when you start a kitchen renovation with a six month old, it will take nine months to finish and you'll have another baby by the time you're done. also known as: the story of 2013.

Fair warning: this is a really long post. It should be at least two posts. Maybe three. I should've included an intermission. But I should've done a lot of things, in this post and probably in life, as you'll learn if you take four days out of your life to read this. So I won't judge you if all you do is scroll down to look at the pictures. Totally your call here.

So for a little background, before you get a real glimpse of crazy: we bought our house in June of 2011. At that time, I was supposed to be teaching for a while and Tom was still at bigfouraccountingfirm that shall not be named, and we knowingly took on a few "projects" with our home purchase. Now this is the first home that we've owned and don't get me wrong: we have (in my humble opinion) a great house. However, it came with some interesting choices made by the previous owner. He's got some just fascinating views on what's important and what's not when owning a home. Maybe sometime you'll get to hear all about some of his interesting choices and what we've changed since taking the reigns, but today I have one particular project I'd like to share with you:

*bwahmmmm* (this is an ominous note, if you can't tell. think inception.)

the kitchen.

hang with me here, we took these pictures on a pitiful point and click camera the day we moved in. you can just make out the fingerprints/grime on the old paint in this picture.

honestly, I forgot about that awesome cone shaped light you can see in the righthand side of this picture. it was replaced before we even moved in. eesh.

sweet brass doorknobs were an entirely different project since they were all over the house. oh early 2000s, you had interesting taste in metals.

Now really, in the grand scheme of things, I guess you could say that the kitchen wasn't that bad. It came with mostly functioning appliances and was clean. ish.

The real problem was that it looked like a cave.

What I dislike most about our current house is its proximity to other houses, particularly those to the left and right. And behind it. So really: it's proximity to other houses. We have a really small lot (as all lots in our neighborhood are) and when you open the blinds, you see...a brick wall. Or better yet, one of the houses next to us is a mirror image of our floorplan, so if you open those windows, you see...windows. Of the mirrored bedrooms in their house. It's a little weird/potentially voyeuristic.

Any who, the claustrophobic, overbearing presence close proximity of the neighboring house to our kitchen window blocks out a whole bunch of light. Add that to the pitched roof on that side of the house, the dark cabinets, the teal (yes, teal.) countertops, the dark tile floors, and the lack of lighting, you end up with this long dark cave of a kitchen. It was one of the first things that I wanted to change when we moved in. Unfortunately, there were other things that we had to throw money at first. Like the no sprinkler system in TEXAS y'all. Or the fact that we found termites less than a month after moving in. Or the wood deck and 8 foot board on board fence that was very nice and in remarkably good condition for the fact that it had never been stained. Interesting choices. I'm looking at you, sketch previous owner.

Now most of you are pretty good at basic math, so I'll present it this way: bought house in June 2011 + necessary repairs/modifications to keep things like the yard from dying and the termites from throwing a block party in our walls = a little less money. That's okay, we'll just do it a few months out. Sweet plan, yo. Here's where the math gets tricky: recovering financially + whoops pregnant + my retirement from teaching + horrifically high deductible insurance that reset 1 month before Lyla was born = ....... I don't even want to talk about it. Suddenly all of my house modifications are put on the wayyyyyy back burner on account of the cost of prenatal vitamins (WHY IS THERE NO GENERIC FORM?!?!?!???) and I'm pretty sure we financed the renovation of the L&D wing at our local hospital. I'm not bitter, y'all.

All of this to say: our kitchen renovation was postponed indefinitely. Indefinitely ended when Lyla was 6 months old.

We finally decided that we should just bite the bullet and do it, mainly because I hated being in the den/kitchen because I'm just not being dramatic when I say it was burning my retinas with its heinous crimes against appearances. I stay at home with Lyla. I had no job to escape to. I was getting no respite from its dark, mismatched presence and I was hating every minute I had to spend in there.

