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Quick Cheap Easy Ways to Improve Your Kitchen


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 06:15 PM

Tommy say on this thread:

all of this tells me that we could all use a thread on quick, cheap, and easy way to make your kitchen way better.  i'm guessing quite a few of us have some ideas.


Let me start by saying that I think the top several things are all going to be lighting-related. It's amazing how much of a difference good lighting makes to a kitchen. A few things:

- The absolute simplest thing you can do is get better light bulbs. Not better fixtures; just better bulbs. It's amazing how many kitchens are illuminated by standard yellowish Soviet-interrogation-room incandescent bulbs or by Bronx-public-high-school cold greenish-white fluorescent bulbs. Almost any style of standard incandescent or fluorescent bulb can be replaced by a warmer, more efficient bulb that will immediately brighten up the space in question.

- Only slightly more complex is adding more lights. We talked about this on the other thread a bit. The two major categories of lighting in a kitchen are overhead (general illumination) and under-cabinet (task) lighting. The theoretical goal with task lighting is that you should be able to shut off every other light in your house and, in the middle of the night, be able to perform all countertop tasks with only task-light illumination. These lights are so cheap and so easy to install, you should get twice as many of them as you think you need and put them everywhere so that they fully and evenly illuminate every square inch of counter space. No electrical expertise is required -- most models are available in plug-in versions with the ability to link one light to the next so they can all run off one or two outlets.

- If you have some electrical ability, or if you want to bring in an electrician for a very easy job (very often the job is so easy that an employee of a lighting store can do it after work, off the record), your best move is to install a whole bunch of halogen lighting both in the ceiling and under the cabinets.

- There are additional places where extra and better lighting can be helpful. If, for example, you don't have a good light in your range hood, that's an easy place to make a big improvement. If your cabinets don't go all the way to the ceiling, there's an opportunity for lights to be installed on top of the cabinets. And there are also baseboard/kickplate lighting options if you want to get fancy.

Some other thoughts:

- Tile the walls between the countertops and cabinets (aka the backsplash). This is an incredibly easy DIY project if you work slowly and carefully and use spacers. There are so many options with tile, including a solid color, a checkerboard pattern, a solid color plus a few judiciously spaced accent/contrast tiles, or a variety of other looks. A well tiled backsplash pulls attention away from most everything else.

- If your countertops are really ugly but you don't want to replace them, consider 1) getting some really nice cutting boards to virtually cover the entire countertop -- you can even get colorful vinyl ones and just lay them almost edge-to-edge; or 2) if you have a nice flat countertop surface and the only problem is that it's ugly, very often you can tile right over it no problem; the only potentially difficult area is the sink but it's often doable with minimal expertise.

- If your floors suck, consider a rubber-backed floor mat to cover most of the floor. You can go to any carpet store and get this in a variety of colors and simple geometrich patterns and textures, but even gunmetal gray is a huge improvement over a bad linoleum floor. If you have a long galley-style kitchen this is a particularly good aesthetic option.

- New cabinet and drawer pulls in large-format shiny metal or bright white can brighten up cabinets more than you'd imagine.

- Repaint any surface that's already painted, like the ceiling -- a new coat of bright paint makes a big difference.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#2 Jinmyo

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 06:20 PM

you can even get colorful vinyl ones and just lay them almost edge-to-edge

What? Red ones? :angry:

/kidding

Good thoughts, Steve.

I think one of the most important things is to look at the workflow (from fridge to sink to work-area to stove to plating) and see if where things are positioned make sense or not.

A friend has a huge house with a galley kitchen that acts as a corridor from the living room to washroom and bedrooms. She has to scuttle back and forth from end to end and shrink back to make room when family members pass through.

