Naomi shared her “half” kitchen makeover a few weeks ago, and it got me itching to take on some kitchen projects. BUT, we have some big decisions to make before we get to work, so I have to sit tight for now (by which I mean, focus on the other 11 million things that need work in our house). But it got me thinking that I actually do have my own kitchen half makeover to share: a blast from the past, the kitchen in the apartment that Sam and I lived in from 2010 – 2014.
As you can probably guess from the fact that we lived in our apartment for four years, we loved a lot of things about it. It was quite big as apartments go, the price was fantastic by Boston standards, our landlord was wonderful, and the location was perfect. And we even had a pretty big kitchen with a walk-in pantry and decent appliances. The kitchen had a very dated feel, though, and the paint choices drove me crazy: mint green on top with forest green on bottom, and all sorts of weird things going on, like this:
I put a lot of work into the rest of the apartment, and it’s where I first experimented with this whole DIY/interior design thing. (forgive some of the poor photos, this was long before a DSLR transformed my
life interior photography)
But it took me three years to finally buckle down and work on the kitchen. When we renewed our lease for a fourth year, I finally got my act together. I also decided that I wanted to learn something new…not that I’m a master painter or anything, but I definitely have the basics down. At the time, I figured I might as well experiment with various things while I was still in a rental so that one day when I owned my own home I had a little practice. I decided that it was time to try tiling.
I did lots of research about how to tile, and fortunately was able to rely on tutorials from some of my favorite bloggers who I trust not to lead me totally astray (here are some helpful tutorials from Young House Love, Manhattan Nest, and Remodelaholic). I ordered the tiles from Home Depot and picked up the rest of the supplies from my local hardware store.
Here’s what I used:
- Tile (I chose white subway tile that comes in sheets of 12″ x 12″ — I needed 14 of them to cover the space I wanted to tile):
- Thinset for laying the tile (my local hardware store only had premixed, which seems to have worked fine and saved me the step of mixing)
- White grout (also premixed) — I originally thought I’d go with black grout after seeing some inspiring images of white subway tile with black grout, but decided to go with white because I thought black might make things too busy with my brown cabinets and everything else going on in the kitchen
- Score and snap tile cutter (I got this one from Home Depot, but honestly wouldn’t recommend it because it cut pretty jagged edges…that’s what I get for being a cheapskate)
- Tile nippers, for smaller cuts
- Trowel, for scoring the thinset
- Grout sponge
With materials successfully procured and Sam headed out of the country for five days for a conference (convenient), I got to work. First I painted the kitchen. That was pretty straightforward. The one downside was that our landlord wanted to pick up the paint (really he was just trying to be helpful since he’d agreed to pay for the paint), so I was at his mercy when it came to paint color. In fact, I didn’t know what color I would be painting my kitchen until I came home from work Friday afternoon to begin painting (he picked it up at 4:30pm that day). Fortunately he chose a great robin’s egg blue color that tied quite nicely to the shade I’d painted in the front hall…it read blue in some light and green in others, and I really liked it (because I have an obsession with all things blue-green). It was semi-gloss, which has the downside of showing imperfections in the wall much more (of which there are a lot), but the upside of being much more wipeable which is ideal for kitchens.
Here’s the new paint, side-by-side with the old paint:
Then I embarked on tiling. I won’t go into all the details because there are a million tiling tutorials out there that mine could never live up to (see the links I already mentioned for a great place to start), but the basic technique involved working my way across the wall laying thinset and tiling one sheet at a time (the photo series below shows the basic progression).
It went pretty quickly except where I had to cut tiles at the end of the walls and around the cupboards and outlet, which frankly was a huge pain and I would recommend paying a bit more for a better tile cutter.
The outlet was especially difficult — I had to use the tile nippers to cut some weird shapes for some of the pieces and I broke a bunch of tiles before getting it to work. Fortunately the grout and switchplate made a BIG difference — here’s the in-process shot, and then after grouting and putting the switchplate back on:
After letting the thinset dry for 24 hours, I grouted. Everything I read online warned that grouting would be somewhat terrifying because it would seem like I was destroying my lovely tile but that it would make everything look so much more finished. Correct on both counts! I smeared the grout into the seams between tiles, working my way across. In this photo, you can see the backsplash half grouted and half ungrouted (before cleaning off the tiles).
Then I used the sponge to clean the excess grout off the tiles, and allowed it to dry. Another pass with the sponge removed the rest of the grout.
I caulked along the bottom of the backsplash, as well as where the tiles met the cabinets. Then to finish off the rough edge at the end of the backsplash, I added a strip of wood corner trim (painted white). This was a total workaround because what I should have done is save room for special trim pieces of tile (see, I learned so much experimenting in an apartment, when I do it in my house I’ll be so much better!). But I didn’t, so I had to improvise. The only tricky part was that the trim wouldn’t have been flush with the wall above the backsplash because the backsplash juts out from the wall. So I also bought a thin, flat piece of trim that I estimated to be the same depth as the backsplash, which I nailed along the edge of the wall above the backsplash like so:
Then when I attached the corner trim on top (using a combo of liquid nails and a few actual nails), it fit snugly.
My DIY process is basically me stumbling from one issue I create to another, trying ridiculous solutions that then beget their own issues. Just don’t look too closely at anything, let’s all stand a slight distance away to admire my handiwork…. To be fair I blame most issues on the structure I was working with — I realized throughout the course of this project that the cabinets were in no way straight, even, parallel to the counters, the same height as one another…really any of the things that you would hope for when doing something precise like tiling. There was a lot of getting creative with caulk, nails, etc to compensate.
Speaking of standing at a reasonable distance to admire my work, here’s a shot of the finished result!
I had a piece of oak board cut to size at Home Depot to put over the sink as a shelf, and on it are a few odds and ends and some artwork I threw together (it’s just a piece of kitchen-patterned craft paper from Michael’s in a floating frame). Here’s a closer look:
Another little project I did in the kitchen while painting and tiling was this:
In case you’re confused, I didn’t just paint the wall black and then color on it…I turned it into a chalkboard, which I thought could be kind of handy and fun in the kitchen. A place to write sweet quotes, but also to indicate that we really need toilet paper. Mostly I was trying to figure out what to do with this weird strip of wall that confronted you when you first walked into the kitchen:
The bottom part was brown laminate, maybe to make it look like it’s an extension of the cabinets? But it’s not. And why would the bottom cabinet extend but not the top cabinet? So many questions. Rather than trying to rip things apart and risk some sort of horror under that laminate, I just decided to slap on two coats of chalkboard paint that I already had.
So there you have it, that’s how I painted and tiled the kitchen in our old apartment. And remembering how much work that was has tempered my yearning to get to work on our new kitchen, so I’ll call that a success!
Oh, and before I go, a reminder of the tips I learned the hard way:
- Invest in a nicer tile cutter than the cheapest score-and-snap one you can find. I will definitely be investing in a wet saw the next time I do this….
- Especially if you might have a rough edge from less-than-perfect tile cutting, be sure to buy special trim tiles to cap off the end with a nice finished look.
- Be ready to discover that your cabinets are totally crooked. I think this is a near-universal experience, but something you probably don’t realize until you spend hours getting up close and personal with them.