Removing Some Kitchen Cabinets & Rehanging One

Well, that can of worms is officially open. We’ve started making some changes in the kitchen. I realize this isn’t totally new news, since we removed the wallpaper in there a few weeks ago, but towards the end of last week we used that little jolt of momentum to start down the path of some more serious changes.

We still want to live in this house for a nice long time (and save up some money) before we take on our full kitchen reno – we’re still changing our minds daily about what configurations and countertop materials we’d like for the long haul – but this is officially the beginning of a series of what we hope to be pretty transformative “Phase 1” improvements so that we can enjoy this room and make the best of it in the meantime (you can read more about those Phase 1 updates and why we like them here).

We had hoped getting the wallpaper out would make a greater aesthetic improvement on the space. But instead it just kinda underscored how brown, beige and blah everything is in there. The appliances, counters, and walls kinda wash together in color that certainly isn’t improved by the fluorescent light – while the dark cabinets, trim, and doors just feel looming and heavy in person. Our first course of action was something Sherry’s been ready to do since day one: remove some upper cabinets. Both of us miss the look and the functionality of the open shelves that we had in our last kitchen, so pretty much since move in day, Sherry has dreamed of swapping this long upper to the right of the window for some open shelves to lighten things up.

So Sherry unloaded everything that was in them (fortunately we’ve barely used the uppers flanking the microwave, so there was plenty of room for all of this displaced stuff), and then I could start demoing away. First I carefully pried off the crown molding with a crowbar (since I planned to reuse it) and then pounded at this header piece across the window with a rubber mallet.

That was the easy part.

Taking the cabinet down was tougher than we anticipated. We figured it’d just call for removing a few screws like the last kitchen, but it turns out these cabinets were nailed in. So instead it took lots of prying and good ol’ fashioned jostling to free it from the wall. Since it was pretty heavy I took the doors off (so they weren’t flapping in my face the whole time) and I put a can of paint on the countertop to prevent it from crashing down directly on the counter when it eventually came loose. It also saved my foot from getting smashed.

Despite some lack of paint behind it, we consider it an instant improvement. Especially when you’re sitting at the table on the other side of the kitchen. To have a clear shot of the window (which we’ll maintain with some open shelving) is really nice.

So much so, actually, that we decided to take down the small upper on the other side of the window too. We realized that would keep that wall looking more balanced and would let the window breathe visually.

The plan will be to put a pair of floating shelves on either side of the window. We actually already own a set of long white Ikea Lack shelves for the right side (we purchased them about two years ago with plans to put them in our last home’s sunroom, but that idea fell by the wayside and we never even took the shrinkwrap off). And they sell a shorter version that will be perfect for the left side. So even though we’ve removed some cabinetry (which we plan to reuse in the garage) we won’t be losing lots of kitchen storage.

Before we hang those open shelves, we’ve got some painting (and priming) to do to those walls first. But with our cabinet mojo firing at full steam, we turned our attention 180 degrees to another cabinet issue. This utterly useless upper cabinet that was tucked waaaaay back behind the fridge.

It was so far back that neither of us could reach it without a stool (and I’m a pretty tall guy, so that’s saying something), which is why we threw the basket up there as a lose attempt at disguising it. We wanted to move it forward to be flush with the wall so that it’d be reachable and make it look a bit more like the built-in fridges you see in modern kitchens. Like the other cabinets, I pried off the trim and shimmied its nails loose from the wall. Aaaaaaand then it got stuck.

Turns out the wall narrows slightly as you come out and the cabinet was built-in quite snugly. But with a few more pulls (and a couple of drywall dents) it eventually came out. And happily, the dents were covered when we rehung the cabinet.

The snug fit alerted me to another problem though. Since the nook narrowed towards the front, I’d have to trim it before putting it back up to get a nice seamless fit. Fortunately the overlapping part is just the face of the cabinet, so it was easy enough to shave off a quarter of an inch on each side with my circular saw. I put tape down on the edges before cutting to help discourage the wood from chipping or scratching during sawing, which worked (the tape sort of shreds itself but protects the wood).

