Why I Don’t Have a $40,000 Kitchen

by Katy on October 15, 2015 · 38 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, and I am content with the kitchen the way it is.


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.”

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Surviving and Thriving on Life October 15, 2015 at 10:33 am

We did our kitchen last year. Kept our cabinets and just painted them. Removed the old ugly harvest gold counters and backsplash. UGLY. We moved stuff around so it flowed better. We did get a new gas range but it was a medium price range. Not too expensive and not too cheap. Removed our flooring for the same reasons you did. UGLY! We put in nice flooring. EVERYTHING but the gas line was done by my husband. Our cost was just a couple thousand but thats not very much considering how large my kitchen is. WE reused just about everything and the only thing new we bought was flooring and the stove. Otherwise everything else was the same things. Over the last couple years as appliances crapped out we replaced with stainless steel knowing that one day when we did our remodel we wanted stainless steel. So even though my kitchen was ugly and our appliances were not matching….we had a big picture that would come together a few years later.


Amy October 15, 2015 at 11:23 am

A kitchen that meets your needs is all you really need. When we found our current rental house I showed pictures to some people and one women I went to school with was complaining about how dated it was. She mentioned how I’d have a lot of work to do in it before I could stand being in there. I just laughed and told her it’s bigger than the 5 by 7 galley kitchen that I had in my apartment and I was happy about that. The dated cabinets, flooring and appliances wouldn’t stop me from being able to cook meals from scratch. We’ve been in this house for 4.5 months now and there are many things I dislike about the house but the kitchen is not one of them. The house needs some TLC but since it’s a rental we’ll leave that to the owners.


Rachel H October 15, 2015 at 11:55 am

We remodeled the kitchen in our former home. Originally we planned to stay there, and the kitchen was dated and we wanted something new. A friend from our church built the cabinets and countertops. We had hardwood floors put down. The appliances came from Lowe’s and we’re middle of the line. I feel fine about what we did. I enjoyed it while we lived there, and we sold the house for a good amount of equity. We live in a newer home now, but the kitchen is very modest, no granite, older appliances. My husband watches all the home improvement shows, and I hate hearing people say, we must have a gourmet kitchen!

I read the book you are talking about and really enjoyed it! Learned a lot too. The depression years are something I love to read about.


K October 15, 2015 at 12:28 pm

We redid the kitchen in our former home.
Stripped cabinet skeleton and repainted, bought new cabinet faces/painted, new drawers/guides, new appliances (stove top from craigslist, the rest from sears on sale), countertops (ikea wood block), fixtures. Total cost $6k. Was worth it for our one year of use and for resale. We lived with the ugly for 9 years prior because it worked just fine.


Kathi D. October 15, 2015 at 1:58 pm

We just changed out our appliances. I personally do not care for the stainless steel. We went back to the bisque color . Although our appliances were only a few years old, and in good working condition we replaced them anyway. We gave all of our appliances to a family who lost their mobile home to a fire. We figured they wouldn’t have to come up with the cash for appliances whenever they bought their next home.


grammiecooks October 15, 2015 at 2:42 pm

My house was built in 1978 and had the original kitchen when I bought it 4 years ago. I painted the cabinets and my son built/installed wooden countertops for about $200. I love my kitchen because I can cook, bake, and can yummy things for my family and fill their tummies and my heart at the same time. I have running hot and cold water, electricity, and a clean area in which to cook. What more could I ask for?


lori October 15, 2015 at 2:59 pm

That stove looks like a dream, I would love one of those! That books sound very interesting, I am going to order it from the library right now, we watched a documentary on PBS about it and it was amazing, the stories and pictures were unbelievable and some very sad.


Tiffani October 15, 2015 at 3:04 pm

I remodeled my 1970’s kitchen last year. I, like you, saw no reason to trash perfectly useable cabinets. Not to mention my budget was less than yours! I painted my countertops with chalkboard paint. I added wood lathing to the cabinet doors to add details and painted them. Lastly instead of tearing out the mustard yellow tile backsplash (and fill up the landfill) I simply covered it with white beadboard. Voila! Very little waste and a totally new kitchen.


