Help! Old tiny kitchen, what to change with tight budget

trueabbagirlApril 22, 2013

We just purchased a 1979 house and it came with a tiny kitchen. Hubby said that my dream kitchen remodel will have to wait (at least 3 years) but if I need to knock down cabinets or change the sink, that can be budgeted.

There's not going to be a major upgrade but I would love if you can give me insights and suggestions on what & what not to change given that I'm keeping the current layout.

I haven't tried the Ikea planner so I'm just posting pictures of the kitchen. I apologize for the mess. I took photos during inspection and some of the renters' stuff are still there .

This is it, this is the whole kitchen!

Left side would be open counterspace and fridge.

Right side is flat top range, microwave and oven.

View from living room

I would like to preserve the cabinets. For some reason I love the old cabs. Except for the upper cabinets above the left counter where it's open and looks out to the living room.

Q1: Can the upper cabs that is above the open countertop that faces the living room be easily removed and still keep the other upper cabinets attached to it? This would surely open up the kitchen and I won't feel boxed in when I'm there.

Q2. There's a broken ancient trash compactor to the left of the sink. We are going to remove it but I wonder what do I replace it with? Do we use the knocked down upper cabinets and try to make a cabinet out of it?

Q3. The ancient microwave and oven are working according to the seller. But they are OLD. Should I budget for a replacement or use what we have and wait for the remodel? This seems to be the items that will cost us a bit. If we buy now, I cannot buy a new one once we remodel.

Q4. Should we replace the tile countertops with laminate? Is that a more economical option or live with tile?

Q5. Would appreciate if you give me tips on other stuff that I'm not seeing?

Thank you in advance for your help!

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tinan DIY'd a great $500 remodel of her tile countertop kitchen with similar orientation.

Here is a link that might be useful: tinan's kitchen remodel

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 6:05AM
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If a total remodel is in your future in three years, I would do absolutely nothing to this kitchen. Many of us here on GW have lived with much worse.
I would use these three years to plan. plan and plan some more. Get organized, research what can be done structurally, look at appliances, granite and cabinet companies. Three years goes quickly and when you are ready for your remodel, you will be educated and totally ready!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 6:53AM
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You have a nice big window and good looking hardwood floors. The cabinets, tile counters, and backsplash look to be in good condition also.

I'd leave all that alone for now. Give the cabs a very thorough and deep cleaning, and a fresh polish for whatever type of finish they have, and they will look even better.

Used compactors come up all the time on Craigslist, and I bet you could swap a working one into that space without much trouble. If it still opens, you can continue to use the one you have as a pull out trash bin.

Those old but still working appliances are keepers in my opinion. They will likely last you the three years needed, and keep you from making buying mistakes before you know what you want for the new kitchen.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 8:03AM
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Maybe buy some epoxy grout stain for the counters to freshen them up. But, to take this kitchen into a more functional direction will require a complete gut. So focus on planning for that.

For that gut, if you can get the fridge and pantry on the back wall, then you can take down the in your face cabinets. I'd do an island range (NOT cooktop and wall oven) with island hood, and keep the back wall mostly tall cabinets for additional pantry storage for all of the lost storage from taking down those cabinets.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 9:32AM
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It actually looks like pretty efficient use of a small space.

I wouldn't do anything to it either, unless you find you can't live with the tile counters (some folks do). If not, put in laminate. Keep the appliances - much better to start fresh when you do remodel, getting appliances to fit your new space rather than forcing your space to fit appliances.

Live with it for a year, figure out what you love and what you hate about it. Then you'll know how you use adjoining spaces, and what would work best for your family in a remodel.

