5 Signs Your Kitchen Needs a Facelift, and a Few Easy Fixes

We all know that feeling of walking into a room and wanting to rearrange the furniture, accessorize, or do an about-face and march right back out. Well, I know that feeling–this blog wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have the urge to paint a room or swap out furniture every couple of months! But sometimes the need is real. Like when things aren’t functioning well, or when a room feels…depressed.

That describes the state of my kitchen when I bought my darling little home a year ago. While it was beloved to someone, we all have our own slice of style, and peachy walls with orange/salmon counter tops are not my [apricot] jam. Ha! And it’s more than color that seems amiss.

Dark cabinets, peachy walls, and salmon granite were in cahoots when I moved in. But I have a plan!

If you and your kitchen are indifferent at best, these five easy-to-fix items might be the key to renewing your zest for the mess[hall]–I can’t stop myself!

1. Wall color. Maybe you never liked the color, or you were into the color but your style has moved in another direction, or you love the color but it’s become a bit dull from years of kitchening.

You’re in luck! This is an easy-peasy fix. If you’re a woman or man after my own heart and are not afraid to throw down a drop cloth and roll out a wall, all that’s left is to choose a color. Even if you’ve never painted a room before, it’s fairly simple to try your hand at one wall, just to give it a go. If you’re nervous about cutting in (painting a steady stroke along the baseboard or ceiling), go ahead and use some blue tape to be sure you don’t get your Sherwin Williams Sea Salt or Benjamin Moore Seattle Mist all over your crisp white baseboards or ceiling.

If it’s been established that a painter you are not, hire one. Prices vary, and I recommend checking reviews and asking for recommendations.

Lastly, if you love the color you have, but it’s looking tired, give your walls an old fashioned washing. Yes, it’s not something only your grandmother did; people still wash their walls! Dust first, then use warm soapy water. It’s true because it’s on the internet right here.

2. Your Dinnerware is Hiding. Love your dinnerware but the only time you see it is beneath a pool of steak juice?

Install shelves to display your favorite pieces and enjoy them every day. If you have a large collection of dinnerware, rotate your display with the seasons…or whenever you choose.

You can also swap out a cabinet door with a glass door, or even better (imho), remove the doors from your upper cabinets entirely. That’s my plan, Stan. You’ll need to fill the holes where the hardware was attached with wood filler, and depending upon what material your cabinets are made from, you can lightly sand, prime, and paint. Your kitchen will become a whole new world!

The kitchen cabinets are high quality. They are also dark and hiding my pretty dinnerware and handmade pottery.
See what I mean? The plan is to remove the doors and paint the cabinet to showcase what’s inside.

3. Things are Broken/Don’t Work Properly. This is a sneaky one. When one little thing malfunctions, you might think it’s no big deal and you live with it. And then another little thing goes, and so on. Before you know it, you’re camp-site improvising every time you make a meal. One of my lower cabinet doors has come unhinged. Every time I close the cabinet door, I have to lift and push. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but once a little annoyance like that is fixed, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t corrected it years ago. So schedule some time to give all those little creaks, rattles, and loosey-goosies the attention they need.

4. Your Inspiration Photo and Your True Photo are a World Apart. Are your Pinterest boards filled with inspiration? Filled with rooms so beautiful they make your eyes hurt? They are so beautiful, in fact, that you never even attempt to replicate such perfection. Am I right? I’ve done this to myself plenty, but every now and then I get the courage to give it a whirl. Sometimes Pinterest’s “simple solution” turns to a big pile of poo, and I call those learning experiences. My point is, you’ll never know if you don’t try. Pinterest or bust! Pull out an inspiration photo and make it happen, or at least your version of it.

One of my many inspiration photos for the dine-in kitchen area. Yes, I just drooled a little…
And here’s real life. I’ve only begun to work on this little space, but painting the peachy walls to cream has already lifted my spirits! Much more work to be done, but I’m taking one task at a time.

5. The Room is Not Your Happy Place. Your home, whether it be owned or rented, is your home. It should spark delight and contentment. If you walk into a room and it does nothing positive for your mood, or worse, it brings you down, re-read each of the above. Something is amiss. Why not repair, paint, (always check with landlord first), clean, give general TLC, and enjoy your home rather than spend another minute wishing you lived somewhere else? It’s your home, and you should love it!

I have some great DIY ideas for my kitchen. Although the granite is not a color I would choose, it is high-quality, so I can’t justify removing it. I’m not going to cover the granite, but rather work with everything around it to tone it down. Give me a follow, and stay tuned!



Gourmet Meals in a Box: Blue Apron Week 2

My second week of Blue Apron has come to a close. Although some of the recipes were more time-intensive than I would prefer and, in my opinion, not quite as yummy as the other service I sampled (although that is a matter of personal taste), I had some pretty good dinners from my own kitchen without ever having to step foot in the grocery store. Success! Without further ado, here’s how the last week played out.

