Gonzo renovation: my quick and messy $100(ish) kitchen makeover


(If you’ve already seen my Imgur post, this is the same information.)

$100 two-weekend kitchen makeover!

Cost breakdown 

Paint: $15/gallon on sale. I used between half and three quarters of each color.

Floor: $.98/sf. I used about 65 square feet. My kitchen is tiny!

Baseboards and quarter round: $8 on sale at Home Depot.

Caulk: $3

I already had primer, a paint brush, a rolling pin, and sandpaper so I did not include these in the cost. I also did not include my subway fare to and from the paint store, or the cost of the bluetooth speaker I used to listen to podcasts while I was working. If you don’t already have these things kicking around in the back of your hall closet, they will add like $25 to the cost. Seriously though, why do you not own a paint brush?( This is my absolute most favorite paint brush in the entire world, btw.) (Also, this sandpaper will literally change your life. It’s ruined me for all other sandpaper.)

How it all went down

This kitchen was so gross. It was yellow and sticky and sad and ALWAYS dirty. I had a roommate who cooked like Jackson Pollock and cleaned like a blind toddler so I knew anything I did to the kitchen would just be covered in beer and marinara sauce a week later. I put up with this for two years before it occurred to me that I didn’t have to live like this. So, long story short, she moved out and I went nuts with a shit ton of Simple Green and diatomaceous earth. Once everything was spotless, it became apparent that dirt and grease weren’t the only problems–the vinyl floor was shifting and peeling and permanently embedded with grime, and the cabinets were flaking off orange varnish at an alarming rate. I got TWO splinters while cleaning them. The cabinet hardware had mold growing under it, the toe kicks near the sink weren’t caulked or sealed in any way, the wall paint was flaking off massively, and the garbage wood the cabinets were made out of snagged your clothes if you got too close. The sides and visible undersides of the cabinets (like above the stove) didn’t even have cover panels on them–they were just bare (greasy) particle board. Blech.


I don’t have any pictures of painting the walls because who takes pictures of that? The color is Waterscape by Sherwin Williams. I primed and painted the inside of the cabinet doors while they were still hanging because I’m always worried that I’m going to get bored in the middle of a project and abandon it. This way, I could just close the cabinets and pretend it never happened. Also, this minimizes the time that your apartment floor is covered in cabinet doors.

Apparently I didn’t take pictures of this painting process either. Basically I scrubbed the shit out of the cabinets–we don’t have an extractor fan so everything was covered in two years of a dust/cooking oil sludge and this step made me want to die. Then I took the doors down and removed all the hardware, sanded everything with a power sander and a sanding sponge, vacuumed off the sawdust, and slapped on a coat of Kilz. Then over the Kilz I did two coats of SW Pro-Classic in Snowbound because that’s what the guy at the store recommended. I didn’t bother with grain filler because a) this is a rental so, you know, fuck that and b) the grain showing through doesn’t bother me. If it bothers you, feel free to add a ton of steps and products and time to this portion of the project. I mean, if it *really* bothers you, just buy some new cabinets. But I promise nobody is going to judge you for woodgrain showing on your wood cabinets.

Choosing flooring! Again, this is a cheap rental and the existing floors were SUPER shitty, so I wasn’t prepared to spend more than $1/sf. I considered sheet vinyl because I thought it would be easier, but it turns out all the vaguely okay looking sheet vinyl is mega expensive, and still kind of looks awful. I spent weeks scouring the Internet before I found the Style Selection line from Lowes. It’s under $1/sf, doesn’t require additional adhesive, and it’s totally tolerable looking. As an extra bonus, it’s sold per box AND per plank, which is awesome because my kitchen is like 5 square feet bigger than one box would cover. I went with the Woodland Oak color because it looked the least cheap. (Still cheap, but not, like, Applebees-break-room cheap.)

I decided to do a herringbone pattern because I hate myself. I had a brief delusion that I was going to cut all the planks into six pieces and it was going to look all cool and vintage, but my boyfriend shut that down pretty fast.

