Stripping Down

Well, I’m done.  V and I got off to a great start removing the kitchen wallpaper.

Tearing off the patterned pieces took about an hour, but left all the glued backing on the wall.  Based on past wall paper removal experiences (main bathroom at our first house, I’m talking about you), I thought this step would be incredibly tedious.  Lucky for me, it wasn’t too bad.  I’m guessing it went smoothly because the thicker decorative paper was off.  Before I got serious about the removal process, I tested a small area.  Just a wet sponge and a metal scraper got the backing off without damaging the walls.

Obviously wetting the walls with a small kitchen sponge would have taken forever, so I got out a plain spray bottle that I use for ironing.  Filled with water, I liberally sprayed the walls one small section at a time.  At first I was hesitant to spray a ton of water, but then I realized it had to happen.  So, I sprayed until the paper turned a dark golden-yellow color, let it sit five minutes, then sprayed it again.

It came off smoothly and mostly in large sheets.  Then I decided to put another theory to the test, just to compare removal processes.  I added white vinegar to the water (about 1/2 water, 1/2 vinegar) and sprayed the walls with that.  I wouldn’t say this worked better, just a little quicker.  And smellier.  I think the vinegar penetrated quicker, but I made the mistake of testing this in the confined area above the cabinets.

Do yourself a favor and use vinegar in an open space or wear a mask.  Of course it’s not a chemical smell, just strongly acidic.

Now that the bulk is done, I have to work on the details.

And fill nail holes, prime, and paint.

I’m stuck waiting on paint until we patch the areas below the new windows in the breakfast nook and family room.  And I suppose I should wait until we install trim around the windows and door so I’m not repainting everything.  Or worse, stuck with noticeable touched up areas.  Can someone tell me why satin paint shows touch ups so easily?

Have your wallpaper removals been this easy?  Or did you have thick, sticky paper to deal with?  I swear, the foiled, embossed floral wallpaper in the main bathroom at our first house did not want to come off, no matter what trick we tried.  What did you do this weekend?  Let’s just say we’ve starting tearing (more) things apart.

It Started With a Four Year Old

Last night, V and I had an impromptu wallpaper removal party.  And he sent me the invite.  Over the past few days, V had been slowly working on peeling wallpaper from the small area under my desk.  Once he got that off the wall, he turned his attention to the small area by the breakfast nook window.  Because I’m a good mom hate the wallpaper, I joined him.

Ben thought we were crazy, but didn’t object.  Fortunately, it peeled off easily.  Well, the design part peeled off easily.  The paper split, leaving the glued paper on the walls.  In many places, full sheets of the patterned parts came off quickly.  And in about an hour, we had all the ugly blue paper off the walls in the kitchen and office.


I’m happy to see the kitchen lighter and brighter, but I know it’ll be a complete pain to tear off the glued paper parts.

Lucky for me, I can work on this when I’m in the mood.  Hmmm, how often is one in the mood to remove wallpaper?  I guess we’ll find out.

For now, we’ve got a mock Tuscan look going on.

But I guess the crazy blue wallpaper wasn’t all bad.  Now the crazy things the previous owner did are completely obvious.  Like these five(!) nails randomly above the kitchen window.

And three more above the breakfast nook window, because, you know, everything is better in odd numbers.

My office has a few issues, too.

Like a wall full of pin holes.  Seriously, a little cork would have been better than this:

Gah, I love wallpaper…NOT!  Well, at least I’ve got time to work on it.  Anyone know an easy way to get the paper off without further damaging the walls?  Raise your hand if you want to come over and help.  Ah ha, I see you in the back.  Come on, I’ll feed you and provide the booze after.

Ready To Dish It Out

The mountain house boasts many upgrades over our first house.  Fantastic views, more land, larger home, an indoor (non-functioning) pool, room to expand, and loads of untapped potential.  However, there are several slight downgrades from our first home; dated bathrooms (we’re happy to live with until we can remodel), old windows, and crappy appliances.  Appliances that are as old or older than I am.  Like our dishwasher.

I’m pretty sure its close to original in this house.  At any rate, it’s gross.  And I have no clue why there’s a board on the floor at the base.

