Renovations and Updates (Part 1: The Kitchen)

I am pretty terrible with updates to this website. These past few months, I’ve been inundated with renovation work on a rental property, which I’m currently now selling. I figured I would also break this particular reno (my first reno!) into different parts.

When I purchased the property, the kitchen looked pretty dated, as you can tell from the photos. The cabinets were the crappy big box home improvement store-bought, which looked hideous. The recirculating exhaust vent was too far from the stove top to even be of any use at all.


The paint on the walls were several different shades of white. The old wood wainscoting was caked with varnish/urethane/lint/dirt, and it was falling apart. The flooring was flaking in some spots, as it was one of those peel-and-stick type of linoleum flooring. The lighting was  akin to a candle in a mason jar, as the dual-bulb halogens were complete garbagio.

I had my work cut out for me.

Enter the dragon.

So I made a quick mess of the house once I got my tools in. I quickly turned the tiny nook table into a work bench.

This is a photo from a different angle of the kitchen that I took, in case people were wondering about the microwave and fridge.

After deliberating whether or not I wanted to replace all of the cabinets with brand new cabinets (which would’ve increased my costs on the project that I didn’t want to spend time doing), I decided to paint the existing face frames semi-gloss white, and replace the cabinet doors and drawer fronts with some custom shaker-style MDF ones that I could paint the same color.

When I ordered the new cabinet doors and drawer fronts, there was a lead time of about 3 weeks. Because of that set back, I figured I’d start with prep and painting the face fronts. I removed all the cabinet doors and hinges off the cabinets, as well as the drawers. During the prep, and something I didn’t take photos of, was that I went over the entire face frame with wood putty and filled in the natural gaps of the oak veneer on the all the face frame surfaces.

Prep work is pretty important when it comes to the final results coming out really nice. You want to sand and make sure your surface is clean before you start any painting. Prep work is almost always the longest process and the most boorish task, because you’re mostly sanding and waiting for compounds to dry.


Paintin’ time!

For the face frames, I use a Fuji HVLP spray system. I used some water-based primer to lay down a few coats of primer onto the face frames. After letting it dry, I sanded back some of the primer with high-grit (220) sanding pads to give me a super smooth finish. If there were any gaps or gouges that missed, I’ll use some wood putty, sand, primer, and then re-sand back down until everything was uniformly smooth.

I did this for all the cabinets, on both sides of the kitchen. Note that I was only painting the face frames, so I covered the interiors of the cabinets so they wouldn’t get paint on them. I could’ve painted the entire interior white as well, but I thought the wood interior of the cabinets would be a nice contrast when the doors were open.

Here’s a close-up view of the semi-gloss paint that I sprayed onto the cabinets. This specific area had some orange-peel (notice how that the paint looks like the skin/peel of an orange), which I sanded down, cleaned, and resprayed.

In this shot here, at a remote location, I painted all of the cabinets on some flat surfaces. Look at how that semi-gloss paint pops!

Next up, painting the walls! I ended up painting the walls a medium gray, to give it that modern look.

After getting all the top half of the walls painted, I decided to stick with wainscoting, instead of painting the walls all gray. This mostly had to do with how the previous owner did the room, where the bottom half of all the walls in the room were recessed by about an 1/8 inch, the same thickness as the wainscoting panels.

So since the room was pretty much dead-set on having wainscoting panels, I got some plastic/vinyl wainscoting panels, instead of the wainscoting made from hardboard. It was a bit more expensive, but considering the durability of the vinyl, and the fact that it was rot-resistant, I figured this was a safer choice at the end.

Also, when I took apart the old wainscoting, I had damaged some of the base boards, so I had to replace them with some new ones. Nothing too crazy, hence why the photo on the left shows a bare wood baseboard.

Pretty much continued this process all around the kitchen, using some paneling adhesive and brad nails.

Next up was the chair rail installation process. Now the chair rail had to be done right. It had to be even ALL the way around the kitchen, otherwise someone would notice that the chair rail was crooked. This posed another problem, because when I installed all of the wainscoting, I was assuming the baseboard were all even, and that would mean the kitchen floor was even all the way around. WRONG!

The wainscoting that I had just installed was not level all the way around! This posed a huge issue, because I was worried that the uneven wainscoting was going to require me to do more work to flush cut high spots. Fortunately, I found an easier solution: use a super tall chair rail molding!

I think the chair rail molding I got was at least 4-1/2 inches tall, hence why they look so large and pronounced.

Here’s more shots of the chair rail up close. Not only was it tall, but it stuck out about 2-3 inches!

Tilin’ on up!

Ok, this section is going probably going to piss of the purist of the trade, but after 2 years since I installed the tiles, I’ve yet to have any sort of lippage or issues with the tiles.

That being said, here’s what I did. Since the floors were originally linoleum, and the sub-floor felt dimensionally stable (there were no creaks or significant dips when I used a straight edge along the floor, we grabbed some backer board and special screws designed to be used with the backer board, and screwed each piece of backer board over the linoleum.

I’ve seen most people pull the linoleum and scrape the glue off the sub-floor, which is time consuming and not necessary. Linoleum doesn’t expand or contract like wood does, and since we were screwing the backer boards to the sub-floor, this was fine.

The one thing I would’ve done differently, was probably stagger the backer boards. You can see in the photos that I pretty much lined them next to each other, which “they” say is something you should avoid because it can be considered a weak point.

Again, this was done about 2 years ago, and in the final set of photos, you’ll notice that there have been no issues with the tiles whatsoever. But in future practices, I would stagger the backer boards. Some folks also suggest putting mortar between the backer board and subfloor, which I did not do. And as I’ve mentioned, I have had zero issues with the tiles thus far. I suspect that this could be an issue with smaller tiles. The photo below shows the staggered pattern I chose to go with with the 12 x 24 tiles (they have a little weight to them!)…sort of a semi-wood grain look (not really, but everyone seems to comment on that they look like that).

Once I finished up the tiles and the grouting, I snagged some stainless appliances, had someone throw up the glass backsplash (mostly because I didn’t have the time anymore to do it), and tossed up some LED under-cabinet lighting. Also threw some nice window treatments as well, but what a transformation!

Also replaced the old dated countertop with a nice looking stone laminate countertop and new stainless steel sink basin. I couldn’t justify spending beaucoup bucks on a granite countertop.

And lastly, I covered up radiator by the doorway with an MDF radiator cover, that I had custom made. I felt like that it made the most sense to spend money on that instead of a granite countertop, especially after I threw a mirror above the radiator cover. It felt like an extra counter top space that could be used up, and it would hide the ugly old radiator.

Overall, not too bad for my first reno and picking up all my skills on the fly and countless hours of watching YouTube reno channels to get ideas and to learn how to tackle the job to get the outcome I wanted.