A Bucket of Paint + a Trip to IKEA: Babushka Kitchen Gets a $200 Makeover

For those of you just tuning in, Babushka is the code name we’ve affectionately given the old Polish lady who lived in our house for the last 60 years. We don’t know much about her, but the evidence suggests that Babushka loved carpets and curtains and sickly shades of jaundiced pink. Like us, Babushka had three kids, and since they are adults now (Scott met them and says they seem healthy), presumably she fed them, but without the benefit of counter space or proper kitchen storage. The kitchen when we first toured the house, in August. And yes, this is the photo that the realtor used: kitchenThe kitchen right after we bought it: IMG_5215


You’d never guess that window on the left faces a brick wall.

Our first dinner in the new house, before we moved — Chinese takeout eaten on the oven door. Babushka left the pink chairs, which we still use: IMG_5192We started with the one job we HAD to do before we moved in — pull up that tile and refinish the gorgeous maple floors beneath. IMG_5193Since our floor crew didn’t finish until the day before we moved, we just bought a fridge and made the best of our little kitchen.   Then, about a month in, I couldn’t take it any more: The bad lighting, the lack of storage space, the greasy-pink color scheme, the hole in the ceiling. We’re in no position for a full renovation, so I headed to the paint store with my favorite coffee mug, and sent the two oldest males to IKEA to buy about $100 worth of shelves, hooks and task lighting.

But first, a wee bit of destruction (my favorite!) — removing the mysterious wooden rail that ran along the entire perimeter of the kitchen, about 5 feet up.  The rail put up a good fight against my chisel and crowbar; I’m not sure it was a fair fight, since the rail had 4 coats of paint to defend itself, plus scary 3-inch nails holding it in place. IMG_5644 The euphoria of victory wore off when I realized I’d need to apply 5 coats of joint compound to hide the wall canal I left behind.  Nothing I can’t survive with a comfy pair of sweatpants and 12 continuous hours of podcasts. IMG_5651Meanwhile, Scott drilled a square of drywall over a mysterious hole in the kitchen ceiling, probably caused by the formerly leaking upstairs toilet. The toilet leaking into the kitchen. Think about that for a moment. IMG_5648While Scott was up there, I handed him bucket of TSP solution so he could wash 50 years of kitchen grease off the ceiling and upper walls: IMG_5451PRO-TIP: When buying a fixer-upper house (especially with high ceilings), make sure you are significantly shorter than your DIY Partner. The taller person always gets stuck hanging drywall into the ceiling, and washing the ceiling, and painting the ceiling, and …. well, you get the idea.

Here’s a closeup of the kitchen wall after what appears to be 50 years of drinking, smoking, hitchhiking, and bar fights* (before and after a TSP scrub): TSP_beforeandafterAfter the big scrub-down, we gave everything a nice coat of white primer.  The next day, we painted the ceiling a crisp white, and the walls the color of my favorite Mid-Century Fiestaware® coffee mug: IMG_5652 IMG_5672When the paint was barely dry, I hung these three IKEA Grundtal wall shelves in the formerly useless corner between the windows (Babushka put her fridge there, blocking the back window). These shelves ain’t pretty, but stainless steel fits effortlessly into any kitchen. More importantly, they’re cheap, lightweight, easy to install, and hold nearly 40 pounds of stuff: IMG_5668Next we hung this lovely white IKEA Varde shelf. In contrast to its Grundtal cousins, the Varde is heavy, awkward and useless, weighing more than it can hold.  But it sure is pretty above our gleaming white 1957 stove: IMG_5673Finally, we mounted a couple of LED light strips under the original cabinets to brighten the sink area. And I dare say that now, we’ve got a mostly functioning kitchen.  Let’s take a tour! Here’s that shelf above the stove, now charmingly cluttered: IMG_5790Until we can figure out something better, we just wedged an old IKEA Micke desk between the stove and the fridge.  The stool we found in the alley behind our last apartment. IMG_5804Note that I was in the middle of making dinner when I snapped these pics, hence all the food preparation that seems to be going on.  The light just seemed right.  IMG_5810If we swing around to the other wall, you’ll see that my beloved Upcycled Recycling Center has finally found a home in the Babuska kitchen! Traveling along the west wall, you’ll see that there’s enough free space for a “breakfast nook” — our patio table, plus the two pink chairs that Babushka left behind. Note that since the coffee cups match the wall, they virtually disappear in your hand. For whatever that’s worth: IMG_5792And the old Kelvinator Kabients couldn’t be more thrilled to be surrounded by green, picking up the undertones of their glass doors. And that under-cabinet lighting makes dishwashing almost tolerable! IMG_5806IMG_5798(artwork courtesy of Matt Avery/ PSA) IMG_5803We’re pretty happy with our little makeover, which (not counting the floors), cost about $200 total.  The paint color- while period-appropriate– pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

If you’re wondering how we got to that color, and how you can magically turn your favorite object into a bucket of paint, tune in tomorrow….!