Lucy October 15, 2015 at 3:09 pm

LOL, we have those harvest gold countertops still, and they will stay. I prefer to think of them as “sunshine yellow”. They need new edging badly, but that is all they will get. Our stove was purchased used and is an 80’s model almond color. The fridge, well, we ended up buying new to get one that fits the limited “built in” space, and white was the only color it came in. No dishwasher. Double sink matches the countertops (yikes). I plan on painting the cabinets, walls, and ceiling soon and putting in new vinyl tile. My hubby does the cooking for the most part and he cares about a decent stove, which we have (actually, it is pretty awesome for $75!). The big drawback is that the kitchen is a narrow corridor kitchen, and there is not enough room for our two dogs to pass through side by side between the fridge and stove! But it is good enough.


Gina October 15, 2015 at 3:59 pm

My home was built in 1932 and the kitchen is original. It’s actually part of the charm that led me to purchase the home. It has black and white tile countertops and a huge farm-style sink which looks it’s age, but I still love it. My dad and I painted the cabinets that were there (not many) and went to a construction recycle place and purchased old cabinets that had been torn from a home. He installed them on the wall that would have held a small 1/2 table with the leaves down. I purchased a vintage sideboard and use it as a counter and bottom cabinets. I painted the ceiling and walls and threw a carpet over the well-worn linoleum. That was 20 years ago! I have changed the wall color twice in those 20 years and that’s it! I would never change the cabinets because it’s one of the few projects my dad and I ever did together and he has been gone for many years now. I think of him every time I open a cabinet. I’m completely content with my tiny vintage kitchen. However, my friends who are much better off financially than me are put off by it and feel sorry for me! I actually heard one friend on the phone with her husband describing how sad she felt for me and described my small home like it was a hovel – it was the last time I invited her over. I keep my house very clean and I don’t mind the time-worn look of my cabinets and flooring. I figured if it made her feel that uncomfortable I wouldn’t put her through the misery again! She also got extremely nasty with me when I told her about my non-consumerism. She told me the state of the economy was because of people like me not spending. We no longer speak.


Pat October 15, 2015 at 4:02 pm

I’m afraid to admit it but we did remodel our kitchen 12 years ago. But only because the 14 year old builder-grade cabinets that were there were, literally, falling apart. We spent a great deal of time looking for a bargain and my husband also installed new wood flooring too since the original lino was in tough shape to. I have never regretted our decision. I absolutely love my kitchen and I find that I spend even more time there just hanging out. Course I do have a cozy reading nook there too


Anna chan October 16, 2015 at 4:12 am

When we redo our kitchen (in the distant future) we will have to install new cabinets also, ours are made of particle board and are disinigrating, there is no saving them. Our kitchen is functional, but there is certainly room for improvement .


Rosa October 18, 2015 at 12:26 am

we have been remodeling our kitchen for six or seven years now. The built-in 1960s gas oven was leaking gas; the 1980s linoleum had flaked off in such big chunks only paper was left of it in some places; a roomate had burnt something cooking on the (built in) stovetop so bad the formica of the countertop had burnt clear through – and of course it was all one piece, countertop, backsplash, and all. No replacing just one part.

I wish we’d spent more money and less time, but even if my husband was willing to hire professionals for more of it, they value their time too much – we wanted to salvage the solid 1960s cupboards and, we would have run into things (like, to get the new stove we had to add new wiring, gas oven/stoves now have electric parts! Stove hoods don’t come in the size of the stove hood space built into our cupboards!) that slowed everything down anyway. And we wanted to keep as much of the original materials as we could, for practical & ecological reasons – but professionals’ time is so expensive it dwarfs the material costs.


Vonlipi October 15, 2015 at 4:21 pm

I moved about a month and a half ago from a house I’d own for 20 years and my kitchen was not new but when I was cooking it was like a well oiled machine, I knew where everything was.

My new kitchen has a newish stainless steel fridge I don’t care for, but a wonderful Jenn-Air vintage cook top from the 80’s and a builtin oven from the same period. I have yet to find the rhythm when I cook, I know it will come eventually….We plan to paint it in the coming year because my Dad is a big fan of faux finishes and it looks like crap in the kitchen!