The other problem to solve was how to hang it. It previously had been nailed to the back wall, but now that we were looking to float it about 14″ away from the back, I decided to construct two simple braces out of 2 x 4″s. They were sort of U-shaped, with the short side pieces that would be screwed into studs on both side walls for stability. That gave me a nice, long, sturdy front board into which I could secure the cabinet with screws.

I made two braces – one for the top and one for the bottom of the cabinet – so you can see the bottom one wasn’t installed yet in the photo above. I was very very careful with my measurements during this step, because if I attached the braces too far forward or back, the cabinet wouldn’t sit flush to the wall. There was a lot of measuring three times before cutting once.

Thankfully my triple-checked measurements worked out great and the cabinet sat perfectly where we wanted it. I propped it up in place with some wood, checked that it was level, and then screwed through the back of it into the braces (being sure that my screws went through the thick framing of the cabinet, not just the thin, flimsy back panel).

Not only did it look much nicer, but now we could actually put stuff in it. Functionality for the win! The last step in this project was reinstalling the crown molding – a careful process since I was matching existing cuts (of the pieces I didn’t take down) and because I didn’t have any spare pieces on hand- just the ones I had removed at the start of this project. So all it would take is one bad cut and I’d be, well, very angry at myself.

But it worked out well and I got those gaps filled. We’ll eventually be painting these, so I can do some caulk touch-ups then so they’re even more seamless in the long run. And man, it looks a whole lot better than the strange empty wall-hole-looking thing above the fridge that we started with:

I also hung the crown molding on the other side of the room so it goes all the way around again. This wall looks especially crazy right now, but with some paint and shelves and a pendant over the sink, we think it’ll be a huge improvement.

While I wouldn’t consider the space amazingly transformed yet (it’s far from that!) we think these first couple of changes are steps in the right direction. It’s hard to tell in the photos, but in person it already feels noticeably more open and less heavy.

I felt kinda silly putting “After” on that photo above because it doesn’t really deserve that title yet. And actually, there are quite a few steps in this “Phase 1” kitchen makeover before we’re ready to call it done. So here’s our Phase 1 To-Do List as we’re currently envisioning it:

  • Remove wallpaper
  • Move fridge cabinet forward
  • Remove upper cabinets on window wall to prep for open shelves
  • Reinstall crown molding
  • Paint pantry and garage doors
  • Paint walls and ceiling
  • Hang floating shelves on window wall
  • Paint trim and paneling
  • Possibly craigslist the existing microwave and get a countertop one (the we can put in the pantry?) and add a cheap range hood (we’ve seen some like this for $20 on craigslist) to lighten up that wall?
  • Update or upgrade the old cabinet hinges and knobs
  • Paint the cabinets
  • Make solid back to the peninsula (the cabinet doors aren’t functional on that side, and we think it’ll be less busy with a sheet of beadboard or nicely framed out wooden look)
  • Replace florescent lights (including the one over sink)
  • Replace and center the light over table
  • Get a rug for eat-in area? Possibly install peel and stick tiles everywhere?
  • Curtains for windows?

Lots of bullets, huh? But thankfully almost every one of these steps will also be “paid forward” to Phase 2 (for example, painting the trim and walls and ceilings and doors and replacing lights will all be things we can carry into Phase 2 of the renovation down the road as well). So there aren’t very many things we’re doing just for Phase 1 that won’t come in handy for Phase 2 later. It’s sort of like the before is the first step on a staircase, and the major reno is the third step, and Phase 1 will just act as that second step to bridge the gap and bring us closer to a bigger transformation down the line (and make us smile in the meantime).

You can also see that there are a whole lot of question marks going on, but we have faith that if we just focus on the one-step-at-a-time approach we can figure things out as we go. Oh and one thing missing from that list is new appliances (except for possibly a tabletop microwave/inexpensive craigslist range hood) which is because as much as we don’t adore the creamy oven and fridge (and as much as we know they might interfere with the final look of Phase 1) we’re trying to be smart and hold off on getting new stuff ’til we’re ready to do a full reno because that way we can stay open to future options like a wall oven, or a gas range, or who knows what else.

In addition to working around those appliances, we’re going to try to work with the off-white counters for this phase since we’ll likely reconfigure things in here down the line (so our final countertops will likely have different dimensions). Sherry has already brainstormed some colors that she thinks will lighten up the space while working with the existing counters and the cream appliances, and this time we’re not going to our default “paint the cabinets white” instinct!

