Kitchen remodels are expensive. Crazy expensive. 10 times the cost of my first car expensive (a 1997 Ford Taurus…remember these sexy boat shows?)

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000Image: Kelley Blue Book

Classy. Anyhoo, while working on the loft, we spoke to the construction group who built it and asked them to estimate a full kitchen renovation. Here’s the breakdown:

Contractor Estimate

  • New custom cabinets: $20,640.00
  • Cabinet installation: $3,000.00
  • Cabinet hardware: $500.00
  • Painting cabinets on-site: $6,300.00
  • Backsplash materials: $700.00
  • Backsplash installation: $22.50 per sq. ft x 60 ft.=$1,350.00
  • Countertops: $6,000.00
  • Island lighting: $600.00
  • Painting the walls: 1,020.00

Total: $49,290

Oh, fudge (only I didn’t say “fudge.”)

As much as we hated the all-around beige that was our kitchen, there was no way we were paying $50K for a freakin’ remodel. We looked at the line items and were surprised to discover that a large portion of the cost—nearly $12,000—was labor alone. We’re pretty handy, we thought. Why not do the work ourselves? 

A little determination, savings, and a LOT of DIY motivation gave us a kitchen we are so proud of. Our final budget: $9,972!

Total Savings: $39,318

I know, right? Here’s how we did it.

Cabinet Face-Lift

Custom cabinetry was definitely tempting, but not for $20K. Our home was built in 2007 and there was no reason to demolish almost new cabinets. The solution was sanding and painting. I understand the labor costs for this portion of the project because oy, sanding is HARD! Limited workspace and morning sickness meant that we couldn’t tackle the entire project ourselves. We hired a painter to take the cabinet doors offsite for sanding and spray painting. Dave and I sanded and painted the cabinet boxes ourselves. The difference was dramatic and it still makes me giddy.

Before

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

After

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

Total cost of labor and paint: $2,000

Cabinet Hardware

Hardware is one of those things that adds function and warmth to a kitchen (Virgo meets Libra if you will). We really loved brushed bronze and chrome, but yikes, the prices at the big box hardware stores were $5-$8 apiece. We have 54 cabinet doors. That’s some scary math.

Hizzah for Amazon. I fell in love with these knobs and pulls immediately. Best of all, they were one of the most affordable parts of the remodel (more on that here), and we got the biggest bang for our buck.

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

Total cost: $122

Custom Changes

We didn’t want to fork over $20K for custom cabinetry, but we were willing to invest a little cash in creating a cozier look in the kitchen. I found a buddy in a local contractor who really came through for us. A carpenter by trade, he listened to our ideas and worked for us in his spare time. And yeah, not exactly DIY, but I was carrying an 8-pound baby at this point and Dave was busy buying me ice cream. We needed professional help. Besides, do I look like I should be using a table saw?

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

The major changes included:

  • Extending the cabinets to the ceiling to create a built-in look. I LOVE how easy this was—literally a few pieces of board attached to the top of the cabinets. Who knew!
  • Demolishing the desk to create a built-in utility closet. The kitchen desk wasn’t getting any use and it was taking up valuable space. The utility closet was a great alternative; it added height to the ceilings and serves as the perfect place for our vacuum and cleaning supplies.

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

  • Installing crown moulding throughout the kitchen and dining room. Moulding gives every room a classy and finished feel. I would mould moulding if I could. In fact, challenge accepted. 
  • Demolishing the existing exhaust system to install a custom wood box with shelving. I cried real tears when this project was finished. Dave drew the design based on my description and our carpenter made it a reality. It was the first time I felt at home in our kitchen.

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

  • Building a refrigerator box box with storage above. We scored a new fridge on Black Friday and building a box was a great way to incorporate more beadboard in a simple way. You can see from this dark and sad photo that the original fridge jutted out past the cabinets, creating a disjointed look. Enclosing it with a box and extending the overhead storage made a huge difference!

Before

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

Progress

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

After

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

  • Building a bookcase under the island with columns on either side. We don’t use the island as a bar and…hello, more storage for books! The bookcase is a simple box with four shelves and I love the columns. It fits our style perfectly.DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000
  • Installing beadboard over the existing cabinet veneers to create a custom look. Painting cabinet veneers is a no-no and we didn’t like them anyway. MDF beadboard was an amazing aha moment for us! The carpenter peeled away the existing cabinet and island sides, nailed the beadboard in place and finished with a simple baseboard. The whole thing took three hours.

