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Our Kitchen Renovation! Before and After

Posted Friday, March 3, 2017 in: Our House Nerd Life Before & After DIY

So today I finally have a before and after to share with you - our kitchen renovation! (Finally!)

I had putting off doing this Before and After story for ages because I was waiting til we could renovate one of the biggest elements (the floors).

But now it's done and I couldn't be happier, even though we didn't exactly achieve our goal of finishing the kitchen reno before we had our baby arrived (oops. But that's ok!)

BEFORE (or in-progress) Photo by Heather Robbins.

AFTER. Nala is clearly put out that she doesn't get to sit on my lap! Photo by Heather Robbins.

First here’s a little step back in time to refresh your memory.

Here is our 1970s kitchen when we bought the house. Charming!

It had a timber benchtop, jarrah cabinets made from old floorboards and a splashback with these brown tiles with little pictures of food and vegetable baskets on them. It was ok, definitely nowhere near as bad as our ensuite or our sunroom or our laundry. We actually really liked the cabinets, but all that dark brick and wood made the kitchen feel small and closed-in and kind of depressing. So we gave it a mini budget makeover (which you can read about in this blog post).

When we moved in, rendering that dark face brick was the very first thing we did (instead of drinking the champagne the real estate agency gave us, like a normal couple). I’m not exaggerating, I think we threw some newspaper on the floor and started rendering within an hour of getting the keys. Neither of us had ever rendered brick before, and, well, you could tell.

But back then we were two young, skinny, enthusiastic 20-somethings who were full of big, ridiculous dreams about how we were going to renovate this “Ideal Makeover” (the enticing headline of my house’s real estate listing) in a year (ha!)

We optimistically called the ‘lumpy porridge’ texture of our render Mediterranean/Mexican and grandly told each other that it added a charming, rustic look to the kitchen. Our dodgy render didn’t look great, I know (and it all had to be painstakingly removed when we eventually the big kitchen renovation) but I give you this, with a lick of white paint did do wonders for making the kitchen visually brighter.

The other big room changer was painting the splashback tile (you can read my post on that here). I also sanded/re-lacquered the benchtop and replaced the old brass knobs with some tiny cut glass ones (that now I look at and go ‘what was I thinking?’)

Some things remained for years though – the old tap, that fluorescent tube light (yuck). We just added them to the long list of Crap Shack house things to be updated when we could.

To be honest, we initially weren’t going to renovate the kitchen at all. Kitchen renovations aren’t exactly known for being cheap home improvement projects. Plus neither of us minded the existing kitchen. I actually really liked the jarrah cabinets and the timber benchtops. So we lived happily with it like this for a few years.

But when I got pregnant, we started to think about how much easier life with a baby would be if we got a dishwasher. And as we couldn’t put a dishwasher into our existing kitchen (the cupboards were built in the 70s and were too shallow to accommodate a dishwasher; modern kitchen cabinets tend to be deeper) then the whole kitchen would have to be redone. 

So that’s what we ended up doing. You know how it is with renovating! You start doing one thing, and then it makes sense to just do the next thing, and then something else starts to look shabby in comparison to the thing you just renovated. All of a sudden you are knee-deep in this big renovation when all you wanted to do was something small like paint a doorframe. In this case, it all started from something very little: a hole accidentally punched in the wall when we turned the 1970s bar into a walk-in pantry (you can see that makeover here).

We ended up doing a full kitchen renovation in the middle of summer when I was heavily pregnant, cantankerous and throwing up daily. I was not one of those shiny unicorn pregnant women who loves being pregnant. I was more like Elizabeth Banks in What to Expect When You’re Expecting; the angry grumpy swollen preggo. We cleaned this mess below up while I was pregnant and it was 40 degrees... I'm not going to lie, I cried!

While I was covered in renovation dirt, washing dishes in the laundry sink and cleaning up brick dust, I looked jealously at pregnant friends who seemed to spend all their time flitting between café to beach in floaty yet flattering pregnancy summer dresses, or going home to cook giant freezer stocks of homecooked meals to eat when the baby arrived. We spent so much time on the kitchen and the other renos going on we didn’t even get a lovely nursery organised; Little Nerd's nursery looked like a cell. It was about as on-trend as my outfit below.