Seldom are home kitchens designed for what one actually does in them.
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#3 tommy

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 06:46 PM

steven, a backsplash is something i'm also considering. currently, there's what i assume to be formica running around the kitchen over the counters. it's on something that's about 1/2 inch thick, and i'm not even sure how it's attached to the plaster/sheetrock. i'm wondering if i can get away resurfacing the formica, or should i invest the time and effort to pull it all off and see what's under it. one issue might be the water that has been getting under the formica by the sink. that length is bowing out a bit, and might be problematic down the road.

i'm very pleased the the halogen lights (from the other thread), and plan on installing more. i don't recommend this job for people who aren't comfortable with a drill and basic electricity. the directions for the in-line switch for the GE lights that i bought were totally back asswards, and required some electrical common sense to sort out. granted, not much, but one should assume that directions will be effed up, and yes, i had 9 left over screws. :blink:

my floor sucks, but i think if i sort out the lighting and a backsplash, i'll be able to get through til the big remodel. so, any thoughts on backsplashes would rock.

#4 Fat Guy

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 07:11 PM

Tommy can you post a more comprehensive set of photos of your kitchen? If we can see it, we can be a little more helpful in terms of doing a Queer-Eye-style makeover.

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#5 fifi

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 07:13 PM

FG's tips on lighting are right on. I have one more tip. If you have minimal ceiling mounted general lighting, condsider painting the ceiling with a gloss or semi-gloss bright white. It may not be the decorators choice but the increase in general lighting is amazing. And that is without doing a thing electrical. I am going to do that in my closets and pantry in the new house. This was demonstrated some years ago when I was head of our condo association and we reduced the wattage of the lights in the parking areas under the buildings. Everyone griped about how it was too dark. Then we had to repaint and they used this gloss white. It was amazing... like someone turned the lights on.
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#6 tommy

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 07:40 PM

Tommy can you post a more comprehensive set of photos of your kitchen? If we can see it, we can be a little more helpful in terms of doing a Queer-Eye-style makeover.

I’m not one to show my trophies, much less my warts.

But if this thread might help me and others, I’ll gladly make an exception. And nothing makes me happier than cleaning up the kitchen well after dinner for pictures.


The formica, or what I assume to be formica, runs along the walls over all of the counter. The counter meets the wall at one end, and you can see how they’ve put a piece of this stuff on the wall there as well. This shows the thickness of the stuff.

Posted Image


on the other end, where the formica meets the stove area, it looks like this. Behind the stove is actually some horrible thin white plexiglass-type plastic stuff that does the trick, but it ain’t formica, which is good I suppose.

Posted Image


you can see here, behind the sink, how the formica is bowing out a bit. This could be a trouble spot if I decide to leave the junk up.

Posted Image


the window is also an issue, as it seems they added this molding around the window *after* they put up the formica stuff (and on top of the formica stuff as this pic should show if you assume the white "wall" is that formica stuff). So if I took it down, I’d have about ½ inch of space to fill in somehow.

Posted Image

Edited by tommy, 02 September 2003 - 07:43 PM.


#7 fifi

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 08:12 PM

My thoughts right now are that if you are only looking at a short term fix (the cabinets) I wouldn't even go there on the formica stuff. That looks to me like a job for the big makeover. Especially the way that it has been integrated into the splashback, and then there is the window complication. That looks like major trouble that I would want to put off. If you go back to some of those threads on counters, sinks, cabinets and such, I think you will find that some of us really don't hate formica. I would think that that is one thing to wait on.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#8 tommy

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 08:22 PM

well, i'm thinking of not doing the cabinets at this point. instead, i'll focus on light and a backsplash (and possibly a floor, but that would probably be best left to a pro). it's not that i don't like formica, but i don't like this particular old crappy looking formica backsplash, and i'm looking for a relatively inexpensive and easy way to make it look better.

