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DIY Small Galley Kitchen From Start To Almost Finished

The Avocado House kitchen is now officially serviceable! It’s been in action for about a week and I have to say, Anna and I are extremely pleased with how our little kitchen turned out.

It’s not 100% finished (hence the title) but it’s 100% usable and about 98% finished – some shelves and some baseboard moulding is missing. Frankly I’m not sure when we’ll get around to those things, but they’ll get done eventually. For now, we are enjoying using our fully functional kitchen.

The Beginning

As a reminder for anyone who hasn’t been following the whole Avocado House DIY renovation process, this is what we started with in the kitchen:

The kitchen had served for many years as a sort of half-kitchen with a makeshift sink, mini fridge, and sometimes a hot plate, as a part of my Dad’s office. It had been abandoned when he rented out “real” office space a few years ago, and the result was what you see. A sort of makeshift kitchen, and a LOT of junk.

Once we cleared the junk out, there was the wood paneling and ugly linoleum to deal with, not to mention figuring out how to create a usable kitchen in the long, skinny space.

Getting Started On The Transformation

Before we did anything ourselves, we had the old, ugly, and frankly dangerous windows replaces by the pros, because we’re all about DIY but not when it comes to things like glass and electricity.

Once that was done, we sanded, primed, and repainted the wood paneling, painted the walls, and installed new flooring. I detailed the process in a previous post – it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. HINT: When painting over stained/treated wood, you can’t use the cheapo latex primer, you gotta go for the more expensive BIN or Kilz primer. Trust me, you must, and it is worth it.

Here’s how that process looked:

almost finished putting in kitchen floor

As you can see, we left one wall unpainted – that was the wall we planned to tile later. You see, at this point, we had come up with a preliminary plan for our kitchen layout.

A Plan Is Hatched

One factor that made this kitchen remodel much, much cheaper than it would have been otherwise was that we were able to get used cabinets, countertop, and a dishwasher all for free from our neighbor who was ripping out and redoing her own kitchen. Yay! Frugal win.

We were also able to get a little bit of her designer’s time when he was out drawing up plans for her kitchen, and he drew us up our own plan that actually went along with what we had been thinking of doing all along.

The kitchen is very narrow, so we knew that having kitchen elements on both sides was a no-go (sorry Mom, I know you really wanted the kitchen triangle). We just had to figure out how best to configure everything so that we could fit a fridge, an oven/stovetop, a dishwasher, a sink, and at least a little storage space.

We really wanted the sink to be under the window, which would not only be nice but also would allow us to avoid moving any plumbing. However, because of how the door opens and the configuration of the space in general, it made much more sense to put the sink and everything else along the other wall.

Our lovely neighbor switched the plumbing for us, and we were ready to go with our new kitchen plan:

The design for the kitchen. We made some changes in the end, but the basic elements are here.

Free Is Our Favorite Price

So, our cabinets, dishwasher, and countertop were all free – we just had to get them from the neighbor’s house to ours. The cabinets and dishwasher were easy, we just loaded them into our purple minivan and drove them up the street. The countertop was another story.

You see, it was a gigantic slab of Corian with a built-in sink. It probably weighed close to 1,000 pounds. I’m really not exaggerating here, it was HEAVY. Also, when we tried to roll it on furniture rollers, it kept sliding off because its slick surface couldn’t gain any traction on the carpeted furniture rollers. We were halfway up the street, a huge piece of counter sliding off the rollers, sweating under the July sun, really unsure of how to proceed, when we were SAVED! By the neighbor’s gardeners!

These two fine fellows saw us struggling and came to the rescue – in fact they just picked up the countertop like it was no more than a biggish book and toted it up the street, depositing it right where we needed it, in the garage for storage.

We brought them snacks and soft drinks after that. Bless those guys.

Our free cabinets in their proposed positions – looks like a good fit!
We planned to paint them white so they would go with the general look of the kitchen. Sorry, no photo of the counter top at this point, I was still scared of it.

Second Foray Into Tiling: Successful

The next step, before we finished the cabinets and fixed them in place, was to tile the backsplash wall while we were still able to easily reach it. We decided on subway tiles, and we were imagining big white subway tiles with a dark grout. I found the perfect tiles online at Lowe’s, and I ordered a bit more than the amount we needed (we learned our lesson when we ran out of tiles in the bathroom…)

Oops! The tiles that arrived were not what we had imagined…they were 2×4″ subway tiles instead of 3×6″. After some humming and hawing, we decided to just go with it. They were mosaic tiles, which would make installation much easier, and frankly they looked pretty nice. We did confirm that it was in fact my mistake when I ordered, not Lowe’s mistake. Alas, I guess my brain was fried from this whole process.

