Posted by Ash
Over the course of living in our new home for a couple of years, we remedied our dated kitchen by refinishing our kitchen cabinets with gel stain, installing a natural stone backsplash, and purchasing stainless steel appliances (via some Black Friday discounts), There still remained though, an odd looking corner next to the fridge. It was a desk area, with a floating cabinet drawer to allow space for a chair - and no cabinet storage underneath. The previous owners of our house had used it as a kitchen desk with a chair.
Here’s a picture showing the floating drawer to the right of the fridge. This picture was taken prior to the gel stain, backsplash, and new appliances.
Not only was it an inefficient use of space (the kitchen already had limited cabinet storage), but the protruding corner edge posed a risk to our young toddler, who was just about the same height. Granted we could have put bumpers on it, but why not kill two birds with one stone and box in the empty space below the drawer, converting it into a normal cabinet for storage. This would eliminate the dangerous corner edge and also turn the wasteful space into something usable.
So I gathered the dimensions of the empty space and went to work in TinkerCad. Here is the design I came up with:
While playing around with the design, I originally omitted the toe kick (the recessed part at the front bottom). I didn’t think it was necessary and would have simplified the build a bit.
However, after Eileen and I discussed it more (and researched online about it), I decided to add it in. I never thought about it before, but that toe kick area is actually an ergonomic feature.
Without an area to insert your feet, getting up close to the cabinet (especially to reach the taller shelves) would put a lot of extra strain on your back to lean forward. The toe kick allows you to get up really close without leaning forward too much more.
I planned on purchasing pre-made cabinet doors to match the rest of the kitchen. I lacked the tools necessary to create professionally routed cabinet doors from scratch, so ordering them online was the best option.
There were many styles available online, but they all seemed to fall into roughly the same categories across different vendors. The style that matched our other cabinet doors the most was a Cathedral style, with routed arch in the middle top of the door.
The doors were small (around 10” x 30”), so it was pretty cheap to order just two of them. I spent around $70 and they arrived in about 2 weeks (I got the best deal from Fast Cabinet Doors but there are lots of other sites to get custom doors from).
The doors came unfinished, so I had to stain and polyurethane them myself. I also got the same cabinet handles used in the rest of the kitchen for the new doors.
Here is a picture of the finished cabinet door with handle:
The actual construction of the cabinet box was fairly straight forward. I just followed the design and measurements in the TinkerCAD drawing.
I used mostly ¾” sanded plywood for the surfaces. For the door openings, I used my compact circular saw with a clamped down piece of scrap wood for a guide. I used my jigsaw at the corners to make flush cuts.
The back left corner of the cabinet box has a piece of 4x4 serving as a leg to help support the bottom shelf. I attached the plywood pieces to each other with small wood screws and construction adhesive. The outside facing screws were countersunk and were to be covered up with wood putty later and sanded to a smooth finish.
Finally, I used several small L brackets in strategic places to help provide additional structural support (like underneath the bottom shelf, and above the right door opening). Once the cabinet box was complete, I placed it underneath the kitchen drawer for a fitting.
After a successful trial fit, back into the garage it went for a final sanding before the stain went on. I used the General Finishes Gel Stain in Antique Walnut stain to match the rest of the kitchen. We had recently just re-stained the whole kitchen, so had plenty left over to finish this new cabinet.
It took about 3 coats of the gel stain, and then 2 coats of polyurethane to get the box ready for the kitchen. Eileen was worried about the color of this new cabinet matching the rest of the kitchen, as the gel stain was going directly on bare wood - versus the gel stain going on top of already stained wood. The match was almost perfect. If you look very closely, you will notice that the cabinet looks a little shinier than the rest of the kitchen; however, it's an almost perfect match.
Once ready, I put it back in place under the kitchen drawer and prepared the area for a permanent addition. I first used my oscillating multi tool to remove a portion of the baseboard so the cabinet box could sit flush with the wall.