#9 fifi

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 08:29 PM

Can you get around the window thing?
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#10 Fat Guy

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 08:31 PM

Personally, were I looking at 3 years waiting time for a complete renovation -- which is bound to turn into 4-5 years -- I'd think about tiling over the formica backsplash. Formica is a great surface on which to lay tiles. I bet you could do the whole job in 2 days with the help of anybody who has ever done amateur tiling before. The only real challenge you've got is that you've got a few annoying corners and edges to work with on account of the way the formica meets the side wall. So you'll want to limit your tile choices to ones where they make a variety of narrow cap and corner pieces that you can fit to those twists and turns. This may limit your choices to solid colors, but you can still use accent tiles for the open surfaces. As for the area between the sink and the window, I'd just forget about tiling it altogether. I'd just tile up to the window and leave the space under it blank, then I'd come up with a different solution for that little space, like maybe spackle it flush with the surrounding tiles, paint it to blend in, and conceal most of it with a shallow shelf on which you'd put spices or whatever.

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#11 tommy

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 08:34 PM

Can you get around the window thing?

that seems like just a molding issue to me. the bigger concern is the formica that's buckling, which FG has just addressed.

#12 Basilgirl

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 08:23 AM

Tommy: Is that Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen I spy? Next to the Thai cookbook? And what do you think of it if it is? I love it.
The Vino Italiano book disappointed me. :angry:
I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

#13 Blondie

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 08:57 AM

Glass mosaic tiles (3/4" x 3/4") might be a good solution. If the backsplash is 3/4" thick you can use a whole tile right on that edge, but they're easily cut if it's narrower. The tiles have a slight bevel so they should meet cleanly at the edge.

They come in 12" x 12" sheets to make it easier to install on the field of the backsplash. You can get solid colors, or a random pattern of several related colors. The range of available colors is impressive, and with a little bit of time and creativity you could easily do a stripe, checkerboard, etc. I have ordered from Mosaic Tile Arts with no problems. Bisazza has the nicest tiles, but I wouldn't recommend paying up for them in this situation.

You'll probably need to spend some time prepping the surface of the formica before you tile. Maybe some sanding and roughing up to give it a key.
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#14 MsRamsey

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 09:17 AM

- If your floors suck, consider a rubber-backed floor mat to cover most of the floor. You can go to any carpet store and get this in a variety of colors and simple geometrich patterns and textures, but even gunmetal gray is a huge improvement over a bad linoleum floor. If you have a long galley-style kitchen this is a particularly good aesthetic option.

I'm intrigued by this idea, because my kitchen floor does suck. I looked on the Web and couldn't find anything promising. The only mats I could find for the kitchen are really small, something to stand on when you're doing dishes. Can the floor matting you mention be cut to size once you get it home?
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#15 slkinsey

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 09:25 AM

One thing I did that made a big difference in my kitchen -- not that it's for everyone -- was put in two lengths of black pipe attached to the ceiling from which I can hang most of my cookware. Easy to do and inexpensive.
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#16 Fat Guy

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 09:30 AM

Can the floor matting you mention be cut to size once you get it home?

Not really, because they have to finish the ragged exposed cut edges and that requires use of a machine that's too big to take on the job. I'll try to find out the exact brand name or technical term for the mats that work well for this purpose. They're essentially the same mats you see in the lobbies of office-buildings on rainy days. They come in rolls ranging anywhere from 2 feet to 12 feet wide and can be cut to near-infinite length. They have a border on the edges, so after they cut the piece off the roll they use a big machine to put a similar border on the two exposed cut edges. I recently got a 16'x3' piece of this for my kitchen, albeit for totally different reasons: I have a beautiful kitchen floor but it's too slippery for my dog, and since he spends so much time in there I wanted him to have a non-skid surface. I was kind of bummed at how much it concealed my nice floor. But then I realized what a great trick this would be for someone with an ugly kitchen floor!

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#17 fresco

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 09:35 AM

well, i'm thinking of not doing the cabinets at this point.  instead, i'll focus on light and a backsplash (and possibly a floor, but that would probably be best left to a pro).  it's not that i don't like formica, but i don't like this particular old crappy looking formica backsplash, and i'm looking for a relatively inexpensive and easy way to make it look better.