Apparently, in the 80’s, this monster was considered an energy saver.  Hmm, I wonder what Energy Star rating it would have today?  It still functions, but not very well.  Clean dishes are hit or miss and the capacity is tiny compared to the KitchenAid washer we bought for our last kitchen remodel.   Seriously, why is the utensil caddy on the door?  Spoons are rarely clean.

While we’re on the topic of the KitchenAid dishwasher, let me show you what we got to replace that puppy above.  This stainless beauty from Lowe’s.

Yep, we got the exact same dishwasher.  Why?  We loved it at our first house.  Huge capacity (seriously, I had to buy more dinner plates because we didn’t have to run it often enough to clean the 12 we had), sleek controls, and stainless interior and exterior.  Ben had to get this big box in his tiny car.  And he did, so we’ve got a new to us dishwasher sitting in our garage, waiting to be installed.  We’ve got 30 days to return it if it doesn’t work, too.  I’m so excited for a new, clean, quiet dishwasher.

What upcoming event are you excited for?  I do deem a new dishwasher an ‘event’.  Score any great deals lately?

Stick a Fork in It

Because the kitchen is done!  All it took was a little sanding and painting on the ceiling.  Ben hates sheet rock work, hence the reason we just finished it.  And mostly pressure to get the house ready to sell.  But, it’s done, and that’s what matters.
If you recall, before we started work, the kitchen looked like this:
Almond appliances, orange oak cabinets, too small drawers and cabinets, and one large wall trapping the cook in the kitchen.  After months of work and tearing everything out to start from scratch, we’ve created this:
A warm, open, light filled, and functional kitchen.
Replacing the soffit with cabinetry has added even more storage.
A low profile vent hood keeps the focus on the wood counters and new cabinetry.
And I can’t forget the wall of marble tile.  Oh how I love thee.
We will definitely miss this kitchen, but it was such a learning process and we love how it turned out.
Because Ben built our cabinets, our total kitchen budget is about what our store-bought cabinet budget was.  Yes, that is the single most money-saving thing we did.  As you can see, our appliances more than made up for that savings.
So what do you think?  Every potential buyer has commented about the kitchen and how nice it is, which makes us happy.

P.S.  If you haven’t been following from the beginning, you can catch up on all things kitchen renovation in these posts.

Reader Question: How We Built Our Kitchen Cabinets

***As a disclaimer, this isn’t a step-by-step-anyone-with-power-tools-can-do-this kind of project.***  

We’ve had several questions and requests for more details of how we built our own cabinets.  Ashley said, “You and Ben should do some sort of a write-up as to the materials you used and how you designed the cabinets, a breakdown of the costs, etc. I also have a small kitchen and am looking to redo it as well. We’d love to make custom cabinets, but I’m not sure how much we’d have to spend or even what materials to use!  I know determining sizes would be unique to each kitchen, but if there’s any sort of snags you came across when measuring, things to look out for or remember, etc. those would be helpful to keep in mind. I think the construction is what I’m most curious about though because we could use our existing cabinets as a means of measurement.”

Those are all very good questions.  And we have answers, hopefully they’re sufficient.  Let’s start with the basics; the material and pricing.  We used 3/4 inch cabinet grade plywood for nearly everything.  The reason?  Plywood is super sturdy and we would rather over build something than have problems down the road.  Better safe than sorry.  Cabinet grade is smoother with fewer knots than other plywood, so it costs a little more.  At Montana Home Depots, a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood costs about $25.  For all the cabinets, we’ve used 17 sheets.

For the drawer fronts we used MDF because it’s smoother and we don’t need plywood for strength.  When we designed the cabinets, we pretty much kept the layout we already had with some modifications.  If you’re keeping the same layout, you can measure the cabinets to make the new ones.  Our overall sizes were nearly identical to the old cabinets, we just combined a few.  One thing to take into consideration are the wasted spaces in your current layout.  Sometimes there’s a reason for it, like in our corner cabinet.

When measuring, remember you need to allow for clearance of hardware and door swings.  But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Another thing to consider when measuring is how deep your cabinets are.  A piece of plywood is four feet wide, but you’ll want to make your cabinets just under two feet deep (ours are 23 3/4 inches deep) to maximize sheets of plywood.  Remember, the saw blade eats up a sliver of the wood.  Preventing waste will also help keep the cost down.