Crispy Fish Tacos with English Pea Guacamole & Pea Tip Salad

Crispy Fish Tacos
Crispy Fish Tacos were a little grease-logged

I love fish tacos, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m a little fussy about them. These fish tacos were fine. Not great, not bad, but sufficient. Not a glowing endorsement of my own cooking! I don’t think I got the oil up to temp before I added the coated Mahi Mahi, which left the fish soggy with grease. The guacamole was the main accompaniment in the tortilla, and while it was decent, there was no onion. I missed the onion. And there were peas. Blue Apron incorporates seasonal elements to ensure the freshest ingredients possible, but it felt like they didn’t know what to do with the peas, and someone said ‘just throw ‘em in the guac!’ The peas did no harm, but they didn’t seem to have a purpose, either. I couldn’t discern the flavor of the peas in the guacamole, nor did they add much texture. The salad included pea tips (I’m assuming the leaves from the pea plants) and golden beet. I don’t care for red beets (as I thought all beets were), but I completely enjoyed the golden beet in this salad. Points for introducing me to this lovely vegetable!

Pulled Chicken Mole Quesadillas with Monterey Jack Cheese & Shredded Cabbage Salad

Chicken Quesadilla
Chicken Quesadilla…burned

These had a lot of flavor and were more hearty than your average chicken quesadilla, likely due to me leaving the cooked chicken in large chunks when I pulled it apart, and the sauce having tomato paste and Mexican dark chocolate, which gave it a serious presence. This was no wimpy quesadilla. In fact, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, the dark chocolate could have been toned down—less of it would have taken this dish from very good to delicious. But very good is very good, right? I burned the first one, standing right in front of it, never taking my eyes from it. Completely my fault. Perhaps I should be subscribing to take-out instead.

Pork & Tomatillo Pozole with Hominy, Avocado & Radishes

Pork & Tomatillo Pozole
Pork & Tomatillo Pozole was good!

With ground pork, lime, and tomatillos, this soup was quite tasty. The garnishes were key—radish, cilantro, and roasted pepitas sprinkled on top added a ton of flavor. This was a fairly simple and quick recipe to make, and I had 3 ½ meals from it. You know I like that. I’ll add this recipe to my book because I like simple, quick, and tasty all together!

The delivery arrived on the appointed day this week (not a day early), and everything was kept cool and seemed fresh. The recipes were all fairly easy, although some were a time drain (a lot of slicing and chopping).

Blue Apron uses less packaging than the other service I tried, which I like. Fewer plastic bottles, a more reusable insulated lining in the box, and a smaller box.

Blue Apron Packaging
Blue Apron Packaging

Room for Improvement

  • Nutrition labeling – I am stuck on the nutrition labeling thing. Tell me how much sugar is in the little bottle of “Golden Mountain Sauce.”
  • Possibly offer the option of having the vegetables pre-chopped for an extra $5. I would pay that so I could eat dinner closer to 9pm vs. 10pm.

Would I Recommend Blue Apron?

Yes, but I would ask if you enjoy spending time in the kitchen (or have time to spend in the kitchen) and also note that even though I found these six recipes to be good, they did not meet the standard set by Plated (in my opinion). It is completely a matter of personal taste. The best part is that I didn’t have to find recipes, shop, and carry it all up the stairs. All I did was push the box through the door and start cooking!

Drop a comment if you have used Blue Apron (or any of the other services). I’d love to hear what you think!



Gourmet Meals in a Box: Blue Apron, Week 1

Last week I received my first shipment from Blue Apron, another of the ingredients-and-recipes-delivered-to-your-home services. It was easy to sign up and choose which delivery day worked best for me, and I can start/stop deliveries at any time–there is no contract or commitment. The box was delivered a day earlier than scheduled, and luckily, this turned out fine. However, if I had been travelling (like the week before) and not been home, all of that food could have spoiled. But I was home, and the spoils were mine!

In the box were the ingredients to prepare three recipes, each recipe providing two servings (dinner for two). I should have measured the box from Plated, because it looks to me that the Blue Apron box is smaller, which I like. Reduce, reuse, recycle! The packing material seems less voluminous, too. Here’s what it looked like inside the box.

Open cardboard box with foil bubble wrap inside
It looks spacey…in a non-ditzy way. Ha!
Inside the cardboard box are fresh vegetables, spices, and meats
All the fresh goodness inside the box!

Beneath the fresh veggies and spices were the three packages of meat set atop two frozen gel packs. As with the first service, I signed up for three recipes per week, and the eats they sent me were:

Dukkah-Spiced Salmon with Spring Vegetable & Oyster Mushroom Ragout

The recipe card said 35-45 minutes. When I read through the recipe, the actual cooking time was about 25 minutes, so Blue Apron was estimating a quick 10 to 20 minute prep. Apparently, they estimated that I also have a kitchen staff, or at the very least a sous chef, because I finally got to enjoy the meal 1.5 hours later. Sheesh! I am a little slow with the slicing and dicing action, but an extra 45 minutes is borderline ridiculous. Especially when I’m hungry sliding into hangry. Good thing the finished product was quite tasty! There was a whole lot of fennel involved, which you would think could be overpowering, but it wasn’t. There were enough other flavors that it all came together perfectly.

