Tiny, Ugly Kitchen Makeover on a Budget

My #1 Problem Space

They say the kitchen is the heart of the home, and if that’s the case, my home has some serious health problems in need of emergency intervention! There is one room in my house that I hate above all the others, and that room is without hesitation my kitchen. 

My house was built in the 70s and hasn’t had much in the way of any major updating. It seems that when previous owners or renters wanted to spruce up the look, they just slapped on a new coat of wall paper or paint. I don’t know if the last paint job in the kitchen was intended to be white or off white, but in recent years the paint has been looking a little more “banana” than “snow white”.

The situation is not helped by the old yellowed tile of the floor and the yellowing and stained formica counter tops. Everything about the kitchen just screamed old and dingy – not the adjectives you want to conjure up for the place you prepare food!  

Ugly Pineapple Fruit Border
Exhibit A - My lovely fruit border.

And the kitchen always seems to be the place were friends want to gather at any social event, despite my kitchen being quite small, I’ve had as many as a dozen people squeezed into it at once, which has caused me quite a lot of distress. As much as I scrubbed the kitchen down, I couldn’t shake the fear that the yellow aura the room seemed to cast in looked dirty to guests, and I just didn’t find a lot of joy being in there. 

We do want to do a full kitchen renovation – new cabinets, new flooring, taking a wall out, new appliances, new counters – the whole shebang. Unfortunately for the foreseeable future, our budget for upgrades is definitely only appropriate for more of an “extreme frugal facelift”. 

So in this part 1 of our kitchen renovation I’m going to show you the amount of progress and improvement we were able to achieve on a very tight budget. One thing I always underestimate with DIY projects, is how much LONGER it takes than I expect and how much more EXHAUSTING it is than I expect. Hence why this will be broken up into several posts as it will likely take us a few months to complete everything. I hope you’ll follow along to see the finished look; I know I’m excited for it!

First, the Before Images.

They are a little older, taken with my previous, ancient phone in fact, because I honestly just didn’t think to take new “before” photos when we got around to officially starting the project. However, it’s still a good representation of how badly my kitchen needed some love. In fact, it may even be under representing some of the problems. And FYI, I chucked the old blinds and yellow valance shortly after these photos were taken.

Old Ugly Kitchen
Ugh, so yellow and dingy.
Old Ugly Kitchen
It's just so....bad.
Old Ugly Kitchen
More old paint and outdated borders.

The Range Hood Problem

Step one was to take care of my awful, awful range hood. The paint was chipping, which made it tedious to try to keep clean, it was ugly, the screen was bent, and the fan seemed to struggle to actually pull any air out. We were able to find a basic black range hood with solid ratings on Amazon for less than $50. We even had a gift card, so we didn’t have to use “real” money since it was a gift.

I was a little nervous about swapping it ourselves, but it was definitely an easy, achievable DIY. The hardest and most time consuming part was turning the power off to that particular outlet. The breakers in our fuse box are not accurately labeled, and we quickly found that out when we flipped the breaker that said range, and the power went out to our entryway lights instead. There was quite a bit of trial and error and we really need to take the time to relabel everything one day, but we did eventually figure out which one it was.

The next hardest part of the process was drilling the new range hood into the cabinets, mostly because of awkward angles. This is definitely a two person task!

New Range Hood
I forgot to take a photo before we got the backsplash and paint on...Oops!

The Flooring Problem

Beautiful new range hood installed, the second element of our kitchen update was the flooring. In the future we plan to put down laminate wood flooring that flows from our kitchen into our dining room (between which we plan to remove a wall) and into the living room and hallway. Because we are several years out on that, we decided to go with peel and stick tile. The tile we chose was 89 cents a square foot and the amount we used came to $62.

The process was super simple. We washed the existing tile very well with TSP cleaner, removed the transition strips from the floor between the carpet and tile, and started sticking tile down. We pulled the fridge and oven out from between the counters to do those areas, discovering another layer of wallpaper that we had never seen before as well as a gas line! That’s exciting because it opens the option for a gas range in our future big renovation.

The hardest part of the peel and stick process was cutting the tile in some awkward shapes around the doorways. The best thing to do is make patterns with cardboard, use a very sharp knife, and go slow and careful.

Overall this was a very easy project and took less than a day to complete. The change in flooring made a drastic difference in the kitchen. The main piece of advice I would give to anyone wanting to do peel and stick tile in a room is to overestimate the amount you think you will need. We had to go out mid project and buy an extra box because we screwed up a couple pieces trying to do those weird around the doorway cuts and ran short of the amount we needed.  

Peel and Stick Tile Floor Installation
The new flooring makes a startling difference.

