Why I Don’t Have a $40,000 Kitchen

by Katy on May 19, 2010 · 27 comments

The following is a reprint of a previous post. Enjoy.

O'Keefe & Merritt Stove

I spent the better part of today immersing myself in a rare bout of deep cleaning. I swept out the fireplace and set a new fire, spiffed up the living room, scrubbed down the single bathroom in my five bedroom house, and gave the kitchen a thorough cleaning that would make an army drill sergeant weep.

Because yes, it involved getting on my hand and knees, toothbrush in hand.

I did all this while listening to the audio book of “The Worst Hard Times: The Untold Story Of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl.” A book I’m enjoying so much, I wrote about it before I’d even finished it!

Cleaning the kitchen took the longest. I also made dinner, (home-made calzones with a nice big salad.) and then cleaned up from dinner. So I spent at least three hours in the company of my kitchen today.

Let me paint a picture for you. My cupboards are plywood painted a butter yellow, the counters are dark red formica, the floors are scuffed-up fir and the appliances are white. And when the dishwasher door is open, it completely blocks entrance into the kitchen.

Not my dream kitchen — but it’s okay to not go into debt for a dream kitchen.

You know what?

I like it anyway!

We had very little money when we bought our fixer-upper house in 1996. So any improvements made were necessary and minimal. For the kitchen, we replaced the foul looking countertops, painted the cabinets, scraped up the ancient, filthy linoleum and put in windows along a back wall. (There was oddly only one small window in the entire kitchen.)

The total cost was maybe $500, because my husband did all the work.

I recently read that the average price of a kitchen remodel is $40,000! And that’s just the average, as many people spend much, much more.

That’s just messed up!

My parents bought their house for $20,000, and it was a really nice house.

My kitchen produces wonderful food. Dinners, baked goods and all kinds of delicious treats. And is somehow able to perform this feat without the presence of stainless steel or granite.

The environmental consequences of ripping out a kitchen are significant. Dumpsters get filled with landfill bound cabinets and debris. New cabinets are constructed from virgin materials and then shipped to your house. And those granite countertops? Mountains are irreversibly getting carved up and destroyed so we can have the perfect kitchen.

So if you come to my house expecting yet another freshly remodeled kitchen, you’re going to be disappointed. Because I don’t crave an all brand new kitchen, (that will look dated in a few years.) The only thing I crave is a vintage O’Keefe and Merritt stove, because they cook like nobody’s business, and it’ll never look dated.

Have you done a recent kitchen remodel? Did you make green choices, or maybe wish you had? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Korzun May 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I hear you loud and clear! I “redid” my kitchen with paint and some garage sale finds for decor. Total was under $200. To spend $40k to get the “new look” is nuts in my book. I like my “new” kitchen just fine. Not only is it more eco friendly (I used no-voc paint) I did not add anything to a landfill. 🙂

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Kristin May 19, 2010 at 4:52 pm

My house has a small galley-style kitchen with wood cupboards that were perfectly good when we moved in 20 years ago . It needed new countertops so I hired a skilled friend to rip out the old and put in the new. He encouraged us to “re-face” our cabinets, and my thought was “why”? They were plain wood with no trim to make them look dated. I painted them with white oil-based paint and replaced the knobs and they looked great. They still look fine, but it’s time to re-paint the knobs as the metallic finish has worn off some, not a big job. A new coat of paint on the walls, new window treatments, and new linoleum (to cover the old which is very old) and it will be a new kitchen yet again! Without throwing a bunch of demolition junk in a landfill. However the very old avocado green monster of a double oven electric stove has got to go this time – it survived the first remodel but not this one! Good riddance!

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kayleigh May 19, 2010 at 5:34 pm

don’t even try to remove the existing linoleum yourself if your home is old. it probably has a bunch of asbestos under it. my husband did this and he got fined a ton by the city for unknowingly throwing asbestos in the garbage.

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Adrienne May 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Most people I know who have big expensive kitchens don’t do much cooking in them. My husband is a professional chef (owns a restaurant) and you would never know it by looking at our kitchen. All you really need is a good heat source (yaa gas stove). Our redo of our YELLOW and TEAL kitchen involved paint and knobs. Love my red kitchen with black trim! The paint was called “Million Dollar Red” – ha ha ha.

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WilliamB May 19, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Q: “Why I Don’t Have a $40,000 Kitchen”
A: Because such a thing is excessive (usually – there are exceptions).

Have you noticed that the most expensive kitchens are often in the homes of people who don’t cook much? Still trying to figure that one out.

The other thing I’ve noticed about expensive kitchen re-dos is that the fancy, expensive equipment is rarely the highest quality or most reliable. Sub-Zero fridges are notorious for breaking down quickly.

