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Kitchen laminate makeover, pt 2: wood grain

Read about the first stage of the kitchen cabinet makeover – how to paint laminate – here.

cabinets - white and woodgrain

So I’d painted the upper cabinets white. That took care of 8 out of 24 cabinet fronts. Next up were the lowers, which got covered in wood grain laminate.

kitchen before

Reminder shot of what our kitchen looked like when we got the keys. This laminate kitchen is one among millions. It’s interesting; when we were house shopping early this year, every reno’d kitchen I saw featured glossy laminate. Not timber. Laminate. I’ve only seen timber cabinetry in 20+ year-old kitchens, or in big-budget renos.

Jamie and I would personally prefer timber, but as far as laminate goes, the stuff in our kitchen is solid and we’re going to work with it.

kitchen palette

white upper wood lower inspiration
Sarah Keenelyside
via Marion House Book

The first picture is the materials palette I have in mind for our kitchen, which has been plotted out around the big blue countertop. The second is a kitchen that I found inspirational — white tile, stainless steel, white on wood. Love the materials.

Two-tone kitchens are really trendy on the likes of Pinterest and Houzz, but you know what, I don’t think I’ve actually seen one in person. I don’t know enough interior designers or industrious Mormon moms. Anyhow, among the two-tone kitchen pictures I looked through, white on black or navy is really common, but this one with white on walnut spoke to me. It’s casual, but modern. You get the airiness of the white and the warmth of the wood.

Now, how to make something like this happen with our laminate kitchen?

  • New doors. It’s an idea, but the materials and labour cost would be so great that you may as well replace the cabinets altogether, and that’s a non-starter.
  • Veneers and plywood. Would cost a fortune and wouldn’t be very durable.
  • Contact paper. A cheap way to add a woodgrain effect, but can all too easily look crappy.
  • Paint. Plan B if the contact paper doesn’t work.
  • Paint, but with a faux bois brush. I don’t hate this idea, but again, I can see this looking terrible fast. (Also, not sure I can obtain this product.)

contact materials

contact progress

So yeah, contact paper was the go. I gave every surface a good clean with methylated spirits, and I found that it was worth taking my time with applying the contact paper in order to minimise bubbles and creasing. I also applied a thin bead of superglue to every edge in order to prevent peeling.

There’s something so pitiable about using contact paper to cover cabinets. It’s cheap and nasty, the option you’d choose when you can’t afford anything else. Lower than low-rent, straight up trashy, or at least that’s how I feel it’s going to be heard whenever I mention it. Well, bless her heart, she made do the best she could.

I’m just thinking of it as another material, though. My goal here isn’t to make the laminate look like timber. It’s to make it look like nice laminate. Embracing its plastic surface. It’s retro and I like it. 70s beach house chic all the way, aw yeah.

Wood grain laminate

As for the results… I’m into it.

I feel like I can see the direction I’m going with for the kitchen now, and the blue bench top actually looks alright, against the white and wood. The white cabinets up top are also good for a kitchen with a lower ceiling.

I have no idea how long the contact paper will last. Two years would be fantastic. But whether it falls apart or I get sick of it, whichever comes first, it won’t be too much trouble to take it all off and just paint the cabinets. It’s great, having the freedom to try out every whim.

(ETA: I’m six months in with the contact paper now, and it looks exactly like it did then. I’ll keep you posted, but so far so good.)

Budget-wise, it was pretty cheap altogether:

$35 – 1L Zinsser BIN primer
$33 – 1L Taubmans water-based enamel; ‘Winter Mood’
$33 – 8 rolls of contact paper, 45cm x 150cm each
$50 – 24 new cabinet pulls

Plus all the little bits and pieces that I had on hand – sandpaper, scissors, screwdrivers, methylated spirits for cleaning the cabinets, et cetera.

white contact 1

Not a great photo, but it shows the angle from the living room.

contact handles

I also installed new pulls, to replace the builder basic chrome ones. Knobs on the doors, handles on the drawers. They’re from eBay and solid metal, just like the knobs on the upper cabinets.

The black pulls look good with the dark woodgrain. There’s so many of them (16 on the bottom cabinets!) that I really didn’t want them to draw attention.

white contact kitchen full

Slightly wider shot of the space, including the grody vinyl flooring and oh-so-glamourous fluorescent lights.

We need to have a good look at the floorboards underneath. From peeking at them in the crawlspace, we could tell they were rough-sawn, so we’re not sure if they’ll be good enough to use as a real floor. If they are, awesome, we’ll varnish them. (Maybe an ebony stain?) If not, there’s the option of tiling or installing new floorboards on top.

As for lighting, I’m thinking mini recessed lights because the ceiling is so low, plus a flush-mount fixture of some type over the sink. Exciting! Or, you know, practical.

There’s still lots of clutter, but it’ll look more streamlined over time. I hope.

One little note of Christmas cheer:

presents omg

While I’m getting used to this kitchen… I got a few things from my family that I’m happy to have in it.

Jamie and I both got treated well by our folks this year. He got a circular saw from his dad, and I got a big box of salsas and hot sauces from my family back in the US. I love getting that stuff. No visitor will feel like there’s a lack of selection in hot sauces, that’s for sure. I can’t go past Tapatio, Cholula or sriracha.

My brother, who’s a chef, also sent me some kitchen gear: knives, a heavy duty whisk and a microplane. I never thought I’d need a microplane, but I used it on ginger and it was life-changing.

This past week has been so busy and gratifying. Happy New Year!

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