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

  • Finishing the doors with casings. New construction bums me out sometimes. Today’s builders are less concerned with craftsmanship and more concerned with time management and cost-cutting. The result is little touches that go unnoticed. Door casings don’t seem like a big deal until you see the before and afters. They really make the room feel larger and more complete.

Before

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

After

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

Total cost of all changes: $6,000

Backsplash

I am still thoroughly confused by our original “backsplash.” It didn’t actually, you know, cover the wall behind the cooktop. I spent an afternoon demo-ing with a crowbar and some classic rock. It felt gooood. We replaced it with Cararra Gris subway tile: a gloss ceramic that looks remarkably like marble (without the price or potential for staining).

Before

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

Progress

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

After

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

Total cost: $700

Island Lighting

Nautical lights make me happy. They have an industrial look that somehow feel cozy. These mini pendants were $99 apiece from Destination Lighting here in Seattle. Their online store is full of similar styles.

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

Wall Paint

Painting the dining room and kitchen took one gallon of paint and less than six hours of labor. I usually tackled a single wall during Mister’s naps and worked my way around the room over the course of several days. We opted for high-quality SuperPaint by Sherwin-Williams to avoid the need for multiple coats.

Total Budget

  • Sand and paint existing cabinets: $2,000
  • Cabinet hardware: $122
  • Custom changes: $6,000
  • New refrigerator: $900
  • Cararra Gris backsplash: $700
  • Island lighting: $200
  • Wall paint: $50

Total: $9,972

Ways to Save

I have never been camping. I hate getting dirty and I believe that air conditioning is a basic human right. I say this to convince you of the following:

Anyone Can Remodel a Kitchen

The interwebs are full of YouTube videos, tutorials and other resources to help you take the DIY route. It’s all a matter of determination and the following tips:

  • Know your limits. I can tile and lay hardwood flooring, but I can’t construct a utility cabinet. I just can’t, and it’s worth it to find a professional who can create what you want without wasting time and materials.
  • Ditch one project. You may have noticed that we didn’t replace the countertops with new granite. Our existing counter is granite tile and we like the color. There are no stains and the grout work is well done. We don’t need new counters, and we saved $6,000 by sticking to what we have. Make a list of your remodeling goals and drop one project from the list.
  • Find friends. Our painter and carpenter were invaluable resources. Both work full-time and took our projects on as side jobs. They also charged us about 40% less than a full-service construction company. Ask around for first-person recommendations or join a community page on Facebook or Twitter to search for tradesmen.
  • Shop local. Our local hardware store sells materials at a deep discount compared with big-box stores, and they usually have more variety as well. Rely on small businesses to fill your material needs before shopping at a national chain.
  • …but don’t miss online deals. The Tile Shop gave us an amazing and functional deal on our backsplash tiles. Scour the internet before deciding which materials to use. Consider ordering samples before choosing the final product.
  • Consider quality. We use SuperPaint by Sherwin-Williams for all our projects. It’s not the cheapest paint on the market, but its quality means we don’t need to paint multiple coats, wasting time and money in the process. We also score 20% off with seasonal coupons. Speaking of which…
  • Find discounts! Almost every kitchen update was bought with a coupon in-hand. Why spend more, right? Check out Ebates, CouponCabin.com, and take a look at my tips for saving on furniture and decor. A lot of the points are easily used for construction materials as well.
  • Don’t pay for unnecessary labor. Again, I’m an indoor girl, but I know my way around a nail gun and tile saw. Remodeling skills are valuable and easy to learn with a little practice. We saved thousands by rolling up our sleeves and doing the work ourselves.
  • Be patient. Immediate results come with a cost. We spent a year slowly making changes to our kitchen before we were satisfied with the finished product, and if you look closely, you’ll see that we’re still working on a missing island door! Sure, a quick renovation would have been more convenient, but a $40,000 premium wasn’t worth it. Consider your savings and practice patience.

DIY Kitchen Remodel: How We Saved $40,000

This kitchen is truly ours because we took the time to personalize it and make it great without hurting our budget. I hope our renovation inspires you to tackle your own budget-friendly projects!