Speaking of replacing the cabinets – I know a few folks have wondered why we’re not going to permanently work with these guys. We’ve talked before about how not getting new cabinets was one in-hindsight regret of our last kitchen reno. But also, these cabinets aren’t in great shape when you get closer. There are so many chips and dents and scratches and gnaw marks (??) in both the doors/drawers and the cabinet frames themselves, that despite any amount of attempting to putty and sand them before painting, we don’t think they’ll ever look flawless (and even if we got new doors, the frames are still gnawed). But the good news is that I plan to repurpose them for a garage workshop, so they won’t go to waste – and painting them will not only allow us to enjoy them more in here before our bigger reno later, but it’ll also accomplish a nice clean look for the garage when we eventually use them out there.

The other question that comes up a lot is why we don’t try doing something with our fake brick floors, like painting them like Jenny did with hers. We would LOVE to be able to do that, but our floors are faux brick vinyl, not brick pavers – so they’re one solid vinyl sheet as opposed to a grouted stone-like material. And while we’ve seen some great tutorials from folks who have painted theirs, ours already scratch so easily that we’re pretty sure it’d be a lost cause. The top layer of vinyl is so old and crusty that it flakes off when we do things like roll the fridge out or move a chair too suddenly. Boo. Update: the plus side of this situation is that our house was built after asbestos was phased out, so we don’t believe there’s a risk for that with the flaking floor – just extreme ugliness.

So if we really can’t take them any longer, we’ll probably do some cheap peel-and-stick tiles over them like we did for Phase 1 in our first kitchen (it took us about a day and ran us $100 but we were so happy about the difference they made for the year or so before we could afford our major kitchen reno in there).

Has anyone else opened up a can of project worms lately? Sherry’s crazy excited about it, but I’ll admit that I didn’t quite realize that taking down a few cabinets would result in a page long to-do list (silly me, after seven years of this I should know that by now). But as much as I’m bracing myself for all of the work that we’re about to dive into (priming and painting all of that trim, woodwork, and cabinetry is going to take a while), I’m kinda relieved just to be doing something instead of groaning every time that we walk into the room. Bring it on kitchen!


    • Brandy says

      I’m so glad to hear that we are not the only ones to give up the master room! Our girls were going to have to share a room so my husband and I gave up the master for them. People thought we were nuts but it has worked out well. My husband works the graveyard shift so it’s usually only one of us in our room at a time anyway.

    • Sarah In Illinois says

      We swapped our master for his kids tiny bedroom so they can share the big room until we can add on. It really wasn’t bad to downsize, but I can’t wait for our own suite!

    • Bren says

      We did the same thing when our son and daughter shared rooms. It really made sense. A couple use less space than two kids. And the closet really worked out for their clothes and their toys. Luckily, both rooms had bathrooms.

  1. says

    The morning after we moved into our place in September, I started tearing out the built ins while my hub and our baby daughter slept. They were just horrific and unsafe (rough edges= baby fingers splinter nightmare).

    Our walls still look like your kitchen walls, as we quickly turned our focus to the yard. While it’s sunny, we work outside.

    The work outside has been completely worth it. As of yesterday, we’ve Craigs Listed (for free)- 2 greenhouses, 3 fence sections, a ton of scrap metal and more.

    Sometimes you just have to open the can of works, knock out a built in, or start Craigs Listing stuff. It all comes together, bit by beautiful bit.

    • says

      Just wondering…do you ever get to a point in the middle (or the start) or a project where you go, “that’s for what we’ve been waiting?” or “now, it feels like our place.”

      That moment happened yesterday for me, with the 3 fence sections gone. Our yard went from disjointed and closed in to one big free space and it just felt like the yard was mine/ours.

    • says

      Yes! We usually think some step of a project will have the biggest payoff (ex: removing something) but then we get to a different stage (ex: tiling the entire back wall of our kitchen) and then we’re like “THERE IT IS!” – that moment creeps up on you. And it seems to be different every time!


    • says

      Awesome, thanks for sharing!

      When you get to that point with this house, it might make a really cool post (if it’s meant to be).