To keep things as simple and sturdy as possible, we make the toe kicks out of 2 by 4 studs.  This way you’re not factoring the space into the cabinet, you’re simply building two boxes to set on the other.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, how about we move on to the building phase?  Ben builds cabinets with the top and bottom pieces the full width and depth of the overall size.

For example, the cabinets by our stove are 42 inches wide by 23 3/4 inches deep by 32 1/2 inches tall, not including the toe kick.

The top and bottom pieces of this cabinet measure 42 inches by 23 3/4 inches.  Because the top and bottom are the full size, the sides and back rest inside.  So the sides of this cabinet are 23 3/4 inches deep by 31 inches tall.  The back is the smallest at 31 inches tall by 40 1/2 inches wide.

To hold everything securely, Ben applies a bead of wood glue, then nails everything together using 16 guage nails in an air nailer.

The process is similar for building the drawers, too.  The bottom piece is the entire width and depth.  Attach the sides next, which extend front to back with the height you prefer.  Each drawer will vary in height.  Finally, the back and front fit between the side pieces.  Everything is glued and nailed into place and allowed to dry.

With the cabinets installed, Ben added another thin strip of 3/4 inch plywood to attach the face framing to.  For our visible end panels, we covered the rougher plywood with smooth 1/2 inch thick MDF.  For added decorative detail, 1/4 inch thick by 2 1/2 inch wide MDF borders the edges.

Using plywood for the drawer sides does come with a complication; hiding the top edge.  You could use iron on veneer but we opted to fill the cracks with wood filler to sand everything smooth to prepare for primer and paint.

The plywood edges of the cabinets all get a face lift in the form of 1/4 inch MDF.  We decided on a mix of traditional and European style drawers.

Traditional style cabinets have a divider strip between each cabinet and drawer, like these from Young House Love:

European style cabinet doors and drawer fronts nearly touch one another, like these:

Our mix has a 3/4 inch reveal {the width of visible cabinet face} on all outside edges, but the drawers nearly touch each other.

After deciding on the reveal width, Ben started building drawer fronts.  Ours are a simple shaker style; a flat panel with a thin border detail.  To make the drawer faces, Ben cut pieces of 1/2 inch MDF to the overall size for each drawer.  Then he cut tons of 2 1/2 inch wide 1/4 inch thick strips of MDF.  Using a pin nailer and glue, Ben added the trim detail.

And now, for the super tedious part; filling, sanding, priming, and painting the cabinets for a seamless, polished look.  We like to use Elmer’s Wood Filler and a small putty knife to get in the small cracks.  For nail holes, I like to use my finger to squish the filler in the hole.  Let the filler dry overnight, then sand with a high grit (about 220) sand paper.

If necessary, fill areas and sand again.  Run your fingers over the surface.  If you feel a bump, keep on sanding.  The true test is after the coat of primer.  If you see a crack or hole once the primer has dried, don’t hold out hope the paint will fill it.  It won’t and you’ll be more annoyed about touching it up.  And, if you’re like I am, you probably will never do it.

When it’s time to install the drawer fronts, first measure, mark, and drill holes for your hardware.  To save time (and aggravation), I make a paper template.  I measure the distance between the hardware holes and poke holes to easily mark the cabinets.  You could buy a template at the hardware store, too.  These holes will come in handy when trying to attach the fronts.  Use spacers to make sure they’re lined up, then screw through the pre-drilled hardware holes, going into the actual drawer.

This will hold the front in place while you screw from the inside to secure the front.  Back out the screws, drill through the drawer, and add your hardware.

Finish off the 2 by 4 toe kick with a piece of primed and painted 1/4 inch thick  MDF.  If you use caulking, glue, or pin nails, you’ll have minimal touch up paint.

So that’s how we made our lower drawers, but we’ve still got the upper cabinets to discuss.