Then I attached two pieces of 2 x 4 to some wall studs directly beneath the kitchen drawer. I used these to secure the back right edge of the new cabinet box. Using some L brackets, the front left edge of the cabinet box was screwed directly into an existing piece of wood (being used to help support the shelf). The cabinet box was now firmly attached to the kitchen.
There were a few gaps and a slightly noticeable line where the new cabinet box met the existing kitchen drawer. So I sanded the wood down slightly at the gap (to remove the polyurethane) and filled with wood putty.
Once dried, I sanded down the putty to a smooth finish, stained it and re-applied the polyurethane. The line disappeared and the cabinet box transitioned into the drawer very nicely now
Here is a picture of the final product:
After installation, I added a second shelf inside to accommodate even more storage. Here is what the inside looks like:
The cabinet box blends in so well with the kitchen that we forgot it used to be a desk.
For under $100, this project was well worth the effort. Although it take several days to complete due to the drying times for the stain and polyurethane, it was really only a few hours of work collectively.
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Posted by Ash
When we moved into our new home, we found an old, tall tower style CD holder shelf that the previous owners had left. It was supposed to be screwed into the wall, but the screws were loose. Seeing it as a hazard, Eileen wanted to remove it and toss it, but I had a feeling that we could repurpose it one day into something more useful. So off it went into the corner of the garage where it sat for almost a year.
As the months went by, I was starting to regret my decision of keeping the tower because it was always getting in my way when working in the garage. Then, one day as I was looking for some cashews in the pantry, I noticed something very interesting.
One side of the pantry had an extra thick wall. It was actually twice the thickness of a regular wall. How unusual, I thought. My mind immediate jumped to storage. If there was empty space in that wall, it could open up the doors for all sorts of pantry storage projects.
Ever since I built a sliding spice shelf in our previous home (in between the fridge and the wall), I had been eager to come up with something similar for our new home. The pantry was getting difficult to navigate with all our spices, and we could never find anything we needed. Unfortunately, there was no decent space to build the equivalent, so I needed other options for spice storage. This thick wall was the perfect solution.
First, I needed to assess the wall situation better. I needed to know how much space was available inside this wall. For all I knew, it could have been thick to accommodate a central air duct. I did some knocking on the wall and it sounded very hollow. Still, I needed to know what was inside before unnecessarily ripping off a large chunk of drywall just to find the area impractical for use.
I took to the Internet and purchased a very cheap endoscope camera for my computer. The endoscope would provide eyes into the wall and allow me peer around without causing too much damage. When it arrived, I hooked it up to my laptop, tested it out a bit to get a feel for it. Pictured below is the endoscope camera, which plugs into the computer via USB.
To give you an example of the detail it gives, I placed the camera inside my son's fire engine, and displayed on the computer screen is a very detailed profile of the driver.
After testing it out, I then stuck it into a very small hole I drilled into the wall. The camera had an adjustable light, so I could see inside the dark wall. I looked up and down, and all around, and the endoscope revealed what I suspected all along - a lot of empty space!
Now that I knew what type of space I was dealing with, I had to brainstorm the best way to make use of it. It was a tall vertical space, so I was thinking along the lines of a vertical shelf to hold spices. I went off into the garage to plan out designs for a custom-built shelf to fit the area.
In the garage, I saw some scrap wood resting in the corner that could be turned into shelf pieces, but once again, that tall tower style CD shelf was in the way. The CD shelf was really starting to test my patience. I was about to finally toss it out when I had a eureka moment. You know, that CD shelf looked very similar in size to the space that I discovered lurking in the pantry walls. I anxiously took out my tape measure and did an exact comparison. The shelf would indeed fit into the wall!
Good thing we did not throw out the CD shelf (more reason for Eileen to start accepting my hoard-ish ways). It seemed like the perfect solution for spice storage. It was not very deep, so it wouldn't hold large cans or boxes, but would easily hold spices and baking materials, which was exactly what we needed.
I could have used the shelf unaltered, but I decided to make it a little shorter for the pantry. The full height would have sent it nearly to the ceiling, which would made it a little impractical for food storage that high.