      What was going through your heads when it happened? Did your vision change for the project? Were you anticipating the moment then or before?

      I love those moments that click, so maybe it’s just me, but others might enjoy it as well.

  2. says

    I never realized how much cabinet space you have! Taking the top section down didn’t even make a dent in storage. It looks so much better already! So excited to see how you paint the cabinets!

  3. Melanie says

    Kitchen remodels are my favorite! Your H2 kitchen remodel was favorite YHL project to date. Looking forward to seeing this one unfold!

  4. says

    Wow, I feel like your kitchen can breathe now! And I am really glad to see painting cabinets is on the phase 1 plan. I think a rug in the eating area would look great and brighten the space, but it can be tough when you have kid crumbs and mystery goobers everywhere (speaking from experience). Yay for progress!

    • Lisa E says

      Looking good. We completed a Phase I of our kitchen earlier this year. I agree, a rug would bring a wonderful pop of color. My two cents worth is to go with the indoor/outdoor rug as I’m thinking the jute/natural fiber would have more hiding places for those crumbs. I believe the indoor/outdoor rugs have a smaller weave, unless I’m mistaken.

    • says

      I’ve picked up a couple natural fiber ones at Homegoods that don’t have a backing of any kind on them and they are SO easy to clean. I use a rug pad underneath them to stop slippage, but when they get dirty they can easily get thrown into the washer & dryer. I haven’t seen any noticeable shrinking or fading.

  5. Karyn says

    Ooooh, I can’t wait to see the progress on your kitchen!! Love the paint choices too.

    Just a quick typo note, in the paragraph following the 12th picture (the one showing the top brace installed in the fridge cubby) you have written: “I made two braces – one for the top and one for the bottom of the cabinet – so you can see the bottom one waasn’t installed yet in the photo above” with an extra “a” in wasn’t.

  6. gia says

    Thank Goodness! I couldn’t imagine you two living with that kitchen until you saved up for a major reno! Can’t wait to see what you do in the mean time.

  7. says

    Oh man, that is definitely a can of worms! LOL But it does look less dark now that those cabinets are out. I think since you guys plan to live in this place for a long time that you deserve to eventually go the new cabinet route. I love the color scheme you have for the phase 1 paint. It’ll definitely be a major upgrade.

    Enjoy your worms sir! ;)

  8. says

    That makes such a huge difference already! Those dark cabinets felt so claustrophobic in photos, and I’m sure in real life too! I’m so pumped to see this room evolve.

    I sure did open a huge can of worms this weekend. I got started on my craft room, which I lovingly refer to as Disaster Central. I started stripping the wallpaper border and even included a $herdog shoutout!

  9. Karen L. says

    Yay for progress! It does look so much lighter in there already! Funny thing is that our best friends, who moved to Charlotte two years ago, had the exact kitchen configuration, cabinets, and counters in their house in Woodlake. We have so many wonderful memories in their kitchen but they’d always wished they’d done something fun to the kitchen to make it more attractive. Now I get to watch y’all do it instead! :)

    • says

      So funny! A few folks have sent us photos of their kitchens that are configured exactly the same way as well, so it must have been popular a few decades ago!


    • Stephanie @ The Simplebees says

      Um… I just realized that my kitchen is very nearly the same. We don’t have the pantry. Instead we have a doorway leading to our livingroom. However that doorway is currently blocked with a “faux” sectional because we were having difficulty with our livingroom furniture arrangement with a large bank of windows on one wall, an off centered fireplace, and two doorways (ummmm and a family of 7 that needs lots of seating!) We wanted to see if we would be happy with the change in the traffic pattern. So far so good! So we will have that doorway closed in.

      I even have the fridge in the under the stairs cubby. One difference is that there is a sharp slant to the area and so our fridge could only be *so* tall and still fit. Smallest stainless fridge ever (not really working for a family of 7.)

      John and Sherry- have you shared your phase 2 dreams for the kitchen? We also have a wall we want to take down.

      Impatiently saving my pennies,

      Stephanie (Also from Chesterfield County!)

    • says

      Aw thanks Stephanie! I think the closest we’ve gone to mapping out Phase 2 ideas is this post about changing the layout, but we’re still thinking about a lot of stuff, so we’re not sure where we’ll end up!


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