glass-tile accent strip for the backsplash. We also added new hardware.

Luckily, the weather cooperated. We painted cabinet doors in the sun in the backyard and stained new unfinished cabinets in the garage. With help, we hung new sheetrock; again we called professionals to mud and texture the ceiling. Cost for that work was another $150 well spent. We painted ceiling and walls.

Ten days into the project, we were ready to install the cabinets. Our plan, even though it specified relocating base cabinets, did not include new flooring, so we were careful not to damage the existing tile, and we had to adjust heights as we installed the boxes. We reinstalled one recycled upper cabinet, built the bridge that would allow us to hang the new microwave hood, reattached freshly painted cabinet doors with new hinges, installed new hardware, and screwed down the plywood base for the granite-tile tops.

The project was hard work, but the results were worth it. As with most projects, however, the final work became the most time-consuming, and the most frustrating. Don't ever let anyone tell you that tile work is easy. I now have great respect for the installers who create perfectly level tile floors and countertops with perfect grout joints; my work is only passable. Our final job was to install stained wood moulding on all counter edges, and to attach painted paneling and brackets for the peninsula/eating bar.

We completed the work in 16 days at a total cost of about $3,900. Not bad, considering the unforeseen problems we encountered. Because this was a labor of necessity, not the stuff of dreams, it included some decisions made solely on the basis of cost. Should we decide to remain in this house, we will most likely replace the current reused upper cabinets, using the same stained oak style that we installed as new base cabinets. And, at some point, we might also consider a solid-surface countertop, either slab granite or a synthetic material.

But, for now, the kitchen looks good and it serves us well.

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