My kitchen re-do wasn’t close to $40K but it was pricy, and was money well spent for me. I cook a lot, I have people over a lot, I spend 80% of my free time in the kitchen. I’m also thoroughly unhandy so I hired someone to do it for me. I want to learn someday, but I don’t want to make my tyro mistakes on my own kitchen with no one to tell me what I’m doing wrong! So:
– I knocked out a wall, so what used to be the separate formal dining room is the sitting side of the kitchen, with stuffed chairs, a sofa, a rug and good lighting; everyone gathers in the kitchen anyway so this makes it pleasant and comfortable;
– I ran a gas line so I could have a gas stove;
– I replaced all the appliances, which were circa 1957 (new when the previous owners moved in);
– I installed two walls of cabinets;
– I spent some extra to make it attractive since, as I said, that’s where everyone ends up anyway.

If I do another room re-do, I hope to have enough advance warning to do so greenly. The norms in the building industry are very much against reclaimed, repurposed, or otherwise non-virgin materials, which makes it practically impossible to go green quickly unless one has done it before.

I do want to explore a rooftop garden, but I need to replace house siding and trim first. Any suggestions for doing that in an eco-friendly manner?

BTW, a good kitchen re-do is one of the few home improvements that is likely to recoup itself when you sell your house. *If* you do it well and not extravagantly.

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Marie-Josée May 20, 2010 at 7:10 am

William, I suggest you opt for container gardening for your roof. It provides better yields and is much less of a strain on the structure of your home, because the containers are much lighter than having soil all over the roof.

Here is a link with some interesting info:

http://rooftopgardens.ca/?q=en/publications

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WilliamB May 20, 2010 at 8:35 am

I took a look-see through the site. Is it all about veggies? My rooftop wouldn’t make a good veggie garden, it’s too inconvenient to get to. I was thinking about plantings to reduce water runoff and heat-inducing sunlight reflection.

Merci!

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Mike Rocha May 19, 2010 at 8:23 pm

To me, a kitchen is a place for cooking and the cooking get done with the tools … that is the appliances, both small and large. I’d rather spend my money on a good coffee maker, mixer, blender, etc.

Mike Rocha
Publisher, SmallApplianceDepot.com

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Julius May 20, 2010 at 12:14 am

I certainly agree that it’s not worth going into debt (let alone to the tune of $40k) for a shiny new kitchen if the one you have works. But I did quite like my parents’ recent partial kitchen-remodelling, where they kept all the (20-year-old) storage units but replaced the countertops with granite, and got a new oven and cooker. I’m pretty sure it cost less than $40k, and frankly the cooker/oven needed replacing anyway. Granite countertops are extremely nice, too, and should (theoretically) last pretty much forever, though still not something I’d go into debt over. They’re nice beyond just looking shiny, in fact – what I really like is that they’re heatproof, so you can just put down hot dishes straight from the oven …

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Julius May 20, 2010 at 12:17 am

I should add – my parents also still have their 20-year-old dishwasher, which they probably *should* replace pretty soon…

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Pat May 20, 2010 at 1:48 pm

My mother had an old Westinghouse refrigerator that she got new when my brother was born in 1950. When she passed away in 1998 the frig went to my youngest sister who was still using it until last year (2009) when an electrical storm killed it. They don’t build them like that anymore.

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Dawn May 20, 2010 at 3:04 am

This past summer I painted my cabinets white, replaced the old counter top (my kitchen was brown cabinets, orange countertop-just like the Brady Bunch kitchen)! I painted the walls last month and I have a “new” kitchen. I love spending time in it cooking and enjoy it more because I did it myself.

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Jeanne May 20, 2010 at 3:32 am

I admit, when we built our home, the kitchen is where we spent money and effort. I love my kitchen and enjoy preparing food there.

If you have old kitchen cabinets from a remodel, don’t throw them out – use them or give them away! My parents had the old kitchen cabinets from a remodeling job in their basement. We used them to store winter clothes, boots, hats, gloves; to store unused kitchen utensils and craft items; and much more. It really added storage space at no expense.

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WilliamB May 20, 2010 at 6:22 am

Good point! You might even be able to sell them. My old kitchen had 1950’s yellow metal cabinets. After I gave up on using them as garage storage I freecycled them. They were out of my garage in two days.

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Jeanne May 20, 2010 at 3:33 am

Oh, and even though they were expensive, the best investment I made in my kitchen was the granite countertops. They really are great. They clean easily, wear like iron, and look beautiful even when I don’t get around to cleaning them! You can find granite ‘remnants’ sometimes if you are a do it yourself kind of person.

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Jeanine May 20, 2010 at 5:26 am

We are doing ours this summer.

So far, I’ve bought 250 12×12 ceramic tiles for .25 each from a yard sale. These will cover the kitchen, bath and hallway. 62.50

We found some concrete backerboard at a salvage store for 6.50 a piece. We’ll need about 10. 65.00

The cabinets in my home are that awful particalboard, and there’s no painting them. We’ll make do with them, and maybe try a high gloss varnish.

I found two gallons of Martha Stewart or somebody paint at Lowe’s in the return section for 20.00 for both.

We still need grout, glue and spacers.

I’m thinking about 200.00 for everything, decorations included.

Not to bad for a house we only plan to live in another couple of years before we rent it out.

P.S.

The “spoil me” weekend was wonderful. I highly recommend it.

