Sunday, June 21, 2009

Real Reno: What it Costs

Does anyone else read the Canadian 'shelter mags'? I subscribe to Canadian House and Home and to Style at Home, and have for about a year, since we bought the new house and I became well and truly determined that I was going to need some skills to disburden it of its 'a family moved in here in 1957 and the last one just left last week' vibe.

Besides, it's way cheaper if you subscribe. And it's nice to sign up for pretty mailings and arrange to have them mail to you New! House!

Anyhow. Much of the content is truly ridiculous ($60 tea towels!) or not really practical for someone of my lifestyle (with 47 hours of work and a lot of skill, you can turn a $75 antique chair into ... a better looking chair!) But what truly makes me question my subscription is always the cost of the renovations they depict. I particularly hoot at the High / Low feature of both magazines: the choice is yours! Refresh the décor of your bedroom for a high of $18,000 or a low of $7000! That's décor, people, not structure.

I don't know about you, but when I want to refresh my bedroom on the cheap, I buy a $75 bed-in-a-bag and a couple of $20 throw pillows and marvel at my own verve.

So. In the name of real life, I present to you my kitchen 'reno'. This is the placeholder configuration of the kitchen before we undertake the Big Redo we intend to do for my 40th birthday--once the car is paid off, daycare is done, and we save up some money. What I've done is mostly cosmetic, partly practical, and partly safety- and building-code related.


Of note: those laundry machines are not hooked up--they're portable. There is an ugly fluorescent bulkhead, about a gagillion years old. The range hood sounds like a jet engine and vents ... out the top of itself.


Doesn't that look way better? I can tell you it cost waaaayyyy less that the 'low' of the magazines, but the aesthetics (paint and furniture), usability (appliances and layout), energy efficiency (ceiling fan), and safety (GFCI electrical outlets and addition of new outlets) have been vastly improved.

Here's what we did, and here's what it cost:

Electrical work:

We had an electrician rewire the countertop electrical outlets to GFCI, so that we won't electrocute ourselves. He also added two new outlets by the stove, one to plug the stove into (really, there wasn't one there ...) and one for above the stove, where we recharge our phones and such. He also removed and de-wired the dysfunctional range hood, removed the nasty fluorescent bulkhead, and installed the new ceiling fan/light fixture. To boot, he hooked up our gas stove, because gas lines and furnaces and such are the other part of his business. Cost: the labour and electrical equipment cost us in the range of $200. The ceiling fan--which is very important to redistribute the air, as there is no heating outlet at all in this 13' by 17' room and we also no longer have a range hood--cost $170 on sale at Home Depot. It's operated by a remote control mounted on the wall.


The microwave, fridge, and gas stove all came from our old house, which, since the plan of the new owner is to tear it down and build a $500,000 townhouse in its place, we were free to plunder of all appliances and fixtures. Cost? Free. The kitchen 'island' is actually a portable dishwasher. I got it on sale and tax-free (because it's a high-efficiency model) at Home Depot for just under $500. It rolls over to the sink when we need to use it, but otherwise functions as a prep surface--all the 'real' countertops, installed in the 1940s, are about 2" or 3" shorter than contemporary work surfaces, which is awkward when you're a tall woman like me. That silver thing is a Very Fancy Garbage Can: it was a splurge at $90 (reduced from $140 at Winners, which is a like a Canadian TJ Maxx), but its semi-circle design means it tucks up neatly against the dishwasher, and makes the whole shebang look deliberate.

The walls:

That small-print red and green floral wallpaper HAD TO GO. And it did. But it took a year because while removing wallpaper from new drywall is not really a big deal, removing it from 90 year old plaster is very much a big deal, a process of steaming and chipping off dime-sized chunks that just as often rip the plaster apart too. That took a year to complete, and once it was done, it was game on for the rest of the re-do! Cost: part of my soul, one bottle of vinegar, and a paint scraper. And now the fun part! There are two paint colours. The green is my favorite on earth, and it's Behr flat enamel in 'rolling hills.' I love it. It needed a coloured primer and two coats of colour, but it went on like velvet. The very subtle brown / beige / greige colour is Behr flat enamel in 'mochaccino' and I adore it as well. Two coats, smelled absolutely awful, but now looks great. Cost for paint: one bucket of each colour, plus one bucket of coloured primer for the green, $100. Oh, removing the range hood left a BIG hole in the wall above the stove. I repaired that and all the dings from the wallpaper scraping with a $10 patch kit from Home Hardware.

