Ballin on a Budget Kitchen Renovation

Up Next: Ballin on a Budget Kitchen Renovation – Lessons Learned & Cost Breakdown

The Backstory

I love breathing new life into old things, and our kitchen was definitely on its last breath. The floor to ceiling shades of brown and builder grade white tiles were not our style (not sure who’s style they ever were). We knew as soon as we bought the house that renovating the kitchen was at the top of our list. Little did we know, kitchen renovations don’t happen over night, as much as HGTV would lead us to believe.

The first step was setting our budget. Before we moved in, there were some things we wanted to get done before the furniture was in, like painting and new carpets. Keeping the costs down on these would obviously leave more for the kitchen, but we were on a big time crunch and knew we could at least save some money if we got those things done before the furniture was in. Rather than do it ourselves, we hired professional painters to repaint the entire interior and carpet installers. This was a pretty big chunk of change, and after it was all said and done, we had about $10k left to do a kitchen remodel.

The next step was doing research to see what other renovators were able to do for $10k. It ranged significantly: some people were able to do completely different layouts with new cabinets, though usually not new appliances. Others who got new appliance packages typically kept the same cabinets and layout. It made use realize that $10k for a kitchen renovation was actually a tiny budget, as many remodels can easily get up to $50k or more. We ultimately decided that keeping the existing cabinetry and updating it with paint and hardware was our best option. This would [maybe] allow for some new appliances, which we really wanted, especially a wine fridge.


Haley and I were off and running on the internet. I spent waaayy too much time on Houzz looking for ideas for our new kitchen. There were so many concepts we loved and trends we really liked, but we decided our best bet was to stick with the classics. Given that we already had wood floors, white cabinets seemed like the best option for a classic look. The other benefit about white is that it really makes low/medium grade cabinets pop, whereas darker colors (in our opinion) looked better on higher end cabinetry. We also knew white would go well with the greige color we picked for the rest of the house.

Also true to the classic look, we knew we wanted to go with lighter color counter tops. In the counter top world, everything we were seeing that was “trendy” was quartz and marble, while granite had definitely taken a backseat. Marble was out right away because not only is it expensive, it’s harder to maintain than granite or quartz. Since we were going with white cabinets, we thought it would be too much white with quartz, and thus we decided to go with a lighter granite.

Concrete counters were another thought as it would be drastically cheaper, but we couldn’t find many examples of traditional kitchens that pulled it off well. It’s a contemporary look that I’m not sure would endure as long as some of other options.

Here are some of the photos we used to help guide us.

kitchen, white cabinets, granite counters, wood floors, stainless appliances
Photo credit:
kitchen, white cabinets, granite counters, wood floors
Photo credit:

These ultimately lead to the following design drawings I put together to help guide us.

Kitchen Design Sketch – Peninsula View
Kitchen Design Sketch – Sink View

The Renovation


We wanted the cabinets to look professionally finished, which for all the research I did, meant we had to spray them. Between the kitchen and wine bar, there were a lot of cabinets. We decided to save some time by spraying all the doors and drawer fronts, and roll/brush the cabinet frames. I was pretty confident I could get them all done in about three days.

Cabinets before
Cabinets after

Three weeks later when we were putting the painted doors back on, I realized I was a bit off in my assumption (the first of many wrong assumptions). What ended up making it go so much slower was that we decided to paint ALL of the cabinets in the house so they matched.

Dexter kill room turned paint room

Unfortunately, we had already moved in most of the furniture from the old house into the garage while the painters were finishing the interior, so garage space was definitely a limiting factor. I couldn’t set up a spray room big enough to lay out all of the doors, so I ended up having to paint them in batches. I was doing this in the evenings after work, and driving back to the old house afterwards, so I really only had time to do one coat each evening. Between deglossing, priming, sanding, painting one coat at a time on one side at a time for three coats each, and doing so in different batches, the time really added up.


Counters and Sink

Once we decided on granite, I was stoked because I wouldn’t be installing it and figured it would go quickly. We picked out our sample and placed the order through Home Depot, and they said the installers would be out the following week to measure. However, because of how busy we were with graduation, weddings, work, etc., and how busy the granite installers were, it took almost a month for them just to come measure.

Not wanting to waste any time, I decided to go ahead and remove the counter top from the wine bar so I could remove a cabinet and install the new wine refrigerator (more on that to come).

If there’s one thing I must give credit where it’s due, it’s the sturdiness of those ridiculous builder grade tile counter tops. It took me nearly an entire day just to remove 10 square feet. Not only were they drilled to the cabinets with four inch screws (I found this out the hard way by using a farm jack to try and pop the entire counter off at once, breaking part of the cabinet in the process), the tiles were floated on three quarters of an inch of cement embedded with chicken wire. I had planned on removing all of the old counter tops to save labor costs, but after the wine bar, I said to hell with that and decided to have them do it.

When the installers finally took the measurements, I was sadly informed that it was all in vain. At the end of measuring all the counters, I told the installer I planned to do a farm sink and had it ready for him to measure. He then informed me that a farmhouse sink must already be set in place before they could measure. This meant I would have to have the old counter tops out so I could put in the new sink. That also meant we would be without counter tops and a functional sink the entire time the granite was being processed. Rats.