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Sue May 20, 2010 at 6:13 am

I love that my kitchen is not like every stainless steel, granite top kitchen I see in magazines and on tv. My kitchen is cheerful, very functional and I have no plans to remodel it just to be stylish. If I ever do remodel it will not involve what is trendy but what is appealing and practical to me. I like being different and I love being frugal!

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Marie-Josée May 20, 2010 at 7:51 am

We renovated the kitchen when we owned a house. The cabinets dated from 1958 when the house was built and we just painted them and added new hinges and handles/knobs. For ecological reasons, instead of installing particleboard/formica countertops, my husband installed granite tiles. The particleboard off gasses formaldehyde and other VOC’s and because hubby did the installation, both options cost about the same. The end result was gorgeous and very durable. We removed the vinyl floor covering and again, hubby installed ceramic tiles, we also looked into installing Marmoleum covering, another green choice, but that was pricier. We didn’t change our appliances either, but did install one new light fixture.

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Molly On Money May 20, 2010 at 11:36 am

I love these kinds of posts. I was in the construction industry up until last year and built homes from $500,000- $1mil. Although I loved my clients, I could never relate to their huge homes that would house two people (typically it was a second home). One house I build the closets were larger than my kids bedrooms.
My house is a double wide that we remodeled with the left overs from all the construction projects I did. When we bought it it was one of the cheapest houses on the market. The kitchen is tiny and because we cook all the time it can be problematic- but we just get creative in how we use the space.
Anytime we’ve been in a financial pinch I love my house and it’s low mortgage payment even more!

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Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire May 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I understand kitchen remodels when the appliances are old and inefficient, or the countertops are a mess, or the room isn’t functional as is. What I don’t get is people who take out perfectly functional and even lovely countertops simply because they aren’t granite. I have a friend with beautiful corian countertops. I’d love to have those countertops! But she frets because they’re not granite like everyone else seems to have these days.

Sometimes I think HGTV has ruined people and their ideas of beautiful homes. I’ve noticed that too many homes now are so homogenous that there’s little character to them. Everyone seems to want exactly the same things.

Before we dumped cable, I loved watching How Clean Is Your House? on BBC America. One thing that always stood out to me is that no matter how old or small or unattractively decorated a house was, it always looked lovely after a deep cleaning. ANY house can look great as long as it’s clean and loved. The most up-to-date decor really doesn’t seem to matter as long as the home is well cared for.

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Marie-Josée May 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Anne Marie, I couldn’t agree more. Well said.

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jennifer May 20, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I’ve got that book on my to read list. You just sent it closer to the top of the list.

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Jen May 21, 2010 at 4:15 am

I realize you aren’t a recipe site, but I’d love to know how you make your calzones. I just started baking recently and I am looking for a great pizza crust.

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Nancy from Mass May 21, 2010 at 7:27 am

Five years ago I remodeled our kitchen. Underneath our hideous, gross looking floor (that I had lived with for over 10 years – it was probably put down in the 60’s) was an oak hardwood floor. Unfortunately, when the prior owners had the linoleum put down over the hardwood and plywood underlayment, they flooring guys put in SCREWS to hold the underlayment. So I ended up ripping the floor down to the underlayment and putting in a new hardwood. (I kept quite a few of the best pieces in case they are ever needed) Our cabinets were falling apart – closing a drawer was a study in physics, plus, we did not have many cabinets. I had a 10k budget and totally redid the room (12×15). New cabinets( double the cabinets actually), new floor, new sink and faucet (expensive but totally worth it!) , new lighting and outlets, paint and granite counters. I kept all of my appliances. Had I not had to replace the hardwoods, it would have cost ~8000.

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nicole May 21, 2010 at 9:41 am

My parents have been remodeling their kitchen since building the house 19 years ago (this weekend, actually!)
They bought the appliances they could afford at the time, and upgraded when they broke down. They painted a couple years ago with leftover paint from a friend (lots of blue and a bit of light green mixed together to make a wonderful surprise colour). The woman who gave them the paint did all the painting for them in exchange for a case of beer and some camping supplies my parents didn’t need.
They bought an amazing hand made table and chair set close to 15 years ago that is still beautiful from some Amish furniture makers (I hope to inherit this when the time comes)

I can’t see paying half a house for one room! Even the kitchen in my apartment was updated with some new curtains made from a sheet I no longer needed, area rugs where I stand to prepare food, and some placemats.

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joanna @ I won't be a hoarder too July 24, 2012 at 11:45 am

We’re doing one right now, but we’re doing a partial one–adding a peninsula so that we can have two workareas. We both have life-threatening food allergies so avoiding cross-contamination is a life-or-death matter for us. We’re replacing a countertop and a sink that’s damaged to the point of being unsanitary. While I wasn’t thrilled about replacing the countertop, our contractor and his wife save materials and donate them to organizations like Habitat for Humanity that need them. They don’t like to see anything wasted. We’re going with a countertop that’s made in the states by a family-owned-and-run company, and keeping our cabinets and our floor, and our appliances.

Yes, it costs a lot. And yes, we could live with it as-is, but it would be safer and more comfortable to make a few well-focused changes. But I think that it’s possible to use what you have, find someone who can use the things that are making our lives more difficult, and provide work for folks who need it. A compromise.

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