Blue Apron Dukkah-Spiced Salmon with Spring Vegetable & Oyster Mushroom Ragout
The Salmon was flavorful!

Laotian Larb Gai with Sticky Rice, Peanuts & Mint

This recipe had a cooking time listed of 15-25 minutes. Again, my feeble kitchen skills mocked me, but not nearly as badly as with the first recipe. This dish was so incredibly delicious that I ate until I didn’t feel well. Yep, the old self-inflicted yucky tummy syndrome. I’ll never learn. The ingredients included lime juice and zest, red onion, mint, chile pepper, and “Golden Mountain Sauce.” Nutrition labeling would be super helpful to know exactly what said product is, and for me, how much sugar it contains.

Blue Apron Laotian Larb Gai with Sticky Rice, Peanuts & Mint
I ate too much of this the first night. I couldn’t stop!

Sirloin Tip Steaks with New Potato, Asparagus & Radish Hash

Lastly, beef. Mmmm BEEF! This recipe included one ingredient that surprised me–radishes. I love radishes…they remind me of my childhood. Dad and Mom always grew them in our garden, but we only ate them on salads or as a snack, always raw. I never thought to cook a radish, nor did I realize how mild a radish becomes when you do cook it. The dish was hearty and flavorful enough, but then it was topped with a pesto sauce made with capers that was delicious! I had some beef left over and made steak and eggs for dinner one night and threw a dollop of the pesto on that too. Yum!

Blue Apron Sirloin Tip Steaks with New Potato, Asparagus & Radish Hash
The pesto was the perfect complement.

On the 1 to 5 scale, here’s how I scored the first week of Blue Apron:

Delivery and Packaging – 4

While I like the fact that Blue Apron uses smaller packaging, fewer plastic bottles, and a thinner insulating material, they delivered a day early which could have been disastrous. Anything else in the world I order online can be delivered a day early and I will be elated, but when it is perishable food, unless Blue Apron knows my personal schedule (which they do not), the box needs to be delivered on the day agreed upon. It seems wrong to knock a point off for being early, but there it is.

Quality of Ingredients – 4

Everything seemed to be of good quality and was certainly flavorful. As I mentioned with the previous service, nutrition labeling on the ingredients which are not fresh fruits or vegetables would be very helpful. It is important for me to know the sugar content of anything and everything.

Ease of Preparation – 4

There wasn’t anything terribly difficult about these recipes, however, the time involved was more than I prefer. The first recipe had me slicing and dicing 10 ingredients. 10! It was 8:30 by the time I got home from work, walked and fed the dog, went to yoga, and made one phone call. I was eating dinner at 10:02 p.m. That’s too late for me.

Taste – 5

Each of the three recipes were delicious, and they were dishes that I never would have thought I could prepare before I started trying these home delivery services. It’s pretty impressive what a simple girl with a small kitchen can do when everything is delivered to her doorstep!

Value/Price – 4

The cost of this box is $60, and that is for three recipes, each providing dinner for two. That comes to $10 per plate, and I pretty much got two servings from each recipe (aside from the one extra serving of beef), so the $10 per plate is accurate. This is quality food that tastes great, and it was delivered to my door. In my world, this is a deal.

There’s my review of the second meals-in-a-box service I tried. Let me know if you have any questions–I’ll be happy to answer what I can! Until next week, when I review my second box of Blue Apron…


Gourmet Meals in a Box: Plated Week 2

Last week, I reviewed Plated after my first box of cooking, and I loved it. At the end of box two, and before I move on to review Blue Apron, here is a look at this week’s Plated meals.

Ginger Trout en Papillote with Miso Butter, Sweet Potatoes, and Snow Peas

This dish looks fancy but was deceptively simple to make–gotta love that! And, it was so good I ate until my tummy hurt. The ginger and miso butter melted into the fillet and gave the trout flavor beyond my expectations. The sweet potatoes were seasoned, drizzled with olive oil and baked, then tossed with the snow peas that had been sautéed just until bright green. It was my first time baking in parchment paper (which was included in the box), and it was a snap. Honestly, this recipe is probably going to be a regular in my kitchen.

Ginger Trout en Papillote with Miso Butter, Sweet Potatoes, and Snow Peas
Ginger Trout en Papillote with Miso Butter, Sweet Potatoes, and Snow Peas

Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps with Basil Rice

I was glad to have read through the entire recipe first for the purpose of timing, but it too was low on the difficulty scale. The flavor was incredible, and I have never cooked with such high-quality beef. It was more dense than any ground beef I have ever seen. Good, good stuff. The cilantro and chopped peanuts were the perfect garnish, and this little piggy had three lettuce wraps for one meal!

Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps with Basil Rice
Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps with Basil Rice

Fresh Spaghetti with Pan Roasted Artichokes, Garlic, and Lemon

This was another great tasting dish, but I got a little tripped up with the artichokes. You would think that spaghetti with no meat would be simple. And maybe for you it would be. However, it was my first time preparing artichokes and it turned into a learning experience. I now know to peel a couple more layers than what looks right. Very flavorful, and I love artichokes, but of the three dishes this week, I would give this one the 3rd place ribbon.

Fresh Spaghetti with Pan Roasted Artichokes, Garlic, and Lemon
Fresh Spaghetti with Pan Roasted Artichokes, Garlic, and Lemon

If I had to choose a favorite, it might be the trout with sweet potatoes and snow peas, but the lettuce wraps are an incredibly close second.

Again, the box arrived on time and everything inside was kept adequately cool. The recipes were in the easy/medium range (with the exception of the artichoke snafu), but every day is an opportunity to learn, right?

My only reservation, still, is the amount of plastic involved. Here’s a shot of the packaging for three meals. Actually, this is without the two frozen gel packs that are each the size of a dinner plate. The cardboard and plastic bottles went in the recycling bin, two of the green plastic bags have been reused, and the foam-filled liners that look like kindergarten nap pads are hanging out at work in hopes someone will need packing material. The majority of the plastic bags went in the trash. I’m hung up on that.

Cardboard box, packing material, and plastic containers
Packaging for one box (three meals)

Room for Improvement

  • Nutrition labeling
  • Reduce the packing material (or make it all recyclable)

Would I Recommend Plated?

Absolutely! This has been some of the tastiest cooking I’ve ever done, and best of all, I didn’t have to search for and choose recipes, shop, or carry it up two flights of stairs. This is one happy girl!

Drop a comment if you give Plated a try–I’d love to hear what you think!



Gourmet Meals in a Box: Plated Week 1

Let’s get to it! My first meals-in-a-box service was (and still is) Plated. I had no expectations; this entire process was new to me.

It was easy enough to sign up, choose my delivery preference (Wednesday or Saturday), and complete my taste profile. I had the option to exclude dishes with gluten, pasta, dairy, pork, fish, soy, beef, chicken, shellfish, nuts, and peanuts or that are vegetarian or spicy.  When the box arrived, it was like waking up on Christmas morning. I was giddy about a box of food sitting at my doorstep!

Plated box waiting at doorstep
It was a Plated Christmas!

In the box were the ingredients to prepare three recipes, and each recipe is enough for two servings (dinner for two). This first delivery included recipes I would have never chosen on my own based on the fact that they sound way too fancy for my basic kitchen skills.

  • Peruvian Lomo Saltado Steak Stir-Fry with Potatoes
  • Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles in Sriracha Chicken Broth
  • Baked Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella, and Spring Salad

This is what it looks like inside the box:

Open box with foam-filled liner inside, recipe cards on top
Foam-filled liner inside the box
Foam-filled liner inside plated box
Inside the foam-filled liner

Beneath the foam box within the box were two frozen gel packs to keep everything cool. The meat was packed next to these, and everything felt like it had been kept at a safe temperature.

Two frozen gel packs
Frozen gel packs, each about the size of a dinner plate

Peruvian Lomo Saltado Steak Stir-Fry with Potatoes

I dove right in with this recipe and began at Step 1. Makes sense, right? The prep work felt a little disjointed and added to the overall prep/cook time. As I was eating dinner, I noticed on the far right of the recipe card, second paragraph, it suggested I read through the entire recipe before beginning. It even reads “Trust us–you’ll be glad you did!” Granted, I should have known, but perhaps moving that little nugget of info to the top left of the card, where one begins reading, would be helpful. But now I know.

The dish smelled and tasted great, but the steak was tough. Given my history with beef and the fact that every piece I have ever prepared has turned out tough, well, I really can’t pin this on Plated, now can I? I followed the recipe, but I think there may be some other-worldly force standing between me and tender beef. Also, I had a tough time plating this one to look pretty, so thank goodness I took a pan shot before I dug in!

Peruvian Lomo Saltado Steak Stir-Fry with Potatoes
Peruvian Lomo Saltado Steak Stir-Fry with Potatoes

Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles in Sriracha Chicken Broth

Now that I was an experienced Plated chef, I read through the recipe card before beginning my prep work. Genius! This recipe was easy-peasy and tasted SO good! It was my first time cooking with, or even tasting as far as I know, Chinese broccoli. I would compare it to kale (which I love). I didn’t use any of the Sriracha hot sauce because I’m not a fan of spicy, and I used only 1/2 of the agave because of my low-sugar diet. Even with those modifications, this dish was flavor all the way. The noodles were not the stiff, dried variety I typically purchase. They were soft and doughy, fresh-made pasta. Oh. Em. Gee. Seriously, look at this pasta:

Bowl of long life noodles
Long Life Noodles
Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles in Sriracha Chicken Broth
Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles in Sriracha Chicken Broth

Baked Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella, and Spring Salad

This, too, was a super-simple dish to prepare. I was skeptical about whether this could be a main course for me. Back home, gnocchi is typically served as a side, so I don’t think of it as an entrée. But wow! The sauce was full of fresh basil, onion, oregano, red pepper, and garlic. Did I mention the fresh basil? Then baked until the mozzarella was just bubbly and beginning to brown. It was delicious as a main course, and the spring salad was a nice complement. The salad dressing was a combination of Champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard, and olive oil.

