DECOR & DIY, Lessons Learned

Mistakes I made when designing my kitchen (and why I love it anyway)

When we moved into our house in 2007, it was badly in need of an update. Unfortunately we needed to live with it for over 2 years before we could afford to tackle any relatively large renovations.

The first big renovation project we decided to do was our kitchen. Bear in mind, we had never done a renovation of this size before on our own and we DIYed the whole thing, from designing the cupboards and having them made up, to moving the plumbing, adding electrical points (Hubby has experience in both plumbing and electrical; I do not recommend doing these as DIYs unless you have experience!) and the tiling of the floor and backspash…

But, before we get there, I need to paint the picture of what our kitchen looked like pre-renovation; I have to paint it because Hubby demo’d it before I had a chance to take any ‘before’ photos, something which you will see will become a bit of a theme in my posts – once he gets an idea in his head, there is no stopping him!

Anyhoo, back to the kitchen; we had orange-toned knotty pine ceilings, the cupboards were orange-toned pine with a lattice detail; the backsplash and floor tiles were beige (and cracked); the countertops were oak-inspired formica and the walls above the upper cabinets were, you guessed it, orange! In fact, if I had to put a mood board together of what it looked like pre-renovation, it would look like this:

the before! (2)
50 Shades of Orange!  (Sources: Pinterest (kitchesource.com); ctm.co.za; junkmail.co.za; tripadvisor.com)

There was also no space for a fridge! Who designs a kitchen (which is a decent enough size), with no space for a refrigerator?! Because the house was empty when we viewed it, I didn’t even realise there was no space for a fridge until we moved in – we stood there, scratching our heads, wondering where on earth we were supposed to put it. As you can imagine, it was quite hysterical! Hubby had to remove cabinets in the first week of our living here, just to make it fit.

Fridge (2)
The ‘golden triangle’, the only thing that I knew about when we designed this kitchen!

You can now see that there was a huge drive from my side to have this kitchen redone. Except I knew nothing, NOTHING, about kitchen design; the only thing that I was vaguely aware of was that you should be able to draw a triangle from the sink, to the stove, to the fridge, and back to the sink.

This was also before Instagram and Pinterest, there was no ‘smart phone’ (well, maybe there was, but I certainly didn’t have one!) so I was on my own – there were no inspiration photos, no mood boards, no 10 budget friendly tips for your kitchen reno, there was zero! The positive of this was that there was no confusion around what I wanted to do; there was no, oh this hood vent is so pretty, but I love that one too. Ooh and that one! It was just, I need this, this and that, and we worked with it.

Chalkboard painted refrigerator - Sawdust and High Heels
We painted the refrigerator with black chalkboard paint; despite an issue with some staining, it has worked out really well – it looks so much better than the dinged up white we had before and it is functional for quotes, shopping lists, reminders and impromptu art sessions.

We went with standard superwood white cabinets (real wood was out of the question), Rustenburg black granite countertops (our only splurge) and stainless steel stove, cooker hood and sink. We didn’t replace the fridge or the dishwasher, since there was nothing wrong with the ones that we had and we were on a very tight budget. So my dishwasher doesn’t match my stove. Neither did my fridge, but I found a solution for that!

While we were still in the discussion phase of the renovation, I came home one Friday afternoon to find that all my cabinets had been moved to the dining room along with my microwave, fridge and kettle (this would become my makeshift kitchen for the next 2 or so months). The stove had been moved out to the garage and the kitchen doorway had been sealed with tape and plastic. You can imagine my surprise – at that point I assumed that we were ready to start with the renovation ha ha!

(As a side note – I really should not have been surprised by this; my in-laws had been discussing off and on for a while that they wanted to knock down the wall between their then-lounge and dining room and create a large open plan space – New Year’s Day 2008, Hubs got up into their roof, checked if the wall was load-bearing (it was not) and proceeded to just start knocking the wall down! My mom-in-law just looked at him and said, “oh well, I guess that we’re doing it now then.” Luckily for him his parents were on board with his enthusiasm! Now that I think of it, he helped them reno their kitchen that year as well, so he was very well prepared for our kitchen reno… it was a good practice run!)

Back to the kitchen, again. This was one and only time that I was glad for a separate kitchen, because grinding into the concrete and bricks for the plumbing and electrical is the dustiest work you will ever do! Even with the sealed off door, we got dust everywhere in the house!

Once all the grinding had been completed and the tiles lifted (more dust!!), Hubby completed the electrical (he added more outlets), re-centred the tap for the sink and re-plastered where necessary. We were now ready to fit the cabinets. As I mentioned earlier, we had designed the cabinets and had given the plans to a local cabinet maker to create flat packs for us. Hubby had a whole load of puzzles to put together, but he did pretty well with the measurements, except 6 of the top cabinet doors, which somehow arrived quite a bit smaller than required – Oops!

After completing all his puzzles (top and bottom); fitting doors and glass; and having the countertops fitted (the only thing that we had professionally done); it was time for a new challenge – tiling! Luckily my father-in-law has done quite a bit of tiling in his lifetime, so he helped out by showing Hubs what to do (I can’t tile, but I did learn how to grout – Hubs really hates the detail work!).

