Retro Renovation: Diary of Our DIY kitchen

Around a year ago, we began the renovation of the last remaining space in our 3 bedroom, 70s something slice of West Auckland suburbia. Exciting for the designer and retro enthusiast me, relief for the side of me that can’t stand being in a space that doesn’t feel “good” … a nightmare for the part of me that hates mess, things that are unfinished and delayed gratification. Of course, my favourite part of the process was going to be planning and sourcing the design touches that would make our new kitchen not just practical and efficient, but also a beautiful and inspiring space to be in, with plenty of colour and retro personality! But first, we needed to take care of the practical stuff – as this was a real “DIY” project… so no designer, project manager, contractors or labourers for us. Just me and the hubby – and luckily for us – my amazing Dad. Builder, DIY expert, and both solver of interesting problems and voice of common sense … when faced with some of my more challenging ideas! Keeping it close to home, my brother (who is also a builder) as well as some good friends in other trades gave their advice, expertise, weekends and trade discounts!

The existing kitchen was not very old, it was a kitset that had been put in by the previous owners shortly before we bought the house 5 years ago, in 2009. Unfortunately, like many of the existing DIY “features”, it just begged the question “WHYYYY???”. But, since it was hardly decrepit, it came last on the list. As the rest of the house came along, the kitchen stuck out more and more as completely lacking a single redeeming feature – here were some of our major complaints…
problems and fixes


Design details, and some head scratching

The original plan was to retain some of the existing cabinet bases and work from there. Once I sat down and began drawing out some basic ideas, it soon became clear that there wasn’t a single part of the old kitchen that worked for us! So our “remodel” quickly became completely gutting the space and starting from scratch, with some serious rethink on budget! The good thing about this is I could really think about the best use of the space for us, without working around existing fixtures. That being said, we did have some major constraints! Budget, being a huge one. We wanted a custom kitchen, with high quality finishing and details, without the designer price tag. We wanted to strike a balance between a beautiful kitchen that we would be using for at least the next few years, and over capitalising. Size – our entire home is less than 100 square metres, maximising space is a big issue. Resale was also a consideration, which is why we decided on a modern and neutral kitchen “base” (cabinets, flooring, appliances), with our personal style brought out in less permanent features – retro wallpaper and backsplash, vintage cabinet pulls and timber open shelving and hanging pot rack to display attractive and useful pieces of vintage kitchenware! And, I was not going to be budged on my 50s diner style breakfast bar… despite the many objections and obstacles that arose! Let’s just say I am a dog with a bone when it comes to some of my ideas…

Getting Stuck In

It’s easy to watch shows like The Block, or look at awesome DIY kitchen ideas in home and interior magazines and get some serious inspiration! I’m a guilty as the next person 🙂 What is not so obvious, is that serious projects like kitchens, do not really happen in days, or even weeks – unless you have an army of contractors, a big budget, or both!


Building cabinets in the living room, outside “kitchen” facilities, washing dishes in the shower (efficiency!)… all part of the fun!

In our case, it was 3 months before we had a functioning kitchen again, 7 months until the bulk of the work was done, and 9 months on… there are just a few details left to complete, plus the laundry.

Clearly, any of the custom design kitchen places were outside our budget. We looked at many different sources of DIY flatpack kitchens and decided on U Du It [link]. For a similar price to flat pack kitchens from Bunnings and Mitre10, of far superior quality and with an excellent online ordering system that allows for many customisable cabinet sizes. Seriously can’t recommend these guys highly enough for the real DIYer!uduit

Of course, even with a name like U Du It… it didn’t quite sink in until our brand new kitchen arrived on a truck… on a pallet. And in our case, the “U-Du-It” started from the get go. With getting the pallet off the truck, which couldn’t reverse up our steep driveway. Luckily, Dad was on hand with a tow rope and his 4WD truck, and combined with some muscle power from my husband, our kitchen made it into the driveway. Which is when the fun of flat pack really began…

The Transformation (Progress So Far)20150817_092321(0)

It is really hard to believe this is the same space! It has been a long journey, but so rewarding to see all these bits and pieces that only existed in my mind before, come together into this wonderful and practical family centre. I am even becoming inspired once again to use my kitchen for cooking! Gasp!

after 2 after120150817_092335

Wallpaper – Sanderson “Mobiles” (Sourced from Wallpaper Direct, UK)
Handles – Bakelite and chrome 50s deadstock – sourced from USA through Etsy
Pot rack – JK Adams – Amazon
Subway tiles – Mitre 10
Atomic clock (reproduction) – Nood
Custom formica bar counter and diner stool – American Retro

Although, at this time, there are still a few things left to do:
Floating timber open shelves above rangehood and door
Tile grouting
Broom cupboard (currently a wall concealing a dead space behind!)
Put up red gloss perspex “white board” as end panel on appliance garage
Appliance garage door

before and after

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can pass on is don’t skimp on the planning! It’s all to easy to get caught up on colour schemes, cool ideas on Pinterest, matching canisters… but hold those thoughts and sit down, visualise, brainstorm ALL the ways you are going to use your kitchen. What do you do most, or least? Where is EVERYTHING going to live? What things do you struggle to put away or store currently, and what would help? For example – my new kitchen contains almost no cupboards. Almost entirely drawers! For me, cupboards become a blackhole of junk so I love drawers. Which might drive someone else batty. Do you have a busy household? Think about ways to keep the benchtop clear of clutter and appliances so several people can use the space together. If you have lovely vintage items to display, incorporate open cupboards or shelving into your design. Consider vertical spaces – a wall mounted or small ceiling mounted pot rack can fit into almost any kitchen, above doorways are a perfect place for a narrow display shelf, Wall mounted magnetic knife racks, utensil racks and even cookbook racks make clever use of space.

Also, be prepared for everything to be harder and take longer than you expect! You might not get there the way you had planned, but you will get there!

Next project to be finished is the laundry room! Then we can start over at the beginning again!