* Unfortunately, I’ve engaged in all of these activities at least once, and I hope I don’t end up looking like that kitchen wall when I’m 50.


11 thoughts on “A Bucket of Paint + a Trip to IKEA: Babushka Kitchen Gets a $200 Makeover

  1. BRAVO!!!! that looks fantastic!! floors are gorgeous, and the paint and the brightness and the cute — you did it! we also have those IKEA stainless steel shelves in our kitchen and they are holding ALL OUR COOKBOOKS. my husband nixed storing the liquor up there because while he’s not a coward, he’s also not an idiot. SAVE THE LIQUOR!


    • Kate, I’m generally happy with the Grundtal shelves, but the round bars are a big design flaw, and it’s tricky to keep smaller stuff from rolling over on them or falling between the bars. Since I took these pictures, I’ve actually put a couple of trays on the shelves so I can hold smaller items (including the hubbie’s liquor collection!) without the falling danger. Cookbooks and bit pots/bowls are perfect, though!


  2. Your Babushka must be a distance cousin of the woman who used to own our beloved house. The only horizontal space the kitchen had was one foot of ridged enamel for dish draining beside the (huge, leaky, rusty) sink. We later met her daughter, who is now an elderly lady still living on this street, and discovered that this sink was a (surely heartfelt but decidedly odd) gift she gave her parents when she graduated from nursing school with their help. Thanks so much for sharing your fabulous $200 makeover. It looks great! Shows what you can do with a tall partner, some elbow grease and some imagination. Such a nice alternative from the decorating magazine kitchen makeovers. If I started with $25,000, my kitchen would look great too.


    • Huge, leaky, rusty sink? Hmmm….where have I seen one of those before? Just add “impractically shallow” and “too low” to the list and that is ours to a T. While I love our 1950s cabinets and stove, I have no sentiment for the old farm sink that splashes me and the floor every time. If we do another “phase” in this kitchen, it will definitely be to rethink the sink area. And a dishwasher would be nice! What year was your house built?


      • Our house was built in 1921 and the neighbour I mentioned has been so sweet in sharing family photos with us so we have pics of our house all through the 1930s up into the 1960s. I love the exterior shots with the gorgeous big cars parked at the curb. She’s also come over and “given us a tour” of our own house, describing what is used to be like (which explained the mysterious circle in the livingroom wall. Used to be a woodstove pipe going out there and in the winter the whole family slept in the livingroom since it was the only warm spot in the house (I’m writing this from Toronto where we recently enjoyed -31 degrees). She also told us about her uncle, the tippler, and his adventures in finishing the attic, complete with building a staircase, so the growing kids could have their own bedrooms. The stairs are still there and still sturdy so he must have done his best work a little lubricated. Our house came with a dishwasher (one of the rolling kinds that you had to attach to the sink) but we sold it since floor space in our little kitchen was a premium and it was also so loud that nothing at all, like sleeping, watching TV or holding a thought in your head, could be accomplished while it was on. The house was built by a man as a surprise for his wife on their anniversary. Neighbourhood folklore tells us that she came in once, declared it unlivable and never returned. Another day, I will regale you with tales of the bathroom: Pepto-Bismol pink, so small the sink hung over the end of the tiny clawfooted tub, and jazzed up by the beige lace someone hastily hot-glued around the mirror. The showpiece was the Bakelite toilet (who knew that was a thing!) that we still miss every time we flush our eco-friendly, albeit ineffectual, low-flow toilet.


  3. Like your pro-tip about foisting the ‘tall’ jobs onto the taller partner. However, there is a downside, which is that ‘runty’ gets stuck with painting baseboards, prising linoleum off floorboards and other vertically-challenged-appropriate tasks…


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  6. I was really afraid at first when kitchen remodeling take place. Thinking of lots of gibberish things inside but after finishing, it just changed suddenly and all the negative thinking lost in a matter of time. Excellent work!!


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