Interior designer Linda Merrill refreshes her kitchen with a budget of $500 and a little help from her friends.
By Linda Merrill
The challenge? To give my drab kitchen a whole new look, with more storage, for just $500. Was I up for it? Absolutely!
My kitchen is small, but these days it’s my favorite room in my townhouse condo. It’s always been plenty big enough to fix dinner when I have friends over—and it cleans up fast. But with only two drawers, I’d waged a constant battle with clutter and storage in my nine years there.
That wasn’t just annoying, it was embarrassing, since I’d started an interior design business, and people expect interior designers to have perfect homes. But beyond new flooring when I moved in, my growing business had left no time to oversee a redo. That is, until the economy and the real estate market crashed.
Now I had time, but less money. So when I got an opportunity to trade my expertise for new kitchen appliances, I challenged myself to a shoestring update—$500. That forces you to think hard to get the most out of every single dollar. I certainly didn’t want my kitchen looking cheap! I wanted a unified look—country, with a little sparkle—and more storage. So, while the new appliances sparked the makeover, they don’t really represent its heart.
I thought through everything, from lighting to storage. Since my knotty pine cabinets were in decent shape, I stripped and repainted them. I repurposed a door I’d taken off elsewhere, turning it into a counter. Truly, “Reduce, reuse and recycle” is good for the pocketbook and the environment.
What did I buy new, besides paint? Embossed wallpaper that looked amazingly like beadboard added interest to the walls. New recessed lighting was a necessity. I added plastic shelving, hidden by a burlap skirt. I ripped apart my Roman shade to use as a pattern for a matching window treatment.
Longtime friend Rob O’Connell, a self-taught handyman, gave me an afternoon every week for six months, helping scrape the ugly popcorn ceiling, install the lighting and lots more. Ambitious, yes, but I was confident. My dad, an electrical engineer, was such a DIY guy that we never had contractors working in our home. (He built an entire kitchen himself.) Whenever I was tempted to cut corners, such as maybe not sanding the cabinets, I’d hear my dad’s voice in my ear— “Ahem!”—and get back on track. I know he’d be proud of my kitchen and the strong friendships it represents.
My kitchen update would have cost $2,000 more with hired labor. I love the new look, but even more than that, I love what’s behind it: the problem solving, the hard, hands-on work, and the spirit of collaboration. You just can’t buy that—which makes my kitchen priceless.
Want to learn Linda’s tips for a kitchen refresh on a budget? Get more from Linda here.
About the author: Linda Merrill of Duxbury, Massachusetts, writes for ::Surroundings:: and other blogs that feature her expertise in interior design combined with her background in marketing and media communications.