$100 two-weekend kitchen makeover!

Whew, that’s better. Only one cut per plank instead of four.

This was my cutting setup. The planks were 36″ long, so I cut a piece of plywood to exactly 18″ and backed it with some cork to stop it from slipping, then used my square thing to align it with the plank. So resourceful! Also, SO WRONG. THIS WAS A TERRIBLE IDEA.

First, it turns out the planks weren’t 36″, they were 35-7/8″. WHAT THE FUCK, LOWES. I didn’t notice until I was halfway through cutting the planks. I don’t know how I didn’t catch it sooner, but I didn’t. Ugh.

Second, plywood isn’t a great cutting edge, and the thickness of the cork added to it made my cuts very slightly uneven. Probably if I weren’t doing herringbone none of this would have mattered, but herringbone requires that everything be exactly perfect. I should have used a metal cork-backed ruler and actually, you know, measured shit.

HOWEVER, there was no way I was going to go back to Lowes and buy more planks, so I made it work.

THIS WAS FUN. For some insane reason the baseboards in the kitchen were gross industrial vinyl. Vinyl baseboards flare out at the bottom, which means you can’t just throw down some quarter round on top of it to cover the expansion gap in the new floor. They are also horrifyingly ugly AND apparently provide a really cozy home for bugs. I had like three near heart attacks dealing with this garbage. The only reason I can think that my landlord would have done this is that this wall appears to be brick with a very thin coat of plaster on top, so nailing in a wood baseboard wouldn’t have been possible. IF ONLY THERE WERE ANOTHER WAY TO ATTACH WOOD TO THINGS.

Putting down the floor. I do not own a floor roller because I am a normal human being, and there was no way I was going to rent one and then figure out how to get it home on the subway. So, rolling pin. It worked. Note about floor prep: this was the most annoying part of the whole project. The internet has all kinds of conflicting information, but what I took away from many, many google searches is that I needed something called “embossing self-leveling primer.” I called five hardware stores and they had no idea what I was talking about. I tried to buy it online but as far as I can tell you have to mix two things together to make it but I couldn’t find anywhere to buy those two things. Then I read that you can use feather finish concrete skim coat (I also read that you absolutely CANNOT use feather finish skim coat concrete, but whatever), so I picked up some of that, but during that trip I talked to three guys who said a) I didn’t need to use anything, b) I needed something else that they didn’t sell and cost eleven billion dollars per gallon, and c) I absolutely had to buy additional adhesive, despite the fact that the floor’s instructions said not to. When I arrived home and told my boyfriend we were going to cover the floor in concrete, he shut it down pretty quickly. Again, it’s a rental. I decided to trust the minority of random internet people who said it was cool to just stick the planks right on top of the old vinyl because it sounded like much less work than the alternatives, so, you know, yolo. One more note: Simple Green worked great for getting the layers of embedded grease off the floor but left a film that the planks refused to stick to. We went back over everything with Windex and that totally took care of it.

Getting there!


Baseboards! And quarter round! I glued the baseboards to the brick. I have no idea how well it will hold up, but literally anything is better than the vinyl.

Almost done! So the shitty cuts I mentioned up there? They caused a lot of gaps in the floor. I found almost zero information on the internet about how to fill in gaps in vinyl peel & stick floors, I guess because nobody is dumb enough to do what I did. There’s apparently a grout product specifically for vinyl flooring, but I couldn’t find anywhere that sold it in quantities less than a gallon. I went to my local hardware store and they had zero ideas for me (other than “Yeah, you’re the first person to ask about this. I guess most people would have just ripped it up and started over?”) so I spent $3 on a tube of brown caulk and went to town.

It looks okay. It’s definitely not super noticeable, at least. I’m not sure how well it’s going to hold up, but again, yolo, and if it starts to fail I can just peel it out and resume my search for vinyl grout. (Four month update: the brown caulk is holding up great. I was fully prepared to have to replace it with something else in a few weeks, but so far it looks the same as the day I put it down. Woo!)