The Yellow Cabinet Problem

Next up on the list was tackling those dingy yellow cabinets, especially now that the floor was so fresh and eye catching. This was very affordable, but very labor intensive and time consuming. We watched a lot of Youtube videos prior to starting (how we learn to do most of our work on our home to be honest) and just went forward with removing all the cabinet doors and hardware, washing everything with TSP, and sanding out some of the imperfections. Because we do want to replace the cabinets entirely in the next 5-10 years we didn’t spend as much time as we could have on this last aspect.

Next was to coat everything in primer (we used Kilz) and then the paint we chose was Sherwin Williams Showcase satin interior pain in Oxford White. It’s advertised as having one coat coverage and not needing an additional primer, however I’m a fan of always priming regardless of the paint used. We bought the 5 gallon bucket of Kilz for about $72 in anticipation of doing more painting throughout the rest of the house. The gallon of paint we bought was $40, but had a promotion for a $15 Lowes Gift Card rebate (which I’ve since received in the mail). 

I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s not worth painting your own cabinets, especially if you want them to look perfect, and there’s definitely a nugget of truth to that. I think it’s possible to get professional, or almost professional, results – it just takes a LOT of work. Ours probably almost definitely look like we did them ourselves, but given the age and condition of the cabinets, I’m okay with that. They look a million times better, I’m more than happy with them, and nobody who has visited has had a single negative thing to say. Given my budget, between being stuck with cabinets I hate and cabinets that have some slight imperfections but look great, it was an easy choice! 

Old paint vs new paint
Just look at the difference between the old and new paint!

The Backsplash Problem

For whatever reason, nobody had ever put in a backsplash behind the stove. The gas line behind the refrigerator makes me wonder if the stove had ever been located there in the past. Who knows. We did know that we didn’t want to continue to omit that feature.

This is also where my boyfriend and I diverged on what we wanted to do. Because literally anything would be better than no backsplash, and because it wasn’t going to be a forever backsplash, I was happy to go with the cheapest route possible that looked nice. Maybe some simple, cheap subway tile or something from the Habitat ReStore. But the boyfriend had a vision. This is where we clashed on balancing how we wanted it to look with what we wanted to spend. This was the one battle I did NOT win.

We went with a fancy, black glass mosaic tile. Since we just wanted a backsplash the width of the stove, we only needed to puchase 6 tiles at $14 each. The tiles attached quite easily to the wall with this neat tile adhesive mat that cost about $20. Despite my balking at the cost, it really does look very beautiful on the wall and admittedly improves the overall aesthetic of the kitchen. Could we also have done something beautiful for less? Most likely, but given that I’d been steering the direction of most of our design decisions, I’m willing to let go of this one! My lesson learned is that adding one or two higher quality elements can make some of the more budget upgrades seem more luxe than they actually are.

New Backsplash
Shiny new backsplash.

Where We’re At So Far

And without further ado, here’s the final result (so far!). Just a reminder that we aren’t done, this is only part 1! We’ll be doing something fun on those unpainted walls and I don’t plan to keep those counters looking like they do right now either. The total we spent so far is about $350 ($286 if you were to subtract the gift card and rebate amount). I hope this encourages you that you don’t don’t have to live with a space that you hate even if you are unable to go all in on a full renovation. Even economical, little changes can make a huge impact. 

Part 1 Kitchen Done
The ugly borders are going next!


Hey, I'm Lisa! I have a love for thrifting, cooking, entertaining, and updating my old house...and I'm doing it all on a budget! Follow along and hopefully you'll find something that inspires you to live your best life, even if it's with limited finances. Whether you're looking for ways to stretch your dollars, trying to save more and spend less, or just here for the thrift hauls, I hope you'll stick around =)
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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John Wunderlich

    Hi Lisa – I found my way here from your YouTube page after watching your $10 Dollar Tree video then the Aldi’s one and finally the pork shoulder video. I am really impressed by your thriftiness and cooking skills and congratulate you on the nice job on the kitchen refresh.
    I grew up in a home where money was always tight and learned to live “thin.” As a kid I saved every penny. I would sweep the lady across the street’s porch for 50 cents then get on my bike and ride to the bank and deposit the two quarters. I would do the same with every birthday check, etc.
    As a young adult I skimped, worked two jobs, and bought a home but money continued to be tight, so I continued to live thin. But I always made it happen and rarely owed any money, because the only thing I hate more than wasting money, is owing people money.
    Now I am in my 50s and have a successful business and plenty of money, but I still can’t stand wasting money. We cook at home probably 95% of the meals we eat. We do the same thing with the pork shoulder, making chili verde, pork tacos, pork nachos, etc. In fact we do that with chicken and steak, too.
    I guess I am rambling here, but I just wanted to commend you. If my daughter turns out anything like you, I would be so proud. Keep up the good work and keep spreading the word. Too many people say they can’t afford to live or get ahead, but they don’t show the discipline and resourcefulness that you demonstrate.
    Best of luck to you in all you endeavour!

  2. Jim

    Your kitchen looks so much better after. Good job, really good job!

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