Barbara October 15, 2015 at 4:50 pm

When we bought our house in 1990, the kitchen was
barely functional which lowered the asking price
for the house into a range we could afford. Both my
husband and I love to cook so we saved up to put in
a new kitchen as soon as we could ($5000 from a local
kitchen designer). I still love my kitchen even though
it’s supposedly dated (the oak country style look that
was big in the early 90’s). I actually hate the sterile
kitchen designs that are the fad now – they remind we
of operating theatres designed for people who never
bother to cook!


meg October 15, 2015 at 5:34 pm

i am so glad you reprinted this post. we have lived in our 1996 house for 6 years now and my husband keeps bugging me to replace the countertops. they are
formica with a seam right in the middle of the sink and the seam is coming apart.
our cherry cabinets are dated but still in good condition. all of my sisters have
granite countertops but i am going to replace mine with corian. granite is porous
and needs to be sealed, can crack and is cold in the winter. we live in maine. it is
hard to know what to do because there are so many choices and fads come and go. my father-in-law is selling his townhouse and the realtor was so glad to see
he had corian in his kitchen. he said corian is the new granite.


Rosa October 18, 2015 at 12:29 am

I don’t know how widely available it is (it’s manufactured near where we live) but we really like our Paperstone countertops – they are solid, so someday we can grind down any cut marks that they pick up, softer than stone, easier to cut (so easier to install) than stone, heat and cold resistant, and partially made out of recycled materials.


K D October 16, 2015 at 3:28 am

We honestly are looking at doing a kitchen remodel but we will be paying for it out of funds available. The big thing we will be doing is taking down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. The kitchen is dark (one window on the north side of the house) and the openness will work better for us. The kitchen will expand a bit into what is now the dining room. This weekend it is good-bye to the the 25+ year old cherry Queen Anne style dining room set that has never been the right size or style for this house that we have lived in for 20+ years (a friend will give it a new home).

I know so many people that incur so much debt to have a fabulous kitchen, in a house they have a huge mortgage on. That is not for us but our current kitchen is atrocious and we will be replacing cabinets and counters. I will give away anything salvageable (hello Freecycle).


AshleyAshley October 16, 2015 at 4:57 am

I always read about people tearing out tile that they think is ugly and replacing it with new tile. You can have tile painted over and it gives a whole new look. Even textured tile can be painted over, which makes it look completely different.

There are also recycled content counter tops usually using glass. They’re not cheap, but I like that they’re made from a large percent of recycled materials and dont require harvesting hillsides for material.

This is one company that does the recycled glass counter tops. There’s more out there, this is just the first one that popped up on a google search. I think they’re very pretty and different looking than granite or marble. I also have a feeling that in the next 10 to 20 years granite will be very out of style. But that’s just my prediction.



K D October 16, 2015 at 7:39 am

I live in a major metropolitan area but there is no showroom within 50 miles of our home.

It looks like there are a few choices at Home Depot.


Laurie October 16, 2015 at 5:07 am

When we built our home 10 years ago, I chose Corian countertops instead of the more popular granite because of upkeep and the fact that the men in my family tend to cut or chop without a cutting board. Best decision for us and I still get compliments on it. I must say though, that my “dream kitchen” would be vintage, including a Hoosier cabinet – so many functions rolled into one!


Christine B October 16, 2015 at 7:20 am

I’m a little disappointed that some commenters seem to feel guilty to admit that they recently remodeled their kitchens. Frugality is a desirable discipline but if a person has the inclination to redo the space they cook in, and they have the funds to do so, they shouldn’t feel guilty about it. It isn’t like you have to spend $40,000 or nothing at all. There is a middle ground. Our kitchen is very old and has very poor functionality, so we plan to remodel in the next few years; we’ve estimated the cost will be about $10,000. We wont be going into debt, we will find the best deals, which will probably include lots of things from the habitat for humanity store, and we will be providing work for local honest hardworking people. We feel good about our choices. Not a bit of guilt.


Mariana Cisowska October 16, 2015 at 7:42 am

Well said!


Wendy October 16, 2015 at 10:56 am

I agree!


Vickie October 16, 2015 at 8:47 am

I agree, that cost is nuts!
My kitchen is dated too, actually my whole house is. Everything is 1995 color – Hunter Green – and I would truly love to rip up the carpet and replace it with wood floors; however, we don’t have the cash for that and I refuse to borrow money just to make myself happy. It’s likely I’ll rip the carpet out of the bathroom and put down discount tile, before considering anything else.
In the kitchen – well, we have WHITE tile. Which would be fine, but we live out in the country – red sandy dirt country. So it’s hard to keep the floor clean, but I do my best.
My counters are white formica with dark green trim and a green tile backsplash. I can live with it. I’ve been thinking about painting the cabinets and putting handles on them. I love my kitchen though. There’s a wall that seperates the kitchen from the living and dining area. It has a place for plants and stuff at the top. I have a some antique stuff sitting up there for decoration. There’s a breakfast area with a large window. I want to put a window seat/storage area over there. Plenty of cabinets – they just need to be reorganized. My dishwasher went out 5 or so years ago, so I wash them by hand. I may replace it later on, but for now, I’m content.


