a pretty dramatic kitchen transformation

March 18 2013

Two weekends ago, Derek went backpacking with his best friend Chris for Spring Break, so my mom came down to stay with me for a week. And while he was gone we decided to completely redo the kitchen. And by redo, I mean as much as a rental would allow. So let’s go ahead and jump right into the before and afters because no one wants to wait until the very end for this kind of reveal. As you may recall, the kitchen was very blah with off-white cabinets, off-white countertops, white walls, and navy carpet (what???).

So we ripped up the disgusting carpet which revealed some not so shabby tile below it. However the tile was also a creamy off-white and tan, which made the whole room very plain. With a little glossy oil-based paint we went from plain jane to holy-cow-I-can’t-belive-that’s-our-kitchen. Ready?

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And one more, to show my new favorite view of the kitchen..

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Okay now that that’s over with, here’s what we did! Derek and I agreed that after living with open shelving in the kitchen, we’re never going back to upper cabinet doors. So I strapped on my cherub (who wouldn’t have it any other way) and we removed all of the upper cabinet doors and assessed the situation.

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The shelves had been lined with some awful green “granite” shelf liner, which we immediately ripped up. Then sanded down the leftover adhesive with some 40 grit sandpaper to smooth everything out.

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┬áThen we repaired the framing where the hinges once were, and removed all of the existing hardware on the lower cabinet doors and drawers and filled in the holes because I knew my new hardware wouldn’t fit in the predrilled holes. We sanded the gloppy old paint around these areas with some more 40 grit sandpaper, then filled the holes with wood filler and waited 20 minutes (as directed) for it to cure. Once it was ready, we sanded down all of the cabinets (inside and out) with a less aggressive 220 grit sandpaper to sort of roughen everything up so that our paint would have something to really grab onto without leaving gross brushstrokes.

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After lightly sanding everything, we wiped it all down with a damp cloth to pick up all of the loose sanding debris, and we were ready to paint. I wanted a nice glossy finish to add a little drama to our super bland kitchen, and I love working with oil paint (plus it’s very durable for high traffic areas), so I picked up a gallon of Rust-oleum oil-based paint in Gloss Black.

Sidenote: a gallon was WAY more than enough. I probably could have gotten by with a couple of quarts. But maybe I have some other plans with gloss black paint for our home? ;)

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We started with the upper cabinets and worked our way down. We made sure to tape off all of the edges where the cabinets met the wall (or window) because oil paint is very hard to remove once it has gotten on anything. So we were extra careful during this part.

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Once all of the cabinet framing was painted, we started on all of the drawers and lower cabinet doors using the same method of light sanding, wiping down with a damp cloth, and painting. Oil paint kind of goes on like nail polish and wants to spread and even out (eliminating brush strokes) so you want to be rather generous with it and quickly finish your first coat rather than going back and touching things up, you can save that for your second coat.

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We also painted the tiny bit of cabinet over by the stove, just to keep everything cohesive.

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After 24 hours, the first coat of paint had dried and we were ready for our second. But first we needed to prep the surface. As you can see in the photo below there are still some brushstrokes after the first coat, and I was going for a nice glassy finish. So this wasn’t really up to par yet.

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To remedy this, I used some 400 grit sandpaper and dipped it in water to wet sand all of the painted surfaces before applying my second coat.

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You can faintly see how the sandpaper has lifted the texture of the brushstrokes off of the surface of this drawer, and (although you can’t feel it) is now smooth to the touch.

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After wet sanding everything we took a microfiber cloth and wiped down everything to remove any remaining particles. It’s important to use a microfiber cloth because this stage of sanding is so delicate that the particles left behind are teeny tiny, but can totally ruin your finish if not removed properly.

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Once all of the freshly wet sanded surfaces had been wiped down it was time for the final coat.

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After another 24 hours of dry time it was time to install all of the new hardware! We had to drive to a Home Depot 45 minutes away to find the hardware I was looking for because it had been clearanced out and no one had any left in stock except for this location. Totally worth it though to score $2 hardware for .83cents a pop.

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I made a template for my hardware using an index card and marked where the screw holes were so that I knew exactly where to drill my new holes. I used the same hardware for both the drawers and doors, so this part was pretty easy.

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After everything was nice and level, I marked each hole with a sharp object leaving two small dents where my holes needed to be drilled. That way there wound’t be any mistakes and my newly drilled holes would line up perfectly like so..

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We started with the drawers then finished with the doors before placing them back onto the cabinetry framing.

Just a note: When you’re working with an older home (or really any home) be sure to number your doors and drawers so that you know exactly where to put them when you’re done. In our case these cabinets were handmade so each drawer and door was a hair different in size and it was like a puzzle trying to line everything up again.

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And now for more beautiful photos of the finished kitchen. The new roman shade was created using this method.

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It’s hard to capture how truly glass-like this finish turned out, but just look at the reflection of the rug in the next photo.

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This project was definitely a labor of love, but it was so worth it in the end. Derek was blown away when he came back from his camping trip to a brand new kitchen. And I am still sort of shocked every time I walk by and catch a glimpse of the transformation of the entire space. Next up we plan to paint the walls with a nice light light minty green (maybe Benjamin Moore’e Healing Aloe?) to sort of freshen up the walls, that have definitely seen better days.



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32 thoughts on “a pretty dramatic kitchen transformation

  1. Leah

    Fantastic job! I love the pops of color in the open cabinets against the high-gloss black! That window shade looks incredible too! It really ties together the whole feel of the space and gives a touch of whimsy to an otherwise extremely sharp look.
    On another note, I went ahead and finally purchased one of the options you had given me for my kitchen space and I can’t wait to send you pictures! I’m in love :)
    You’re awesome!


    the girl Reply:

    Thank you so much Leah! Yes, please send me photos of your kitchen! I would love to see how it has come together :) YOU are awesome.


