The new kitchen!

(Above is the finished product)

When my clients Stefanie and Juan Luis told me about what they had done with their fixer upper home I sold them in September of 2015, I asked if they would share their incredible story.  Below will take you through their journey of savings, sweat and falling even more in love with their new home. 

Our story begins here …

My husband Juan Luis were both first time homebuyers in search of the perfect home.  We searched for over a year, starting with another Realtor who wasn’t the right fit for us, and then we were referred to Eric by a co-worker that had recently used Eric for the purchase of his condo.  Eric was the perfect fit for us helping guide us through the process, introducing us to new neighborhoods, and ultimately leading us to the purchase our first home!

We were looking for a fixer-upper, but one that was livable because we wanted the flexibility to update the home on our own terms, timeline, and budget.  With limited inventory of this kind in the D.C. real estate market, finding our home was no small feat.   

I certainly had an idea in my head of the house we’d end up with and could have never envisioned when we first started our search that the house we ultimately purchased would be the one.  We spent the majority of our search looking at row homes in some of the hot up-and-coming neighborhoods.  Over the course of the year we put in six or seven offers and were outbid multiple times over by all cash, no contingency buyers.   Just as I was feeling defeated and ready to give up the search altogether, an old home right on the edge of the Takoma, D.C. neighborhood came on the market labor day weekend 2015.  We knew right away it was the one for us and were lucky Eric was able to get our offer in on a holiday weekend, and that the sellers quickly accepted.  

Venturing just outside of where we thought we wanted to be, gave us everything we really wanted and more.  We have public transportation, restaurants and shops all within walking distance, a single-family home, a yard, and much more space than we thought possible within our budget. 

The house has been a labor of love since day one.  Quite literally, an almost-every-weekend labor of love.  

At first, I thought I wanted to save for as long as it took for us to afford to knock down load-bearing walls and have a big, open concept kitchen with perfectly white cabinets and big beautiful windows (one can dream).  But then reality sunk in, thanks to my very practical and resourceful husband.  He suggested we just update the kitchen to make it a clean, livable space that we wanted to actually cook and eat in (obviously genius!), so that we didn’t feel rushed to spend beyond our means and completely demo.  He was right. 

Above is the kitchen before! 

We originally decided on a $3,500 total budget (yes, you read that correctly) and ultimately finished just around the $4000 mark after a late addition of an extra set of cabinets (more on that below).  Here’s a bit more about how we did it, and a few tips for other first time homebuyers and aspirational DIYers out there:

  • Reuse, recycle:  We were lucky to have the original wood floors under the linoleum tile in the kitchen.  Pulling up the tiles and residual glue was not easy, but it saved us a few hundred bucks.  We ended up getting the original floors redone in the whole house and went with a dark stain for a more modern look.  Reusing the original cabinets saved us thousands of dollars.  We also got a free set of cabinets  from a local salvaged building materials store, Community Forklift, and added them to the kitchen for some much needed additional storage.  When it came to countertops, although these were a new addition, one of the pieces was a “remnant,” an unused scrap from a previous job.  If you don’t need a lot, you can get an expensive piece of stone for a few hundred bucks.

  • Take design risks:  Since our budget was fairly conservative and our kitchen likely isn’t our forever kitchen, I felt confident taking a few design risks.  Our cabinets were in good shape but definitely had their imperfections.  Painting them provided an instant update, and using a darker color was more dramatic and hid the flaws.  When we tried to install new lighting, we ran into a roadblock.  Our cement cased bathroom pipes above the kitchen would come in the way of the few perfectly centered lights I had in mind.  We decided instead to use a rectangular crystal chandelier to extend the light as far as we could across the kitchen and add a bit of glam.  We ended up with this mix of modern and rustic styles that I feel I may not have ever had the guts to do if I was putting in a $30-50k kitchen.

  • Splurge on hardware:  I never thought I’d be so excited about hinges, but hinges were my life for about six months.  I spent a crazy amount of time hunting for European style concealed hinges that could retrofit to our cabinets.  Our old cabinets had decorative hinges on the outside of the cabinet doors, which made for a very dated look.  Almost all new cabinets use concealed hinges mounted on the inside of the cabinet door for a more seamless, modern look.  I tried buying cheap decorative hinges and painting them, but hated it.  After searching high and low I found that Rockler Woodworking and Hardware is the only company that sells the type of concealed hinge I needed.  Though very expensive relative to our budget, they were worth it!  It took my husband a full day and an immeasurable amount of patience to install these, but they allowed me to get what I really wanted when it came to knobs and pulls without worrying about matching hardware.   
    • We used brushed gold Riverwood knobs and Edgewood pulls from schoolhouse electric, but I noticed the schoolhouse electric hardware has gone up significantly in price over the last year.  I recently learned how to create a cheaper solution with a similar look using vintage solid brass hardware.  Find some reused solid brass hardware and use a fine grit sandpaper to take off the shiny brass finish to recreate this look for a fraction of the cost.  The first part of this video provides a good tutorial if you need some guidance. 
  • Create functional space, whenever possible:  Our stove is set back in an awkward space, with gaps on either side of the stove.  To make this space as functional as possible, my husband created cabinets that pull out on tracks, which we now use for our spices and utensils.  The problem from a design standpoint was how to make these added pieces flow with the rest of the kitchen.  They would never match the old cabinets perfectly, so we chose instead to make them complimentary.  I had seen a lot of photos on Pinterest mixing reclaimed wood into modern kitchens and decided to go for it.  We used Stikwood’s reclaimed weathered wood planks to create the doors for these cabinets.  Towards the end of our remodel we began to realize how a useless doorway in our kitchen was standing in the way of extra storage, so my husband closed it up.  This gave us the wall space we needed to add another set of cabinets.  The area we had to work with was a bit narrower than other parts of the kitchen, so we used upper cabinets as lowers, which are not quite as deep.  The cabinets were free from Community Forklift, and I approached the redesign the same way I did with the stove cabinet additions; complimentary to the style of the kitchen versus an exact match.  We used the Stikwood again to reface the cabinet doors, but painted the cabinet bases white and used a honed black marble remnant piece of stone as the countertop. 

The final result was a kitchen that we love, designed and implemented on a modest budget.  This project added value to our home and helped us prove  to ourselves that we have it in us to do it (now we are on to other projects!).  We hope this post gives you faith that whether you are a first time homebuyer, have been living in your home for a while but want to revamp it some, or you are a Pinterest- posting aspiring DIYer,  that you can do it too!  And if those of you reading this are searching for a great Realtor to assist you with buying or selling your home, don’t hesitate to give Eric a call.  We highly recommend him!

We love our new kitchen!


Looking for your own fixer upper?  See if any of these might be a good fit.