Good luck, and enjoy your new (to you) house!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 9:50AM
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As others have stated, I would take the next few years to decide what you want to do. The kitchen seems quite efficient as is and buying things now will constrain you from what you can do in the future. IF you cannot live with the wall of uppers cutting you off from the living room, AND you don't need them for storage, I would take them out. That is the only change that I would make. As you live in your house, you will define how the spaces work for you and where you need changes. The best advice I ever received was not to make any major changes to the house until you have lived there for a year.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 10:14AM
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I agree with all of the above. Do little except maybe remove the cabinets that obstruct your view into the living room. That kitchen is gorgeous compared to the one I lived with for 10 years! Three years will fly by, and you can use that time for planning and to think about all the ways your kitchen does/does not work for you.

In the meantime, regarding the ancient trash compactor ... maybe you can remove it and retro-fit the space with something like these slide-out baskets from Rev-a-shelf.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rev-a-shelf baskets

This post was edited by jellytoast on Mon, Apr 22, 13 at 10:40

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 10:38AM
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I have to agree with everyone else - live with it and plan for a remodel. Three years will give you lots of time to consider how you use this space and how you'd like to re-configure it. Meanwhile, a good scrub and maybe some new cabinet hardware will make it good enough to go on with.

On the antiquity of the MW: our first microwave, which was in the beginning of time for microwaves, lasted for 20 years - unreal. I'm presuming that the MW in this kitchen is the wall unit above the stove. It would be a major pain and expense to fit a newer, sleeker model in that space. If it works, leave it. If it quits working, get a temporary countertop unit until you re-do the kitchen.

You can take down the cabinets facing the family room if you really want to. I would want to when you do the remodel, but for now maybe not. In any case, they can be removed easily enough. The one on the not-wall end may be screwed together with the one next to it. If so, then it's a case of filling the screw hole(s).

If this were me, I'd get rid of the tile counter and replace it with laminate. My MIL had tile counters and the grout was forever in need of scrubbing to avoid looking like a house of pestilence. She kept them pristine, but when my son lived there for a year, it became apparent how much time she had spent cleaning those grout lines. That's a lot of counter in that kitchen, which is a good thing, but a lot of tile to maintain. Something to think about anyway.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 11:22AM
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I, too, like the cabinets and think you should keep them if they are in good condition. I'd give them a good cleaning and replace the knobs. After that I think you can completely change the look of the kitchen by changing out other things, and you can do it slowly as time and money dictate. First, I'd change the dated overhead light and the countertop/backsplash. I think the kitchen will look completely updated at that point. You can then replace the applicances, as needed.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 11:29AM
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If its going to be at least three years...maybe more...

I would

-get rid of the blinds
-replace the hardware with something inexpensive but updated
-cant see the sink and faucet very well, but might consider new sink and faucet.

I actually think the cabinets are really nice. Congratulations!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 12:45PM
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So I definitely agree with the logic of other posters about just living with what you've got until you can do the big renovation... but I also understand wanting a change now! Your space is small but actually looks like you could easily make it visually more appealing. Here's a photo I have saved on Houzz of a similar space.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 1:18PM
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Holly- Kay

I think your cabs are nice. Like others said, clean them well and polish them, and add new hardware. Take the blinds down and maybe do plantation shutters or pretty curtains.You could also paint the kitchen and if you are going to eventually take the cabinets down you could paint the back of them that faces into the family room in the same paint that you use in the family room.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 3:30PM
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It is actually a pretty efficient design - for that time, of course. My sister had a kitchen similar to yours. When I visited, we managed to cook in it together without killing each other. LOL.

ITA about not changing anything (except for hardware) till you are ready to remodel. I wouldn't get another trash compactor - unless you really like them. And it may not be worth replacing the sink right now - before you know what your final design will be.