  2. m stevens

    Catharine, what a fantastic job. Really looks great. Wish I could have been there to supervise, but I can see that I would have watched TV instead. Really nice!



    the girl Reply:

    Thanks Daddy! I wish you could have been there too, but at least I had you on standby for all of my drilling questions. It would have been nice to have someone provide a lap for the cherubs though ;)


  3. Tshann

    So wonderful!!
    I just love your blog and all the transformations.
    I also am a renter and much of the time I know that I will only be in a house for 1 year and have a hard time putting in so much work to it.

    Also I seems at though you have spent a significant amount of money on your new place. Does the landlord mind or have a stipulation that you must repaint everything when you leave?


    the girl Reply:

    Thank you! I forgot to mention in the post, but I only spent $80 on this entire kitchen! crazy! Yes, our landlord is extremely flexible (thank goodness!) and has given us permission to do whatever we want to the place as long as we “don’t paint an entire room red” lol (her words), and we don’t have to paint anything back. I make sure to get her permission though with every project, and I save all of my receipts and she reimburses us for any materials we use. :)


    Tshann Reply:

    Thats so awesome!! That landlord is sure lucky to have you two!


  4. lindsay

    wow what a huge transformation! The glossy black looks great! & of course I love all the color you brought in with the rug, curtain & dishes.


    the girl Reply:

    Thank you Lindsay!!!! :)


  5. Kara

    that looks AWESOME! do you happen to know what that fabric for your roman shade is called? that would go so well with our dining room.


    the girl Reply:

    Thanks Kara! It’s Schumacher’s Chiang Mai in Alabaster :) I’m obsessed with it, it goes so well with everything!


  6. Lauren

    In true form I cused out loud :) truly amazing Cat. And you said you would have nothing to do after the wedding!!! You are so awesome!!!!


    the girl Reply:

    Haha I expect nothing less from you Lauren! I know, it’s like the wedding was just a warm up for what’s to come ;)


  7. Jennifer

    I love the transformation! It’s bold and invigorating and I love your choice of patterns.

    I’m really curious (because you mentioned this is a rental) if you had to get your landlord’s permission before painting. This is the second time I’ve seen a renter paint cabinets and in my mind I always thought painting was a no-no.

    We’re gearing up to rent out our place and I’m just wondering if this is a common practice. Thanks!


    the girl Reply:

    Hi Jennifer! We’ve both rented for the past six years and neither of us have been allowed to make these dramatic of changes on any place we’ve lived in the past. We really lucked out with our current landlord. Before signing a lease I explained to her that I’m an Interior Designer and asked if she minded if we painted or made upgrades, and she freaked out and said “OMG! Do whatever you want, if anything you’ll just improve the place for me” and was very excited. She also reimburses us for all of the materials we use (which is also very rare) so we’re kind of in a unique situation. When we moved in the place hadn’t even been cleaned (like ever!) so we know we won’t have any issues getting our deposit back ;) She said as long as we don’t “paint an entire room red or something” we won’t have to paint anything back. I still email her before every project though so that I have her approval in writing, just in case :)


  8. Tamara

    I am beside myself that this was done for about $80. Totally stunning, such attention to detail. And a perfect mirror like finish on those cabinets. Love, love love the hardware.

    About the cherubs, mine is a bit bigger, and I’ve often thought of getting a front load infant carrier/baby sling because she’s just not happy unless she’s touching her mom. But mine is a papillon, is that a chihuahua? Best picture!


    the girl Reply:

    Thank you Tamara!! Now that I think about it though I really only spent about $50 because I returned all of the extra material I ended up not using (sandpaper, brushes, etc.) So even better! :)

    Yes that is my parents’ chihuahua Rupert. He has to be held or in contact with someone at all times or he’ll cry lol, I’ve often thought about getting a baby sling of some sort while I work on stuff, but for now a zipped up fleece sinched at the bottom does the trick :) Even when we go on walks once hea tired him i jist zip him up and hea totally content haha. You’ll see another shot like this in tomorrow’s post from a few months back while I worked on wedding projects :)


  9. Kim

    Hello, I received the picture of your kitchen renovation in my email from Apartment Therapy today. Your kitchen is gorgeous. The black on the cupboards is striking and I love your shade fabric with all the colours and your mat in front of the sink. Your transformation proves that you can do a lot with little. I think your choice of paint for the walls will be the finishing touch. I am sure that it really feels like your kitchen now. Enjoy.


    Catharine Reply:

    Thank you for your sweet comments Kim! It really want a fun transformation. Now our landlord won’t have any trouble renting out her apartment to future tenants ;)


  10. Felechia

    Hi, Saw your kitchen on The Kitchn this morning. Wonderful job. Thanks for the tips on painting with gloss oil paint. My kitchen is a lot of brown. That might be changing…


    Catharine Reply:

    Thank you Felechia! I would love to see photos of how your kitchen turns out :)


  11. Anonymous

    Thanks so much for sharing. By chance, can you share a wide shot of your kitchen? Would love to see the layout? I think we have the exact same kitchen layout and we’re about to undergo a kitchen remodel. Would love to see what your entire kitchen looks like via a wide shot.

    And, don’t you just hate carpet in the kitchen? We have the same thing. Just don’t get it. Carpet in kitchen was and never is a good call.


  12. Ingrid

    I just love what you did, from top to bottom. Amazing and wonderful. Can you please tell me where you got that nice rug?


    Catharine Reply:

    Hi Ingrid! Thank you so much for your sweet words :) the rug was actually a random HomeGoods find a few years ago. I’ve seen similar styles there lately though and they are only $20 :)


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