Kitchen Refresh: The Background, Inspiration and Plan

15 September 2022

September is a big month around here! Not only have we been anticipating our anniversary trip, but also the official start of our kitchen refresh! This project has been months in the making. Many of you expressed interest in hearing more about it in my mid-year goals update, so I thought we could chat about it today!

The background:

From the day we stepped foot in this house ten years ago, I knew I’d someday want to paint the cabinets. The kitchen was actually one of our favorite parts of the house – the layout was good, there was ton of storage space, the countertops were unoffensive, and overall it was in great shape – but the reddish wood of the cabinets combined with the reddish tone of our floors was just not my style.

That being said, we emphatically did not have the budget to hire a cabinet painter for the first many years of homeownership, and it was not a project I was interested in taking on myself. We also were unsure how long we planned to stay in this house, and therefore unsure whether the expense of a kitchen refresh made sense. We did make a few tiny upgrades along the way – a sliver of a chalkboard wall in 2013 and new pendant lights in 2014 – but the kitchen largely still looks the way it did the day we got the keys. Here’s a home tour from 2015 for a little background; I’ve sprinkled a few “before” photos throughout this post, too, very much unstyled :)

We’ve decided that this will, likely, be our home for at least the next few years, and that, combined with a more recent ability to pay for these upgrades, made us comfortable slating a kitchen refresh for 2022. For all the excitement I’ve had for this project, though, I’ve also been in my head a bit.

First, this project represents a large outlay of money for us. I feel pressure to craft an outcome I’ll LOVE and be happy with for a long while (probably the rest of our time in this house), especially because I am the one driving this refresh. (John would be happy to leave things as-is.) I’ve waited ten years to spend this money, and I want to spend it well and not have regrets. That’s a lot of pressure!

Second, while I am proud that we’ve lived with a kitchen that didn’t feel like us for a decade in an age when it’s easy to find instant, extravagant, ripped-to-the-studs renovations everywhere you look online, there’s still something in me that feels conflicted about replacing things for (almost) purely aesthetic reasons. I’ve wrestled with whether I’m being a good steward of the earth and of our finances in doing so.

Those are not rabbit holes for which there are easy answers, but I’ve come to a place I can live with and am truly excited for what’s ahead.

The process:

In planning for 2022, I dubbed the kitchen refresh a Q1 goal. LOL.

In reality, in what felt like a part-time job at times, I spent all of Q1 and into Q2 chasing down contractors to bid on our project. We did, by the end of May, choose two and pay deposits, and were able to get on their calendars for three months later.

A bright spot was meeting with my friend Callie of Haven & Hinge in January. For an hourly fee, we met in my kitchen, talked through options, and weeded through my Pinterest board together. She recommended contractors to reach out to and sent me a simple design plan based on what we chatted about. Based on our meeting, I ordered and then hung up four paint sample swatches. Friends, they have been taped to our cabinets since January. EIGHT MONTHS! Even though we chose our cabinet color in the spring, I refused to take them down. Through all the waiting, frustration, and delays, they were my sign – my beacon of hope! – that something was eventually going to happen in this kitchen, ha!

In August, I had a final meeting with Callie. To maximize our time, I combed through the whole project and bulleted out in granular detail my exact questions before she came over: where should we put knobs and where should we put pulls? Which style of hood? 8″ or 13″ pendant lights over the bar? Etc. etc. etc. These are the types of questions I could spend hours debating; instead, it was so nice to spend ONE hour making all the decisions.

Once I had answers, I had final meetings to relay them to Don (who is doing most of the work aside from the cabinets) and Sean (who is doing the cabinets – not confusing at all to have a Don and a Sean working on our project). I also entered the official “spending money” stage and purchased the light fixtures, cabinet hardware, tile, and hood vent. And that pretty much brings us to where we are today!

The plan:

So what actually are we doing in this refresh? Here’s the punch list:

  • STOVE WALL | We’re replacing the cabinet doors with Shaker-style fronts, replacing the hardware, and painting the cabinets.
  • HOOD | Removing the microwave, installing a hood that vents to the outside, and building and installing a wooden hood cover
  • REFRIGERATOR WALL | Removing the counter and cabinets to the right of the fridge, building a tall double-doored cabinet to the right of the fridge (the microwave will go inside), and building cabinets out around the rest of the fridge, to the ceiling. The wire shelf currently next to the fridge will be rehomed.
  • BACKSPLASH | Installing a new Clé Tile backsplash
  • LIGHTS | Replacing the pendant lights over the bar and the dining room table fixture
  • OTHER | Adding or replacing a few other decorative pieces: adding a rug, painting over the chalkboard wall, removing an old intercom, simplifying the molding, removing blinds, hanging curtains, etc.