Baked Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella, and Spring Salad
Baked Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella, and Spring Salad

So, on a scale of 1 to 5, I score it like this:

Delivery and Packaging – 4

This is tough to score. Although the delivery was right on time and the food was kept cool (I would give a 5 for that), I am not a fan of the volume of packaging materials. I asked the Plated people whether everything was recyclable, and got this response:

Boxes: We work exclusively with cardboard suppliers that are members of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Most of our boxes are made from 100% recycled content without virgin particle board. All of our boxes are 100% recyclable. Simply break down the box and place curbside with your recycling.

Gel Packs: Our water-soluble cooling gel packs are non-toxic and non-hazardous. To recycle, simply clip the corner, discard the gel and recycle the plastic curbside. Most sink drains can accommodate the gel, but if yours is particularly sensitive, we recommend putting the gel in the trash (it has no measurable environmental impact). You can also reuse the gel pack. It’s great to keep a few on hand!

Liner/Insulation: Depending on whether you’re receiving a same day or overnight shipment, your insulation will be made of thin, metallized plastic and could have an additional polyurethane foam beneath the plastic. If you have a foam liner, it can be recycled at a polyurethane recycling facility. The outer plastic shell is recyclable at specific #7 plastic facilities. You can check Earth 911 for a list of recycling facilities in your area. If an option isn’t available, you can discard these in the trash and know we’re working to bring you an easier solution in the future! [I checked the Earth 911 site, and there are no facilities in my area to recycle polyurethane. We do, however, recycle #7 plastic, so there is that.]

The bottles/bags/containers: As all are made of plastic, they can be recycled, but we personally love removing the labels and keeping them on hand for future use. The deli-style containers are perfect for leftovers and the bottles are the best way to get salad dressing to the office, sans mess!

Kudos to Plated for keeping most of the packaging recyclable, but I would sleep better knowing it is all recyclable. We all need goals, right?

Quality of Ingredients – 4

Everything was high quality, with the exception of the mixed greens salad. I saved that meal for last because there was no perishable meat involved, but the salad was just beginning to wilt. Also, nutrition labeling on the Plated containers would be helpful. I had no idea if, or how much, sugar was in ingredients like the little bottle of Champagne vinegar for the salad dressing.

Ease of Preparation – 5

Honestly, this could not have been easier, and I would rate myself as having little culinary skills.

Taste – 5

Each of the dishes were filled with flavor and tasted delicious. I was especially impressed with the fresh basil. The leaves were twice the size of any fresh basil I’ve purchased in the grocery store or that I’ve grown on the deck.

Value/Price – 5

The cost of this box, which included three recipes, was $72. Each recipe provides two meals (dinner for two), which comes to $12 per plate. However, I got three generous servings from each recipe, so that gave me 9 meals at $8 per plate. When you factor in the quality, taste, and convenience of having it delivered to your door, I say this is a deal. And keep in mind, my favorite salad that I walk across the street for nearly every day is $9 and has no meat. No more!

So there you have it, my first meals-in-a-box review–woot woot! Let me know if this has been helpful and maybe even a little interesting. Regardless, I’m going to keep eating!





Kitchen Upgrade: The Big Oopsie

Of course no project can be complete without some little snafu, right? Here’s where I need some input. When the laminate counters existed, there was a strip of laminate along the side of the pantry that was attached with glue. When the counter was removed, as expected, the glue damaged the wood on the side of the pantry. I say wood, but it is actually pressboard covered in wood grain paper.

Laminate strip on side of pantry
Laminate strip on side of pantry

Initially, I thought I would have a row of subway tile installed there, but after talking with the contractor, we decided that might look odd. One idea the contractor had was to call the granite folks back and have a strip of granite installed where the laminate was. I may end up doing that, but first I had to try to fix it myself. You’re all shocked, I’m sure.

I patched it with wood filler, sanded and stained it, but it is a hot mess. Because it’s not solid wood, when I sand it the edges of the wood grain paper tear. Blah.

Damage to side of pantry
Damage to side of pantry, patched and sanded

So here are my options–let me know what you think would look best or if you have another suggestion. Maybe you’ve dealt with this same situation? I’m curious what you all have to say.

