Spring: The best time for makeovers

Winter makes me a little stir crazy. I miss the sun. I get tired of bundling up every time I take my dog for a walk. I start looking around and noticing all the things I want to fix.

This Spring I decided to do something about it. I started not one, but two huge makeover projects: my kitchen and my website. First, the most important one: the kitchen!

When we bought our house in 2011, there were a lot of things we wanted to change, but we only had the time and money for some of them. One thing that didn't get updated was the kitchen--in part because of the astronomical cost of new cabinets ($25,000 for all new cabinets, $12,500 just for veneers!) Our old cabinets weren't too bad--just a little worn and dated, so we put up with them for awhile.

But whenever I was working in the kitchen (a mere one to two hours a day), I secretly wanted to pull a Young House Love move on those cabinets. The writers of that blog are my heroes. They make cabinet painting look as easy as rearranging furniture. In one of their tutorials, they use the phrase "Easy peasy". So, how hard could it be?

Plenty hard. But that part comes later. 

Here's the kitchen before the painting project:

My kitchen was really trying to be cute. It just wasn't succeeding.

The railing was stained a sort of yellow color while the cabinets were a dark reddish tone. They didn't have any hardware, and I didn't want to take the time to install hardware on old cabinets--so they were pretty boring. Some of them were also really worn and dried out when you saw them up close:

The color of the cabinets wasn't doing anything for those counters.

Sometime in February, my dislike for the cabinets overcame my fear of huge, messy home-makeovers, and I started assembling painting supplies. It was really important to both me and Griffin that we have low VOC primer that wouldn't smell bad or make us sick, so I decided to use AFM Safecoat Low VOC Transitional Primer. I didn't really debate over the color for the actual paint--both Griffin and I love white kitchens, and we thought a lighter color would really open up the room. I happened to have a can of White (#3052) BEHR semi-gloss paint, which I'd bought to touch up our trim, and it turned out I only needed the remaining half gallon for two coats on our cabinets. For application, I bought some 4 inch rollers from Home Depot with 1/4 inch nap. They were made for smooth surfaces and on the label it said "Doors & Cabinets", so I figured I couldn't go wrong. 

I also bought a hand sander to remove some of the old varnish and smooth the wood surface. Looking back, I wish I'd used deglosser like the Young House Love folks. Sanding was the worst part of the whole project--avoid it if you can! But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

Once you have your supplies, you have to unscrew the cabinet doors from the frame. Seeing at my photos, you may realize I have rather a lot of cabinets, but I doubt you counted them. I have. My kitchen has 21 cabinet doors, which means there are 42 hinges and 84 screws holding the hinges on. When I happily picked up my freshly charged drill and began unscrewing doors, I had a notion that I'd be done in about fifteen minutes. An hour later, I had half the doors off. A good number of the screws were tucked away in recesses behind trim, and I had to torque them out with a little hand screwdriver. In the middle of those 84 screws, I had a horrible moment of clarity in which I realized this was supposed to be the easy part of the makeover and I was hating every second of it. But, like most projects where I get in over my head, I told myself that it was too late to go back. So I went forward.

Once all 21 doors were off, I also emptied out the ten drawers and removed them too. The cabinet frame was like an empty skeleton in my kitchen, and the doors and drawers filled the unfinished area of my basement. 

The next step was sanding. My hand sander came with a dust bag, but it definitely still leaked dust. To keep our food and dishes from being contaminated with old wood stain dust, I moved everything into the dining room and the guest room. That might have been the worst part for me. We cook and eat 95% of our meals at home, and I now had cooking utensils and ingredients scattered throughout the whole house. 

After sanding, I wiped down all the surfaces with a wet rag and let them dry thoroughly. I edged the cabinet frames with frog tape and laid down some drop cloths in the basement. Then I applied primer to one side of the doors, the front of the drawers, and the cabinet frames in the kitchen. One pass over all these surfaces with a 4 inch roller took me about 3-4 hours (In total, I made  six passes over the doors, so you can do the math on that). I let things dry for a day, then applied my first coat of paint. Waited another day, then applied the final coat of paint. At that point, I let the the doors dry for a full three days--just to be sure they wouldn't get dinged up when I flipped them over to do the fronts.

