My (Virtual) Renovation Diary | Clinton Hill 1BR Co-Op, Kitchen Stop Gap Measures

March 21, 2013 | Alex

I've been intrigued lately by what I'd term "design stop gaps." Many first time buyers, I think, find themselves in a situation where they've stretched their finances to buy a home that they desperately want to fix up. But before they can tackle the significant expense of, say, a kitchen renovation, they need to give their bank accounts some R&R. Sometimes years of R&R.

Philosophically, I fully support living within your means and taking a slow approach to design. But I also sympathize with the pain that the aesthetically-minded among us suffer when they cohabit with builder grade cabinetry and laminate countertops. Your home is meant to be your refuge, but it can also be an ugly reminder of strained finances and the tough slog of renovating ahead.

Happily, there seems to be a flood of inspiration on the web (by which, let's be honest, I basically mean Pinterest) for stopgap measures. Relatively fast and cheap ways to make that R&R period less visually caustic.

For my virtual renovation of a Clinton Hill 1-bedroom co-op, for example, I would want to take my sweet time to consider appliances, fixtures and materials. But I would not relish living with this in the meantime:

Floorplan Excerpt, via  The New York Times

Floorplan Excerpt, via The New York Times

Yikes! It kills me that the kitchen is described in the listing as "recently renovated." I am certain it was a good faith effort at improving the value of the property and I hate the idea of those newly installed materials going to waste. But on the other hand...that kitchen is just not doing it for me. Three words, friends (two if you count the hyphenation as one word): Counter-Depth Refrigerator.

My long-term plan would involve a change in layout. I've always wanted a window above my kitchen sink. As my loved ones can attest, I am not the most motivated of dish washers. But a view might change that! (Wishful thinking?) I'd move the dishwasher to the left of the sink for ease of loading and center the range on the back wall. I like the idea of building an island adjacent to the structural column, although it's hard to be sure without a sense of how the space feels in person. (Also, the scale of this floor plan is an utter mystery to me thanks to web upload distortion and the notorious unreliability of real estate floor plans.) When I drafted this altered floor plan, I intended to extend the counter on the windowed wall all the way to the corner. But now that I have a fancy new waste bin, I might prefer to reserve a spot for it. Here is my working vision for the post-(virtual)-renovation layout:

Modified from Floorplan Excerpt, via  The New York Times

Modified from Floorplan Excerpt, via The New York Times

But that's all years away, remember!? So what do I do with this kitchen in the here and now? Here are a few of my favorite kitchen stopgap measures, in decreasing order of labor intensiveness:

1. Whitewash Builder-Grade Wood Cabinets 

White paint is the epitome of a cheap and easy makeover. Granted, when you're talking about course-grained wood cabinets slathered in untold layers of polyurethane, it's not as simple as painting dry wall. But there are products and tools that can help make this a manageable DIY job. Chief among them is your trusty friend sandpaper. Grain filler also wants in on the action (see Little Green Notebook's Kitchen DIY  for a primer, no pun intended, on working with grain filler). If you're more of the one-stop-shopping type, try Rustoleum's Cabinet Transformations.

2. Replace Laminate Countertops with Concrete Overlay

Kara Paslay's Before/After, featured on Apartment Therapy, blew me away. She peeled the laminate layer off a client's countertop and replaced it with thin layer of Ardex Feather Finish (a product designed for concrete flooring overlays, and therefore, well up to the task of kitchen counter wear and tear.) Here is what the finished product looks like:

While the style of the kitchen she transformed is a bit dark and traditional for me, I love the concept of transforming laminate into concrete. I'd take the idea and head more in this direction:

Feilden Fowles  Architects, via  Remodelista

Feilden Fowles Architects, via Remodelista

3. Remove Upper Cabinet Doors to Create Open Shelving

This trick isn't for everyone. But since my dishware is 100% white and in fairly good shape, the idea of ditching those oppressive and traditional upper cabinet doors in favor of a lighter, more open space is a design slam dunk. And all it takes is a screwdriver (and most likely, a couple dabs of wood filler for any visible hinge holes.) This is the look I'm aiming to achieve with the open shelving:

Philadelphia Loft Space by Qb3, via  Remodelista

Philadelphia Loft Space by Qb3, via Remodelista

4. Upgrade Lighting

There are a couple ways I could go in terms of lighting. Technically, I wouldn't need to wait until the full on kitchen renovation to upgrade the overhead lighting situation. I could have an electrician install track lighting ASAP, but I think I would prefer to wait on a lighting plan until I finalize my kitchen scheme. While I'm generally in favor of functional vs. decorative lighting in the kitchen, I might like to use temporary lighting as an opportunity to add character to the kitchen. Since I would plan to live with this white, concrete and stainless steel kitchen for years, it might be nice to introduce wood for warmth and to tie in the flooring. (I didn't explicitly mention this in my flooring post, but the tile would be replaced with hardwood for continuity throughout the apartment.) Once the lighting was upgraded during the renovation, I would plan to move the temporary fixture to a different location in the apartment. The Andrea Claire Studio light fixture I'm currently coveting would do very nicely, providing it threw off enough light (unclear from her website.)

The Constantin Series, via  Andrea Claire Studio

The Constantin Series, via Andrea Claire Studio

A significantly less expensive option would be Ikea's FUGA ceiling spotlight. I have this light in the bedroom of my Brooklyn apartment and can vouch for its budget-friendly splendor:

FUGA - $50, via  Ikea    

FUGA - $50, via Ikea


In reality, I almost certainly go with the more practical FUGA spotlight, but it can't hurt to dream about the Andrea Claire fixture. 

5. Add Ikea's Stainless Steel Floating Shelves and Free-Standing Island

There seems to be unused wall space to the left of the kitchen window. I might prefer to use the space for art, given the amount of open shelving I would have after removing the upper cabinet doors. But it's nice to know that Ikea's LIMHAMN  shelves in stainless steel are an option. While I don't recommend their EKBY MOSBY  shelves for wet spaces (and neither does Ikea-- they stain almost instantly), this is a pretty stellar look:

Another Ikea kitchen stand-by is their FLYTTA  rolling island cart, also in stainless steel. I like the idea of expanding my prep space in the temporary kitchen, while getting used the idea of having an island pre-renovation. If it turns out that it obstructs the flow from kitchen to living space, or that adjoining it to the column is too far away from the appliances, I'm only out $159 (amortized over a couple years of use, no less)-- not a couple thousand for a custom island! Ikea's free standing kitchen units, albiet more expensive, provide a more substantial alternative to the FLYTTA. 

FLYTTA - $159 via  Ikea

FLYTTA - $159 via Ikea

Your Poster Child for Kitchen Stop Gaps:

While I've seen various home owners and DIY bloggers apply variations of each these strategies over a dozen times, the poster child for an inexpensive kitchen transformation has got to be Wendy Furman, whose California home was recently featured in Remodelista. Furman combined nearly all of these strategies, and even added a dose of contrast by painting the backs of her upper cabinets, to create a clean, comfortable kitchen with only a few small changes:

Napa Valley Home of Wendy Furman, via  Remodelista

Napa Valley Home of Wendy Furman, via Remodelista

Phew, I'm reassured that I could make this kitchen liveable-- nay, beautiful-- while I save my shekels for a full (virtual) renovation.