DIY Kitchen Part 1

You don't truly know your kitchen until you rebuild it.

I'm (re-)building my kitchen as a DIY project, and I promised to write a blog post about the experience. Unfortunately the process has gone a great deal smoother than anticipated, but I'll try to write something interesting regardless. What follows is part 1 of 2, because I'm taking a break to go on holiday.


Why? My current kitchen fittings are starting to show their age, and now is about the right time to invest in my house; I expect to live here for at least another few years. Installation by a professional fitter would cost an extra £2000, and wouldn't provide material for any blog posts.

Original kitchen resplendent in purple and white, with faux granite worktops. Click to intensify the purple.

Who? I'm pretty handy with DIY jobs, but my parents are the kind of people that can frustratingly do any job 5 times more quickly and effectively than you can. I aspire to pick up this talent, so I roped them in. "I" and "we" are used almost interchangeably below.

What? Appliance upgrades have already been bought and installed earlier in the year, so they can handily be excluded from the total cost. There's nothing wrong with the current flooring (black tiles), so that leaves:

The budget is roughly £3000 for the whole job, but I'm not too bothered if it goes over—I don't want budget concerns to affect my decision making. Besides, an attractive and well-fitted kitchen should raise the value of my house when I come to sell. For part 1, I've only bought cabinets, cornices and plinths.

Current spend: £2212

Step 1: Removing Cabinets, Decorative Tiles and Worktop

(Step 0 was to remove cupboard contents).
Wall cabinets were hung with screws, brackets and years of dust, and were happy to be detached from the wall.

Demolition is a satisfying process, and the tile adhesive was particularly stubborn. In our enthusiasm we struggled to leave much of the plaster behind the decorative tiles intact. Note the trailing electrical wire draped behind the base cabinets in the following shot—this feeds the electrical socket that the fridge is plugged into. I'm not sure what I expected, but it's no bother. I'll do a better job.

Behind the base cabinets were some foul discoveries, it's just as well that I didn't take any more photographs. Step 1 continued throughout the whole procedure: all manner of decrepit ventilation grilles, window blind fittings, and other miscellanea were removed and discarded, and the subsequently-revealed walls cleaned up.

Step 2: Rewiring and Plastering

To deal with the dangling electrical wire, we dug a trench in the wall at about half cuboard height (hammer and chisel job) and placed some plastic trunking over the top so that we could plaster over a uniform surface. I slightly misjudged the length of the wire, which led to my favourite task of stripping the ends.

This was the perfect opportunity to defrost the freezer, a job long overdue, so naturally I put it off until later.

We also replaced the grubby 1960s cooker switch with a pretty little brushed steel piece, a tenner from any online retailer. The space saving afforded by using modern fittings cannot be overstated, as you can see from the cavity left behind in the image inset right. In time, I might also replace my old thermostat and receiver with more stylish products such as a Hive thermostat (without the internet-connected smart hub—I can't imagine an idea worse than offering up my heating system to the world).

So that we could continue to prepare food while working, we set up a makeshift kitchen island in the centre of the room, using old cabinets and the shortest piece of worktop from the right of the cooker.

Single malt rolling pins, for use when your baking implements are at the bottom of a box. Needs must.

Step 3: Preparing Visible Walls

After stripping wallpaper, sanding down our plastering and slapping some spare white silk emulsion over the walls, it was time to choose the final paint colour. I wanted a silvery grey to match my new appliances, so I bought a tester pot for the product that looked closest.

Buying tester pots might seem like buying into a false economy—I was at first sceptical, and tempted to buy the first paint pot I saw—but I cannot recommend them enough.

After multiple trips to DIY stores, I ended up with four tester pots, only one of which accurately represented its final paint colour on the wall when dry. The photograph on the left shows three of the colours, of the same paint type but different brands, whose advertised colours look identical on their containers. The photo hasn't been altered but it was taken in particularly poor light.

Finally, we were ready to (re-)wallpaper the walls on the left and back walls. We may have got away with painting straight onto the wall, but the surfaces are quite rough, and the paint I chose isn't particularly dark. Without backing paper, we would've run the risk of seeing extra wall features, even after applying primer and multiple coats of paint.

Due to a lack of suitable pasting tables or in fact any indoor floor space, it was necessary to venture outside to cut and paste the paper. The blustery weather was against us, so my parents revealed their patent pending Human Paperweight wallpaper-cutting tenchnique.


On Thursday night, Storm Doris visited.

This was an unmitigated disaster. The kitchen was in a state, the living room was piled high with evacuated crockery and flat-packed cabinets, and the garden had been littered with the sodden carcasses of what used to be known as my fence panels. A lesser man would've chosen this moment to snap.

Nevertheless, we collected up the remaining solid slats, assembled some 4-foot replacement panels, and had them back in place by the end of the day. The photograph shown is from Friday afternoon, once the initial despondence had subsided.

Step 4: Start Assembling Cabinets

Cabinet assembly is the most satisfying step, but also the most tedious. Everyone has an inner James May, and sometimes you need to unleash him and let him build a cabinet. Lots of patience is required; prepare to be attacked by ten different varieties of tiny screws, brackets and hinges.

The instructions forbid the use of any power tools other than a drill. We didn't cheat much.

Luckily I survived with only one breakage, caused by my own clumsiness: I kicked a screw out of its self-tapped hole before a cabinet had been finished. No worries, I just screwed it into a different place.

As a wise man once said, perfect is the enemy of good. See you after Easter for part 2.

31 March 2017