Some kitchens are just too good for a sledgehammer.
They need updating, but the layout works well, and the materials are high quality. There's just something about them that drives their owners crazy. Say all those well-organized cabinets are oak, which doesn't fit the recently redecorated house. Or perhaps she hates the chipped stone countertops.
Susan Brunstrum recommends paint.
Hear her out before you turn up your nose. Brunstrum has carried this off in more than one kitchen -- at considerable savings to the homeowners.
Brunstrum, owner of sweetpeasdesign in Libertyville, uses other weapons, too, in refurbishing kitchens. Don't overlook new window coverings, a new countertop here and there, backsplashes, light fixtures and accessories.
Kitchen elements are so interconnected that it can be hard to update just one major portion. Just think what taking out those cabinets might do to the perfectly good countertops. And yes, you could remove cabinets to get rid of the hated countertops, but look, some of them tie into the ceiling beams. Reconstruction multiplies.
When Brunstrum recommends paint, she has a not-so-secret weapon -- she works only with one artist, Nancy Schnell of Fairy Dust Creations in Arlington Heights.
This is not a cheap solution, but you could get by with $4,000 in a small kitchen. That price multiplies with a plethora of cabinets and the number of layers of paint and techniques you need. The designer said it's about one-third to one-half the cost of replacing the cabinets.
Here is how Brunstrum and Schnell updated two kitchens -- without sledge hammers.
One key to the success of the Libertyville job was obliterating the oak grain in the cabinets. Some consider oak outdated, and it did not work with the dark furniture and traditional and Asian decor in the rest of the house.
The cabinets ended up antiqued buttery ivory. This was expensive not only because the large kitchen has lots of cabinets, but Brunstrum and the homeowner selected a finish that required five different layers.
The first brown layer covered the oak grain, then another color was added and some of the brown rubbed through. Don't forget the chocolate glaze, a touch of crackling and the antique wash.
And how did the designer come up with that yummy color?
"We considered dark like the fireplace and wet bar we built in the great room," said Brunstrum. "We even considered more yellowy like the existing table and chairs in the kitchen or a color that was not quite olivey, but this is softer. We ended up open and airy."
And here's a tip: When you're painting, you can change the hardware to square dark oil rubbed bronze and add a rail to hide light under the cabinets, like Brunstrum did. In fact, you can add or subtract trim to really change the style of the cabinets.
"It ended up a little more rustic but elegant and very traditional but really fresh," said Brunstrum.
Schnell removes the cabinet doors and finishes the frames and sides on site.
"Think about the disruption and mess if this kitchen had been gutted," said Brunstrum. "I think it took almost three weeks to get these cabinets painted, and at night they could still use the kitchen."
To enhance the more traditional look Brunstrum was seeking, she had the natural oak floors stained darker, which made the creamy cabinets really stand out.
As do many people these days, the homeowner wanted to simplify her home and her life. So the fussy floral swags complete with jabot or side treatment left the windows. Brunstrum replaced them with gauzy ivory mock Roman shades that don't go up or down so they really act like valances over existing blinds.
"Window treatments depend more on how much light you want to let in," said Brunstrum. "Put pattern on your window treatment or your upholstered furniture, not both," But visitors to the kitchen get peeks of a colored pattern on the window in the adjacent laundry room.
A designer desk with a tapered leg and a filing cabinet from Pottery Barn -- a mixture of high and low as far as price ranges are concerned -- replaced a massive desk too big for the space. The smaller desk made room for a comfortable chair where the homeowner can relax with her dogs.
A colorful French picture in a gold and silver frame moved from another room to a brick area that is the back of a chimney. Brunstrum liked the way the colors picked up shades in the room's Oriental rugs and the contrast the frame made with the slightly rustic cabinets.
The new stools at the island are hefty but have low backs so when the homeowner is cooking she can look over the island to the home's great yard. In the same vein, no pendant lights hang over the island.
Finally white crown molding was added just under the ceiling to the room painted Benjamin Moore Shelburne Buff. The brick accent is Deer Trail, which Brunstrum prefers to call milk chocolate.
This gorgeous not-very-old gothic style home is where Brunstrum had the countertops painted. Well, painted might not be the correct term as Schnell's technique starts with three layers of concrete so thin it can go over laminate or wood. The magic also includes layers of color, and the epoxy has to be finished with a torch. The homeowner's job is deciding whether the finish should be polished or honed.
The kitchen's very tall cabinets not only sat on the chipped limestone countertops that were driving the homeowner crazy, but their tops tied into the coffered ceiling. The combination made replacing the countertops prohibitively expensive.
The concrete and epoxy treatment cost $22,000, but Brunstrum estimates that's one-third the price of replacing the countertops with a high-end granite like Austra Dream, which has a light sandy yellow color with brown and gray veins, a look Schnell was able to mimic on the island.
Schnell was able to fill in chips on the countertop and make it look like slate or blue azul limestone. She can also modify edges with this technique. While the surface is honed, it has a little sheen in spots and even some sparkle.
Brunstrum insists the new surface can handle temperatures up to 500 degrees.
This homeowner likes blues, grays and creams, so a special touch is the Roman shades with a pale blue and caramel leopard print that is not noticeable in the daylight but shows dramatically at night.
Brunstrum also insisted on darkening the kitchen's beadboard ceiling to gray so those beams they saved would stand out against it. She replaced the very ornate crystal chandelier over the island with two round linen tubes with a midcentury feel.
"It shouldn't be overly elegant," said Brunstrum.
The backsplash they chose is simple glass brick with a crackle, replacing the travertine the builder had installed.
"Do you want your counter or cabinets or backsplash to say 'look at me' or do you want a well-put-together kitchen?"
An irresistible touch is a small buffet that Hickory Chair calls the Pittman Server. Its interesting details include flared and concave sides. Brunstrum had it made with a gray finish to fit the home's palette.
And here's something to mull: Schnell can paint cabinets to look like stained wood, too.