At the time, renovating the kitchen seemed like such an unfair annoyance to my grumpy self. But now I am so, so glad we did it before we had the baby rather than after. Our new kitchen has been worth every hormonal sob!

Here it is. (Thank you to my good friend Heather Robbins for taking these photos!)

One of the ways we changed the kitchen was by pulling out the island bench to make it wider, giving us a little more storage and a wider benchtop (which we definitely appreciate). We were initially concerned it would take up too much of the open-plan dining area but it has been fine. Photos by Heather Robbins

BEFORE AND AFTER: Photos by Heather Robbins

I like the kitchen. I didn’t do anything wildly trendy or different. It is pretty simple. It might sound weird and I know plenty of women who renovate or design and build successfully when they are pregnant, but I didn’t trust my pregnant brain to design a more unusual kitchen in case I hated it a year later. (Seriously, I came up with SO many (non-renovation related) grand ideas when I was pregnant and now when Mr Nerd reminds me of these, I start laughing and go what the hell was I thinking? I must have been mad).

Another reason we kept the design quite simple is that the kitchen is in the centre of our house and our house is really open-plan. So I wanted something quite simple so if we ever changed up the décor in the rest of the house, the kitchen wouldn’t stick out in a bad way.

The cabinets are IKEA (you can read my diary of an IKEA kitchen renovation here) and I’m also going to be sharing my pros and cons of IKEA kitchen cabinets soon. (Promise!) They are what is now called their BODBYN drawer front range (LIDINGO under the old names). 

My favourite thing about the kitchen is the white subway tile. Initially I had in mind very plain, matte subway tiles, no beveled edge or anything, just very simple. Then Mr Nerd and I went to Odin Ceramics and we saw these subway tiles, and we both looked at each other and knew we had to get them, even though they were the opposite of what I’d had in mind – glossy with a stippled effect. It was a spontaneous decision that has ended up being my favourite feature. Because the tiles aren’t uniform, my lovely tiler Stan told me they actually camouflage the defects in our wall in a way that a uniform tile wouldn’t have done.

They were $800, which is a lot of money considering there are white subway tiles on the market that are much cheaper, but I think they were worth it, and another bonus is that they actually bounce the light from the window around, making the room seem just a touch brighter.

The IKEA cabinets are off-white and I still daydream about painting them a lovely sage colour one day (I keep hearing Annie Sloan paint would work) and maybe then replacing the hardware. But that’s a down-the-track project, when I feel like a change (and also when Mr Nerd is out of the house because he says I’m not allowed to paint the cupboards).

We really wanted a timber benchtop and I always had in mind one of the IKEA solid oak butcherblock ones. (They do some that are timber veneer, which I wouldn’t get personally, but I thought the solid timber ones looked good, and the warm, light oaky colour was just what I had in mind).

But then the IKEA cabinet guy came out and said because our island bench was to be wider than IKEA’s standard, they wouldn’t do a timber benchtop for us. Their installers won’t join two benchtop pieces together, they stand very firmly on that. 

So we could do our cabinets through IKEA but we would have to contract a different company to do the wood benchtop. I was disappointed because I thought that going the full IKEA kitchen route would be nice, straightforward and quick. But it was okay. We would just ask some benchtop companies to give us some quotes for timber tops.

Woah! The first quotes we got back were around $4,000 - $4,500 and I just about fainted. More than all the cabinets put together! And I soon found out from a kitchen designer friend that that kind of quote for a custom-made timber benchtop wasn’t unusual. I had naively made the mistake of presuming timber would be an inexpensive benchtop choice compared to stone, granite, Corian. It wasn’t. From memory the cheapest quote we got was $3,000 but we hesitated on pulling the trigger then too because the only wood the guy could do was sepang, and I wasn’t mad about it for our house. How could we spend $3000 on something we didn’t love?

I also inquired if the Bunnings and Masters kitchen departments would do a benchtop for us but got the same answer as IKEA; they won’t do a timber benchtop that is wider than standard. The light, oaky benchtop I had initially envisioned looked it would be a very, very expensive dream!

