Remodeling the House on the Cheap!

16174399_1300823026644398_6062285400718679650_nOne of Geek Out’s biggest supporters (and one of our best friends) Lauren Jones from WAFF 48 has been tackling a huge project in her new place!  If you follow her on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed her proudly posting photos of her progress remodeling her new house here in Huntsville.

Since upgrading and fixing things are pretty much at the core of being a geek, we’re proud to host Lauren’s article on not just what she accomplished it, but how she did it.  Thanks, Lauren!


It is absolutely necessary that I begin with this advice: get a quote from a professional. This is a critical first step for two reasons:

  • One – You may be surprised to discover their price is affordable. We stressed for weeks over how we were going to scrape the popcorn and paint our foyer of our split level entrance = high ceilings + two staircases to work around. We caved and got a quote and it was only a few hundred dollars. Worth. It.
  • Two – Motivation. Our quote to paint our cabinets was several THOUSAND dollars. Now that I’ve done it myself, I feel even more pride and knowing just how much we were saving was truly the best motivator when I was stressed.

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.22.58 PM.png
Full disclosure: this is the first time I have done 99% of this. I am not a professional. My work is not perfect. But it does look pretty good, considering we saved about $10,000.

My fiancé is also an engineer with a hobby of tool collecting and projects so that definitely came in handy. So how did I learn? I spent hours on YouTube, I read at least a hundred articles from DIY bloggers, I asked professionals, and plain old trial and error.

  • Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.34.13 PMSo here’s the summary of what all we did:
  • Remove popcorn ceilings throughout the whole house.
  • Remove chair rails from 4 rooms.
  • Remove wallpaper from 3 rooms.
  • Repair walls from wallpaper removal in 3 rooms.
  • Remove cabinets above kitchen sink window.
  • Rewire ceiling light to a wall light over the sink.
  • Change out several light fixtures.
  • Change out beige outlets/covers and replace with white ones throughout the whole house.
  • Remove kitchen backsplash.
  • Hand new drywall where we removed the backsplash.
  • Lay subway tile as the new kitchen backsplash.
  • Convert built in kitchen desk to a hidden trash/recycling drawer.
  • Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.35.01 PMPaint ceiling and walls (Benjamin Moore Regal Select eggshell in ‘Steam’) throughout the whole house.
  • Fill in the cabinet lips with 3/8” dowels.
  • Paint cabinets (Benjamin Moore Advanced high gloss in ‘Galveston Gray’).
  • Install hidden/European hinges.
  • Paint trim and interior doors (Benjamin Moore Regal Select semi-gloss in ‘Collingwood’) throughout the whole house.
  • Build kitchen island from an unfinished square kitchen table + custom base and paint.
  • Paint beige formica countertops to look like white marble (Giani Granite paint kit in ‘White Diamond’).
  • Add decorative cabinet end piece where countertops extend past the cabinets.
  • Install glass in the 4 cabinet doors.
  • Add a strip of LED under cabinet lighting at the coffee bar.
  • Replace hardware with copper pulls and knobs.

If you want more info about any of these that I don’t cover, feel free to email me: LaurenJones@waff.com.

The biggest remodel that we did was in the kitchen. Every single cabinet, wall, ceiling, etc etc etc was changed.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that painting really means 5% actual painting and 95% sanding. Seriously.

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.31.22 PMMy oak cabinets were in good shape, but that was not the look I wanted. I like clean lines. But the cabinets do need to be in good shape – no water damage, few cracks or holes – to do this properly. The original cabinets were stained with a glossy finish. I first used a chemical stripper to remove the glossy finish. This. Stuff. Stinks.

Then I sanded and sanded with an orbital sander and sheets to ensure the surface was not only smooth, but also had a bit of grip to adhere to the primer. After a few test pieces, I discovered that I would either have to use several coats of primer and paint OR I could use the super smelly, super hard to remove Zinsser Bin Shellac primer. This stuff dries like plastic. But again, it is nearly impossible to remove from clothing, carpet, tile, etc.

