Back in the late 1990s, a kitchen salesman turned up on my doorstep. We were living in Scotland at the time. Bemused, I let him in. I had a part-time library job and a baby under each arm. Did we look like we had £30,000 to spend on a kitchen?
After half an hour in our company, the salesman didn’t think so either. “What do you do?” he asked, trying to get a scope on our ability to pay. My former husband thought wildly. “Gardening!” he said at last. The salesman gaped. Our overgrown garden was trying to come in the kitchen window.
“But not this garden,” added my then husband. The salesman repacked his bag of samples. “I’ve met all sorts in this job,” he muttered. “Drug addicts, petty criminals, people like yourselves…”
In that place and time, the mend-and-make-do approach to interiors was equated with social failure.
But the upcycling movement has changed all that. The most sustainable kitchen is the one you already have and it’s possible to change its appearance quite radically without removing the carcasses. This is better for the environment than buying and installing an entirely new kitchen. It’s also a great deal cheaper.
Catherine Carton is the author of Dainty Dress Diaries (€18.99 from Easons) and the blog of the same name. She’s a brilliantly clear explainer of otherwise daunting DIY projects, which she also videos, bridging the gap between frills, flowery teapots, and power tools. It’s all very empowering and deeply practical.
She also knows when to draw the line between projects that she does herself and ones where she needs to hire someone with specific skills.
“When I first moved in, the kitchen cabinets were orange pine tone, with magnolia walls, and it felt small and dark,” she writes. “A couple of years ago, I painted them, and it instantly freshened them up and made them feel bigger and brighter. However, my countertops felt dated, and I knew I wanted to change them.”
The existing countertops were stone laminate and she couldn’t afford to replace like with like, but she wanted something more enduring than self-adhesive vinyl. At around €10 per roll it’s a good low budget option but not a long term solution.
Instead, she chose the middle road: a custom-size Ikea Säljan countertop, made of melamine laminate and cut to the size of her existing kitchen. Negotiating a purchase like this with the (extremely helpful) Ikea kitchen team required a great deal of attention to detail. An off-the-peg length of laminate costs €65 for a 186 x 63.5 cm length.
She also decided to replace her bockety old kitchen tap. “People are put off changing their taps because they think it’s expensive but this one is gold, it looks fancy, and it cost €90.” Then came the fitting. Carton is a have-a-go-hero but she knew that she needed expert help.
The wiring and the plumbing was out of her skillset. She shopped around and found a local handyman who could do both jobs, while fitting the countertop, and was careful not to break her much loved ceramic sink. The entire cost of the project was less than €600 and the fitting took four hours, with minimal disruption.
Painting cabinet doors is a smaller and more manageable project. You can have it done professionally, but it’s not rocket science. “The first time I took the doors off but now I’m a pro,” Carton says. “I think I’ve painted my cabinets three times.”
Her approach is first to wash with sugar soap and warm water, give it a light sanding, and then a coat of primer before painting. “It costs about €100 to paint my kitchen doors,” she says.
“That’s using a good brand of paint.” Colourtrend’s Satin finish is fit for purpose and costs €32.50 for a litre. Do what it says on the tin.
Craig Verdon, store manager at Liffey Valley B&Q finds that an increasing number of his customers are talking a piecemeal approach to updating their kitchen.
“We have plenty of people coming in with a limited budget and asking what they can do for that. New doors on existing cabinets will give an old kitchen a new lease of life, especially if you go for the trendy streamlined doors without handles (they have a groove so you can open them).
“People are going for two-tone kitchens: one colour above the countertop and another below,” he says, commenting that luxury items like boiling water taps are coming down in price and now start around €479.
“You could potentially change all the doors and worktops on a kitchen for between €1,500 and €2,000,” he says. “The price depends on the materials. A granite worktop will be more expensive.” This approach only works if you’re happy with the basic plan of the kitchen. Anything that involves changing the layout is much bigger job.
“The biggest mistake that people make is not measuring the space correctly,” Verdon says. All the big kitchen retailers – B&Q included – have kitchen planning software and people who are trained in using it. A kitchen is like a jigsaw that needs to be fitted together but, without the dimensions of the room, there’s not a lot they can do to help.
The second biggest pitfall is not considering the fitting. “We try to get the customers to think about these things before they become mistakes,” says Verdon. “The kitchen has to be fitted by someone. We ask them, who is going to fit it?”
In general, the price of installation doesn’t relate to the price of the kitchen. It relates to the level of work that’s required. Any project that involves moving utilities – gas, plumbing, electrics – will be considerably pricier than one that leaves them in situ. The cheapest option is probably to do what you can yourself and contract the rest out locally but, since tradespeople are in high demand and each of them requires a call out fee, it’s worth asking the person selling the kitchen about their installation package.
“Each of our stores has a local fitter and when we sell a kitchen we always give two quotes – one for the kitchen alone and one including fitting,” Verdon explains. “In general, we can co-ordinate the lead time of the actual kitchen with the availability of the fitter and it takes the stress away when it’s project managed by one place.”
The advantages of a service package are that unforeseen costs are less likely and that it’s more likely that the project can be completed according to schedule. Most kitchen renovation projects are time-sensitive.
All it takes is for the plumber to come down with a dose of Covid and the whole family’s living on pot noodles for another week.
See diy.ie, daintydressdiaries.com, colourtrend.ie