In the end, guess where we got the timber benchtops from? The Bunnings timber department. We had seen a big stack of these solid timber butcherblock panels at Bunnings, they call them laminated panels. (We had used similar ones – these oiled Acacia ones - to make shelves in our walk-in pantry). You can see these below. I believe this photo was taken after I ate the other half of that loaf of bread.

So we thought, could we use similar panels as kitchen benchtops? We would just have to choose one that wasn’t pre-oiled so it would be kitchen-proof and find a carpenter who would be happy to do the joinery (putting two pieces together) which was definitely not a DIY job and needed a professional.

By sheer luck, my dad was having a meeting with one of his clients who manages a furniture company, and he told them that we weren’t having any luck getting a company to do a timber benchtop. This guy didn’t make timber benchtops either, but he told my dad if we supplied him with the wood, he and his boys would do the joinery for us as a one-off favour. I think I jumped up and down on the spot for joy (no easy feat when you’re 30 weeks pregnant).

We ended up buying these Merbau panels. Don’t quote me on this as it was a while ago now and my pregnancy brain was fuzzy at the best of times, but all up I think the whole thing (timber and labour) cost about $1500. (Much cheaper than $4500!)

In the end we compromised on the colour of the timber, simply because of what was available to us. The Merbau is a little more reddish in tone than the chocolate/walnut colour I would have preferred, now that we . But hopefully that’s something that can be altered down the track when the wood needs a refinish. I really wanted a butcherblock style (I just love butcherblock benchtops and always have – they tie in with my love of farmhouse-style homes). Now (after we’ve already done our kitchen, of course) it looks like Bunnings has expanded their range and has a VERY nice Alpine Oak colour that would have ticked my ‘light, oak benchtop’ box very nicely. Rrrr. (I always get buyers remorse. Ask anyone who’s ever shopped for clothes with me).

But overall we’re stoked with them, and they’ve been really great - solid and next to no marks on the wood yet. I remember I Instagrammed the benchtops way back and a few people asked where we got them from so I said where, and then two days later I went back to Bunnings myself to get just ONE MORE PANEL for another project and they were ALL GONE. You guys are cunning and efficient. I like it.

Anyway, if you are looking to do similar in your kitchen or laundry, look for Laminated Panels at Bunnings. Apparently not all stores have them but their website might give you an idea. We also used the same timber to make a windowsill and open shelves (where our wall oven used to be - swapping out the old wall oven for the big Smeg freestanding range). 

Nala modelling, doing what she does best while Heather shoots.


Cabinets                             -  IKEA
Hardware                            - IKEA
Benchtops                           - Laminated panels from Bunnings
Joinery                                - Chesleigh Fine Furniture
Mixer tap                             - Dorf, Parkwood Plumbing Centre
Butler’s sink                         - IKEA
Vinyl floors                          - Karndean Designflooring
Vinyl floor installation           - Craft Flooring
Subway tiles                        - Tavella Gesso subway, Odin Ceramics
Grout (Ardex)                      - Myaree Ceramics
Tiler                                    - Stan Kudla (0419 938 861)
Dishwasher                          - (Smeg) Harvey Norman
Freestanding range               - (Smeg) Harvey Norman
Fridge                                  - (Fisher & Paykel) Good Guys
Lights                                  - Supplied by our electrician

Blue beaker                             - Patricia Fernandez
White XO vase                         - Robert Gordon
Recycled timber bar stools        - A Good Looking Man
Cleaning products                    - Murchison Hume
Clock                                       - Corner Store
Baby                                        - Own
Kitchen scales                          - Inherited
Teatowels                                - Kookery, Morgan & Finch
Terracotta windowsill pots         - Bunnings
Marble cross                             - Kmart
Marble and timber board           - Kmart
Vintage pot                              - Melville Markets

Ok I could talk about kitchens all day long but I think I've talked enough for today :) If you have any questions about our kitchen renovation, please leave me a comment! Maya x 

Do you love interior design, real homes, renovations and before and after stories? I love chatting with other house nerds and finding out what they want to read about on here. You can follow me on Instagram @housenerdFacebookTwitterPinterest or Bloglovin.

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