The Make-Do Kitchen Makeover

As you know getting refurbishments done in a house that you live in takes time. And in my case with having to re-wire the house as part of that process, there is an order to the schedule that I can’t do much about. The kitchen, which is the last piece in the puzzle – and a space that annoys me intensely – is all about being patient. Which of course just adds to my annoyance!

So to refresh your memories, the kitchen is a melange of textured fake plaster on the walls, fake terracotta tiles on the floor, pale blue mosaic splash back, (which has the potential to be nice but because they’ve been really badly fitted, just isn’t) maple effect shaker style cabinets and fake black granite work surfaces. It’s a dated and challenging space because there is very little natural light, no heating and things are just falling apart a bit. Funnily enough this kitchen is the same one as I have at the flat in London – there, I ripped out the work surface, the flooring, the splash back and repainted the cabinets, which just goes to show you how quickly things age (it was only fitted ten years ago.)


This kitchen is in marginally better nick but it needs to last until I redo this area – which is the major part of the refurbs because it involves realigning floor levels, flattening the poxy little porch, excavating the ground to the rear to create the foundations and extending across the whole of the rear elevation to create a studio space for me to work in that will give a better connection to the garden and double as a spare bedroom. It will bring in more light and give the house a much more flexible lower ground floor. When we’re all at home we often have visitors and it’s the living space that gets hammered. Reconfiguring the kitchen/dining area will also create a space for an additional relaxation area. At the moment there is nowhere to play music (and as my son owns seven guitars, two synthesisers, a mandolin, a zither, a ukulele and a zazz (not sure of the spelling!) the lower ground floor would really be fantastic for that. But that is down the road a bit, not least because I’m studying right now.

The first part of the process was the messiest and I still have a bit more to do – stripping off the horrid textured fake plaster, you can see it above on the opening around the cooker… In some areas it was just a wallpaper but in others it was a plaster effect, so the stripping was pretty slow going, but oh my, the walls look so much better without their rough texture.

There was a lot of filling and sanding to do afterwards, which is really worth taking the time over because a smooth, flat wall updates a space so much. I have the contrast right now of walls that are smooth in the kitchen and walls that are still textured in the dining area and it is incredible to see how much more considered and calm the smooth walls look in comparison to the textured. They also bounce light around now which is much needed in this space.

It would be easy to assume that the texture would reflect light, especially because it is coated in a shiny paint finish, but it does the reverse. It draws attention to each ridge of plaster so the affect is one of shadow and imperfection – not of a surface that acts as a reflector. The walls have been painted Slaked Lime Mid, by Little Greene which is a soft dove grey. It’s a warm but fresh off white and in any other space I’d probably love it. In my wretched kitchen the lighting plays a big part. Grrr.

Next up was painting the cabinets and I went all around the houses with what colour I was going to go for. To unify the splash back with the rest of the scheme I initially thought I would go for a pale grey-blue. But then the floor would still be a complete contrast – and I did not want to draw attention to that! So I opted for a grey-white.

I also experimented with how I prepped the surfaces.

Rubbing alcohol! Who knew!

So easy, it removes all the airborne cooking grease immediately, no hard rubbing and no horrid fumes. This is the same stuff as used for massage and clinical tests (to clean the skin) so as I had some in the cupboard, I thought I’d give it a try. It worked a treat, what a revelation!

And I also experimented with spraying the unit doors and would say that you really need to put time into getting the consistency of the paint right. My mix was too thin. It went on beautifully and then slid straight off! The finish would have been lovely but in the end I opted for brush painting because I didn’t want to waste paint in experimenting with how much I needed to dilute it by.


It’s not been the quickest of jobs and to all my friends who have seen the kitchen without drawer frontals and in its two toned state, thanks for bearing with me, but I have to say it’s transformed the look of the room.



It’s certainly lifted the space and created a much lighter room, but with the very harsh lighting I have in the kitchen, the cabinets, painted in a colour that I usually love, (Strong White by Farrow and Ball) look flat and a bit clinical. Obviously when the end wall is finished this will give a different look to the overall room, but the two colours which on paper swatches (big A4 sized swatches) looked great together, don’t quite hold hands the way I thought they would. On the cabinets I used the acrylic eggshell finish and found it really nice to work with. It is a water soluble paint which actually has an oil base; the oil is water dispersible like bath oils, which makes it a little bit more robust. I’m hoping in a kitchen this will last the distance.