Painting, the part I'd dreaded most, was actually the easiest part. I just put in headphones and listened to an audiobook or music while I rolled out paint for hours. At one point, I was actually dancing to the new Justin Timberlake album (Mirrors is my jam), while painting right-handed and playing left-handed tug-of-war with our puppy. Yup, I'm a master multi-tasker. 

The cabinet frames or "skeletons" in the middle of my primer application

Some of the cabinet doors drying after their coat of primer.

While I waited for the doors to get good and dry, I decided to tackle the railing. Did I say sanding was the worst part? I was wrong. The railing was the worst part. All those little tiny rungs required a ton of brush work, and it was impossible to get a smooth finish. Griffin actually helped with the final coat of paint on the railing, and he was ready to give up after about 30 minutes. One coat over the whole railing took about 3 hours.

Railing spindles, my arch enemies, after one coat of primer

Finally, I finished the railing, flipped over the doors, and painted  three coats on their front side. My sanding and painting was over--now I just needed to choose new hinges and hardware. Which, of course, took me forever.

Griffin and I had always envisioned a white kitchen with brushed nickel fixtures. That way the whole thing looks very light and airy. So I spent an hour poring over the brushed nickel fixtures at Home Depot and counted out 31 matching knobs and 42 hinges. But when I brought them home, I realized they clashed with my rubbed bronze pot rack and light fixtures. I also decided rubbed bronze would really draw out the brown and black granite. So I went back to Home Depot and returned the hardware--which had to be scanned back in one by one--and started my search over. In the process, I thought I might want to put pulls on the drawers instead of knobs (for some visual variety), so I was really looking for two matching types of hardware.

If you've never looked at cabinet hardware--let me tell you, it can be really pricey. One knob can run $3 - $5, and when you're buying 31 of them, that really adds up. So I ended up purchasing our knobs and pulls from Amazon. I found an amazing brand called Cosmas that sold for about $1 a piece and looks great. 

For the hinges, I decided to buy the standard white ones from Home Depot. I couldn't find any that matched the color of my knobs exactly, and I thought dark brown overlay hinges might draw too much attention to themselves anyway. I hoped the white ones would blend into the white cabinets. 

I installed all the hardware before rehanging the doors. The knobs were easy. The pulls were a little tougher since you have to drill two holes exactly the right distance apart and make sure they're level. I definitely got a few of the holes wrong and had to widen them until I could angle the screws into the pull threads.

Griffin helped me rehang all the doors. It was not a one-person job, and even with two it was pretty difficult. The hinges I bought were self closing, which meant they wouldn't lie flat on their own when we tried to screw them on. So one person had to lean on the door and hold it level while the other drilled it in. And when you are working on cabinets you are always kneeling on the floor or standing on a step stool, so you are always leaning and pushing at weird angles.

 Guys, here's the amazing part: it was totally worth it! When we finished that night, we were stressed, exhausted, and a wee bit cranky with each other, but we looked at our kitchen and couldn't believe how beautiful it was. It was like a whole new room.

As a reminder, here's how it looked before:

Before

And here's the after:

After!

Umm, amazing right? It doesn't even look like the same room! We just kept walking through it saying things like "It's so bright", and "Isn't it beautiful?" For weeks afterwards, I felt like the whole room was magic. Everything coordinated. The white cabinets bounced the light from the windows and lit up the room.  The green on the walls perfectly offset the white cabinets and trim without being too dark. 

Cooking there was like working in some fairy godmother's kitchen filled with rainbows and butterflies and happiness.

So that's cabinet painting. It's not for the faint of heart, but it does give you a whole new kitchen for about $250. 

As for my website makeover--we'll leave that for another day.