Before and After: This Kitchen Got a Huge Return On a $600 Investment

This 100-year-old kitchen had a lot of charm and a ton of beautiful natural light, but it had some major issues—and a century’s worth of random features and finishes. In a poorly scheduled bout of renovation bravado, this kitchen was made over in the few days before Thanksgiving for just $600.

Here’s what was really going on in this kitchen:

Our kitchen was a hodgepodge of poorly functioning features from various decades, including counters made from mud-colored tiles with crumbling grout that was impossible to clean, a continuously dripping faucet, and irregular cabinets with ill-fitting pulls that always fell out.

Hard-to-clean countertops are a kitchen nightmare—and possibly a major health and sanitation hazard to boot. While some kitchen improvements are purely aesthetic and done for fun, improving cleanliness and preventing the waste of water are necessities.

It’s astounding Jennifer Telfeyan was able to accomplish all this in only five days—with some major help from mom. The cabinetry has been painted and trimmed and given new hardware, the countertops were covered in hand-dyed concrete, shiplap was added to the walls, and Jennifer somehow found the time to design and build a light fixture. The new island from IKEA adds a ton of work and storage space, and those beautiful stools from Wayfair create sweet in-kitchen dining. Such a job well done in such a short amount of time!

Jennifer explains how this quick, cheap, and wildly impressive makeover came about:

My husband and I are saving for a major kitchen overhaul, but first need to pour our energy and funds into repairing our 100-year-old home’s foundation. Since a kitchen renovation is probably a few years out, I knew a long weekend of work could produce a kitchen we felt happy to walk into each morning. There were quite a few skeptics who insisted I was just putting lipstick on a pig. Of course they were right (the drawers still and always will pull out all wonky) but I think she’s a mighty fine pig.

Tile counters are stressful enough when they’re not crumbling, so covering these was a wise move. DIY no-pour concrete is pretty cheap and relatively simple (at least compared to DIY slab concrete) and can look incredibly cool. It was a great idea—especially dyed black for a finished look—but, as is generally the case, complications arose:

Because planning has always been my forte, my mom, who was visiting from Nashville, and I tackled the project the five days prior to hosting Thanksgiving at our house. Honestly we should have allotted seven and done it post-Thanksgiving, since history has taught all of us that projects never go off exactly as planned. This one, naturally, was no different. Installing Shaker-style trim to the cabinets and hanging shiplap, while time consuming, were straightforward enough.

The biggest setback occurred when it came time to sand the black concrete counters. Of course sanding produces a mess, but the part that we hadn’t planned on was the black dye in the sawdust covering the entire kitchen. It was like someone had taken dozens of printer cartridges and fanned the dry ink all over the kitchen and adjoining spaces. The cleaning (and cleaning and cleaning) almost had me throwing in the towel. That trauma aside, all in the renovation cost us around $600, which my eye thinks is a huge return for a relatively small investment.

This is now such a lovely, simple kitchen. It’s minimal palette lets the beautiful objects and view shine and calls attention to the appeal of the practical elements. Though the light fixture is quite modern, it also calls to mind the blown-glass globes, brass accents, and cloth cords from yesteryear. And while that fridge is obviously of the 21st century, the shiplap feels quite right in a home of this age. It’s also a great way to preserve some light-bouncing properties—especially since the lower cabinetry has been painted black—while creating visual interest.

I love how much brighter the room feels as well as the texture and depth that the shiplap adds to the space. I’ll catch views of the kitchen now from different angles and it always makes me look twice and smile.

If I were to go back with the knowledge I now have, I would have chosen a different product to dye the counters black. Something that wouldn’t add 10 hours of cleaning to the project.

Built-ins are a major perk of many older homes, but this one needed a bit of a spruce.

Now it’s downright glamorous. The black, white, and gold combination has the elegance of a tuxedo with well-chosen jewelry, and the black concrete has gravitas and drama. While the fresh coat of white paint helps immensely, the new trim totally transforms this piece; it’s a fairly thrifty way to increase formality and make everything feel a bit more finished.

If you’re thinking of doing some DIY concrete work—or really anything that can create a mess—definitely heed Jennifer’s wise, experienced words:

Do not underestimate how messy sanding concrete will be, and invest in and use multiple plastic drop cloths. Taking the extra 20 minutes ahead of time to properly ensure your surfaces are taped off and covered will save you hours of agony later. I promise.

Thank you, Jennifer Telfeyan!

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