Protea against kitchen backsplash - Sawdust and High Heels
My ‘rustic’ backsplash makes a fantastic backdrop for this gorgeous protea – you can see why I need to re-grout it!

After he learnt how to tile the floor, he needed to learn how to tile the wall. Of course, I chose those tile mats with teeny tiles in them, they were rather difficult to level out on the wall, so I don’t think that he was impressed with me at the time! My grouting work also needs to be redone (it was initially cream and then I decided that I wanted grey, so I just smeared it over the top of the cream – probably not the best idea)… a job that I’m not looking forward to doing; at the moment, I just call this look ‘rustic’:

We went for simple, stainless steel hardware to match the stainless steel oven, hob and cooker hood. To make his life easier, Hubby created a template for where the holes for the hardware needed to be drilled ; he just needed to line it up and voila – perfectly placed holes on every draw and cabinet!

This post is getting longer and longer! I can ramble incessantly, so let me get to the point.

The mistakes that I feel that I made:

Kitchen renovation after - Sawdust and High Heels
My kitchen in all it’s glory!
  • Letting my 6’4 Hubby decide on the height of the upper cabinets – I’m 5’2 and can sort of reach the bottom shelf and just manage the front of the second shelf!
  • We never finished the trim under the top cabinets; as a result I can see the under cabinet lights. I’m not sure how we will match the trim now, since the cabinets are now a more aged white colour…
  • The backsplash and the floor are warm toned, the cabinets and the counter tops are cooler toned – as I said we didn’t have Pinterest or Instagram at the time, so along with the pro of not being majorly confused around what I want, I also had no help in the colourways department!

    Dishwasher
    Ugh! So irritating!
  • Not taking extras into account when calculating the width needed for the countertops, e.g. spaces for plugs behind appliances. As a result, the dishwasher and fridge are not tucked away or flush with the counters. It bugs me. Every. Single. Day.

Okay, I know, these may seem like small things and, in the greater scheme of things, they are. There were at least some design decisions that I am glad that I made:

Kitchen redo - we should have finished the trim sooner
Perfectly imperfect!
  • We went with a simple black and white colour scheme for the counters and cabinets, with simple stainless steel hardware, so I am able to style it however my mood dictates. I could also spray paint the hardware if I ever get bored with it; maybe a future project!
  • We chose a heavy duty countertop and had it professionally fitted (the only part of the renovation that we didn’t DIY). I know that there are so many opinions around counters – the granite has been fantastic, I have absolutely no complaints
  • We made space for the fridge, hehe!

Despite all the mistakes that I feel that we made and despite the fact that, should I have the opportunity to redo my kitchen again, I would do quite a few things differently, I absolutely love our kitchen. Apart from the fact that it looks a million times better that it did, with it’s beautiful white cabinets and it’s practical but gorgeous counters, the most important thing was that it taught Hubby and I how to work together as a team when differing opinions were the norm.  It taught us how to compromise and work within a tight budget, something that we continue with on all our projects. All that aside, the thing that I am most grateful for is that it showed us what we are capable of when we work as a team.

Kitchen renovation after - baking flapjacks Sawdust and High Heels
Yummy flapjacks on a lazy Sunday afternoon – these are the moments that we need to document!

Our kitchen is now a light and bright space where we are able to cook together, bake together and just catch up after a busy day. I really wish that I had a ‘before’ photo to add to this post, to show just how much this kitchen has changed, but the mood board at the beginning will have to do. After about 8 years I am still in love with my kitchen, faults and all, because even though it’s not perfect (there may be one or 2 smaller little projects coming up!), every time I walk in there I am swamped with memories made of kids baking and Hubs cooking us some yummy suppers or making us some fancy coffee (he makes the best coffee!) Finally, it reminds me of what we are capable of when we work together and one can’t put a price on that!

What do you think? Do you have any renovations that you have made mistakes on, but love anyway? What lessons have you learned? I would love to hear all about them!

14 thoughts on “Mistakes I made when designing my kitchen (and why I love it anyway)

  1. Fabulous. Kept me totally interested. Your kitchen and home is beautiful and so homely. Lots of love in one place…

  2. Love it. We did a DIY kitchen do over and for me the best part was knocking down a wall, the cleanup after wasn’t great. You did an amazing job. Looks great

    1. Thank you Stacy! Renovating a kitchen is very stressful! And dirty!! I wish that we could have knocked the wall down, but that would have involved relocating the stairs and the electrical board. So that was a no! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate your support so much!!

  3. Absolutely relatable read. Well done on both! I can feel the warmth of the love that went into that renovation. Looking forward to the next exciting episode.

  4. Lol, your husband sounds similar to mine. You guys have about the same height difference as us, and when mine did our previous kitchen for us, I couldn’t get into any of the taller ones either. K hasn’t got the greatest back, so I used to say that the bottom cupboards were mine and the top ones were his. :-D. He had to always get stuff down for me.

    1. I’m so glad that someone can relate!! I tell mine that I married him so that I would always have someone to get stuff off the top shelf for me .

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