Our “Crayola Blue Ranch” was built in 1974, and if you’ve ever seen “That 70s Show”, our house could’ve been on it. From the funky colors to the big brick fireplace to the carpet choices, the house betrayed its decade of origin with one look.
My husband Brett and I fell in love with it because of the oversized yard, and the fact that we were just on the edge of town—we had a vision for what the house could become. My dad, who does woodworking on the side, said it was a really good house, a “diamond in the rough.”
Everything was original to the house except the appliances, which had been updated in the 80s—but my dad always said it was good to find a house where everything is original, because then you know that nobody butchered a DIY project that you would have to fix.
All of that said, I absolutely HATED our kitchen. It was dark and dingy, there was very little counter space and storage, it had a weird layout, and there was no dishwasher. We hoped to begin growing our family soon, and I knew that we’d be spending a lot of time in the kitchen, so when it came time to start making this house our home, the kitchen was my top priority.
We started from scratch. Because my dad had experience and offered to help, we decided to build our own kitchen cabinets. Not only would it save us money, but we knew we could get the exact look we wanted and that our elbow grease would be a labor of love that we would treasure for years to come.
We started by measuring the area of our kitchen and my dad drew a blueprint of what our kitchen could look like. I couldn’t believe how big it actually was!
I always knew that a lot of work went into building furniture, because I had watched my dad building in his workshop my entire life. But I never realized just how much time went into it. Brett and I started driving up to my parents’ house every weekend. We learned how to make dovetailed drawers, raised door faces with a curved top, how to use the arm-saw and the planer, and so much more.
My husband and I have always gotten along really well and we balance each other out in both our strengths and weaknesses. While we definitely had our disagreements along the way, we also learned a lot about each other, discovering hidden talents and growing in unexpected ways. The design-decision-making process was simultaneously fun and taxing, a series of decisions and compromises.
For instance, we initially disagreed on the flooring we wanted, but ended up deciding to go with oak hardwood (my favorite). We both agreed that we wanted solid oak cabinets with raised door faces and a medium-toned stain.
I also really wanted a peninsula in our kitchen so that we would have more cabinet and counter space, but Brett was adamant that we would not have the space. Eventually however, we were able to make it work, and both Brett and I were thrilled with it.
The last big detail we had to decide on was the kitchen paint color. I remember that one day, before the new flooring and cabinets were installed, I came home and Brett had painted the kitchen while I was gone. It should have been a nice surprise, but I absolutely hated the color.
He had picked out a greenish-grey that I just couldn’t love. I truly appreciated Brett’s hard work and initiative, and I told him so — and I felt terrible, but I just really disliked the color.
In the end, Brett asked me to reserve judgement until after the new kitchen cabinets and flooring were installed. He promised me that if I didn’t like the paint color then, he would repaint the kitchen to a color that I liked.
But once the project was finished, I ended up loving the original color. Tied in with everything else, it really looked beautiful, and I learned that Brett really has an eye for great design details.
Life in a construction zone
Of course, while we planned the best we could, no construction project is without its setbacks, delays, and redirections.
For instance, we ended up having to rewire the entire kitchen so the cabinets could go to the top of the ceiling.
After we got the wiring sorted out, our next hurdle was installing the hardwood floors. Unfortunately, the weekend we chose to complete this project was also the weekend we were hit with a huge snowstorm. As you can imagine, this was not an ideal combination.
The whole week I’d been preparing for the floors to be installed, so all of my dishes, pots and pans, silverware, cookware, etc. were on the floor in my living room, my oven was in the garage, my refrigerator was in the living room on an extension cord to the bathroom, and my microwave was in the spare bedroom. It was a mess and we couldn’t find anything! I was desperate to get some order back in our home.
It was definitely frustrating to live in a partially finished house for so long, especially because we spend a significant amount of time in the kitchen. But what kept us going was knowing that everything is temporary, and keeping our hearts focused on how wonderful the finished project would be.
One useful way we tried to make things easier on ourselves during the transition was getting takeout or delivery often. This was a fun way for us to try new food and also get to know our new neighborhood!
Once we got past these setbacks it was finally time to start installing the cabinets. I was so excited! My kitchen was really starting to come along and look so much brighter!
We went from dark, fake wood cabinets (some of which didn’t even stay closed), dingy yellow counters, and dull green flooring to beautiful solid oak cabinets, white countertops and solid oak flooring. Brett picked out a gorgeous mosaic backsplash that tied the whole kitchen together.
It has now been about a year and a half since we completed my beautiful kitchen. We put about 150 hours of labor into the project. I love how we were able to increase the visibility to the living room and I can keep an eye on our daughter Rebecca while I’m cooking. It helps to have a functional kitchen that makes my prep time faster, giving me more time with her.
When I think back to the year we spent all of our free time working on our kitchen, I am so proud of all our hard work. When you are living in a construction zone, working on making your house into your home or even just living in a time with a lot of change, it can be stressful, and it would be easy to let that affect your relationship negatively. We chose to use the opportunity to grow closer together as a couple.
While it wasn’t always easy, we tried our best to remember we’re both on the same team and to grow stronger together: we learned how to work together, make compromises, and trust each others’ decisions. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
Whenever I look at our kitchen today, I don’t just see beautiful cabinets. I see quality time spent with my dad and my husband. I see compromises that were made between husband and wife, a relationship tested and strengthened. I see the ways we grew personally through this project, a room that serves the needs of a growing family, a house that has become a home.
And most of all, I see a true labor of love.