[poll id=”2″]

That’s about all I can think of to make this right. What do you think? And how about this fancy schmancy voting poll thing?!


Kitchen Upgrade: Finishing Touches

Here we are at finishing touches, but honestly, is a project ever really finished? Here is a link to the big kitchen reveal, and below is a little more info on a couple of the final details, but bear with me–this is the penultimate post about the kitchen. Who would have thought I’d have so much to say about the kitchen? Ha!

I installed this magnetic knife rack from Ikea (the GRUNDTAL) last week. For some reason, a magnetic knife rack in the kitchen feels like a complete luxury to me. I love it! Maybe because drawer space is at a premium, and I don’t want the clutter of a knife block sitting on the counter. Who knows, but we like what we like, right?

Ikea magnetic knife rack
Ikea magnetic knife rack
Ikea magnetic knife rack
Ikea magnetic knife rack

The best part is that it was simple to install. In keeping with Ikea’s special way, the two screws required are intentionally not included because “wall materials vary.” I guess for the bargain basement price of $15, they get to intentionally not include the screws. I had some on hand, so no worries there.

I was nervous about drilling into the grout between the newly-installed subway tile. Visions of crumbling grout and a domino effect causing the whole wall to come down danced in my head. But it was easy-peasy, and in about 5 minutes the rack was installed.

I do love an easy project.

As for seating, I had my eye on this Industrial Stool from West Elm, but at $199, it was out of the question. So look what I found at Target. The Lewiston is nearly a match, and at $60, two of them were tossed in the cart, paid for and swept into my vehicle in record time.

I do love a bargain.

Lewiston bar stools from Target
Target version is very similar to the West Elm style

Assembly was required, but thanks to the cave painting pictorial instructions, I figured it out with just a little head tilting. All total, maybe 45 minutes of assembly (stool #1 = 30 min; stool #2 = 15 min). In the grand scheme, no big. They’ve been sat on and are secure, so my work there is done.

I do love a finished project (well, project within a project).

And lastly, the three things I still want to do in the kitchen…some day…are:

  • Light Fixture–the existing fixture screams 1995 every time I flip it on. Seriously. I have been a shoppin’ and a searchin’ but have not yet found the fixture of my dreams…although this is a strong contender from Overstock.
Rae six light chandelier from Overstock
Something like this
  • File Holder–attach a cutesy/vintage file holder to the outer side of the pantry to hold mail and stuff (and tidy the desk that doubles as my dining table).
Wire, 3-tier, wall mount file holder
Something like this
  • Exposed Cabinet–remove a cabinet door and either paint or wallpaper the inside of one cabinet to display some of my pretty white dinnerware.
Kitchen cabinet, door removed, interior painted blue
Something like this

There you have it. A mostly finished kitchen with just a few cosmetic wants remaining. I can tick those off the list at my leisure. Next week I’ll tell you about the elephant in the kitchen and hope to hear what you think.

Because I do love your opinion!


A Closer Look at the Kitchen Faucet

Let’s drill down on the kitchen upgrade (that post here), and take a closer look at the kitchen faucet. The granite counter top and the subway tile back splash are beautiful, but the most functional upgrade is the huge sink and faucet. My kitchen life is infinitely easier because of those two items.

The faucet I chose is the Izak Single-Handle Pull-Down Sprayer Kitchen Faucet by Delta. Two contractors suggested I choose a Delta faucet simply because they are the easiest and best to work with when getting replacement parts. I am always, okay–usually, happy to listen to the experts, so Delta it was. The price tag on this one was $178 at The Home Depot. That stings a bit, but this is a functioning piece of my home that I use every day, so I’m okay with splurging. I say splurge, but the Depot has faucets over $500, so I guess I’m a cheap date.

The Izak comes with a lifetime limited warranty on parts and finish defects. I love the pull-down feature and have used that pretty much every day. There is also a button on the faucet head that switches it from a full stream to wide spray. The best part is the fact that it is magnetized so the wand stays in place when not in use. Delta has a very fancy name for this: MagnaTile docking. There’s the work of a marketing department that causes a $50 faucet to be $178.

But more about the magnetic docking. I spent Thanksgiving with some friends who recently had their kitchen done, and they suggested the magnetic catch. I hadn’t thought of it, but once they said it, I thought of the spray wand in our kitchen at work that is clearly not magnetized. Check it out. This is what happens when your pull-down faucet is not magnetized. Droopy, dangling wand. Egads.

Kitchen faucet not magnetized and drooping
Kitchen faucet at work. Not magnetized and droopy.

Here’s the Delta Izak Single-Handle Pull-Down Sprayer Kitchen Faucet with the MagnaTile docking so it doesn’t ever droop or dangle.

Delta Izak Pulldown Kitchen Faucet
Delta Izak Pulldown Kitchen Faucet

The handle is easy to use, even with the back of my hand when I’m knee-deep in making guacamole, and the sprayer is handy for rinsing the large sink, lentils or fruit in a colander, or soapy pans. It also easily swivels from side to side. I love this faucet! What’s your favorite part of your kitchen? Post a note and a photo!