Nancy from Mass October 16, 2015 at 11:30 am

I remodeled my kitchen 10 years ago for $12k. I have an old cape cod house and the cabinets (what there were) were not functional and the 3 drawers! oh my those drawers! you had to move them from side to side to get them to push in. I kept my appliances (they worked well so why change them). i had the ugly linoleum pulled out knowing there were original hardwoods underneath but whoever put the lino down, put down plywood underlayment and SCREWED that into the hardwoods. (the screws were every 6″ or so) I had them pull all of that out and put down a new hardwood floor. since i only had 1 overhead light, i had 6 floodlight thingies put in and a light over the sink. Much better! I do have granite and since i love to bake and make confections, i do roll out my dough and such right on the counter (yes, i clean it well).
What do i wish i did? put in a garbage disposal at that time. I just had one put in and they had a difficult time because the drain in at the back of the sink and there isn’t much room between that and the wall, so the disposal just fit. otherwise, i am happy with the amount i spent and how my kitchen looks. i have more cabinets than i did before and the drawers (all 9 of them) close just like they were meant to close!


Amanda October 16, 2015 at 12:52 pm

I completely agree. Our kitchen was renovated before we moved in with a look that screams “buy all of me in one trip to Home Depot,” but it is wonderfully functional. I plan to need to renovate when it is 30/40 years old, but even then I’ll only replace the actual worn out pieces.


Ruby October 16, 2015 at 2:11 pm

I think we have the same kitchen, except that the renovators ran out of money and did not replace all the cabinets. It gives us room for a small kitchen table and a small buffet cabinet, but the storage in the kitchen is on the skimpy side. The stainless steel appliances they picked out were not very good, and we wound up replacing them within two years with better made ones that weren’t stainless.

The kitchen is the only modern section of our 1952 house. I’m glad it has a door that separates it from the rest of it, as a 2012 kitchen with dark cabinets, granite counter tops and a dark slate floor looks rather odd with a pristine mid-century modern design.


Michele October 16, 2015 at 2:05 pm

I just read this to my husband. All we could repeat was, “Is that US, or what?!?!” We bought our unfinished remodel house in 1994–the couple had split and the lady kept the house for a few years while not really living in it. She was ready to move to a new location and wanted to sell quickly, so we bought it on a land contract. The house was in the middle of a remodel and the kitchen had not been touched. We’re talkin’ bout homemade cabinets, horrendo linoleum from who knows what era (what there was of it…it was ripped to shreds)…..almost no counter space…and an ugly “service window” like something from “I Love Lucy”. We scraped together furniture and housewares (we’d been married a year) from hither and yon…..mostly yon…which equates to ‘my parents’ house’. 😉 We gave the kitchen a good cleaning and lived with it. About 3 years later my brother was remodeling his kitchen. His house is next door to my parents’ house and my uncle used to live in the house. My parents and my uncle had installed identical cabinets (and drank identical beer the whole time) in both houses the same year. So, in short, I got the culls from both houses (my parents had remodeled their own kitchen some years back and could spare the old cabinets.). So here’s a picture of my kitchen….paneled walls, painted a soft yellow…..dark oak cabinets circa 1978 (kept clean and oiled)…hunter green countertops (we bought what Lowe’s had vs. custom ordering)…new spigot….white appliances we bought when my husband’s pay tripled about 10 years ago (it’s dropped back by half since then–the whole reason we went frugal)…effing fluorescent light we’ve had to change 3 times…laminate wood flooring we installed ourselves (we thought about divorcing, but decided to finish the job, lol)….and a kitchen island that my husband refashioned from an old hutch and 2 pie boards. As Katy said, so it is with my kitchen….good food, family times, fun, and laughs have come from my kitchen. It’s not about the trappings….it’s about the people, the experiences, and the food. There’s a sign above my range that says, “The lady can cook!” That sums it up. 😉 I don’t want stainless steel or granite or any custom kitchen that is cookie cutter. I’ll just keep my cookie cutters in my old family cabinets! 🙂