This is where we ran into a big potential snag that ended up working out. The connector hose on our downstairs (thankfully!) toilet burst. Water everywhere. We made the decision to save money and not hire a company that could MAYBE dry the carpet and just rip it up ourselves since the room was not being used and we plan on installing hardwoods soon. Now this large, open room with a cement floor was free to use for painting. Bonus: I could close it off from the cat!

After priming, gently sand again. I used steel wool to just rough up the surface for adhesion but not remove the primer.

You cannot skip this step: use a tack cloth to remove any small dust/paint particles. This is crucial.

Then it’s time to paint. I originally purchased a sprayer but returned it once I practiced with a brush and roller with this type of paint. The Benjamin Moore Advanced paint is specifically for cabinets and dries very slowly. That allows the paint to level, meaning brush strokes and roller marks can virtually disappear.

I am thrilled with the results but that doesn’t mean it didn’t come with drawbacks. The paint needs a full 24 hours between coats. Worse, the cure time, as in when you can place things back into your cabinets, is roughly a MONTH. That’s a month with your kitchen contents in boxes or on your kitchen table. The paint also looks terrible as it dries, so there’s definitely some freak out moments when you think you’ve ruined your cabinets.

So I brushed the details and rolled the flat parts and I can’t find any marks now that they’ve been completed for two months. I’m also quite pleased with their durability. Again, a full month cure time, but it doesn’t scratch easily AND it wipes off easily. I did a full two coats and then just touched up with a third coat. I didn’t notice ‘thin’ spots until about a week after drying so you may want to plan ahead for future touch ups.

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.26.20 PMNow you’re done and you get to treat yourself to some new hardware with all the money you saved!

“New” cabinets call for new countertops right? But we couldn’t afford those. Enter: painting your countertops. Yes, that’s actually a thing. And honestly, it’s one of the most fun things I’ve done during this remodel. Plus, you can’t screw up because you can always add more paint!

This Giani Granite paint kit comes with everything you need – primer, mineral paint, sponges, brushes, and top coat – to achieve a faux granite look. Since I’ll likely never have real marble because the upkeep doesn’t appeal to me, wanted faux white marble. Therefore, I didn’t use everything in this and purchased a few extras so I may have done things differently had I known what I was doing before I did it. If you’re looking for the granite look, it is a straight forward, just read the directions that come in the box process. If you’re looking for the faux white marble technique, keep reading.

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.24.53 PMI did use any of the inca gold mineral paint included in the box. I also needed 3 extra cans of white limestone mineral paint, that I purchased from Amazon for about $12 a can. I also purchased an extra sponge at Michaels and a few feathers…more on that below.

I first rolled on the primer. I’m on the fence whether I could/should have skipped this part. It is black to cover any print or color underneath. It also maybe helps the paint adhere, but I’m unsure about that part. Anyways.

Then I sponged and sponged and sponged lots of white limestone, with 4-8 hours of dry time in between coats. I occasionally put a layer of the pearl mica for added depth and warmth and honestly, I just liked the sheen of it. Once I got about 4-5 layers on, it was time for the veining. A few bloggers mentioned using a feather for this part because it gives you less control than a paint brush. I wholeheartedly agree and am very happy with my results.

I mixed the primer with white limestone to achieve a dark gray and light gray color…again, just for depth. Before the veins completely dry, sponge on white limestone over the line. Once I was pleased with the faux veining, I added more white limestone in between the veins to make it mimic the flows of real marble. In between every coat, except the top coat, lightly sand and then wipe with a tack cloth.

After a full day of dry time for the final coat, it’s time for the top coat. Apparently, this top coat is the clear coat they use on cars. I’ve only had mine for about a month, so I can’t speak for long term durability but so far, I haven’t run into any issues. I rolled on 3 top coats. This process is difficult. And I can still see roller marks in the right light. I may purchase another can on Amazon and do more coats….but it doesn’t bother me too much and it’s only a temporary solution until I can afford the real thing.

Finally, I purchased my materials, mostly from Amazon, before I started the remodel. This was a mistake. I learned what worked and what I didn’t need along the way and could have saved a couple hundred dollars.

Here are the items I could not have done without and will be using for future projects:

My final piece of advice – find what works and repeat. A professional, your bestie, your mom may do it differently than you. That’s okay. Do what works for you.

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