Here’s a sketch I made of the refrigerator wall, since it’s a little harder to picture:

We are not replacing our countertops, sink, or any appliances. However, we are doing a few smaller projects in or adjacent to the main room, but outside of the kitchen, at the same time:

  • POWDER ROOM | Painting the walls and replacing the light fixture, towel ring, artwork, and hand towels
  • FIREPLACE | Building and installing a custom wood mantel and replacing the tile with the same tile as the backsplash
  • STAIRS | Removing some fussy scrollwork detail for a more classic, simplified look
  • SIDE HALLWAY | Installing three large fabric bulletin boards to display kid artwork and photos

The inspiration:

Let’s look at a few lovely photos to wrap things up for today!

Though I love a white kitchen, I wanted something a little warmer for our space. We’re going with Benjamin Moore’s Natural Cream, which is the same color used in Alaina’s kitchen (top left – so beautiful!). We’ll also be using gold hardware. (Other sources clockwise from top right: unknown, a friend’s kitchen, LEB Interiors, Friday & Co Design, unknown)

This kitchen by Emily Henderson has the same beautiful Zellige tiles that we’re using for our backsplash and fireplace surround.

Don is using this photo (from a Caitlin Creer home) for reference as he builds our mantel. (We aren’t doing the horizontal planking above.)

And he’s using this photo as a reference for our hood (I don’t have a credit for this one!).

Here’s some of the inspiration I’ve gathered for our fridge wall. (Clockwise from top left: Alaina Kaz, BHG, The DIY Playbook x 2, and Higham Furniture)

And there you have it! Friends, the paint samples are still on my cabinets as I type because this all still doesn’t seem real – but maybe by next week it will? Because there will be new tile in my kitchen?! Thank you, as always, for being excited about the journey – even the very long ones :)

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Victoria B
September 15, 2022 10:04 am

I love it! If this helps at all, spending this money now will come back to you if and when you sell the house, plus it also may make you want to stay in the house longer. We just moved and I painted the whole house and am changing out my kitchen countertops, so this all feels very relevant to me right now. I wish I could send you my inspiration photos and my before and in progress photos.

September 15, 2022 2:40 pm

Emily, I felt your post deeply because my husband and I have been in the thick of home renovations (big to small) for the past 18 months. Similar to you, I wrestled with whether we should spend money on these projects. Some like installing new recessed lighting in the living room and retiling our bathroom we did out of necessity (we couldn’t see and our bathroom sink flooded lol). But in our kitchen we also got new cabinets and countertops, and (because it broke) a new dishwasher. We lived in our house for more than five years before doing any of these big upgrades because we prioritized spending money on travel and experiences outside of the home. Then the pandemic hit, lockdown took its toll, and we realized, our house needed a lot of work LOL Like you, because we can’t truly pinpoint when we’ll be selling our current place, we decided to move some of that travel money (tear) to, I guess doing the more mature thing: improving the way our home looks and functions. Good luck with your kitchen. Now that ours is finished, I love it. It made total sense to make these changes. For our next place, I’d love to have money to do upgrades BEFORE moving in, and then celebrate the end of renovating with a vacation, with whatever money we have left :D

September 15, 2022 3:21 pm

Love getting a peek at what you’re planning! We painted the kitchen cabinets at our previous home (lived in NW Raleigh for 10 years before moving to Cary) and it completely transformed the room. Can’t wait to see the outcome!

September 15, 2022 7:17 pm

THOSE TILES ???????????? Your kitchen will be so so beautiful!
It was so interesting reading your perspective! When we bought our house (4 years ago), I knew I wanted to do something with the kitchen. Even though we didn’t have a big enough budget to redo the whole kitchen, it stayed at the very top of my priority list and we hired a painting company about 6 months after our move. We also changed out the knobs and pulls, the faucet and one of the light fixtures. I’d still love to change the ceiling light fixture and add a tile backsplash. But I am so so glad we had the kitchen painted before anything else, really. We’re still waiting for our appliances to go out on us, since we just can’t seem to throw out a perfectly good dishwasher (even though it’s sooo loud, ha!).
Looking forward to your big kitchen reveal!! So so exciting!

September 22, 2022 12:34 pm

Oooh I would love a kitchen refresh! This looks like a very chic plan. I love that your fridge is as chaotic as ours haha. My dream is to have a hood that vents outside…so long, smoky greasy kitchen! We also have wood cabinets and floor, plus a northwesterly exposure which makes for a dark tiny kitchen. I wish I had painted the cabinets when I moved in 12 years ago. I did replace the countertops, hardware, and lighting at the time. I think we’ll be forced into a renovation if our (not new) stove dies…it slides in and the countertop is custom cut around it. Of course modern stoves are a different size! Plus we have a very strange dishwasher setup – it goes under the sink! Which means a) less space inside dishwasher and b) no garbage disposal. I’ll be interested to see how you cope without a kitchen with three kiddos…besides budget, that is my biggest drawback to doing a renovation here!