Before installing the tiles, we located the studs in the wall so that we could later hang shelves over the tiles. Then, we thoroughly cleaned the wall and got to work. I detailed the whole process in my DIY Subway Tile Backsplash post a few months back. This time we rented a tile saw, and what a difference it made. We were able to make cuts! Easily! We could make L-shaped cuts! Fantastic! Can you tell I loved the tile saw? It was definitely my favorite tool we used throughout the renovation process.

finding wall studs the old fashioned way cutting tiles for the subway tile backsplash tiled wall in kitchen

Paint And Unexpected Sizing Problems

The next step here (interspersed with work on our beadboard ceiling) was to sand, prime, and paint all of our cabinets. We made a final decision about which ones we would be using, and then got to work sanding and painting them.

This was possibly the easiest task we had in the entire course of the renovation. Seriously, when we finished we were kind of like, “Um, is that all?” For this task, it was.

Our cabinets painted and ready to go. Not pictured: The giant one that we had to paint outside in the yard.

Now that our cabinets were painted and ready to go, it was time to install them and start thinking about how to deal with that giant piece of Corian in our garage.

I’ll admit, when my Dad said he would cut the Corian himself, I had my doubts. Serious doubts. This stuff was supposed to be the hardest, toughest counter material on the market, and he thought he was going to cut it armed only with our 30-something year old circular saw? No way.

But, I ate my words (just like he did when we completed our ceiling project, which he seriously doubted us on) when he successfully cut the Corian (the piece with the sink in it) to the right size to fit on our kitchen counter.

That was when disaster struck.

The sink wouldn’t fit. I repeat, the sink wouldn’t fit into the top of the cupboard that it was supposed to go into. As the sink was molded into the counter, there was no taking it out and replacing it with something that would fit. Nope, unfortunately, the whole situation was a wash.


An “Easy” Solution

Luckily, the solution to our countertop dilemma wasn’t too terribly difficult to implement. Before we knew we would be able to get some free countertop from the neighbors, Anna and I had put forth the idea of using butcher block countertops. A friend of mine had installed her own, and she said it wasn’t terribly difficult and was quite cheap. We also liked the way it looked and thought it would be nice with our white and green kitchen.

When the countertop wouldn’t fit, we decided to cut our losses and go back to the original idea of butcher block. It was

  • cheaper than other options
  • looked nicer than most cheap options
  • easy-ish to cut ourselves
  • easy to care for

What’s not to love?

We got our butcher block counter top from IKEA in natural birch. We were lucky enough to only need a single piece of it to cover our two small areas of countertop for our kitchen. We later went back and bought another piece to create our table, but that’s the subject for another blog post.

We also bought the sink and hardware from IKEA, as it was the only place where we could find a reasonably nice looking sink that would fit in our cabinet. Suspiciously, the cabinet is also from IKEA originally…

My Dad (bless him) used a jigsaw to cut the hole for the sink and the trusty old circular saw the cut the counter top while Anna and I were away for the weekend. When we came back, we sealed the sink and hardware with silicone caulk (AKA the worst, stickiest substance known to man) and oiled the countertop with Tung oil. We chose Tung because it was easy to apply, didn’t change the color of the wood, and wouldn’t scratch off like shellac.

By this point, our kitchen was really looking like a kitchen, just in time for our final inspection. There were a few other details that had to be finished, though.

Some chickens, a garlic press, and a new cutting board welcomed us home.
Applying the oil. Excuse the dark pictures, it was at night after work.

Those Pesky Details

One project that had to be done before the place could be inspected was installing the vent hood and exhaust pipe above the stove. This involved building a support frame that would hang down from the ceiling and hold up the vent hood, as well as running a pipe from the vent hood up and out the roof.

Once at the roof, a hole had to be cut in the roof and a little cover installed and sealed. Whew! Thank goodness we had my dad to help with this process. We were considering leaving the frame of the support for the vent hood open, but finally enclosed it with drywall and painted it white.

Another little touch was installing the moulding at the top of the tile wall and a corner piece at the end of it. Anna found the perfect corner piece in the moulding section at Ganahl Lumber and spray painted it white. Then I cut it to size, attached it with liquid nails, and caulked the seams.

Inspected and Ready to Go

Ready for cooking!

Once we got all (most of…) the little details sorted out, we were ready to be inspected! We passed the building safety inspection and the second unit rental inspection with almost no problem. Finally all we needed to do was unpack our kitchen things, buy a few essentials, and get cooking!

But..wait. We were all the way to putting pieces of pizza – the first thing we cooked in our new kitchen – on plates when we realized we had nowhere to eat it. No table, no chairs, not even a coffee table so we could sit on the floor. Oops.

And that just goes to show that when you’re doing a remodel, you’re never, ever really done.

But don’t worry, we solved the table problem last weekend and we’ve been happily eating at our new table since.

Eating granola for breakfast at our new table.


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  1. I’m very impressed. Wow. Well done to the both of you for this renovation (and so frugal!)

    • Flo Flo

      Thank you! It’s very satisfying to cook in here now that it’s mostly finished 🙂

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