Did I mention that when we were talking about "necessary" renovations, that when we moved in, we painted every room in the house? I'm talking every. room. The thing was, it had that cheap, builder grade matte finish paint and everything looked super dingy with fingerprints and yuck and just needed new paint. Unfortunately, instead of taking it a room at a time and making long term plans for a space, I just wanted to paint all the rooms and be done with it. That led to a few mistakes, this being one of them:

lord help us.

the green. ps. this sink was broken (like the handle fell off) for over a year before this renovation started. I just couldn't bring myself to replace it knowing I wanted to redo the kitchen. I've forgotten about my lovely broken sink, but oh the pictures just manage to bring it ALL RUSHING BACK. 

but we have new doorknobs! ps. this lever style was the worst idea ever with a baby in the house. don't be like me. go for twisty knobs that they don't master before they're even walking. 
Yes, you're seeing it correctly. I already had teal countertops and oak cabinets. Now I have limey pea soup olive walls. Don't ask me what I was thinking. I was clearly delusional. Also, don't ask me how a paint color can be limey and pea soup and olive colored. I have no idea, but it's possible. I've seen it with my own eyes, and now you have too, since these pictures did a pretty great job of capturing "the essence" that was this kitchen.

So in February 2013, when Lyla was 6 months old and Tom was in the thick of busy season with stinkingaccountingfirm (think minimum 70 hour weeks, max 95. just stupid, people.), we decided to start a kitchen renovation. We hired someone to install the granite, but other than that, we did it all ourselves. When people asked me how I knew what I was doing, I explained that I watch a lot of HGTV (I was nursing around the clock, what else to do but Design Star and Love It or List It?) and I'm also a great googler. I'd seen people retile backsplashes a million times on tv and YouTube has some very random tutorials and I'm sure I'll be fine. ALL we had to do was: paint and glaze all of the cabinets, add cabinet hardware, take the old tile off the walls before the granite was installed, install the kitchen faucet/drains, hook the stove back up, then put new tile up, add some cabinet underlighting, and call it a day. I can do all of this myself. I'm not into saving myself grief when I can save money. I'm just sure it'll all go perfectly, in this order, and that once all that is done I'll love the wall color because "the only reason my eyes start bleeding when I look at it is because it clashes with the teal countertops and I'm sure it'd be great otherwise." Right.

So I called my aunt who had refinished her cabinets in the style I wanted, and she is a wonderful person who took a Saturday to come over and show us what the heck we were supposed to be doing. We liquid sandpapered all of the cabinets, then painted them a white that we liked with the backsplash we'd chosen, then glazed and wiped and glazed and wiped and tweaked and tinkered until I loved them. And I do. I love them. Of all the projects in this kitchen, the very first one was probably the most fulfilling for me because it just changed the room SO much. Now mind you, we're doing all of this with a six month old who is an excellent napper but still needs to eat with relative frequency and wants to do things like have her diaper changed. And play. Really cramping my DIY style here, kid. The cabinet refinishing took about 3 days in the end because of all the stopping and starting I had to do, but it was done with plenty of time for the granite installation.

no home renovation project should take place without copious amounts of diet coke. and that is why I have a sonic drink AND an empty 12 pack. no judgment.

close up of a finished cabinet. I just love this look and it's so much easier to do than I thought it would be when we started. also notice how much paint got on the walls, and remember that when I tell you how long it took me to touch that up. so much shame.
Next step isn't so hard...all we have to do is take down the tile.

No big deal y'all. I've watched all my favorite carpenters on HGTV do it all the time. They just pop their pry bars behind a piece of tile, tap it with a hammer, it pops off, no bigs.

Yeah, turns out, that's not always how it goes. After spending hours and hours and hours trying to carefully tap off the tile from the walls while Lyla was napping, I discovered that the tile was laid directly on the sheetrock. No amount of delicate tapping and professional pry bar skills was going to save me from the inevitability that we'd have to rip out the tile and sheetrock. And then put new sheetrock up. Great.

So I start knocking chunks of sheetrock out. My hands are blistered and I am making SOMUCHNOISEHOWISLYLASLEEPING?! and I think I'm making decent progress. It has to be done in the daylight because you don't just go knocking holes into walls with the power on, so this is a "daytime Michelle project." Also, I'll bet your neighbors really won't appreciate you banging your ceramic tile out of the kitchen at 11:30 when Tom gets home. It's taking me absolutely forever, the painstaking drywall ripping, and I'm getting chunks the size of my fist. Sometimes even my whole hand. Check me out, y'all. Then my dad comes over to see how it's going on the second or third day, grabs my hammer, and knocks out two entire walls in a matter of seconds. I'm talking: he punched out the perimeter of the wall, reached around it and yanked the dang thing off the wall. The drywall + tile chunk was so large that I couldn't lift it, so I very effectively spent my time whacking it into smaller pieces so that it would fit into the empty diaper boxes I was using as trash collection. What a team we make. I almost cried when he came over. It was wonderful. He also proceeded to show up later with sheetrock and get me started on the new sheetrock that needed to go up before the granite was installed. He cut the pieces for me. And then screwed them in. So I guess you could say he did it. He also installed the cabinet underlighting while the walls were open and there was no need to drill holes in anything. I was a real great supervisor though, so I've got that going for me.
a work in progress. why I thought I could get all this tile down on my own, I have no idea.

