70’s Kitchen Facelift: Phase 1 (or Why I’ve Been MIA)

mason jar pendant light

When we purchased our home over a year a half ago, we felt so blessed that numerous updates had already been done to the original 1978 features and that they totally fit our tastes. However, the kitchen had really not been touched, other than new appliances (for which we were exceedingly grateful, of course).

70's kitchen before
photo from listing, before we bought the house

I had already spent six years embracing Harvest Gold counter tops in our starter house, but these–as well as the floor–were in really bad shape, with lots of cut marks and chips. Counter tops and flooring are big expenses, but I knew how much a little paint could do, especially when applied to those dark cabinets.

However, time and motivation for such a big project are a little hard to come by with four young children.

So when I found out about a Spring Break Vacation Bible School being done close to our home, I saw it as the rare opportunity that it was: three solid hours every morning to tackle the kitchen while the older three were at VBS and our youngest was with Grammy. (I homeschool my kids and am with them 24/7, so no, I did not feel the least bit guilty sending them off during spring break. ;)

I will be honest. It was a lot of work. A LOT. I didn’t just work on it in the mornings. If I hadn’t seen such a significant improvement after simply priming, I might have given up and wept bitter tears into my gallon of paint. But I’ve never been a very good quitter, so I persevered. I started Monday morning, and hubby and I rehung the doors on Sunday afternoon. Then I got to decorate, which was the big huge bone at the end of the project.

 70's kitchen after

It was totally worth it. Even with the counter tops and flooring not yet replaced, it feels like a completely different room. And would you believe that I hardly even notice the color of the counters anymore?

Here are a few more before & after shots, followed by a whole bunch more “afters.”

70's cupboards before
70's cupboards after

70's cabinets before
70's cabinets after

mason jar pendant light in kitchen
aqua mason jars
mason jar light 

Upcoming on the agenda over the next several months: new counter tops (undecided at this point), vinyl beadboard backsplash, tin-look Smoked Pewter Backsplash behind the stove, white range hood, light switches & outlets, and Barnwood vinyl plank flooring. We’re staying within a conservative budget and also taking into account the fact that we have four active kids who run cars on the floor and make messes. I want a kitchen I enjoy but one where I’m not worrying about something expensive getting ruined.

Now for some Q&A, just to see if I can answer some questions ahead of time. I did a lot of searching for tips and examples before I started, and I greatly appreciated blogs where people gave lots of details. So this part may be long, but hopefully it will be helpful to some of you.

Q: What paint colors did you use?
A: The white on the cabinets and walls is Behr Frost (1857) in semi-gloss. I went through bunches of  paint chips to choose a color that was as close as possible to our white appliances without leaning toward blue or yellow. This is such a crisp white. We have a relatively small kitchen with no direct sunlight due to our covered patio, so I really wanted to brighten it up and make the appliances “disappear.” This color worked perfectly. I will be painting the ceiling as well–I just ran out! (BTW, it only took one gallon for all of the cabinets and walls.)

On the soffits and the back of the cabinets where I left off the doors, I used Behr Adriatic Mist (490C-2) in a satin finish. It can be hard to tell on a computer screen, but it’s a nice aqua color–not too blue, not too green, and not too garish. I’ve decided I’m going to use the same color under the long counter where the stools are. (I’m planning to paint the stools as well, but I’m not sure yet what color.)

I used the Premium Plus Ultra paint for both, and I was very pleased with the coverage.

Q: Speaking of the soffits, how did you reach them?
A: Well, I would have won no OSHA safety awards while cutting in. (Read: I stood on the counters and leaned while holding on to the cabinet frames.)  But for rolling on, I used this fantastic gadget which dispenses paint from the tube so that you don’t have to keep rolling in a tray. It’s called the EZ Twist Paint Stick.

My dad (who is NOT suckered by gimmicks) took someone’s advice and tried one out a couple of years ago, and he was very impressed. That was enough to make me buy one when I saw it on clearance. (I think it was on clearance because the brand changed from Black & Decker to Home Right.) We have a vaulted ceiling on our main level, and it made painting up that high go so much easier and unbelievably faster. I highly recommend it.

