Category Archives: before & after

Before & After: A Mini Makeover for the Kitchen

Kitchen upgrade at the Delbert Meier House

While most people spend the week before Thanksgiving finalizing menus and trying to think of conversation starters for certain relatives with opposing political views, we spent last week overhauling half of our kitchen. Oh, we still found the time to roast a bird and whip up a pan of homemade macaroni and cheese, but we prepared our feast in a kitchen that was getting a mini-makeover.

After: Refreshed Kitchen at This American House

It’s fitting that we should finally tackle the kitchen mini-renovation the week before Thanksgiving. It was during the same week in 2013 that we became the owners of the house and stood in the kitchen making our plans. As I looked around at the thirtysomething-year-old dark cabinets and the countertops that the previous owners had painted silver (and quite sloppily, I might add) I declared that the kitchen would need a slight facelift. We’ll just paint the cabinets, I said, and switch out the countertops.

So why did it take us three years to finally follow through? Well along the way we’ve vacillated between moving forward with the mini reno and committing to a full rehab. I’ve always wanted to design to my own kitchen and we had plans to reclaim some of the kitchen’s vintage elements. So we stalled on the kitchen decision while we dreamed of all the things we could do.

And then the refrigerator started leaking. Then the oven died. We couldn’t keep holding out on buying new appliances but we’re still not ready to completely renovate. A facelift it is!

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I basically stuck with the vision that had come to me during that first weekend of ownership back in 2013 – white cabinets with a butcher block countertop. I knew that I wanted to replace the existing black appliances with new white ones so that helped confirm the design choices for the kitchen. So, here’s how we did it.

First, we removed all the doors and drawers from the cabinets. I then lightly sanded the cabinet frames. Honestly, I probably could have sanded the frames a little better. But good God the dust! In my kitchen! A light sanding was all I could muster. Since I was able to take the doors and drawers to the garage, I did sand them more meticulously.

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After the cabinets were lightly sanded and then washed, I applied a coat of fast drying primer using a small foam roller and small paintbrush. I let the primer dry for a few hours and then applied the first coat of white satin finish paint.

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Again, I used a roller as much as as I could on the frames, supplementing with a brush when I couldn’t get the roller into tighter spaces. After two coats of paint and allowing plenty of drying time, I applied a top coat of polyurethane (also in a satin finish). This poly will help protect the paint, make it easier to clean (this is a kitchen after all) and help prevent chips.

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You’ll note that I left the old countertop in place while I painted the frames, doors and drawers. It’s a small kitchen and I needed that countertop as a work surface. Also, I wanted to get the new fridge in place before I made the final cut on the new countertop.

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Removing the old countertop was easy. Since we’re replacing the old formica with a butcher block top that doesn’t have a backsplash, we did have to do a bit of patching to the wall, which we were planning on painting anyway.

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The old formica extended about two inches beyond the cabinetry, creating a space between the fridge and the cabinets. I was hoping to achieve a tighter look (and prevent repeating the little dust tunnel that drives me crazy). So once the new fridge was in place (ain’t it a beaut?!) I made the final measurements and cut the butcher block to size.

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Once the countertop was in and the doors and drawers were re-installed, the only thing left was the hardware. I actually ended up finding new drawer pulls that mimic the design of the fridge handles on Amazon. I also picked up some coordinating satin nickel knobs and hinges.

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The painted cabinets and white refrigerator definitely brighten up the kitchen. And I’m so happy to be rid of that painted countertop.

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While we’d still like to completely renovate the kitchen, this mini makeover makes it a more livable space. And I’m definitely in love with the new refrigerator! So clean and new and stylish!

So now that we have this half of the kitchen finished, we’ll have to tackle the rest of the room. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take us three years to get to that, too.

Before & After: Painting the Outside Trim & Windows

Delbert Meier House Before Painting

Painting the exterior trim and windows on the house is the biggest job we’ve undertaken so far. It was its daunting nature that led to us putting off the job a little longer that we should have. That, and we had a hard time selecting a color. Finally, we could put it off no longer. The paint on the trim on the south side of the house had worn away completely, leaving the wood exposed to the elements. So this summer we finally took the leap and painted the trim and windows. And now that it’s done, I can’t believe we waited so long! It looks like a whole new house!

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Before & (Almost) After: A Quick Basement Bathroom Refresh

Basement Bathroom Remodel

When our house was built in 1917 it was equipped with one bathroom on the second floor. Somewhere along the way – and judging by the Bathking shower I think it was post-WWII – a bathroom was added in the basement. This little bathroom has been great in a functional kind of way when we’ve had houseguests. Or even when it’s just the two of us and nature calls at the same time! Still, this little bathroom could use some refreshing. From the army green wall to the peel and stick floor, it was time to give this bathroom new life.

