Why I Don't Have a $40,000 Kitchen

by Katy on November 23, 2008 · 8 comments



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.”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Magdalena November 24, 2008 at 5:05 am

My “dream” kitchen would look a lot like my great-grandmother’s, back on the old family farm in Maine. Slate sink with a handpump (wow, no need to go outside to the well – that’s progress) and a big woodburning cookstove. I’d love to have a Waterford “Stanley”, made in Ireland, but I’d be happy with an older Enterpise made in Canada!


Mary C November 24, 2008 at 5:32 am

Yes, we are almost finished with ours. We replaced our badly done tile with granite. We got remnants to save money. Plus, they usually just sit around because they want you to buy a whole new slab. No one within 100 miles of us has the recycled paper or glass counters. We kept our white appliances and cabinets. We tore out one wall of cabinets and put them in the garage. We got new hardware and a new sink and I ‘freecycled’ the old stuff.
Not totally ‘green’ but my kitchen is way more usable and we didn’t spend a fortune.


Gardening4Life November 24, 2008 at 6:23 am

We are mostly finished with our kitchen. We live in a double-wide manufactured home. The kitchen is a great size, but the cheap cabinetry is horrible. We have plenty of cabinets and they are functional. (although the hinges were breaking and moisture had damaged a door) We chose to prime and paint the cabinets, replacing all the hardware. I chose an historical shade of off-white because I don’t want these cabinets. I figured it would be better than going with the trends. I am shocked at the difference and happy that we didn’t spend huge amounts of money replacing them.

I plan on taking the ugly strips off the wall that hide the gap between the sheetrock. I have used tape/drywall putty in other rooms to finish the walls out. Then we will replace the trim, which basically is non-existent.

I think we all need to re-evaluate “why” on the home remodeling we do. I have to question all of the “green” remodels I see on shows such as HGTV. I am shocked to see them rip out all the existing cabinetry and walls to replace them with something renewable or reclaimed. What happened to the stuff they ripped out? Did it go the landfill? I’m confused… I guess the sponsors of the show have nothing to sell then.

Honestly, the whole green movement would be better addressed if they said, “Hey, why don’t you just make the most of what you already have – ideal or not.” I personally like the differences in homes. I’ve walked through too many new kitchens with granite countertops, hardwood flooring and high-end cabinetry that sadly, they’ve lost their “wow” factor for me.

Now, an older home that was built is a certain time era with a certain style of cabinetry is interesting for me to see. I love the history. You can make it shine too with just a few changes.


Becca November 24, 2008 at 9:24 am

Recently came across a vintage kitchen center at a garage sale. This thing must have been made for an efficiency apartment because it was about six feet wide and included a dish drain, one basin sink, oven/broiler, gas range and refrigerator. It was all beautiful cast iron enamel.

I heard part of the worst hard times on NPR one day but have as yet to find the book (used). I look forward to reading it one day.

I found your blog somehow by a link back to mine. Thanks for letting me stop by and leave such a long comment on my first visit!!


esther November 24, 2008 at 11:24 am

I just bought a Ikea kitchen…I am not so happy with, because, once upon a time, Ikea had cheap, but good quality stuff, no it’s just cheap,n I don’t know where the quality went, so I’m afraid that in the end this is gonna cost me more, since after two years of use, it’s falling apart at times..

I do understand your craving for the stove, gosh, it does look wonderful! I don’t think we have those overhere in France…too bad!


Dan Fritschen November 24, 2008 at 7:15 pm

So many kitchens are over done..and so many times people pay way too much for the quality of work they get. It is difficult for some homeowners to become informed enough to realize they can get 95% of teh same kitchen for $20,000 or $40,000 just by making a few decisions about who they hire and how they buy the appliances, counters, counter tops.

Getting a counter top from the “scraps” at a granite supplier is a great tip and it works just as well for cabinets. It may take a little time to find the ones you want but talking with cabinet shops about display units that they want to sell or custom orders that were never picked up or paid for can save you many thousands of dollars in a kitchen remodel. I collected more than 300 of these tips to save money – and many times make a kitchen remodel greener and posted them at http://www.remodelormove.com


cleanerplateclub November 25, 2008 at 11:19 am

There was an article in the Times (this week? Last week?) about chef Mark Bittman’s “crummy” kitchen; although he is a millionaire cookbook writer and food columnist, he cooks in a kitchen that is so small that he routinely bangs his shins on the dishwasher, and there’s not room for 2 people at a time. Goes to show you; it’s not the kitchen, it’s what you do with it.

I’ve known people who had six-figure kitchens who never used them (one, because she doesn’t like cooking “smells.” – so her kitchen sat in the middle of her house, empty, with a single scented candle burning to keep out any odors. Weird, right?).

The best-used kitchens are often the ugliest.


AJ Wischmeyer November 27, 2008 at 10:02 am

I cook on a 1930’s 36″ restaurant style propane stove and couldn’t be happier with it. The oven is cast iron and has no thermostat, so I have a oven thermometer that is the first thing I see when I open the oven door. It cooks wonderful stuff as long as I monitor the temp and adjust with the flame.
This IS Arizona, so in the summer we cook on another old propane stove out on the screened porch. I do have a small microwave in the pantry.
Like you, I really love my kitchen and wouldn’t trade it for anybody’s.


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