I can imagine that all the fabulous GW kitchens are driving you nuts but three years are nothing in the kitchen remodel universe. I took me that long to design mine - and it is still not perfect as I got tired of the whole thing (plus had other reasons to expedite) and just went for "OK, this is good enough". :-)

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 4:19PM
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eleena, I've lived in my house for 24 years - and wanted a new kitchen for at least 15!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 5:29PM
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how good are you with window treatments? the connection and alignment of the light fixture in the ceiling with the sterile looking blinds does nothing for the space. Pick a valance or replace the blinds with bamboo or some nice shade and add an area rug and at least it will look sweet when you are in the's small- may as well make it pretty. Three years and you get a redo-plan for that.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 8:51PM
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I think you should get rid of the ceiling light fixture., Is it fluorescent? It will open up the space vertically and make it look bigger. Shouldn't cost much. I would also remove the uppers that overlook the living room, but you may need the storage space.
Love the large window too. I think you need a range instead of wall oven and cooktop unless you have back trouble and need a higher oven. You might also make the look through smaller and put a floor to ceiling pantry cabinet there to give you vertical space. I do not like putting the frig next to the oven.

But, if you are taking out walls in three years, I would just do the lights.

About the cabinets being removed without harming the tall depends how it is made. It could be separate pieces which would be easy. You should be able to tell.

It looks like you have a pantry on the right of the frig. Is that where you would separate the cabinets? Good luck with whatever you decide. I wouldn't spend money on appliances yet or laminate. Peke

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 10:05PM
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Agree that you can live with this for now. But I understand the feeling of being in someone else's kitchen unless you can pesonalize this. Curently the countertops are so strong a visual feature that no other feature can stand up to them. They have too much power so your task is to defuse that strength.

Agree that a window valence will help--this could be first thing you would see when entering the space and it would draw eye away from the squares.. Don't choose anything that reinforces the grid of the countertop (no plaids, stripes, linear stuff)--choose a vaguely floral pattern or abstract blotches or a textured solid. The black appliances lack echoing blacks elsewhere and have to fight with so many whites; overcome this by integrating black and white with a lot of other colors in the valence. Look for a print that has some gentle splashes of black but also generous amounts of wood color, small doses of white, and plenty of the colors that are accents in your kitchen area (the colors of your dishes or tablecloths or canisters or whatever). Consider fabric that also has a warmer brown but also includes the existing brown. Repeat the fabric on chair seats or napkins or something else, to integrate kitchen and eating area. You don't need to be an ace seamstress--this is not difficult sewing and your work will be good enough for now.

Consider paint as an accent color--to the right of the outside of the pass-through, around window, above refrig. Imagine brick-red... or mustard yellow... or celery green...or warm gray or....

Bring in some good happy colors in small items--textiles, houseplants, rug at the sink. Be sure to keep the scale of items small. No big prints or large items.

Don't use "ancient" to describe these appliances--it colors your opinion unfairly and it's inaccurate. They aren't ancient. (You want ancient? These could be much older! When we moved into our kitchen the dishwasher was one of the oldest models made for household use. We stored cat food in it until we could afford our first remodel.)

A new lighting product on ceiling would be good but I understand that the existing one works and might be a bit tough to replace. If it is inside a plain ceiling niche you could replace the light with something affordable yet mod and play up the niche as a feature; but if there are ugly or difficult features in the niche that you can't remove, live with the lighting for now. Undercab light is cheap and good--get some at Ikea or Home Depot or .... !

If you like severe & mod, consider multi-color blinds--bands of 3 or 4 consecutive slats followed by the next color (black + warm brown or tan + brown of the cabs + white that matches countertop). Otherwise get wood blinds that match the cabs.

In time, if you can somehow integrate the color and/or texture of the fireplace stone in the kitchen, that would add to the kitchen aesthetic because the fireplace will always be a visual feature of the kitchen. If you are determined to remove the cabs over the pass-through consider open, backless shelves that will still define the separation of kitchen and adjacent spaces and will add colors of dishware on both sides.

New cab knobs are sometimes a good way to banish the old owner.

I congratulate you for restraining yourself, for living with functional existing stuff, for thinking harder and better and more ecological. Have fun!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 1:23AM
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Like most others have stated: I would get rid of those upper cabs blocking your view into the other room. I would also get rid of the light fixture. You can always paint the kitchen (not the cabs) if you like. That is cheap and you can do that yourself.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.
Congrats on the new house and I also like the wood cabs!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 7:03AM
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Holly- Kay

Look at the post about $500 makeover. The finished kitchen looks lovely. The counter looked very much like yours with white tile.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 11:21AM
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It is hard to accept that you will have less than idea/pretty kitchen to move into when you have just bought a new house. But this is a case of 'delayed gratification'. I think people that can practice delayed gratification often have a greater pay back in life.