From the pictures you've posted, your backsplash looks like it is melamine board--same stuff that is used on a lot of kitchen cabinets.
If tiling is too daunting--and it will all be torn out when your renovate--and if the color is what you don't like, you might consider just painting the backsplash--with a good primer and melamine paint. It would be a lot easier than painting the cabinets and a lot cheaper and faster than tiling.
Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"

#18 tommy

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 10:13 AM

well, i'm thinking of not doing the cabinets at this point.  instead, i'll focus on light and a backsplash (and possibly a floor, but that would probably be best left to a pro).  it's not that i don't like formica, but i don't like this particular old crappy looking formica backsplash, and i'm looking for a relatively inexpensive and easy way to make it look better.

From the pictures you've posted, your backsplash looks like it is melamine board--same stuff that is used on a lot of kitchen cabinets.
If tiling is too daunting--and it will all be torn out when your renovate--and if the color is what you don't like, you might consider just painting the backsplash--with a good primer and melamine paint. It would be a lot easier than painting the cabinets and a lot cheaper and faster than tiling.

well it's definitely some sort of laminate as far as i can tell. i wish i knew what it was.

blondie, thanks for the tile tips. doing 12x12 sheets is definitely an attractive idea.

Edited by tommy, 03 September 2003 - 10:14 AM.


#19 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 10:36 AM

You could also put a wallpaper border or cut outs on the backsplash to fancy it up a bit.

#20 Fat Guy

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 10:39 AM

Well, my phone call to the carpet store was not productive. "Floor mats" was all I could get out of them in terms of a product name. But here's what my recently acquired beauty looks like, and please forgive that I'm using such an old crappy camera (the wife is away with the good one):

Posted Image

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#21 badthings

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 11:01 AM

From the pictures you've posted, your backsplash looks like it is melamine board--same stuff that is used on a lot of kitchen cabinets.

well it's definitely some sort of laminate as far as i can tell. i wish i knew what it was.

The first picture you posted (the piece against the wall) looks like Formica, because the corners appear to be black. On the other hand, the thickness looks like melamine, as fresco said. Scrutinize this piece -- if it's Formica, you should be able to distinguish a thin sheet of something on the surface (tapered back from the edge very slightly -- 17 degrees, I think), then a kind of negative space (that black strip), and then something else on the edge (surfaces perpendicular to the wall), which may or may not also be formica. Sorry, this is hard to describe. If it's melamine the white surface will not look very thick at the edge -- not a detectable sheet of one thing (formica) glued onto another (the backer board). Ignore the edging, because it could be anything. I can't imagine that anyone would have made the work surface of a countertop out of melamine, but you never know...

Whatever it is, it's glued to the wall with construction adhesive, so kiss your sheetrock goodbye if you pull it off.

#22 tommy

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 11:24 AM

Whatever it is, it's glued to the wall with construction adhesive, so kiss your sheetrock goodbye if you pull it off.

that's good to know. hell, it might even be plaster back there, which would be even more of a mess. i think i'll leave the mystery white stuff up. :smile:

#23 Fat Guy

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 11:29 AM

Who cares what it's made of? If it's smooth and flat, it's going to be an easy surface to deal with whether you tile it or paint it. You should do one or the other. Personally, I prefer tiling. It requires less preparation of the surface (the adhesive will stick to a minimally prepared, clean surface -- that's why they call it an adhesive!) and while it does take longer and cost more than painting, it doesn't take a lot longer or cost a lot more. Of course you can spend a ton of money on tiles, but you can also get very nice tiles for very little money -- like pennies per tile. And regardless of the relative time commitment, you can tile a backsplash in a weekend no problem.