After the shelf was shortened, I needed to cut the hole in the drywall. I first used a pencil and ruler to outline the exact cutout on the wall. Then I used a special drywall handsaw (commonly called a jab saw) to cut out the hole. It was a little messy working with the drywall, so I kept my shop vac close by.
After the hole was made, I inserted the shelf into the wall to get a feel for how it would look. It looked amazing! I couldn't wait for Eileen to see.
Now I needed to permanently affix the shelf. The shelf was not resting directly on the floor inside the wall (it was a few inches above the baseboard), so first I had to attach a 2 x 4 cross piece to rest the shelf on. I used my Kreg pockethole jig and some pockethole screws to attach both ends of a short 2 x 4 to the wall studs. I repeated the process to attach another cross piece above the shelf to secure the top. Then I slid the shelf in between the upper and lower 2 x 4 supports and attached the shelf permanently using some screws.
All that was left now was to apply some trim. I actually had a lot of extra trim left over from redoing some kitchen baseboard a few months prior. The trim I had originally purchased was too tall for the kitchen, so I had cut it shorter using my table saw. Good thing I held onto the cutoffs. They were the perfect size to use as trim for the new pantry shelf. It was already painted too. I secured the trim directly to the shelf using some finishing nails.
I adjusted the heights of the individual shelves to accommodate a variety of spice configurations, and then the pantry shelf project was complete. I loaded it up with all my spices and our baking materials, which freed up so much space in the pantry.
This was one of the more simple projects I’ve done recently for such a big reward. I completed the project in a few hours, and best of all, it was free!
I'm hoping to repurpose more of my stashed finds in the near future. What upcycling have you done? Leave us a comment - we would love to hear from you!
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Posted by Ash
In our previous home, we hired a contractor to install subway tile backsplash and replace the laminate countertops. Both made a huge difference in the kitchen; however, it was the tile backsplash that pulled the whole kitchen together nicely. Accordingly, we were looking to do something similar in our new kitchen. We had already gel stained the kitchen cabinets, taking them from an old oak to a modern-looking walnut, and the next phrase of our kitchen overhaul was installing tile backsplash. This time around, however, we did not need a contractor because I made sure to watch our previous guy as he was installing the tiles, asking a lot of questions and trying to learn everything I could (Iuckily he was a real sport about it). Therefore, I was confident I could tackle this backsplash project.
Here's a before and after picture of our kitchen. The after picture has the gel stained cabinets and the tile backsplash. Such a big difference, right?
The first step of this project was deciding on a tile. Eileen handled all of this. She wanted to find something that would bring together the granite countertop and chocolate cabinets, something that was modern-looking, and it couldn’t be “too matchy-matchy” (Eileen’s words). It also couldn’t be too busy of a design because the countertops were already very elaborate. After looking up tiles and prices online, Eileen decided Lowe’s had the best selection of tiles for our kitchen, so she went to the store and took pictures of a few of the ones she liked. Then, I superimposed the sample tiles to create virtual showrooms, so we could visualize our kitchen with each of the choice. Eventually we settled on a natural stone tile. It was sold on sheets of 15 tiles each, so we calculated how many sheets we would need based on the approximate surface area of the wall. We made sure to pad this number by at least two, to account for any waste factors.
Here's Eileen holding a sheet of the tiles we chose.
The next decision to make was selecting a grout color. The grout is the filler material that goes in between the tiles. Grout comes in two types - sanded and unsanded. When your tile spacing is less than ⅛”, you need unsanded grout. Our stone tiles used ⅛” spacing so regular sanded grout was needed. Selecting a grout color was actually the hardest part of the whole project because we kept changing our minds. You don't realize it but grout plays a big role in a tiled area, as one grout color can completely change the look of the area. Once again we relied on our virtual showrooms of superimposed tiles to guide us on this decision. We initially went with a dark-colored sanded grout, thinking it would match the cabinets; however, we changed our mind when we started using it because it was way too dark once mixed. We ended up going with a grayish colored grout in the end.