I don't know how old you are. Pretend that you are back in college or grad school and making do for a few years until you can have that high paying job. (or a new kitchen in this case)

Then save like crazy and research like crazy. It takes a while to figure out what you want and what will work in your kitchen. So you have your dream kitchen. I have walked in so many homes where the expensive remodel ended up with tight aisles where two people cannot pass by or lack of counter space even with the money spent.... It is a shame. These are cases of remodeling without proper planning.

In my old kitchen, I replaced the appliances that were not acceptable to me. For example, I had a $300 basic gas range. I replaced it with mid level range. I also replaced the DW that actually washed dishes. This made my day to day life far better and I was able to cook in the kitchen for a number of years. If you replace the appliances, you have to accept that they CANNOT impact the future remodel, ie gotta reuse the appliances. That is a stupid condition for the future remodel because you will limit yourself unnecessarily.

For appliances, I would look in the Cragslist or appliance stores that sell used appliances for temporary replacement. Another option is to buy a single oven and 'make-do' with a MW on top of the makeshift shelf that you make in the oven cabinet. Replacing appliances can be hard and expensive because of the electrical requirements. There may or may not be adequate electrical wiring behind the current ovens.... You won't know until you pull it out! If you have a competent electrical person in the family (ie free or beer money), I would pull it out and see what is back there to see what can go in it. Otherwise, I would live with it as is.

Personally, I would not replace the tile with laminate. Even though it may look better, I like the functionality of being able to set hot things directly on the counter especially in a small kitchen.

Regarding getting rid of upper cabs, do you have adequate storage elsewhere? if not, the improved look is not worth the loss of storage that results in a less functional kitchen in my opinion.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 2:33PM
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That is almost exactly my sisters kitchen layout but I think hers might be a touch smaller. She's lived in it, unchanged, for about 25 years, btw.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 3:35PM
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Honestly, I think you should live in it first as most have said, do not change anything until you have lived there for a while, we tend to change our minds and what we love. I bought my house ten years ago and was sure I would redo the kitchen, I am just getting to do that now and maybe if I get the nerve to post I will. Go slowly, it something break replace with what you love and eventually you will get the kitchen you will cherish. I do think you should take down the cabinets between the rooms and store it someplace for now. I took down all mini blinds and drapes as soon as I moved in. All the best but do get a feel of your house first and then you can start making it into your home..Congratulations on your homeownership.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 3:39PM
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We are amazed and grateful for all your recommendations and feedback! When I showed hubby all your tips, he was overjoyed as everyone suggested we do not do anything! We will definitely hold back and live with it, and get to experience how the family uses it so we are better informed once we start with the remodel.

We love your idea of changing the knobs and thoroughly cleaning up the cabinets.

Thanks for suggesting that we use the compactor as a trash bin. I think that would be zero cost to us should we do this.

We will do something with the window treatment so it would have color and would feel warm. We’re not sure if we are painting the wall around the window though.

We might change the lights depending on how affordable this would be for us.

The uppers will be removed. We have enough storage as there’s a separate pantry that’s at the back of the oven and there’s a wet bar that you can see in one of the photos that’s on the other side of the room near the fireplace. That’s as almost as big as the kitchen, tons of cabinets, shelves and granite counters. I wonder why the original owners spent on that and not the kitchen?!

It is true that I get overly excited from seeing all the wonderful kitchen remodels here and I can’t help but try to change our kitchen even in small ways. But all suggestions have been considered and they ALL make sense. And we are practical, realistic and frugal people so we’re sticking with what we have until we really know what we want. I could wait those three years and in the meantime learn and get inspired from everyone here.

You guys are the best! Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 12:40AM
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