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A kitchen, $500 plus elbow grease

Do-it-yourself project came together in stages

By Jaci Conry
Globe Correspondent / July 1, 2010

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For the past 10 years, Duxbury interior designer Linda Merrill lived with an ugly, cluttered kitchen complete with appliances from the early 1980s. “The room was dated and dreary, I was sick of it and embarrassed to have people see it,’’ she says. After struggling with what to do with the kitchen for a while, she decided to update it herself.

“Economically, it’s been a tough time in my industry. I didn’t have the budget to hire people to do the work,’’ said Merrill, who wanted the room to have the feel of a country kitchen with a little bling. “I thought it would be a fun challenge to see how far ingenuity and hard work could get me.’’

She got new appliances on trade from a business relationship, but the rest of the room’s transformation totaled less than $500. Working with friend Robert O’Connell, who has no professional construction experience, Merrill’s kitchen project took five months of Sunday afternoons. So, how did they do it? Here’s the step-by-step process.

1. Redoing the ceiling One of the kitchen’s most unappealing features was its 1980s “popcorn’’ textured-stucco ceiling. That was eliminated inexpensively, but required a good bit of sweat equity. “We literally scraped it off by hand, it didn’t cost much except a sore back and a lot of dust,’’ says Merrill. After the ceiling was scraped and washed, two coats of skim coat were applied, and it was sanded, primed, and repainted.

2. Updating the cabinetry

Since buying and installing new cabinetry was out of Merrill’s price range, she gave the existing pine cabinets, which were in good shape, a new look. After cleaning, sanding, and de-glossing the cabinets, Merrill painted the cabinets with two Benjamin Moore colors: Essex Green and Black Forest Green as the second coat. She used exterior trim paint, so it would stand up well to wear and tear. Both coats were sanded with a fine steel wool to achieve an aged look. The cabinet interiors were painted a pale shade called Cooking Apple Green by Farrow and Ball.

Merrill was able to reuse all of the original brackets and hinges, but for the door knobs, she wanted to add a little sparkle and lightness to the dark cabinets. Inspired by high-end crystal knobs she spotted in a designer showroom which would have cost her around $700 to outfit all the cabinets, she combed eBay to find a cheaper alternative, which she found for less than $2 a piece.

3. Replicating bead board

Merrill wanted to panel the walls with bead board, but after realizing it wasn’t in the budget, she learned she could achieve a similar look with wallpaper made to emulate the material. “You can tell its not actual bead board if you knock on it, but you can’t tell just by looking at it,’’ says Merrill. The wallpaper cost $22 a roll, and sheathing the entire kitchen, floor to ceiling, took four rolls. To obscure the edge of the wallpaper, she added crown molding around the perimeter of the room.

4. Creating more storage space

To add surface space to the small kitchen, an old door was fashioned into a countertop along a wall. Supported by 2x2’s, wire shelving was installed below. To keep the shelves out of sight, Merrill made a curtain out of burlap — she also fashioned a roman shade for the window over the sink out of the eco-friendly material, which cost $1.99 a yard. For additional storage, an existing pot rack made of plumber’s copper piping was polished and reinstalled with new brackets and a heavy-duty steel chain off a ceiling stud above the new countertop.

5. Using what she had

To brighten the space, Merrill had recessed lights installed. But she left two original features intact: the original white Formica counters, which, she decided that after a good cleaning, worked well with the room’s new aesthetic. The black and white tile flooring, installed when she moved in a decade ago, was also kept.

“While the project took a while, the end result has been very personally satisfying and enjoyable,’’ said Merrill, who recommends doing a huge amount of research before embarking on a renovation like hers. “There are tons of resources out there, look at high-end stuff to get ideas for budget level. Don’t just rely on what they have at the big box stores,’’ she says. “Get inspired by House Beautiful and Martha Stewart, then look for inexpensive alternatives. You will be surprised at how much you can do yourself.’’