Next, I needed a way to cut the tiles. I remembered from discussions with our contractor friend that there were several ways of accomplishing this task. I could use a hacksaw with a tungsten carbide blade. Although the cheapest solution, it seemed like a lot of work. I could use a manual tile cutter. It scores and breaks the tile for you. That sounded like a simple option. Then, there is a wet tile saw, which is basically a mini-table saw with a water reservoir to keep the blade wet and the tile dust to a minimum. Coincidentally, Home Depot was having a Black Friday sale on wet tile saws, so it was hard to turn down the deal. Admittedly, I would rarely use the saw in the future (how often am I installing tile backsplashes), but it was selling at half price and would greatly expedite progress on this project. Pictured below is the wet tile saw ready for action.
Now, that we had our tile and grout selected (and a brand-new wet tile saw), it was just a matter of getting a mortar mix to bond the tile to the wall. We bought a bag of thinset, which is just a quick drying cement used for tiling. It comes in powder form, and you just have to mix it with the right amount of water. The water/powder ratio is the trick to getting good workable thinset. Too much water and the thinset is too runny and the tiles do not stick well to the wall during the drying period. Too little water and the thinset gets too thick and causes difficulties spreading on the wall. So I started with a few scoops of the powder and added in a very small amount of water. I used a paddle mixer attachment for my drill and a large bucket to stir the solution well. My trick to getting the perfect thinset consistency was to slowly add in more and more water until I was comfortable with the result. Once I got the right thickness, I let the thinset sit for 15 minutes. This wait time (called slaking) was an important step because it gave the thinset ingredients time to activate. After the slaking period, I gave the mix one more stir, and it was ready to use. It was time to start tiling.
Prior to tiling, I removed the small patch of red, pizza-kitchen tiles above the oven (pictured above) with a hammer and chisel. Although they came off fairly easily and quickly, I had to be careful not to cause too much damage to the drywall beneath (the new tiles will need a sturdy and flush surface to adhere to). Then, I prepped the area by removing all the faceplates from any electrical outlets/switches and covered the countertop with plastic. Then using a notched trowel that I purchased specifically for this occasion, I started spreading the thinset onto the drywall. Remembering a tip from my contractor, I worked in small batches. I only put on enough thinset to adhere one sheet of tiles at a time to the wall. To apply the thinset, I scooped some onto a flat (non-notched) side of the trowel and spread it on the wall. Once the thinset was spread evenly over a patch, I switched to the notched side of the trowel and ran it across the thinset, leaving behind evenly spaced grooves. The grooves are important to help the tiles stick to the wall. I placed a sheet of tiles on the wall and pressed each tile into the thinset.
Here is where I made an incorrect assumption about tiling. I thought that because the tiles were already spaced on a sheet, I did not need tile spacers (little plastic wedges that help you keep your tiles evenly spaced). However, once I adhered the sheet to the wall, shortly afterwards some of the tiles started to slide down. Luckily, I had some plastic washers that were ⅛” thick, so I wedged those in between the drooping tiles to maintain the spacing. I ran out later that day to get some actual tile spacers for the rest of the project. I also had an issue of drooping tiles, especially over areas with no countertop (like across the back of the stove). They just kept sliding downwards. To solve this problem, I put temporary finishing nails below some of the tiles on the bottom row to give them a ledge to rest on. However, the tiles above the countertop drooped too, and I could not have the tiles resting directly on the countertop, as I needed to have a ⅛” spacing. Instead of using finishing nails there, I used some paint stirring sticks, which happened to be the right thickness. At the time I thought it was a great idea, but what a big mistake it turned out to be. The next day when the thinset was dry, I tried to remove the stirring sticks, and they would not budge. They were embedded in the dry thinset, just like the tiles above it. I had to use a chisel and a hammer to remove it, and even that did not do a great job. I ended up having to use a special grout removal bit on my Dremel to grind out the wood/mortar mix in the groove between the tile and the countertop. So note for future tiling projects - always use proper plastic spacers rather than improvisation.
