Thursday, September 5, 2013

Remodels You Can Have Done Before Thanksgiving!

Great article from Service Alley's blog!

5 + 1 Easy Kitchen Remodels That You Can Have Ready Before Thanksgiving


So it may be a little early to start talking about Thanksgiving. I, personally, think it is (I’m still sweating from my commute to work this morning), but one thing is undeniable: we tend to start thinking about fall holidays when summer’s over. Maybe it’s the fact that, after Labor Day, we don’t get any more days off until then. Regardless, in the coming weeks, you’ll likely start dreaming of snow, evergreens, lazy Sundays, and family-fist-fights.

Want to stun your holiday visitors into submission this year?  Doing just a bit of remodeling can reinvent your kitchen, your cooking and your reputation as a host. My wife and I did it last year and, instead of Dad’s usual ‘pleasantries’, he and Mom couldn’t get over one thing: how did you do this in such a short time?

It’s true, my parents make two yearly visits to our home: one during the beginning of August (for reasons that completely escape me) and one for Thanksgiving. And in the short period of time between visits, for relatively little money, we’d completely reinvented our kitchen. Now, when I say reinvented, I don’t mean we knocked out walls, bought pricey new appliances, or put in new windows. No. I mean, c’mon, I’m a blogger. Instead, we did these five things that completely changed our space. Some we contracted out, some we did ourselves (I mean, you’ve got to know your limits, right?), but they were simple, relatively painless (except when I fell off the ladder painting cabinets) and surprisingly affordable.

The plus one (which stands out like a sore thumb because, c’mon, six) is one I’m undertaking this fall.

Thanksgiving is less than 90 days away! Here we go:

1. Chalkboard Wall:

I know this is super-popular now, but I like to think my wife and I did it before it became so (we didn’t; I’m just being wishful). And it’s popular for good reason. It’s cheap, versatile, and instantly modernizes (to some degree) any space that it’s in. Simply pick a wall, go to a store that sells paint, buy a can of chalkboard paint (it’s usually somewhere around the spray paint), and paint on two coats. We didn’t use primer (you can), but two coats is typically necessary and really renders the primer kind of unnecessary.  After you let it dry, the sky’s the limit on what you can actually do with it: meal plans, reminders, inspirational poems (I recommend “Western Wind”), drawings. Really, whatever you need it for. And it can change if, say, your kid needs an impromptu math lesson or you’ve always wanted to have a fancy menu for your Thanksgiving feast. Here’s your chance to show everyone the writing on the wall. The best part is that, when you out-grow it (like that could ever happen), you just paint over it.

2. Replace Your Countertop:

I know this seems like a hassle. Surely, your laminate counter-top can hang out for another year, collecting stains and wear. I thought mine could. My wife, however, told me otherwise. And after doing a bit of research, it started to seem pretty feasible. We elected to go with a quartz top, but the one that we really, really lusted after was actually made of concrete. The cool thing about concrete is that it can be poured in any shape, and any design details you want can be set directly into it. Now, deciding between the two is really just a matter of taste; if your home style is more traditional, you might go with quartz. However, if you find yourself favoring that modern/industrial look, concrete might be your best bet. Both of these are nearly comparable in strength and price, require little maintenance, and can easily be purchased and installed by the holiday (as long as you get on it like now). While, obviously, I can’t quote you exact prices, I can tell you that quartz runs about $3-4K (depending on quality) and concrete runs $3.5-5K. At first I thought I’ll save us on installation and do it myself. That was stupid. Really stupid. Unless you or someone you know someone does this professionally, do yourself a favor and hire a contractor. Really, the installation itself costs about $300 max. It’s worth it. I almost destroyed the countertop and was nearly crushed to death in the process.