EZ Twist Paint Stick

Q: What steps did you take to paint the cabinets?
A: I was a bit terrified to start, so I spent a lot of time researching other people’s experience with this part and then basically narrowed it down and went with my gut! (I will include a list at the end of the sources that helped me the most.)
     1) Cleaned the cabinet doors well with TSP or a TSP substitute.
     2) Removed them and laid them out on cheap tarps ($2.99 at Harbor Freight with coupon) that were covering any available table I could fit in our school room. If you can do this, it’s so much better than sitting on the floor! Especially if you’re over 40. ;)
     3) Applied two coats of Kilz Odorless Oil-Based Primer (the odorless was important since I had to work inside, the oil based is important for the best adhesion).
     4) Applied two coats of paint, allowing for several hours of drying time in-between. I also used a brand new roller for each of the two coats on the outside of the doors in order to reduce the chance of fuzzies. Good quality rollers will help. (I used Purdy.)
      5) Patiently (?) waited for three days before rehanging the doors in order to avoid marring the finish during handling.

On the cabinet fronts, I sanded lightly (extra fine grit) between each coat of primer and paint to help create a smoother finish. I did not do that for the insides since they’re not seen as much. Also, I alternated between the doors and the cabinet frames while priming and while painting. It seemed to flow pretty well, because I could usually start the next coat once I finished the whole round.
Q: How did you keep your kids out of the kitchen and school room while the paint was drying?
A: Baby gates and blockades. You do what you can!

Q: Aren’t you nervous about having white cabinets with four kids?
A: A resounding No! I love that I can easily see grime and wipe it clean rather than noticing it (usually with embarrassment) when the light hits a certain way. Dark wood cabinets are so difficult when it comes to that.

Q: Where did you get that Bell jar pendant light?
A: When I saw this one listed for $149 a few months ago, I was determined I would make my own one day!  We had a can light there, so instead of begging my electrician husband to rewire, drywall, etc., I bought a conversion kit at Home Depot for just over $20.

It appears they don’t sell it online, but this gives you an idea.

The jar was $3 at last year’s Farm Chicks Show, and I used a regular canning lid & ring that I spray painted to match the fixture. I drilled a hole through the middle of the lid, and then my hubby used tin snips to cut out a circle that would accommodate the new bulb socket. (It doesn’t have to be exact, as there is a locking ring that goes on the inside.)  There are no tools necessary for installation. You just adjust for how far down you want the light to hang, screw the other end into the existing bulb socket, and slide up the plate until it’s flush with the ceiling/soffit.

The most expensive part was the bulb. I chose to go with a decorative LED lamp so that there would be no risk of overheating and breaking the glass. Those bulbs run about $10-15 (I saw them on the lower end of that range at Home Depot after already purchasing one at Target), but they last for several years.

Q: Where did you buy your cabinet hardware?
A: I picked up the knobs for 75% off at Target back when we lived in our previous house and I thought I might replace the ones in that kitchen. The cup pulls were a closeout from Big Lots, and they started out an antique brass color. My original plan was to spray paint everything oil-rubbed bronze, but after I painted the cabinets, I decided that I liked the not-quite-as-dark color against them. So I kept the knobs as-is and spray painted the pulls with one coat of Krylon metal primer and two coats of Rust-oleum Metallic Spray in Dark Bronze.

Q: What about the rest of the decor?
A: Well…

  • The window treatments are actually Waverly table runners that I found on clearance at Burlington Coat Factory and clipped up after turning over the edge for contrast. I love to sew, but if it’s not necessary, then all the better! It’s the Lattice pattern, and I think the retail pieces are discontinued, though you can find a few on ebay. If you sew, you can purchase the fabric, but I’m not 100% positive these are the exact same shades: Waverly Lattice Lovely Lagoon, Waverly Lattice Citrine.
  • The clock was purchased from One King’s Lane.
  • The fabric behind the old window is from Joann’s, and it’s called Kay’s Medallions. I think I’m eventually going to replace it with an old map, but I had the fabric on hand and wanted to get something up there!
  • I made the Bakery sign by painting & distressing an old cabinet door from Habitat Restore and using my Silhouette Machine to create a stencil. The font is Copperplate Gothic.
  • I found the little teacup canvases in the dollar bins at Michaels.
  • As far as the other items that are out for display, some were pulled from our cupboards, and the rest I collected over the past year or so from garage sales and thrift stores. 
  • Am I a total nerd for being thrilled that my favorite Mrs. Meyers scent matches my kitchen?

Whew! That was a long post. I hope I answered some of your questions, but if you still have more, I would love to address them. Please leave a comment and I’ll answer below it.

Now, a side-by-side before & after before I depart. Ahhhh….

70's kitchen before and after

Invaluable sources for tips on painting cabinets:
young house love
the handmade home
Running With Scissors

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