Here’s a picture of one area of the wall, just after I applied the tiles to the thinset:
By now, my newly purchased wet tile saw was really starting to pay off. Cutting the tiles was a breeze, and all my cuts were very accurate. Just like a table saw, I set the fence on the tile saw to the right distance, and slowly slid the tiles through the blade to cut them, guided by the fence. There was practically no dust in the air, and it was fairly quiet. I could work in the garage at night and not have to worry about disturbing anyone with the noise.
Here's a picture of me getting ready to cut one of the stones with the tile saw:
Most tiles just required one cut to fit a narrow gap. However, several tiles required two perpendicular cuts, leaving behind an L-shaped tile. These pieces mostly wrapped around an electrical outlet or the corner of a cabinet. To cut these, I just held the tile up to where it was supposed to fit, and penciled in some notches on the surface to remember where to cut it. The only problem I had with the tile saw was where the 2 perpendicular cuts met each other. Since the blade was round, it was a little difficult to get the cut lines to fully intersect without over-cutting slightly on one side of the tile (the side facing down on the saw table). I just dealt with this by making sure the back surface of the tile faced downward when cutting. The over-cut lines would not be visible once the tiles were stuck to the wall. It would have helped to have a tile snipper too. I probably could have eliminated the over-cut problem by getting close enough with the wet tile saw, breaking off the waste part, and then using a tile snipper to clean up the remaining piece. Something to keep in mind for my next tile project, invest in a cheap tile snipper to work alongside the tile saw.
I started on the area off-set by the fridge. It was a small area, and when I was happy with that, I continued along the perimeter of the kitchen. I finished installing the tiles in about 2 hours. I was eager to start grouting, but I had to wait for the mortar to properly set, which meant letting it dry overnight. The next evening, I started the grouting process. I mixed the grout very similar to how I did the thinset. I added the grout powder to the bucket, and slowly added in more and more water (mixing with the paddle) until I got the consistency I liked. Afterwards, I let the mixture rest for 15 minutes to slake.
It was now time to apply the grout. I really just used 3 tools for this process - a grout float, a sponge and a bucket of water. I used the grout float to scoop the grout out of the bucket, and fill in between the tiles. I made sure not to get any grout into the spacing between the tiles and the countertop. That area actually requires caulking. It would technically look fine if grout was packed in there, but there's a good chance that grout would crack after some time. I used a sanded caulk that was the same color as the grout. After the grout was packed into the grooves, I let the grout sit for 15 minutes. The wall will actually look like a big mess at this stage since grout is wiped all over the tiles. After the setting in period, I used a wet sponge to wipe off all the excess grout. I wiped a few tiles at a time, cleaned the sponge in a bucket of water, and repeated. I made sure the sponge was saturated with water, but not enough so that water was dripping down the wall. The wet sponge is what really made the difference. After wiping down the tiles, glimpses of what the final backsplash looked like started to reveal itself. Next, I gave the tiles another sponge cleaning 3 hours later. This time though, the sponge is completely wrung out before each wipe, so its just barely damp when wiping the tiles. Also, its important to perform the wipes in one continuous motion, and not backtrack over already wiped tiles. This last cleaning process is important to help reduce the amount of grout haze the next day when everything is completely dry. The next day, I used a dry towel to dust off the tiles and remove any remaining haze. from the grout.
Here's a close-up of the finished backsplash:
With the grout applied to the tiles, the backsplash was pretty much done. Since the natural stone tiles were porous, I waited a few days after grouting and wiped on a tile sealer to help keep water out and protect the stones from daily kitchen use.
All in all, it took two days to complete the backsplash, and even though I learned a few things the hard way, I successfully installed the tiles. Months later, the backsplash looks the same as the day it first went on, so we have been very pleased.
The next phase of the kitchen overhaul is painting the window trim lighter to match the newly modern feel of the kitchen, installing some pendent lighting, and converting the "desk area" to a cabinet. Check back for these projects, or check out our kitchen cabinet post. Thanks for reading!