tile free bar- this is where we started with the tile removal and I spent more hours than I care to admit trying to preserve this drywall (see far right) before I gave up (see REST OF KITCHEN).

some new drywall up so we could reattach the microwave, and the rest of the kitchen ready to be drywalled and tiled

So a few days later, dudes show up to install the granite. Let me tell you: easiest part of this renovation. Might've been because I paid somebody else to do it for me and it has since dawned on me that this might be the reason that other people hire contractors to do the whole renovation. Who knows? Regardless, granite was installed and though it was a little blue/grey compared to what I thought I picked in the warehouse, I was happy with the fact that TEAL COUNTERTOPS WERE GONE. Finally. I almost cried. It was a great day. So they left and I (and my dear old dad) slap our faucet in, hook the gas back up for the stove, install the new kitchen disposal and hook the plumbing back up, and feel generally awesome for checking so many things off the list in a day.

teal is gone suckas!

So great, next step: tiling. Now again, I've seen this on HGTV about a million times. No big deal guys. You just slap your thinset up there, use your scrapey thing with the lines (which I learned is called a trowel), then slap your tile up there and call it a day. We picked the cool slate and glass mosaic tile with the backing so it came in sheets. Classic colors, modern vibe, it was great. Thank GOODNESS we mentioned to a friend at church that we were tiling and he dropped his wet saw off with us to cut it with. I was going to use tile nippers because I am apparently a masochist. I just wanted to nip my tile, tiny mosaic piece by tiny mosaic piece, hundreds and hundreds of times until my hand was just a bloody stump and I'd bled out in a corner.

Something that I never noticed in my HGTV watching: they're almost ALWAYS tiling nice long straight walls. That's great. I'm so happy for them and I'm sure they're satisfied with all their life choices. MY tile job, on the other hand, had eight straight edges (just places where the tile ended) and eight corners. Also of note: one sheet of tile was usually not enough to cover the height that we needed to reach the cabinets, so add another 22 straight cuts for all the places where we had to cut additional pieces to fill in the height needed. If you add all that up, it means that we had to cut mosaic sheets of tile into straight edges to either end a section of tile or meet in a corner a grand total of 46 times. Add in the process of thinset, grouting, and sealing, and I was in for about a week of blood, sweat, tears, more blood, more sweat, more blood, and maybe one or two more tears. But you know what? My HGTV education and me (and sometimes Tom) did it.

just a visualization for you of the total corners/edges in this project. and every place but the bar needed two sheets to complete the tile, leaving us with a grand total of 28 straight edges and 46 straight edge cuts.
tile in progress- I used the tile packaging to protect the granite. there's probably a better way, but I certainly didn't know it and wasn't about to get thinset on my brand spankin new counters.

tile is up, but needs to be caulked and grouted.

and a close up of the finished product. I'm pretty proud of this, actually!
After the tiling, we found ourselves in March and we just had to touch up the paint and install the cabinet hardware. Unfortunately, I was all DIYed out for a while at this point and it took almost two months to touch up the paint where it had smears of thinset dust or cabinet paint or scratches from granite installation. Don't be like me. I also hadn't found hardware that I liked and was willing to shell out for, so our renovation stagnated for a while. I was also starting to come to terms with the fact that I still hated the wall color, even with the cabinets, countertops and backsplash done. I just kept waiting for it to grow on me, but I only got more and more depressed by the fact that it would have to be painted. We then found out I was pregnant during this time period, so I couldn't be around the paint fumes and therefore couldn't paint. I'm telling you, this renovation got real slow, real fast. Tom got me the kitchen hardware that I finally picked out for my birthday in September, but we just hadn't made time to install it. The painting problem was also looming over me, but I obviously still couldn't do anything about it.