So, a week later, they came to rip out the old counter tops. I felt a bit better about outsourcing it because the demo guy used the words “bomb proof” to describe the existing counters, and said it took twice as long as they had expected to remove.

The granite company said they could come the very next day to measure again (great), but that meant I had only that afternoon to install a farm sink, something I had never done before (not great).

Haley and I had gone back and forth on the sink. On the one hand, getting an undermount sink would have been much cheaper and easier, but way less stylish. On the other hand, a farm sink would be way more bad ass and would look cooler, especially if it was stainless. After digging on the internet for awhile, I stumbled across a handmade stainless farm sink from Signature Hardware. It also happened to be a retrofit version, which meant we could use the existing cabinetry!

Damn if that sink wasn’t expensive. At over $600, it was twice as much as we had budgeted for a sink. However, once I showed it to Haley, we were both convinced it was worth it.

In theory, installing the sink is really easy in reality, not so much. To do it you basically remove the false drawer fronts, measure the sink, and cut out a section so it will fit. You add support braces on the side (2×4’s drilled to the cabinet) which is where all the weight sits. Easy, right? One thing I didn’t factor was that once you remove the drawer fronts, cabinet doors, and corner brackets (they couldn’t fit with the size of the new sink), you’re really only with a few flimsy rails. Ergo, when you go to saw the edges of the cabinet, the reciprocating saw literally pulls the cabinet rails back and forth rather than cutting them. IT WAS A COMPLETE PAIN IN THE ASS! I ended up having to build a temporary support so the cabinet frame would hold somewhat still, but even that wasn’t great because I needed support right where I cutting. On a cabinet built for a farm sink, this wouldn’t be a problem because it would be one solid piece of wood supported in the correct positions. My cabinet was not built for it.

Needless to say, my lines were not nearly as straight as I had hoped. In fact, they weren’t really straight at all. Thank God I had caulking to help cover my shoddy work. Let’s not mention how long it took to get it perfectly plumb and level. The installers came the next day and we finally had our measurements.

Farm sink set in place in your face Bob Vila!

Picking Our Slab

I’ll keep the granite selection part really short. We went to the granite warehouse, we didn’t like our slab at all because it looked nothing like the sample. After walking back and forth down the aisles a dozen or so times, we found a slab that was way better. Boom.

A slab of granite forged thousands of years ago in the depths of the Earth, carved out by man for his own aesthetic pleasure

Life Without Counters

It’s not much of a life at all. We ate out a lot.  We had to do dishes in our laundry room. It was a long two and a half weeks. Thankfully our little dog kept us distracted.

Sansa trying on different outfits

$100 an Inch

After almost two months of waiting, the day had finally arrived for our granite installation!!!! And yet I wasn’t even there for it (business trip)… bummer.

Haley was kind enough to FaceTime me while I was gone, and even though it was a tiny, pixelated view, I was blown away at how it turned out. Knowing I wouldn’t have to use our washer and dryer as a makeshift table to dry dishes on was an incredibly liberating feeling. Sadly, I didn’t even get to take a photo of it right after it was finished.

As soon as I got home, I immediately got to work on the plumbing and connecting the faucet and garbage disposal. Neither went as planned, and I was pissed.

One awesome thing about the new farm sink is how much deeper it is than our old one! There was one problem though. When attaching our new garbage disposal, I realized that our drain pipe was now too high to properly drain. I tried to think of ways I could get around this, and a Home Depot associated even encouraged me to buy a coupler and turn the P-trap backwards. The problem with that is:

  1. Drainage works on gravity: if the drain is higher than the disposal, water will always be sitting at the bottom of it causing it to rust and smell terrible.
  2. A backwards P-trap is definitely not up to code and would be immediately caught in an inspection or appraisal.
P trap problems

Alas, I decided I would call a plumber. I typically draw the line with rough plumbing because if it’s not done properly, it can cause a whole mess of other problems. I probably wouldn’t know either because it’s behind the wall. After all was said and done, it came out to just over $200, which was much better than I expected. Given it was about a two inch gap, I valued it at just over $100 an inch.

To top this whole ordeal off, the granite installers drilled the faucet hole too close to the sink. When I went to install it, I realized there was not enough room for the lock nut to spin on. The granite company apologized and sent someone back out, and he and I spent an hour getting the faucet in place to a point where the gap wouldn’t be too noticeable. Once again, I defer to caulking.


This is slightly out of chronological order, because really we ordered our appliances about the same time as our granite. Don’t let that bother you.

Appliances are one of those things you don’t ever want to think about because they just work. That being said, none of the appliances except the microwave were fully working; especially the fridge, because there wasn’t one.

While I would have loved to purchase a full Wolf appliance package for $12k-15k like the inspiration photos, Haley was kind enough to remind me we didn’t have a Wolf budget. We had a Whirlpool budget. Thankfully, we got an amazing deal on a Whirlpool Gold Series refrigerator and 5-burner gas range from the RC Willey clearance and damaged section (small dents on the side). In total, they came out to about $900 each, marked down from $1300 and $1600 respectively. On top of that, we learned that Haley was part of a Whirlpool discount program because of her affiliation with the American Bar Association, which allowed us to buy a dishwasher, microwave, and wine refrigerator at wholesale pricing. We didn’t necessarily need a new microwave, but it’s more fun to say you have a “complete Whirlpool appliance package” rather than a “partial Whirlpool appliance package.”