The Home Depot has a better price on this faucet than Amazon, but if you insist on ordering from Amazon, you are welcome to use my Amazon link here.

Kitchen Upgrade: from laminate to granite

This may be my favorite project so far–it is the mother of all projects at Casa Gropp–and I didn’t lift a finger! Well, I did a tiny bit of painting as an afterthought (of course), but the majority of this one was hired out. It’s possible I could have DIY’d a tile backsplash, but honestly, I don’t trust my skill set to believe I would have ended up with level or evenly spaced tiles that may or may not have fallen off the wall an hour after bedtime. And then I’d be miserable. So as much as I prefer to do things myself, I was reluctantly happy to shell out some of my hard-earned green and let the professionals do this little ditty. And doing so probably shaved about 6 months off the job. I sometimes lose interest in projects I start and then they linger…forever.

I got a few quotes before committing, checked reviews, and then took the leap of faith that complete strangers would come into my home, respect it, me, and my dog, and do the fantastic work they promised. And they did. But enough about all that. You want pictures, right?


Before photo of kitchen.
Before: The ledge was wasted space and it was dark.

No windows and dark countertops combined with the medium-tone wood cabinets, matching hardwood floor, and black appliances, made it downright dreary. One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted new countertops. The existing laminate was textured and always felt dirty, and because it was so dark and patterned, it was impossible to tell whether it was clean. Ewe.

Knowing that replacing the countertop was a definite, and that I needed to brighten up the joint, choosing from the white palette was a no-brainer. I checked prices on all kinds of countertops, and it turns out that granite is currently the most economical material other than laminate. Yep, even the Corian-type countertops are more costly than granite. Who knew?

With the granite being chosen, that helped narrow down the backsplash. Again, I knew I wanted something to bring light to the space, and what light-colored product would go better with nearly-white granite than white subway tile? I love it when I can make a decision!

Close up of granite and tile backsplash
Millenium Cream granite, white subway tile, silver grout

You probably already know, but it’s a good idea to use a darker grout so it doesn’t end up looking oogy before your next half-birthday. Yes, you can tell the difference between gray grout and grout that has grayed. It’s tempting to use white grout to match your white tile, but resist. I’ve been fighting that battle in my master bath thanks to the contractor who made all the original finish choices. Neither sealant nor bleach nor any amount of scrubbing can make that mess look good. I’ve heard of a product that basically paints your grout white again, which I may try, but I digress and that’s for another post.

Prior to the upgrade, I didn’t like the color of my cabinets. They looked terribly peachy to me. Now that they have some light bouncing around them, they look a tad lighter and I’m okay with them. That’s a huge cha-ching because the best estimate I got on painting the cabinets was nearly $2,000. I can think of way better things to do with that, like buy a year’s worth of groceries, take a trip, or tack a couple of months onto retirement, thank you very much.

Granite, tile and cabinet
Creamy granite and white backsplash lighten up the cabinets.

I had the ledge removed that separated the kitchen and the living area and extended the counter beyond the sink an additional 10 inches. That created a little seating area I didn’t have before. Bonus! Now my pseudo-dining table/desk can relax and just be a desk (unless I’m having company). The countertop seating area has a good sight line to the tv, so that’s where I have my meals now. Hey, it saves me from dining on the sofa.

Full kitchen after photo
I dine bar-side now.

I think my favorite part of the new kitchen, though, is the sink and faucet. Oh my gosh it is a whole new world having this giant, deep, single sink! I can wash pots and pans without incident, and I can fill a bucket–FILL A BUCKET–to wash the floors. Lord, it’s a wonderful life. Ha! I wanted an apron sink, but Scott the sales guy talked me out of it. He sells them and they are much pricier than the one I ultimately chose, but he told me the feedback on the apron sink is that when you’re working at the sink (doing dishes, prepping food, or whatever), the button on your jeans or your belt buckle scratches the front of it. Hmm.

Single stainless sink and faucet
I love the new sink and faucet!

Bottom line: I’m super happy with my new kitchen! Here are the deets on the materials and the pros if you’re interested:

  • Granite–Millenium Cream from Stone City
  • Backsplash–White Subway Tile from The Home Depot
  • Grout–Keracolor U Unsanded Grout, #27 Silver
  • Faucet–Delta Izak Pulldown Kitchen Faucet

Stone City Kitchen Cabinets & Granite Countertops, Raleigh, provided and installed the granite. They were precise and quick. Scott at the showroom was great to work with and made some helpful suggestions.

Borges Construction, Raleigh, removed the ledge and repaired the drywall, handled the plumbing and electrical, and installed the backsplash. Dayan and his team were ridiculously friendly and did a beautiful job. They were super good with Grace, and she gives them a two paws-up.