In the meantime, I did change the blinds from white plastic that "looks like wood" ones to bamboo roman blinds. I just couldn't figure out how to let more light into the kitchen and tie in the den a little better, and this was the solution I finally came to. I actually really like how they turned out in both rooms, and they do let more light in than the old blinds did. They also hide the half circle architectural window that really dates the space, and I'd been looking for a way to do that without buying new windows and paying way more than I was ever interested in paying for that.

Well my mom and my sister came to my rescue in the first week of November because they are the best humans in the history of the world. They knew I hated the kitchen color, they knew I couldn't paint it while pregnant, and they knew I wouldn't have time to once I wasn't pregnant. So they waited for Tom, Lyla and I to go out of town to visit friends, they came over, and they painted our kitchen. Seriously. Primed, painted, cleaned up. Just because they knew I couldn't. And because they are the best.

almost there! I finally had the end in sight once this was done.
With the wall color finally matching the rest of the kitchen, I had the final little burst of energy necessary to put the hardware on the cabinets and drawers before I had an infant and lost all of my drive again. This was a little trickier than the directions indicated, but some finagling with a drill and a drimmel tool and we got it done in an afternoon. And a short ten months after this little kitchen project started, we were finally finished. Believe it or not, I started writing this blog post just after it was finished at the end of November. Then I had a baby when I was about 85% done with it, so it's been sitting here waiting to be finished and posted for 3 months now. No regrets though, I was spending my time doing important things like changing diapers and feeding small humans and napping. I have priorities. So now, over a year after we started this little project, I can finally share it with you. Here's the completed kitchen!

yay! bright and light and clean and so so so much better!

you can see the bamboo blinds in both rooms in this picture, it really just brings the two spaces together so much better.

I ended up finding the cabinet hardware on amerockforless.com - I also ordered a mounting spacer tool thing from them for a few bucks and it was SO SO worth it. If you're doing this kind of project, get one of the installation spacing tools - it takes all of the measuring and guess work out of it.
I love how it turned out, and it makes such a difference walking into this room everyday and seeing something bright and light and clean. It's maybe not 100% how I'd planned it to turn out, but we've learned a ton and although I'm so so glad it's over, I'd do it all again if I had to.

And some sweet before and after pictures just to remember how far we've come:

so much brighter! goodbye, cave.
feel free not to notice that my before and after doesn't include the hideous gold ceiling fan in the den. I'm getting there people!

So so worth it. And now that a good long while has passed (and of course, I have another tiny baby to complicate things), I'm getting the renovation bug again. Lord help us all.


  1. Did you use water or oil based paint? And what did you seal these cabinets with?? I love them and want to do mine!!

    1. So sorry, I abandoned this blog for a while and didn't see these comments! I know it's been months, but for anyone wondering the same: I used Valspar water based paint. I honestly don't remember the color and we've since sold this house and left all of our extra paint there so I don't have any way to look it up. I didn't seal them at all because I didn't want the yellowish tinge that can happen when you seal...enough sanding, priming, and good coat coverage (2-3 coats) and I've found you don't really need to seal.

      However, after painting more cabinets, I would recommend using Benjamin Moore Advance for cabinets. It's self leveling which is HUGE for cabinets where the smallest brush strokes are super obvious. Use a foam roller when possible and a high quality brush for creases (I love my Purdy).

  2. Just wondering about the granite color….is it really more bluish than greenish? I thought I found the right granite…but my backsplash is green and grays! Looks like you painted the walls gray?

    1. The granite is kashmir granite, and when I picked it in the warehouse I thought it was more grey/white than the blue grey we got. The granite in this kitchen is definitely blue grey with smaller areas of white. I will say that every granite piece is different, so you won't know if yours is more blue grey or green grey until they bring it to install! It's scary!

      And my walls are a blue/grey, but I'd say they lean more blue than grey.

  3. did you get lights under your cabinets?

    1. Yes, we installed under cabinet lighting. We were going to do it anyway, but that particular step became really easy when we had to rip all of the sheetrock out. Wiring those in was way easier than expected.

  4. I love the cabinets! And thank you for the humor :) Did you do the cream color and then sand the edges or cream with a brown glaze? Also, did you remove the doors and paint the cabinets with the roller you mentioned above? (Congrats on the DIY with babies, it's a tough job!)