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So Long Shrubs & Hello Clean Lines

Landscaping Update: Goodbye ShrubsThere are about a dozen projects inside the house that should be getting our attention. Half of those – like the fireplace and bathroom – were started over the winter and left mid-project. I said I’d come back to them when it warmed up and I could work with the windows open. Instead, we’ve spent most of the summer working on exterior projects. This is the upper Midwest, after all. We spend roughly six months of the year hunkered indoors, shivering and stuffing our faces full of baked goods to survive the darkness and cold. Once nice weather hits, we want to spend all of our free time outdoors.

Fortunately, there’s always gardening and landscaping to be done. Which means that we can be outdoors while also advancing the goal of transforming the house. This weekend, in addition to weeding the garden, which seems to be a never ending job, we finally cleaned up the south side of the house.

shrubs06We’ve been planning to remove these shrubs from day one. With this big, boxy house and its decorative trim, the tall, floppy shrubs felt too fussy. And this became even more apparent when we put the geraniums in the window box. No, this house should not be surrounded by commanding shrubbery. The house should shoot straight up from the ground, the trim and window box unimpeded. Besides, we recently learned that having tall shrubs close to the house has contributed to the deterioration of the wood trim and stucco at the base of the house. That was all the confirmation we needed!

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The four evergreen bushes came out easier than I expected. First, I used a saw to cut of the branches big branches off and then I cut them down to a stump.  If I had thought of it, I would have waited until fall to cut down the shrubs. The branches would make beautiful arrangements for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, they’re going to make a wonderful bonfire.

After they were cut down, I dug up the roots. OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve only dug up one bush’s roots. Digging up the roots is the hard part, of course. Not helped by the rocks that were used as ground covering on this side of the house. Besides, once the bushes were out, it was obvious that the hostas in front of the window box also needed to be transplanted elsewhere. So I abandoned the stumps and dug up the hostas.

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(Don’t worry – this will not be another project left half-finished. The rests of the stumps are coming out this weekend and mulch will be going down until we decide which plants we want to use as ground covering.)

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Yes, the house looks quite bare in the after photo. In fact, I probably shouldn’t call it an after photo at all. It’s really an in-progress photo. We will plant something on this side of the house – it will just be low and will probably have some white in it.  For now, we’re happy to let the house breathe a bit. You can probably see how the paint on the lower trim has flaked off in large patches. It looks like we’re putting off our plans to have all the trim repainted in a new color for the second summer in a row. However, we are going to take this opportunity to try to repaint the lower trim with color-matched paint. Having pulled out the shrubs, patching the lower trim will now be an easier job.

Before & After: The Stenciled Entryway
Throwback Thursday

Before & After: The Stenciled Entryway

We haven’t been making very fast progress at This American House, so I’m digging back into our photo archives and seeing how the city apartment has evolved over the years. First up is my favorite room in the apartment. Which, actually, isn’t a room at all. Even five years after stenciling it, the teeny tiny little entryway still is my favorite space.

Stenciling the Entryway

When we first moved into the apartment I painted everything in cool pastel colors. I don’t know, I guess I was feeling very mellow or something. The entryway got a few coats of pale pink that seemed like a good idea at the time. And then I quickly grew tired of it. So I did a complete 180 and went from pale pink to black and white.

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Painting the entryway black was a giant leap of faith. I mean, there’s nothing like taking a space that’s 2 feet by 4 feet and painting it a really dark color. I had a what-have-I-done moment when I stepped back and looked at the black walls before me. Once the stencil started going on, however, I could immediately see that I was doing the right thing. Whereas the black walls made the small space feel dark and claustrophobic, the addition of the white pattern opened it all up and actually makes the space feel bigger.

The Stenciled EntrywayI was able to reuse the existing furniture and accessories in the space. I painted the table and coat rack bright red to allow them to stand out from the patterned walls. (These are the only things that I’ve tired of over the years. I’d like to replace those red accessories with white ones.) I even repurposed the canvas that hangs over the table and hides the electrical box. I applied white fabric over the canvas and then used black paint to apply the stencil, creating a negative effect of what’s on the walls.

Black and White Stenciled Entryway

This little entryway is the first thing that people see when they enter the apartment and it always gets a reaction. Whether it’s a friend dropping by to visit or a delivery driver bringing us food, their eyes usually widen as they look up and down the walls. “That’s really nice wallpaper,” they’ll usually say. “Oh, it’s a stencil actually,” I’ll proudly inform them. “Wow, that must have taken forever,” they’ll reply.

Yes, it did. It was a long, painstaking process that left my arms sore. And it was worth every minute.

Images: This American House