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Posted by Ash
I love to cook, and I use a lot of spices - from sweet Hungarian paprika to spicy Jamaican jerk seasoning.
You name it, I most likely have it.
Eileen, on the other hand, loves to bake - so on any given day, we have all the ingredients to make anything chocolate chip bundt cake to spicy Bahamian chicken.
Unfortunately, with such a large spice and baking collection, it was getting very difficult to find something when we needed it.
We were storing all the spices in a corner cabinet, and they took up the entire cabinet. We tried everything for organization - a spinning rack, a mini spice organizer - nothing seemed to save us space or time.
When making a meal, I would have to dig through everything to find what I needed. And Eileen wasn't happy when she was looking for cinnamon or baking powder, and it was shoved behind the seven spices I used the night before for taco seasoning.
Shortly thereafter, we were having dinner at a friend’s house and saw their spice solution.
They were utilizing a 6-inch gap between their fridge and the wall to fit a movable spice shelf, mounted on wheels. I thought it was such a brilliant idea. I googled the idea later that night and saw it was a very popular spice storage solution.
There were lots of incarnations on Pinterest. I was set on incorporating a similar design into my kitchen, but I wanted to take it up a notch.
I didn’t like the wheeled shelf design. It would limit you to one massive shelf. Also, without some type of track system, I thought the shelf would be wobbly.
After some thought, I settled on 2 independent spice shelves mounted to the wall on drawer slides.
Aside from the drawer slides, I had enough scrap wood in the garage to build my design. I didn’t really plan this project out much (aside from basic measurements of available space), mostly winging it as I went along. It turned out well though.
I started off building one of the shelves. I fabricated a box with ¾” thick boards and nailed a hardboard composite backing. I then made some compartments for organization.
I averaged the sizes of my spice jars to determine a good depth and height for the shelves.
Here’s an early picture of the shelf unit:
Determined to re-use scraps from the garage, I attached some wood trim to serve as fences to prevent the spices from falling out.
Also, I couldn’t just attach the drawer slides to back of the shelf structure in the picture above. I had limited space between the wall and the fridge, and fitting the spices with a drawer slide behind exceeded my available width.
So my solution was to mount the drawer slides above and below the shelf, being almost flush with the shelf backing. I attached a piece of 2x4 to the top and bottom of the shelf to serve as a mount for the slide.
I then attached some plywood to the front of the shelf and screwed on a handle. Then I mounted the two drawer slides to the wall, and attached the shelf. The slides were attached directly to wall studs. I also had to make sure that both slides were equally level. Any discrepancies in the slide angles would most likely result in a jamming drawer.
Here is a close-up picture of the mounted shelf with some spices in it (notice the repurposed wood trim):
Here is a picture from the back, showing how I attached the drawer slides:
I built the second shelf much like the first. However, I increased the height to make the most of the available space.
After mounting this shelf, I painted the front facing plywood, blending in to match the color of the kitchen (see pictures below of the completed spice rack).
The spice rack turned out great. We adapted the top shelf for our most frequently used spices, while the lesser used ones ended up in the bottom shelf.
Whenever we needed a spice, I just pulled out the appropriate drawer and located it instantly - very different from before!
I should mention too that the corner cabinet that previously held all of our spices was now completely empty, giving us more space for all those pesky tupperware containers.
Anyone have a good storage solution for those?!
Time & Cost: Building the spice rack took about one weekend, and the total cost was less than $50 because of all the scrap wood I used (my estimate is about $70 if you are buying all the wood from the store).
The spice rack became the hit of many parties. Our friends were always asking about those mysterious handles next to the fridge, and were amazed when the handles revealed a plethora of spices.
Our next door neighbors noticed the spice rack when we were moving out of the house and were fascinated with it, saying, "Forget all those updates you did, this is what sold the house!"
(As an aside, we replaced that dingy pantry curtain with French doors before we moved, check it out here).
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Hi! We're Ash and Eileen, and we are sharing our home project stories with you. From crafty projects to home maintenance to more ambitious DIY endeavors, we hope our stories inspire you to check a few things off your project list! :)