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#24 fifi

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 11:46 AM

This SSB won't bore you with resin descriptions or long chemical names. For all practical purporses, Formica and "melamine" are the same thing. Melamine is a resin description. Many types of products are made out of it. Formica is a product that contains melamine (and phenolic for some grades) resins. There are all kinds of grades, thicknesses, etc. Surface treatment would be the same for whatever you have.
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#25 Huevos del Toro

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 11:55 AM

This doesn't involve painting or decorating but was a sanity saver for me.
The biggest change I made was to consolidate my utensils and cookware to make things more accessible.
I live in a small apartment and the kitchen is tiny. I have ample storage, well, almost ample, but it was impossible to keep everything sorted and neat. An unworkable mess was what it really was. I got so frustrated that I finally tried the Grid System from The Container Store and it turned out to be the best investment I could have possibly made. I mounted two of the 18 x 24-inch units side by side. I’ve been using it for several years now and still love it. I keep things like whisks, graters, colanders, spatulas, spoons, saucepans, frypans, braisers, soup pots, strainers, chinois, shears, cleavers, presses, ricer, thermometers, tongs, and numerous other utensils on it. I still have to store larger things under the counters but no more junk drawers. Well, I guess we all know that’s not totally true, but my commonly used stuff is just an arms reach away and always visible. Cooking became a pleasure again.
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#26 Fat Guy

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 12:31 PM

Rack/grid/board systems are great for covering up backsplashes and unsightly walls, and giving a more pro- look to the kitchen. Pot-racks are also great if you have ceiling or wall space to accommodate them -- they really draw visual attention, especially if you hang some copper pieces in the most visible spots.

Now Mr. tommy, about those countertops . . . Assuming you're not going to tile them on account of the PITA sink situation, go out and get yourself either some really big wood cutting boards or some marble or granite slabs to cover up as much of the visible area of the countertop as possible. This, combined with a tiled backsplash, will do the trick. Note there are some wood cutting boards with a lip that goes over the countertop edge -- this is a particularly nice feature for covering up some of that ugly-ass laminate.

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#27 MsRamsey

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 01:12 PM

Note there are some wood cutting boards with a lip that goes over the countertop edge -- this is a particularly nice feature for covering up some of that ugly-ass laminate.

IKEA carries one that is thick, quite large and a major bargain (I think it was $14.95).
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#28 slkinsey

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 01:15 PM

Note there are some wood cutting boards with a lip that goes over the countertop edge -- this is a particularly nice feature for covering up some of that ugly-ass laminate.

IKEA carries one that is thick, quite large and a major bargain (I think it was $14.95).

IKEA has, IMO, the best bargain on real end-grain cutting boards to be found.
Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

#29 tsquare

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 01:54 PM

Formica is a brand name of high pressure decorative laminate as are Nevamar, Wilsonart, Pionite, Abet Laminati (very cool patterns) and others. All are intended to be used over a structural substrate. Some have solid color throughout, so you don't see the edge in contrast, some are chemical resistant, fire rated, or static-dissipative. Melamine is a thermoset decorative overlay - pre-laminated to substrate and far more limited in color and pattern.
Too much information - but since we are supposed to pay attention to copyrights and registered brand names....

Edited by tsquare, 03 September 2003 - 01:55 PM.


#30 GordonCooks

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 02:04 PM

Whatever it is, it's glued to the wall with construction adhesive, so kiss your sheetrock goodbye if you pull it off.

that's good to know. hell, it might even be plaster back there, which would be even more of a mess. i think i'll leave the mystery white stuff up. :smile:

Instead of the Tile - get some sheets of 304 stainless and screw them into the formica covered wood. Any sheet metal fab place can cut to spec (even outlets) What's the square footage ? With all the pieces cut, you could install all of them in less than an hour with a drill driver and some brass screws.

Edit: Can you put anything behind that one corner (i.e. a steel ruler) It may not be glued but merely anchored in place with screws or lags

Edited by GordonCooks, 03 September 2003 - 02:09 PM.