Michele October 16, 2015 at 2:07 pm

*Correction…..my DAD and uncle drank identical beer. My Mom would die if I didn’t correct that mistype and protect her tee totaling honor! 😉


Diane C October 16, 2015 at 9:35 pm

Uh, don’t hate me because my kitchen is beautiful. It’s loaded with granite and travertine tile with fancy insets. The cabinets are custom, complete with glass fronts, pull-out shelves, under cabinet lighting and a lazy susan in the corner. Of course the sink and appliances are high-end stainless steel. Did I mention the 14 foot ceiling? Oh, my yes, this kitchen is over-the-top…

We bought it that way. It was a short sale, so we got the proverbial steal (steel?) of a deal. But, yeah, I’ve never had stainless before and I do not love trying to keep it clean. And then I feel oddly guilty for not loving the expensive stainless appliances, because they always look like crap. And my chocolate chip cookies, baked in my fancy convection oven, taste exactly the same as before.


Rosa October 18, 2015 at 12:31 am

I daydream about a lazy susan and pullout shelves. Our bottom cupboards were actually more usable when we didn’t have countertops, because you could lift things in and out of the deep corner instead of getting down on hands and knees.

Maybe when everything else is finished…


WilliamB October 18, 2015 at 6:10 am

One thing I would like, if I ever change anything about my kitchen (see below), is for two specific cabinet doors to have the ability to slide into the cabinet box. In my main cooking spot, I often leave open these cabinet doors to access the items I have conveniently stored there, but the doors themselves get in the way.


Leah @ The Frugal South October 17, 2015 at 4:03 am

When we moved into our old house 5 years ago I did a kitchen “remodel” for a few hundred bucks. I painted the old laminate countertops grey with countertop paint (they turned out great!), repainted the cabinets and replaced the hardware, laid down laminate tiles over the old frightening laminate floor, and replaced the range with a high-end electric range I found on Craigslist for $150. It was an amazing transformation for what I spent.


Charli October 18, 2015 at 3:11 am

$40 000. That’s crazy man! I work with these girls who get married and have to have these fancy kitchens and have to have the stone/marble (what ever it is) counter tops with the butlers pantry so they can hide their mess. They look at it as almost like a right of passage after the big fancy wedding. Truth be known they don’t cook that much anyway. I try to tell them they don’t need it all and not to go into debt, but I think they just hear a middle aged fuddy Duddy saying blah blab blah! It’s really sad. There’s nothing wrong with lino. My blue yellow and orange kitchen with lino bench tops is and will continue to serve us well. I don’t have a mix master either and haven’t let that stop me baking. The younger generation is being brain washed I think.


Rosa October 20, 2015 at 7:06 pm

one time, I had a boss who was always on the phone with her contractor, so I know they put a lot of high end stuff (and stress, and time, and money) into their kitchen and bathroom.

Things at the company got pretty awful, and I quit. When I gave notice, she said “I wish *I* could afford to quit my job!”


WilliamB October 18, 2015 at 5:34 am

No apologies for my new kitchen here.

When I bought the place, it was the original 1950s kitchen: narrow & dark, turquoise tile, dented yellow metal cabinets, electric stove, fridge just sitting out in the eat-in area.

When I finished, new 2000s kitchen: tore wall out between kitchen & dining room (ah, space! light! a den area in the kitchen!); two big walls-full of cabinets (storage space!!); granite counter tops[1]; gas stove [2]; brushed aluminum appliances (bleck, but best intersection of quality and price); new wood floors to replace the original linoleum and unify the new, larger room.

The appliances are good quality but not high-end; the fridge is freezer bottom, not (horrors!) side-by-side, and everything but the appliances should last decades. The cabinets and old fridge were freecycled away, the other appliances weren’t in reusable condition.

[1] So many places say these need to be resealed every 5 years or so; mine are 10+ and look pristine. No clue why all the resealing advice or, alternately, why mine don’t need it.

[2] There was a gas line to the house, so changing the stove fuel wasn’t very expensive. I would not have bought the house if there wasn’t a gas line to the place.


Lee Ann October 19, 2015 at 1:57 pm

I just put this book on hold at the library. It sounds really interesting.


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