All I need to do now is get rid of that horrid fake crystal drop pendant fitting and update the light bulbs in a bid to make this space go the distance. Other wise I’ll end up repainting the walls and the cabinets in a never ending quest to find colours that work in the room when it’s the space that’s the problem and I just have to be patient until I can change it!

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A Quick Cloakroom Update

The bathrooms and cloakrooms in this house clearly never got the love they should have done. Another small area that I haven’t photographed is the lower ground floor cloakroom. It didn’t even have a sink! I was shown the ‘room’ when I viewed the property but it was used for storage, so the fact that there was no sink wasn’t obvious until I got the keys. I assumed they’d taken it with them, bizarre – but if people can take light fittings and fridges, why not sinks? When my solicitor asked them to provide a replacement, they said that it had always been like that! So, no pictures of that room and for several months it has been the receptacle of step ladders and paint tins, but no more!

I bought a wall hung vanity and hand basin online and a tap to go with them for the princely sum of £93 and yesterday it was connected up! I wonder how long it’s been since that room was plumbed? If it’s never had a sink, then this means it’s the first time it’s actually been a proper cloakroom. In a house that is 152 years old (or thereabouts) it’s quite funny to think this is a first! I’m chuffed.

As with my ensuite this is essentially a temporary measure – but this will be in place for much longer as I won’t be doing the lower ground extension for another couple of years. It will be a complete reconfiguration involving both the kitchen and my studio, so I’m not able to take that on yet. I don’t have the funds right now and I’m also studying so my workspace is doing a double duty.
Because I do spend a lot of time at my desk, I want to enjoy being in the space – even if it’s a short term fix – so the walls in the kitchen and dining area are being stripped and this cloakroom update is a part of that process – getting things the way I want for right now.

Let’s be honest, I did not want to spend any money on it at all! But I didn’t have a mirror I could move from somewhere else in the house and with no sink or tap, there were things that had to be considered, so the online research was all about size, cost and style – the least offensive, the best price and the right size for a room that is 610mm x 1650mm. The lighting is harsh and as it is off the utility area, it isn’t what you’d call welcoming, but it is close to the kitchen and my desk – and the closest WC to the garden – so I wanted it to be functional. Another thing, because the pipework was capped off with gaffer tape, there were a few nasty niffs from that area which I didn’t care for! So, spending even a tiny amount to get rid of stench had to be considered a good thing.

The paint colours went through several incarnations. I had some pink that I’d bought for a different property and then *chickened out* decided not to use, so that was first put on the walls, I mean I had 2.5 litres. But, I didn’t like it here either, I think this colour just needs more natural light and both areas I’d tried to use it were lacking in that. Then in the process of finding a vanity I found one that was supposed to be black (of course it isn’t, it’s a dark wenge effect) so decided to embrace the idea of high contrast and realised I had, as always, several dozen tester posts in various off whites and earth tones. The tongue and grove paneling became an off black and the wenge effect vanity and oak mirror add a little warmth to the deep tone. I got out the spirit level and measured a random grid on the walls and then just brushed each patch on in a different colour. The lines aren’t completely straight but nothing in this house is, so I decided to embrace that too.

What I’ve ended up with is a cloakroom with character, that I managed to pull together for about £150. It won’t look anything like this when the reconfiguration is done, but spending a small amount to make a space functional over the next two years or so, is money that has improved an area that wasn’t usable before. I could have ignored it completely but the idea of nasty smells just wafting out from time to time didn’t thrill me either. On balance it’s one small improvement that actually pleases me a lot.

Temporary Measures

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve never shown pictures of the bathroom or ensuite. There is a good reason for that, they’re both hideous. And this isn’t just a matter of taste, it’s much more to do with the fact that whoever did the work in the first place was quite happy to go for the cheapest method possible, so the ensuite is carved out of the bathroom – which would have been a really rather lovely bedroom at some point in the building’s history. But now that all the pipework is in that part of the house, there’s really no point in me relocating the bathroom anywhere else, so I am left with two rooms that are ugly and vulnerable – both have issues with leaks because the work has been done so poorly – (which doesn’t show in a building survey because a new mastic run makes it look like it’s in good repair) until such a time as the builder can put me on his schedule. It looks like February… but holding my breath would be a mistake…

