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  • Tara

kitchen reno update - our first carpentry project ever

We are 1/3 of the way through our DIY kitchen renovation, and have done most of the heavy lifting on the project (hahahaha. famous last words). To catch up on the design plan and what we've done this far, check out our last post.

In the last three weeks we did a little bit of building and a LOT of painting. The biggest construction project involved building an over the fridge cabinet to give our refrigerator a built-in look. Well, more than a look, because now it is in fact built-in. It always drove me nuts that the first thing our guests saw when they came through our front door was a big black fridge covered in kids' drawings. Not that my kids don't make adorable art, mind you, but the sloppiness of it all was making me crazy.

The cabinet that had been over the fridge was 12" tall. Since we were raising our existing cabinets up to the ceiling and salvaging our existing doors, we were faced with a choice. Either lift up the 12" cabinet and add a shelf below or add a box with a couple of shelves and ditch the old 12" cabinet. The ideal situation would be to have a large 2' cabinet, but since our cabinet doors are vintage that wasn't an option unless we were cool with mismatched doors (which I was not).

But then the renovation gods threw us a bone. On a bike ride to pick up Henry on one of the last days of school, we happened upon a stack of discarded cabinet doors that MATCHED OUR EXISTING DOORS! What are the odds?!? They happened to belong to a neighborhood friend (thanks Renae!) who had salvaged them from yet another house in our neighborhood (thanks Kyle!). She took the hardware for another project but didn't need the doors. And as luck would have it, there in that pile was a pair of doors that would work on a 2' high cabinet with just a slight modification. Pretty incredible luck.

I dumpster-diver style moved them from the curb to our neighbor's fence, then we circled back later with the SUV to pick them up.

Here they are next to our existing doors. SO CLOSE!

,Next, we purchased an unfinished cabinet that would fit the area over our fridge (24" h x 12" d x 36"w) from a local builder surplus store for about $70. We needed to attach the cabinet to the wall for stability, so we built a 2x4 box and anchored the cabinet to the box.

Here's what the cabinet looks like on the fridge. We had juuuuuuust enough clearance for a full 2' cabinet, but it was close y'all. As the old saying goes, measure 482 times, cut once. We used scrap wood on top of the fridge to get the spacing correct and the box level, then screwed the whole assembly into the wall. Then we said a prayer, removed all the scrap pieces, and it held.


From there, we followed this Young House Love tutorial pretty closely to create the side panels for the fridge enclosure. Max doesn't look impressed, but I promise, he was.

If you look between the fridge enclosure and adjacent upper cabinet, you'll see what looks like a small wood filler piece. We decided to extend the kitchen 3" towards the patio windows. The reasons were twofold: 1) because we had the space (so why not use it) and 2) because we were raising our cabinets, we need to have a step stool handy to get to those top shelves. In our old kitchen plan, there was a bit of overhang between the countertop and the fridge - you can still see it in the image above - where we stash our stepstool. We were darn near designing that little gap out, but thankfully I caught it in time. Rather than a 3" filler panel on top, I found this handy 3" spice rack that would extend the kitchen the amount we needed and give us some more useable storage. A great addition since the bulk of our spices are now 7' off the floor.

Next it was time to trim out the cabinets with crown molding to close the gap between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. Neither of us had ever installed crown before, so we of course looked to the DIY experts at Young House Love for a tutorial, and they did not disappoint. We used the Kreg Crown Pro that they recommended, and you guys, I cannot recommend it enough. There's literally no way that we could have figured out the math and angles ourselves without this tool. It's the best $27 we spent on this project.

Oh, and the microwave shelf! I don't have a great photo of the creation of this guy, but it was super simple. Just a 11.25" x 30" piece of plywood (leftover from the 4x8 sheets of plywood we used for the fridge panels), with 1x2 trim on the front edge to give it some thickness, and scrap 1x2 pieces under the shelf on the other 3 sides for support. We screwed this shelf into the 2 adjacent cabinets for support. We followed this tutorial to create it. That thing is STURDY, which is good, because it will soon hold the weight of the microwave.

We also added baseboard to the outside of the fridge panel. Such a big difference!

And while all of this building was going on, we were also sanding, stripping, and painting the cabinet doors. If you were following along on Instagram Stories, you saw the pain we endured with this process. The plan was to give the cabinets a light sanding and good cleaning, but unfortunately that's not what happened. It seems like the last paint job the cabinets got was a bit rushed. The white paint was literally peeling off. Sometimes in long (satisfying) strips, but mostly in teeny tiny little pieces. It all had to come off or else the different layers of paint would have shown through on the final paint job.


The whole sanding process added a week to the schedule that we hadn't planned for. Bless my husband, Steven, because he did the bulk of this awful work. I hate sanding with the fire of a thousand suns, so he bore the brunt of it.

We sprayed all of the doors, front and back, with primer and 2 coats of Benjamin Moore Simply White. After much research we went with Benjamin Moore Advance paint in a satin finish. It's a latex paint with alkyds, which means it's strong like an oil but easy clean up like a water based paint. It's also self-leveling, so it evens itself out as it dries. Incredible.