Upper cabinets begin in much the same way as the lower drawers.  Make a plywood box to size, but you don’t have to build drawer boxes to go inside.  Easy, right?  Hang the cabinet box, screwing into studs.  Here’s where the building is different.  Rather than 1/4 inch MDF facing, you’ll need 3/4 inch thick wood facing.  We used poplar because it’s easy to work with and durable with minimal grain.  Add any decorative side trim first, subtracting the thickness of the poplar to keep an even border.  Nail the poplar trim (ours is 1 1/2 inches wide) to the front edges, keeping the sides flush.  Fill every hole and crack (dirty!), sand smooth, prime, and paint.

If you want solid doors, follow the same steps as the drawer fronts.  But, for glass front doors, you’ve got a little more work ahead of you.  Using real wood, we used poplar but Ben would use oak if he had to do this again, cut 2 1/2 inch wide strips.  Using a router, make a tongue and groove system for the frame pieces to fit together.  Remember, this only has to be 2 1/2 inches from the long ends.  Then, apply a bead of glue and slide the pieces together.  Use pin nails to keep the frames from shifting before drying.  After the glue sets, router out a channel for the glass.

The router can’t get the corners completely square, so use a utility knife and chisel to square everything up.

We took our doors to a local glass shop where they cut and installed the glass for us.

To hang the doors, first use a Forstner drill bit to recess the hidden hinge.

Attach the hinge to the cabinet door.  Get a helper to hold the cabinet door while marking, drilling pilot holes, and screwing the hinges to the cabinet frame.

Then get a beer, wine, margarita, or a Coke and enjoy your new cabinets, relishing how much money you saved by building your own cabinets.  Speaking of how much you’ll save, let’s look at our pricing.

DIY Cabinet Building Budget Break Down:

17 Sheets of Cabinet Plywood: $249.85 {Ben got a really good deal on the plywood, though I don’t remember how…}
2 Sheets of 3/4 MDF:  $69.00 {mostly used for cabinet shelving}
7 Sheets of 1/2 MDF:  $171.50 {for drawer fronts and end panels}
2 Sheets of 1/4 MDF:  $28.00 {for drawer front banding and face frames}
4 gallons of gray Glidden paint: $57.08  {originally $87.88 because Wal-Mart didn’t have their brand in stock; used to paint the insides of the cabinets and drawers-we only used 2 1/2 gallons}
10 2×6 studs (used to support the wall we tore down) and 10 2×4 studs (used for toe kicks): $80.00  {Still grouped together because I don’t know individual costs of the studs}
Acryshield Paint$52.39  {for the exteriors of the gray cabinets}
Drawer Glides:  $56.16
Behr white paint, for upper cabinets:  $32.98
Glidden White Paint, for trim:  $24.97
Vinyl bumper pads:  $7.74 {for three packs}
Bolts and screws for drawer fronts and handles:  $14.78
Cabinet door hinges:  $34.72  for 16
Poplar for cabinet frames: $27.00 for 18 board feet
Drawer Pulls:  $63.00 {or $31.50 for 10 at Lowe’s}
Door Knobs:  $20.00 for 8
2 packages of Shelf Supports:  $9.98
Glass for Doors: $30.60
We already had all the tools as well as wood filler, sand paper, nails, etc.
Grand total for cabinet supplies:  $972.67
Price for KraftMaid cabinets:  $7,000-$9,000 {depending on the style and upgrades}
Total savings for DIYing the cabinets:  $6,027.33-$8,027.33
Things to remember:
This might seem blindingly obvious and unnecessary to mention, but you are deciding every. single. detail.  Unlike buying cabinets, you have a lot to think about and decide.  Where will your toe kicks go; only on the fronts?  How big/deep should the drawers be?  What will the visible end panels look like?  Traditional or European style?
Measure, measure, measure!  That old rule ‘measure twice, cut once’ most definitely applies to cabinet building.  Make sure to take the plywood width into consideration when determining cabinet sizes, too.
It helps to have all supplies before building starts.  Get your drawer glides so you know how big to build your drawers.
If you like your cabinet layout and the existing cabinet frames are in good condition, building new cabinet doors and drawer fronts might be an affordable way for you to update your kitchen.  Because you’ve got pre-determined sizes, building might be easier.
We have absolutely no regrets going with all drawer lowers.  They’re much more functional and we’ve picked up a lot of space, even in the same footprint.
Now, if you still have questions, lay them on me.