So there you have it, the big kitchen make-over! Holla! The only room left is the master bath, but it may be a while before I jump into that. If the kitchen was the mother of all projects, the master bath will surely be the daddy (i.e. costly). Especially since I like the sleek, European fixtures. Go figure. I’ll do some cosmetic things in the meantime, but nothing too crazy.

I do love a good before & after story with lots of pics, so maybe I can convince my friends and family to let me document their projects. Anybody? Bueller?…Bueller?…Bueller?



Kitchen Facelift – Intermission

A long while back, maybe even my first post, I talked about making more space in our not-so-functional kitchen. The result – we were mildly successful in making more space for us to walk around things. Not so good. I made a good effort way back when to re-purpose two of Ken’s existing shelving units from the living room into the kitchen to store mixing bowls, appliances and such. A console was thrown in the middle of everything to be a sort of workspace and also to hold some pots and pans below. The result was a cluttered, sort of functional kitchen.

Lots of stuff in a small space.
After living with it for awhile, we realize we have four basic problems in our kitchen:
  • Storage
  • Workspace
  •  Lighting
  • Overall appearance (do we like the way the kitchen looks?)
So far we’ve been working on two of these – appearance and storage. We’ve sort of been working on the lighting situation but we haven’t done anything with lighting yet. It’ll make sense in a minute.

The kitchen is at the back of our condo unit with no windows, and a bit too far from the living room window to get any light to speak of, making it dark and cave-like. So we first painted the medium oak colored cabinets a soft white. Cotton Whisper by Behr. It brightened things up a ton (thus, the lighting without the lighting). We still need some task lighting, but for now, the bright and cheery update will do. And since white is one of the hot trends in kitchens, it modernizes the room a touch as well. Appearances are everything…or something like that. So here’s our somewhat finished product. Looks nice, huh? I really like it!

So much brighter!
We added a magnetic knife strip and a $20
pack of removable decals for the backsplash. Groovy!
Storage has been an issue since I moved in. When it was just Ken, his few cabinets were sparsely used. All of his pots and pans lived in the oven. I felt like I was camping any time I would come over and cook for him! Worn pans, random pieces of flatware, some vintage stoneware – brown and orange or yellow, if I recall. Then came all of my kitchen stuff. It was like the scene from Downton Abbey when they went on holiday to Scotland and we watched trunk upon trunk loaded by the staff into the vehicles. I think I’m pretty average when it comes to the amount of shoes and clothing I own, but when we’re talking kitchen stuff – I’m definitely an overachiever. I don’t necessarily use it all; it’s just pretty 🙂
And so began the struggle to fit a battalion of cooking accoutrements into a half-pint kitchen.
 Fast forward to today (actually Thanksgiving 2012 is when we began this project), and voila! We have a lighter and brighter kitchen with the white cabinets. One shelving unit and the console were removed to allow for a more open atmosphere. This was important given the cave-like feel of the room.
Only one set of shelves and no console.

Also, now that we have our furry canine daughter, Phoebe, her crate lives in the kitchen so space had to be made for her too!

Phoebe’s corner of the kitchen – see her
Canine Good Citizen Certificate?
Such a Good Dog!

We replaced the hardware on the doors with brushed nickel, but when it came to the pulls on the drawers, we found that size pull was no longer available. Sooo, yours truly (on a good tip from a friend) went straight to Home Depot and bought a can of brushed nickel spray paint and we were able to reuse the same pulls. Big savings = happy me! While we’re on the topic of savings, let me break down the total project budget so far: white paint $7 (oops can); spray paint $7; brushed nickel hardware $20; decals $20; magnetic strip $25. Total $ spent = $79!

These pulls were bronze until Ken sprayed
them brushed nickel. Pretty cool!
The pots and pans were moved into a closet right around the corner from the kitchen. It’s like three steps and you’re there. I bought some hooks that go with pot racks and there you have it – the pots were all hung in the closet with care – and they’re actually more accessible than when they were stacked one on top of another in the kitchen.
Pots and pans within easy reach in the closet 🙂
So uncave-like!

What’s left to do:

  • Install under cabinet lighting to add some task lighting
  • Maybe install some above cabinet lighting just to brighten the space even more
  • Paint the walls a very pale gray
  • Purchase a rolling kitchen cart (much smaller than the console) and possibly two small stools so we have more workspace and an intimate dining space for dinners for two. Well, three because Phoebes likes to hang at our feet when we eat. Ok, truth be told, she likes to get in our face when we eat, but we’re working on that. We’ve had about a 25% success rate so far…I’m focusing on the word success in that sentence!
This kitchen cart is at Bed Bath & Beyond.
It may be what we need for extra work space and a
little casual eating space. Much smaller than the console.

All in all this has been a drawn-out project so far because neither of us enjoy painting, and painting the cabinets took 3 to 4 coats. We putzed around for months when motivated folks may have hammered it out in a long weekend, but that phase is complete now and we can move on to the next…when we’re up for it 😉