We used this paint sprayer and I was SO GLAD we did. I was skeptical about how well this sprayer would work for the price, but I would buy it again in a heart beat. The process was super fast and the result was incredible. I heard many a review about the pain in the butt-ness involved with clean up, but that wasn't the case for us. It took about 10 minutes to clean the sprayer after each use, which isn't any slower than washing out a brush and roller in my opinion.

There are no photos of this part because it's boring as all get out. Here's the summary.

Prime the back of the door. Let dry 24 hours. Prime the front of the door. Let dry 24 hours. Paint the back of the door. Let dry 24 hours. Paint the front of the door. Let dry 24 hours. Paint the back....

You get it.

Back inside, the crown molding up, it was time to paint. The plan had been to use the sprayer on the cabinets inside. We spent half a day taping off the inside of the cabinets and covering the room with dropcloths. It took about 45 seconds into the first coat to realize that this was a horrible idea. Our painters tape was falling off the ceiling and walls. The force of the sprayer was blowing all of the newspaper from the inside of the cabinets. I finished that one coat and then aborted mission. We finished the rest of the cabinets by hand. I'm not sure if we are particularly bad with painters tape, or if it's just horrible in general, but this didn't work for us at all. Lesson learned for when we paint the base cabinets in Phase 3.

Here's how the kitchen looked with the upper cabinet boxes painted. We waited another full week before we re-hung the doors to give them extra time to cure. So much brighter already!

Next we installed the microwave. This was the most nerve-wracking step for us because there is so little room for error. If you don't drill the holes juuuuuust right in the shelf/cabinet above, the microwave will not hang. Can't attach it. You're totally stuck. We were sure we were going to mess this up. And we nearly did. When I marked our holes using the template that came with the microwave, I decided to double check it. And I was half an inch off. I have no way to explain how this happened, but thankfully we caught it. We drilled the holes and bless the sweet Lord above, it actually fit.

Because the cabinets are now a foot higher, I decided we needed to relocate the knobs from the middle-ish of the doors to the bottom of the doors so we could actually reach them. I say "ish" because they weren't perfectly centered before. In a previous version of this kitchen they had used handles with 3" centers. Someone puttied up the top hole awhile back and installed knobs in the bottom hole. This non-centered business always bothered me, so we took this opportunity to correct it. We used this handy cabinet hardware template, which was another awesome purchase. If you're installing a kitchen's worth of hardware, I couldn't recommend this enough. You decide where you want the hardware to go and use the template to mark it over and over again on each door. No uh-ohs or oopsies. Just perfectly placed hardware every. single. time.

I love the hardware that we put in when we moved into the house (that $200 of hardware was a stop gap and the only kitchen update we could afford at the time), so we reinstalled them. Our exact knobs are no longer available, but here's one that's very similar.

And here's what it looks like today:

I cannot overstate how much larger our kitchen feels with the cabinets raised. Even with the fridge box and more cabinetry "coming at you", the kitchen feels substantially taller and wider. Witchcraft!

We still plan to build a false back for the shelf over the microwave to conceal the microwave's power cord and the cords for the soon to be installed under cabinet lighting. We will also build a 3" filler panel door for the pull out spice rack. We are inheriting a circular saw from Steven's parents this weekend, so we've been holding off on those projects until we could have the right tool for the job.

Check out our salvaged doors above the fridge. You would never know that these weren't original to our kitchen. We had to shave off about 1/2" from the top and bottom of the doors to make them fit nicely between the fridge and crown. Totally worth the extra effort.

This is the new view from the front door. Much improved. We moved our old mismatched trash can and recycle bin to the garage and got this sleek combo unit. While I would have loved to build in a trash cabinet somewhere, there just wasn't room, but this is such a huge improvement. I'm thinking I'll put some art on the fridge panel at some point, but for now I'm enjoying the clean look.

Those of you looking closely might notice an appendage on the side of the trash can. That's a magnetic bottle opener that I got for Steven a few years back. Since the sides of our fridge are now covered, there's no spot to attach it. It can be wall mounted, so we may do that in the future. I'm also kicking around the idea of adding some sheet metal to the inside of the fridge enclosure (on the kitchen side, not the front door side) so we could hang it again, but I'm fearful that other magnets might start to make their way onto the cabinet and that I'd die inside. So for now, this is where it resides.

In true "if you give a mouse a cookie" fashion, I now hate the blinds on these windows and plan to replace them with fabric roller shades once the base cabinets are painted. The blinds get so so dirty and rattle every time the door opens and closes, which with a dog and 2 boys is approximately 92718 times a day.

Below the sink you'll see the two base cabinet colors we're auditioning. Still undecided. It will likely be a game-time decision at the paint counter. I know both would look great, so I just need to make up my mind and move on!

Stella has given us her seal of approval on progress thus far.

That's where we are! Up next we'll have the marble look quartz countertops installed, add backsplash, install under cabinet lighting, and build the open shelves below the upper cabinets. The countertop I fell in love with is out of stock (because of course it is) so we have to wait until mid-July for those to come in. I've been doing this long enough to know that if you can wait on the thing you're in love with, do it. A 3 week delay seems like a long time when you're trying to renovate a kitchen in 6-8 weeks, but in the end it is such a blip on the radar when you consider the entire time you'll use the space. So we wait, which is not the worst thing. Kind of nice to have a break! The Netflix queue isn't going to binge watch itself.

Post contains affiliate links for products we used and LOVED.

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