Guest Blog: Holly Burns’ Tips for Remodeling on a Budget

February 8, 2012 at 7:00 am , by

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If you saw Holly Burns’ kitchen transformation in our March issue, you’ll know that she and her husband pulled off an amazing feat of DIY derring-do. So we asked her to share what she learned about saving money on the process. Holly blogs at Nothing But Bonfires. And is still working up the courage to renovate her bathroom.

How to Remodel a Kitchen on a Budget (Without Losing Your Mind)

Three months after we bought our fixer-upper house in an uncool part of San Francisco, my husband Sean and I decided to remodel the kitchen. Actually, that’s not quite true; we decided to remodel the kitchen before we’d even signed the papers in the realtor’s office—if you’d seen that hideous flowered wallpaper, you would have too—but we needed a little time to save up. I like to joke that we also needed a little time to get our wills in order. You know, in case we murdered each other in the process.

Renovating your kitchen yourself isn’t easy. It isn’t even particularly fun. And it certainly isn’t always cheap. But when you approach the project with a little humor and a lot of knowledge, it’s definitely a whole lot more manageable. If you’re thinking of tackling a DIY remodel, here are a few ways to keep your budget bearable and your sanity intact. Mostly, anyway. (You may also need wine.)

Spend where you care, save where you don’t

Coming in at around a third of our total budget, our counters were the priciest part of our kitchen remodel. Sure, we could have gone with a cheaper wood or vinyl, but the sleekness of Caesarstone appealed to us—as did the promise that it would be virtually indestructible (a year and a half later, the counters are still good as new!) To justify the splurge, we used basic white subway tiles for our backsplash. At 21 cents each, they were an affordable way for us to save that dough for what we really wanted.

Invest where it makes sense

Renting a tile cutter was going to cost us $60 a day. Buying a tile cutter, however, came in just under a hundred. Because we were going to use it for both the floor and the backsplash tiles—which we’d probably need to do on different days—investing in the purchase seemed to make the most sense. (Plus, now we have no excuse not to remodel our bathroom.)

Leave room for extras

No matter how carefully you budget, surprises are going to creep in; for us, it was the expense of hauling away the old counters we’d ripped out. If you can, give yourself an emergency buffer of $200. And if you don’t need it? Champagne for everyone!

Do your homework

My husband is good at many things, but he had never before laid a tile floor. Luckily for him, YouTube was packed with professional, educational videos that walked him through it step by step; he also talked extensively with the folks in our local Lowe’s, who were more than happy to help. Before tackling a project, see what free resources are out there at your disposal. Then use them.

But know your limits

Technically speaking, we probably could have figured out how to install our own counters, but since we were doing pretty much our entire renovation ourselves, it was a huge relief when our quote included installation anyway. Sometimes, you’ve just got to leave it to the professionals. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you won’t end up with a bad back and a botched job.

Give yourself time

All in all, our entire kitchen renovation took about six weeks. By all means, plan out your steps, but try to assume that everything will take twice as long as you think it will; I still cringe when I assumed we could rip up our old kitchen floor, lay a sub-floor, then tile and grout the whole thing in a weekend.

Have a lot of takeout menus handy

Remember those six weeks I just mentioned? You’re going to be living without a sink, stove, or dishwasher for quite a few of them. If the delivery guy at your local pizza place knows your name by the end of it all, then you can probably assume you’ve done something right. Congratulations on a successful kitchen renovation.

Have a question for Holly? Ask away in the comments. 



12 Responses to “Guest Blog: Holly Burns’ Tips for Remodeling on a Budget”

  1. I live in fear of doing any sort of large house project. Assembling an IKEA item is about my limit. Regardless, I am anxiously looking forward to my next grocery store trip so I can check out your article!

  2. I love reading your blog. Your kitchen is gorgeous! Excellent job :o )

  3. Hello Holly, Thank you for this article. Your home looks great. I too live in the bay area. I love the color in your dining room adjacent to your “map wall”. Can you please give me the name and make of it. It looks like a warm grey.Thanks again. Good luck with your bathroom. If I didn’t have hand injuries, I would DIY it myself too. I love to remodel and design.

  4. Holly,

    I LOVE your kitchen table and am looking for that one EXACTLY!! Can you tell me where you got it?
    Your entire project is beautiful and I am definitely “stealing” some ideas.

  5. We purchased our home in 2001 from a couple who had it custom-built for them in 1987. The home is beautiful with wood floors in all the rooms, except for the bathrooms which have decorative tile floors. My problem is how to cover the kitchen countertops that are made up of small light blue 3 inch square tiles. Short of completely replacing the countertops, is there any product I can use to cover the tile? I’m a better handy-man than my husband, but it still needs to be easy! Thank you.

  6. Thanks so much, everyone! Really lovely to hear your thoughts, and you’re all so kind!

    To answer your questions:

    Lucille: the paint color is “Filtered Shade” by Valspar. We went through a LOT of gray samples to find the right one, and this is perfect — very neutral and never looks too blue or green or purple, which grays often can.

    Kathy: The table is from CB2. It’s called the Odyssey:

    Sheila Martin: I wish I could help, but I’m afraid I’m not sure how you could cover the tile countertops — that’s actually what we had too, and our solution was to rip them out entirely and replace them! I’m afraid I really don’t know if there’s anything you can do beyond that — apologies for being so unhelpful!

  7. Having a tight budget is not a problem if you decide to remodel your kitchen because there are many available materials out there that don’t cost much but still offer quality. If you want a kitchen renovation and yet money is your concern, remember that this project comes as a great investment so take time to put the details together slowly but surely. Thanks for sharing!

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