The wine fridge was another pain in the ass to install because it was such a tight fit. I ended up having to remove the baseboards near the cabinet to slide it in. I also had to bore into the wood floors with a drill bit since the back of the fridge sat lower than the feet. To top even more stuff off, I had to do it all over again because the electrician ran the dedicated outlet in a different way than I thought he would and had to pull the unit back out. That “better” more “up to code” way cost about $300. Still, I got it in, it was level with the cabinets, and all I had to do was put a little piece of trim over the cabinet edge. Done.

Trim and Molding

Due to the cabinets on the right side of the kitchen being lower than those on left side, there was a slight gap between the counter tops and the cabinets. I ended up having to install molding around all of the cabinets to keep a uniform look. I used a simple shoe molding, and it ended up being way easier than I thought thanks to my nifty miter saw. That was probably the only easy thing in the entire renovation.

The window trim was more difficult. Initially we didn’t plan to add any since none of the other windows in the house are trimmed, but you spend enough time looking at photos of kitchen remodels that have window trim, and you start to tell yourself you have to have it. It makes the windows look so much bigger!

I have mad respect for finishing carpenters who do molding on a daily basis, because the level of precision you need to make it look good is not easy to do. I can measure and cut a piece of trim at a 45 degree angle pretty easily, but windows don’t often meet that criteria. As a house settles, the angles change a bit. What was once a 45 degree angle is now a 43.5 degree angle, which over a long strip of molding, can be a noticeable difference. More realistically, the angle was never at 45 degrees, because this is a tract home and they don’t care that much about being off one degree.

This said, I did the best I could. The corners aren’t quite as tight and perfect as I would have liked. The section on the left window where the trim meets the soffit was also difficult because I had to make some weird cuts on two pieces to get them to fit. Once again, there’s caulking to cover my mistakes, so none of it is really that noticeable…or so Haley tries to tell me. I notice it.


The backsplash was vastly more difficult. The difficult part being “which one do we choose?!” Haley and I spent three weeks in total deciding what kind of backsplash we wanted. We purchased a dozen samples of subway tile, mosaic glass, mosaic ceramic, arabesque, but just couldn’t decide. In our humble opinion, the backsplash is the part of the kitchen that gives it personality. We had seen a few examples where people chose the wrong one, and it made the whole kitchen look awful and probably their personalities too.

After days of walking by the tile samples laid out on the counter, we were really leaning towards the arabesque tile. It looked both modern and classic at the same time, and it wasn’t subway tile, which nearly EVERY kitchen remodel we came across seemed to have (I guess we’re not cool enough for that). We checked Home Depot and Floor and Decor, but neither had quite the right color. Getting frustrated that we still hadn’t picked something out, I went to Sparks Tile and Stone to see what they had. Man am I glad I did because their selection was so much better! I brought back a few samples they had of arabesque. Low and behold, we found the right color(s)!

We ended up choosing two types of tile because the large, handmade Italian tiles we really liked were waaay more expensive ($5 per tile!) than we had budgeted. Ultimately, we decided to use those for behind the oven and for the wine bar, and a smaller arabesque for the rest.

I have to give a massive shout out to Haley’s uncle, Rick. The guy has been doing home renovations professionally for over 20 years, and it definitely shows in his workmanship. Not only that, he was kind enough to do the backsplash for FREE and taught me a few things along the way! I can’t tell you how thankful I was for that, because I had never laid tile and arabesque is one of the hardest kinds of tile you can lay. It’s not a good starter tile…

The guy is a pro, just doing his pro thing

Haley and my mom suggested it would be a good idea to throw in some of the white tile samples we didn’t choose to tie in the cabinets to the granite. It was such a great call, because I think the pattern we chose made it really pop, yet was subtle enough to not detract from the beautiful granite.

Embedded in this pattern is a mathematical equation used to derive the meaning of life

It took a few days to complete as Rick only had time to work on it between his paid jobs, but we were blown away once it was finished! So worth the wait.

Under-cabinet Lighting

Yep, we got it. In my opinion, it’s important not to skimp on the the lighting as it sets the ambiance.

I found a super easy-to-install, clean looking, motion activated LED light system from eShine that I plugged into the microwave outlet so I could discreetly run the wires. One wave of your hand, and the whole kitchen lights up. Hold your hand there, and you can adjust the dimmer. You truly feel like a God amongst men.

The Big Reveal

I can’t really express how good it felt to be done. After months of hard work, the day we started to believe would never arrive finally did, and our kitchen was complete. It was ABOUT DAMN TIME, because we (or at least I) were really starting to run out of steam. One can only spend so much time laying under a sink, yelling at a pipe for being too short.

Whether you made it this far by reading, or you just skipped to the end, we’re proud to finally reveal our kitchen!

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