And here’s what it looks like in an iPhone, non-wide-angle-lens picture:

The End! It’s not perfect, but it’s better! (Also, I’m aware I need to fix the paint in places, but I can barely stand to look at a paintbrush right now.)

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  1. I think that 12 tomatoes was exaggerating about doing it for 100dollars, the cost of the “on hand” supplies should have been included.
    I am glad you added the link to your blog. I liked reading about the project. Thank you.

    1. Thanks dude!

      When I originally posted this on Reddit, my intention was more to show how I did the floor and less about “look what you can do with $100!” It’s kind of annoying that almost none of the websites who wrote about it contacted me at all :/

  2. This an awesome DYI and probably one of the only ones I may ever use (not). I have a similar situation. My kitchen is 1980 motif and disgusting. We painted the walls before we moved in but it didn’t help the kitchen look any better. My daughter and I decided we can do your DYI kitchen. Thank you for giving me the idea.

  3. I really appreciate you giving the lowdown on your steps and missteps. I’m tempted to redo my rental kitchen but I have way more reno issues to contend with. Still, I’m saving this to my resources.

  4. Discover your blog through Apartment Therapy. They are so dummy to not invite you as a writter, this all post should be there 🙂 I love your tone, and your new kitchen! I’m also so very happy to discover that I’m not the only one that is scared of getting bored of a project in the middle!

  5. Just jumped over here from Apartment Therapy. Glad you got rid of the crappy room mate! Your spruce up on that rental kitchen is fantastic! Want an update on how the floors hold up. And I learned years ago that, no matter what the packaging SAYS the measurements are, measure for yourself. I mean, realistically, wouldn’t any sane person assume that a two by four would actually BE two by four? Sadly, it is not. There is no truth in advertising or in stated measurements at the lumberyard.

    1. Oh man dimensional lumber is so irritating that way! Who cares what size it was at the sawmill before it got planed down??

      1. Right? The hub’s tells me that once upon a time, in the long, long ago, a two by four actually measured a full two inches by a full four inches. I reckon someone figured out that shaving 3/8ths of an inch off of every 2 by 4 that they produced was gonna make them a lot of extra money and who was gonna notice. Yeah. Today, finding 2 by 4’s that measure 2 by 4 would be like finding a unicorn popping golden goose eggs in your backyard, lol!

  6. A) I have a shitty rental kitchen that I’ve been procrastinating on and now I will totally do it, and you are my hero. but also
    B) Your blog is hilarious and I’m stoked to find it. Yay.

  7. Another reader who jumped over from Apartment Therapy. I really enjoyed your story. I have about the same attitude about DIY projects. Nice to hear from someone else who is not an OCD Martha Wannabe.

    1. I kind of feel like I’m a wannabe Martha wannabe… like, I would really *like* to be a person who cares about matching shelf paper and seasonal parsnips, but I am far too lazy for that. Also I’m not 100% sure what a parsnip even is.

      1. Parsnip. Looks like a white carrot. Tastes kind of like a celery-ish cross between a carrot and a potatoes. Tried it once. Wasn’t impressed with the taste or the price, lol! Don’t know what Martha does with shelf paper and seasonal parsnips…..and can’t bring myself to care.

    2. Another someone from AT that I “know”! Hiya! As to Martha, I have a slew of scathing comments about her but I won’t say them….. I’m attempting a
      non-negativity week. I’ll let you know how that goes, lol! Never was a Martha Wannabe.

  8. This looks great! Tip for applying the planks to the floor…..double sided tape. That’s what we did in my place and it turned out great!

  9. First, the tone and “voice” of your writing are just superb! I may send other writers to your blog just for that reason; I write for business and have had to coach other writers to “sound young.” (and re: my moniker, yes I really am old … probably could be your grandma 😉

    Now about the (gorgeous!) floors – did you (& boyfriend) move the stove & fridge to put the new flooring in those areas, or did you just work around them?

    I wish I could replace the vinyl baseboards in my unit … also wish they’d let me paint the 1980s cabinets … but no-go. At least the cabinets are high quality, per a friend who worked in that industry.