The textured plaster effect is actually wallpaper, so it’s coming away at the joins of the strips and in the corners. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you, the high steam levels in a bathroom will make wallpaper come away from the walls. I mean, my old friend the wallpaper steamer uses exactly that method to encourage wallpaper to part company with the wall, so even modern ready-mixed wallpaper paste will eventually succumb to the invasive nature of steam. See what I mean about the cheapest method of updating? This was done so they didn’t have to do a skim of plaster to the walls. You’ve probably guessed by now that I won’t be keeping this wallpaper…

I won’t be keeping that bathroom suite either. The loo cistern has a big crack across the top and the hand basin is too deep for the plans I’ve drawn up for the new ensuite (hoorah.) And now you can see the full extend of the mosaic tiles. They are the cause of the leaks in this shower. Whoever did the tiling has stretched the mesh backing to the mosaics, which come in squares of about 300mm. The adhesive can’t grip onto something that is stretched because the tension of the mesh won’t bond and this has made the grout lines crack…

Don’t get me wrong, I like mosaics. I love the Mediterranean but loving the Med is no excuse for slapping every wall with textured effects because guess what? All it really is is a cover up for laziness. Beware. Mosaic tiles are tricky to install, if the grout lines aren’t straight, this is how you can tell that the adhesive bond is likely to be substandard and there will be issues where water penetration is concerned. You will also have quite a job to make good walls that have been covered by this type of textured wallpaper – it is used as a disguise. In this case though, I knew I would be changing the bathrooms as soon as I could, so I took that on board…

To get me to that point I decided that as shiny paint is my pet hate, (and even worse, shiny Magnolia paint) it had to go. So enter the ‘what colour will make fake Mediterranean mosaic tiles look less fake?’ dilemma. I considered greens and browns that would tone with those in the tiles and then came unstuck because my bedroom is blues and greys. I considered various blues and found that they changed colour in the lighting so much that I really didn’t like them in situ. I really don’t like yellows… not that keen on terracotta in this space either… Step forward good old navy blue, or Stiffkey Blue by Farrow and Ball to be precise.

And then I had the ‘exciting’ idea of painting the tiles in a metallic paint to disguise them. Disguising the disguise, hmmm, good thing this is temporary. I settled on a bronze colour and then went off to get my preparation layers. The tiles need to be primed.

I looked at various options and felt my brain glazing over. This is temporary, how much prep did I really want to do? In a nutshell, the shiny surface of tiles requires preparation for paint to adhere successfully. There are different formulations, either oil based or water based will work, but in a bathroom I was best off using an oil based primer. Most primers are coloured and generally have to be brushed on. I didn’t want brush marks, so I selected a spray primer that was colourless and just about asphyxiated myself applying it. Blimey o’riley, I had to go off and have a little sit down.

Then I cut a sponge into a square much the same size as the tiles and started by sponging the bronze onto the mirror frame. The grout lines on this were so wide that I did get quite a bit of paint on the grout, oh boo! Repairs were done with an off white eggshell paint, so again I was disguising the disguise, something that I wasn’t all that happy with.

Initially I was thinking I would paint the tiles in the shower enclosure as well, but having done the frame and splash backs, I’m not so sure now. And this area is constantly wet, so I really don’t know how long the paint will adhere. I think I’ll live with it a few weeks and see what I think. Right now, I’m mildly pleased with the results, not sure if that’s quite enough to want to do more.

The moral of the story is when someone tells you not to bother painting the tiles because you won’t like the effect – and if that someone is a professional decorator who knows you well – they’re probably right!

A word on paint coverage: the decorators I’ve worked with over the years have often mentioned that they don’t like working with Farrow and Ball paints because they’re a thin consistency. What that means is you can build up layers which is fine if you want a chalky finish, but not fine if you need to touch up the paintwork or if you’re painting over a dramatically different colour. To get around that it is very common for decorators to get colours mixed into trade paint bases – because they know the performance will be better and more reliable. Having moved recently I don’t have a decorators merchants around the corner the way I used to so on this occasion I did buy the Farrow and Ball paint from the shelf. And guess what, it is thin and it doesn’t cover well. Going from magnolia to dark blue was three coats. No wonder decorators don’t like it, when time equals money having to do three coats is another half day or more on the same job. Sorry Farrow and Ball, much as I love the colour, I was disappointed with the coverage.