The breakfast nook:

Seriously, don't you love it? I'm sitting there right now, feeling smug. I really missed the breakfast bar from the old house, and it's no fun preparing for dinner parties if your guests are just kind of standing around your giant open kitchen with no where to sit or put their drinks down. This was totally wasted space. I installed a giant mirror to visually connect the nook with the rest of the kitchen (um, by reflecting it) and also to bounce the light around, as the kitchen is pretty dim but the mirror catches the south-sun that makes it through the back door. The table is from Ikea (natch) and it's a small marvel: solid wood, pre-stained, easy to install, and it's a drop-leaf so we can tuck it out of the way if something big needs to pass by to get to the basement (door on the left of the photo). The chairs came with us from the other house (sigh), and they were originally a splurge at $175 each (reduced from $300). The irony is that we bought them from the business owned by those self-styled real estate tycoons who eventually bought our house with such acrimony. What am I really proud of? I didn't matchy-matchy the table and the mirror--and also, the two tones of wood pick up two of the three tones of brown in the bar chairs. Design WIN! Cost: table $49, mirror $84. Oh, and the clock. That I left the price tags on, because it originally cost a truly ridiculous $52 at a local Overpriced Boutique, but I got it reduced to $10, and my sister picked one up, too! Now every time I change the battery, I will feel smug.

The inspiration:

You know all those complicated swatch boards in the magazine? Um, yeah. My inspiration was my set of dishes I bought with Christmas money from the inlaws five years ago (on sale, 8 place settings for $50 at The Bay [Canuck J. C. Penney]).

Total costs:

Labour: $200
Appliances: $670
Paint and wall repair: $110
Furniture: $233

Which is a grand total of just under $1300. For what I think is a HUGE and impactful change.

There you have it. We spent the money and did the work over twelve months, for an amortized outlay of $110 a month.

Now that's a 'LOW' reno--take heed, shelter mags! Yeesh.

Have you done any cheap-ass renos you want to brag about? Go nuts in the comments! I love reno stories, in any form.


Omaha Mama said...

How about the flooring? Did you hire that done? It's the first thing I noticed and is lovely.

I wish now that I'd kept any sort of tally on what we've spent. I haven't. We've done all sorts of little projects and a few bigger ones. Never as expensive as those magazines.

I heart your big kitchen. My teensy tiny one is my least favorite part of our home.

Omaha Mama said...

Or maybe the flooring stayed the same and just looks a very different color in your before photos? If so, your new deco brings out the lovely tones in the tiles, so well done you. :0)

slouchy said...


love the green color on the one wall.

Bea said...

That green is so awesome. And I never thought of a dishwasher/island!

Catherine said...

I read Dwell. I pour over the pages time and time again. And then I return to my real life in a suburban house. I don't have walls of windows or 8' tall sliding glass doors or a wine fridge. Yet, I pour over Dwell pretty often.

I love your reno! The green is fantastic. I am jealous of your high cabinets. I like that it's not a soffit, but real usable cabinets. I would keep my holiday plates up there. Or the good booze.

alejna said...

Great work! The wallpaper removal sounds tedious. (I hope that your soul has regenerated somewhat from the experience.)

I love that green, too. It actually reminds me of some of the tea towels that my sister designed. (This one and this one, to be specific. Also, they cost a lot less than $60. Maybe I should suggest that she hike up her prices. Yikes!)

I tend to stay clear of the home decor magazines. (A fact which is probably painfully obvious from even the most casual glance into our house!)

Patti said...

In our last house, we had an entirely wallpapered bathroom, including the ceiling, on old plaster walls. 4 or 5 layers of wallpaper, if I recall correctly. And one of those layers had been painted over.

What a wretched job THAT was!

Your kitchen is lovely. I love where I live now, but it's not because of the kitchen ... which is in dire need of newness. You are inspiring me!

Kyla said...

Looks great! Our kitchen is AWFUL, as are many rooms in this house. Before we work on aesthetics, there seems to be a crisis that arises every time we acquire some home improvement money. The back doors deteriorating, the siding is way past its prime, we've discovered sections of that walls that have NO insulation. The joys of owning a home!

Assertagirl said...

I subscribe to the same magazines and have basically the same reaction to what I see there.

Your kitchen looks fabulous, by the way!

Beck said...

Your kitchen looks WONDERFUL! I love that green.
WE had to strip off 10+ layers of wallpaper on lathe and plaster when we moved in here - every decade, someone would come and slap another layer of wallpaper up. That was fun to take down. And we did a complete renovation - new SUBFLOORS, EVEN! - of our downstairs bathroom while I was pregnant and on a very low budget.


Lisa b said...

Well Done Mimi! The wallpaper stripping alone has me impressed.
You are a true domestic goddess. I need larger photos. and closeups!!

Run ANC said...

You did a great job! I'm going to post my kitchen reno stuff soon, but I'm not sure that I want to include the ridiculous amount of money we spent. I think that we kept more on budget (which was really small) than most people, but we still went over because I hadn't done my research about how much things cost in reality.

Yours looks great! Can I hire you to do some work in our house? I like your prices waaay better.