    Thanks for this post, & to AT for sending so many of us here!

    1. Oh man, thank you so much! That was the nicest compliment ever!

      For the floors, we moved the fridge and put the flooring under it. It was actually surprisingly easy to move and barely added any time to the project. We also moved the stove but only put the flooring under about half of it, since at that point I was worried about running out of planks. I made sure to caulk the edges of the flooring really well so I didn’t have to worry about water running back there and messing with the adhesive.

      I admit I might have a too-cavalier attitude about apartment renovations, but I can’t imagine a landlord being mad about replacing vinyl baseboards with wood! If you have a miter saw and a free weekend, I say go for it!

  10. It looks amazing, the old kitchen was terrible. You did a great job of making the best of a bad situation. Yes, some things are not perfect maybe, but nothing is obvious. And anyone looking around the kitchen to nitpick it too death, is someone you don’t need in your home anyway.

  11. Beautiful job! It went from dingy and depressing, grease and grime not withstanding, to light and inviting. Question, because it’s driving me nuts trying to figure it out, what is the long thing above your sink?

    1. Whoa sorry it took me so long to reply to this! The weird thing above the sink is housing for a fluorescent light. The light it gives off is horrifying and it makes an awful humming noise and I have no idea why it exists.

  12. Even if I will never muster the courage to paint my kitchen’s cabinets, this reading was worth it just for the hilarious writing!! I laughed out loud all the way, felt the anguish of the herringbone pattern and everything else. I don’t care about wood grain either, I would embark on the project if there was a promise out there that 1-2 coats of paint would suffice. and that’s it, no hassle. BTW i have a beautiful kitchen that I designed myself but the color of the wooden cabinets needs to change.
    Your kitchen came out a fresh, pretty and light gem.

    1. I actually have a cheap, crappy miter saw I keep in my apartment for little stuff like this. It turns out it’s super handy for all sorts of stuff! For simple base molding, though, it’s 100% possible to do it by hand with a hacksaw. You just need something like this, or if you want to get super fancy, this thing that I just discovered existed and might have to buy for myself…

  13. So want to try this, but wonder how did you decide where to place first planks? From pics, seems a few inches from any walls/counters. Was there a formula used to determine how far out?
    Thanks. Bookmarked your blog.

    1. I started on the wall with the dresser because it was the longest, and tried to follow the line of the old floor, but nothing in there is square so it got out of whack pretty quickly. I think it’s really not too important where you start, since all of the diagonal lines are pretty good at disguising any weird angles you might end up with. By the end I was being extreeeeeeeemely casual with the placement and it honestly looks the same as when I was obsessing over it.

  14. I zeroed in on the kitchen wall color. I said that’s MY color! It was. The one i’ve been going on obnoxiously to people about. LOVE IT and the Euro fun look it gives your SUPER CLEAN now kitchen. Very evolved to think about using the herringbone pattern, ha, as I’ve thought about getting the stick on’s and just doing the norm, unevolved. So glad I didn’t have my coffee cup up to my mouth when I read, ‘Not Applebee’s breakroom cheap’…HAAAAAAAAAAAAA! I’m a new fan from the jump over from the AT post! Always need the ‘bahahaaaaaaaaa’s’ and motivation about fixing up my not so much /not as bad now/ crappy apartment in a NORMAL PERSON’S way 😉 Now to read the other blogs you’ve done. So glad I love the kitchen paint color as you did that made me check out the post as doing the floors as you did seemed to worky hard to bother reading..but not nowwww 🙂

  15. This was an amazing job done. Unfortunately, my current landlord isn’t keen on me making changes such as painting cabinets. The flooring is ok but for almost a year, I couldn’t think of a way to make the kitchen look any better. I eventually gave up. With that being said, I read your latest post and want to congratulate you on your new purchased apartment. Now you could make changes however you want and you get to keep it, it doesn’t go to a rental that you don’t own!

    1. Thank you so much! I’m SO EXCITED about all the cool stuff I’m suddenly allowed to do in my apartment!