3. Paint Your Tile Backsplash:

In my last apartment, there was this completely gruesome backsplash. It must have been installed in 1981 when Norman Rockwell-style fruit basket sketches were a thing one might want to look at every morning.  It drove me insane. The deal my wife made with me was, as long I didn’t complain about it EVERY DAY, when we got a home of our own, it would never have anything like that in it. Fast-forward to us finding our dream starter home last year, complete with IDENTICAL backsplash. I thought this was a dark, cosmic joke, that someone out there was really living it up at my expense, that I was doomed to be followed by ugly flowers against a nicotine-yellow tile… and then I read that you can paint a backsplash to look however you like. So I did that. It’s really a fairly simple process:
      1. Buy some oil-based, semi-gloss paint of your preference and a gallon of Adhesion Primer (do not omit this)
      2. Scuff the backsplash with sand-paper. Do this a lot, until it’s no longer smooth
      3. Apply two coats of Adhesion Primer (again, DO NOT OMIT THIS)
      4. Let primer dry and then roll on two coats of that oil-based, semi-gloss paint you bought.
      5. Enjoy your new backsplash.

4. Change out your hardware:

This is honestly something that wasn’t even remotely on my radar until I met my wife. It never occurred to me that all those cabinet and dresser knobs were actually screwed into the furniture and could be removed/changed out. The first time I took one off, I showed her proudly while she gave me that look that only a smart person who loves an idiot can give. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty excited to change hardware since then. Mostly because it’s easy, cheap, and can be a real game-changer. If you’re looking for micro-design details to accentuate the larger-scale stuff you’ve already done, this is your calling. Depending on your budget, you can get hardware at a variety of places (stores like Home Depot or Lowes, specialty stores with home sections like Anthropologie, or online from sites like Knobs N Pulls) and, if you look enough, you’re guaranteed to find one that fits your home. And, I mean, even if the one’s you select don’t have the same measurements as your current ones, simply drilling new holes/widening current ones will get the job done. If you accidentally drill a hole in the wrong spot on your cabinet (guilty), or just have a handle-to-hole mismatch, you can find wood filler at a local hardware store that matches the wood tone of your cabinet, or that you can stain to match it in just a few minutes.

5. Spruce up your cabinets (or replace them entirely):

At this point in my career, I’m a sprucer. Now, some of you may be replacers, and more power to you; please know that I envy you from the bottom of my everything. If you’re a replacer, you’ll need to get started on this now. While it’s totally feasible to have your cabinets replaced by Thanksgiving, the process can take some time, so the sooner you get started, the better. Now if you’re a sprucer, boy do I have some good news for you (not really). Cabinet painting can be a pretty involved process, but is very approachable. You’ll need to remove all doors and hardware, sand everything, and get plenty of the paint you want before you get started. There really isn’t a secret to painting things—sand surface, apply paint, allow to dry, reapply paint, allow to dry—but, if you’re an advanced sprucer (or just one who really hates paint-brushes), you can apply a spray-on finish instead. I don’t know a whole lot about that, but here is a very solid how-to. Either way, taking time to do this process carefully and correctly will leave you with stunning, inexpensive results (but you’ll be really tired). Also, from my experience, if you can’t quite reach the corner of a cabinet from the ladder you’re standing on, get down and move the ladder. Otherwise, you could become much more intimate with the fridge, then the ladder rung, then the floor than you might otherwise care to be.

If you complete these things before Thanksgiving (I did, but, I was otherwise only sporadically employed at the time), two things will happen: 1) you will feel like a champion, a real Sean Connery or Lucy Lawless and 2) your kitchen will look completely different, brand new. If you don’t have the time to do all of them, don’t worry. Pick and choose what’s going to work best for you. Pair them, if you like. Anything will help (though any of the painting tasks will make more dramatic differences than if you, say, change your hardware.) What’s most important is that you get your space back, really make it yours, and maybe stifle some holiday drama in the meantime…


I’m sure you thought I forgot. I mean, really, I’ve already concluded, and this seems almost unnecessary. But I’m so excited about doing it that I just can’t resist. This year, I’m going to build AN OUTDOOR FIRE PIT! Both my and my wife’s parents had these when we were kids, and we’re both so really looking forward to carrying on some of those memories. On holidays, my family would gather around, drink mulled wine, and talk. My wife’s family would cook a whole animal over theirs (they’re obviously from a much more exciting culture than I am). So this fall, you’ll be able to find me in the backyard following this DIY tutorial. I’ll probably let you know how it goes unless I fail hard. Or if I undercook the turkey out there (because of course I’m cooking our turkey there.)

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