After a year of living in my little studio apartment on my own, my now husband moved in with me. My 470-square foot apartment was the perfect size for me, but surprisingly, even with the addition of another person, we were able to find pockets of storage and space for his things (albeit his minimalistic ways helped). We did need to make some areas of the apartment a bit more organized and efficient, though, because in a small space, things can get cluttered and messy fairly quickly.
One of the big changes we embarked on was a renovation of the kitchen. It was a tiny 8 x 12 room, with little countertop space, insufficient storage, and overall, was just very dated.
I had set a budget of $10k for the renovation. I know for many, this may not seem like a small amount, but my budget really was fairly shoestring for a renovation that (1) included new appliances, (2) was fully contracted out (3) took my kitchen down to the studs.
To keep to a $10k budget, I had to make some strategic decisions, some of which I would still make and others that I would not.
Cabinets – Yes!
I chose Ikea cabinets (the old Akurum line, now replaced by Sektion), which I would definitely do again. They have held up well, offered great storage, and were very reasonably priced, especially when combined with Ikea’s twice-a-year kitchen promotion.
Appliances – Yes!
In some respects, having a small kitchen meant that my appliances had to be smaller, which generally cost less money. Although if you calculate the cost on a per square foot basis, it is probably a bit more premium than the standard 30-inch oven or a standard fridge. I ended up finding reasonably priced ranges at AJ Madison; the company also matches pricing if you find the specific model for less elsewhere. I purchased this slide-in option, a much more modern and attractive stove than the one that came with the apartment. I also found a slim counterdepth refrigerator that didn’t break the bank. A counterdepth fridge was key given that it wouldn’t stick out into my already tight kitchen. I would definitely choose to purchase both again.
Flooring – NO
I ended up using really inexpensive stick-on vinyl tiles – while I liked how they looked, they were not designed to last, at least not when it comes to accident-and-mistake-prone cooks in the kitchen. Within months, I had created a nice little divot in one of the tiles from placing a hot oven rack directly on the floor, which effectively melted down the plastic. While the tile is easily replaceable, it is also easily destroyed.
Contractor – Yes!
The contractor selection was the hardest part. I interviewed 6 contractors and finally found one who I felt like could work with me, my budget, and my personality, through Sweeten, a contractor matching service that had just recently started up. Sweeten has since blossomed into a very robust platform for renovations that have minimum budgets of at least $15k, but as a new start up, they were willing to work with my substantially smaller budget of ~$5k. My contractor took up the largest part of my budget, but looking back, he was actually relatively affordable. Given that I was renovating a coop apartment, I needed to make sure my contractor was licensed and that the renovation adhered to the alteration agreement established by my building’s board. He met both requirements and delivered my updated kitchen on-time and on-budget. The roster of contractors available have changed since I renovated my kitchen, but I would certainly use Sweeten again.
Countertops – Yes!
I ultimately went with quartz countertops, which was hands down the best decision I could have made. I originally wanted to skimp out on countertops and either do a laminate or a butcher block top from Ikea, which are really budget-friendly options. However, my contractor convinced me to try his fabricator, who could give me wholesale pricing. Also, while the per square foot cost of quartz was expensive, I didn’t really need to buy that much footage given the size of my little kitchen. I loved the countertops for its low maintenance, sheen, and durability. Quartz remains my favorite countertop material to this day.
Backsplash – Maybe…
Similar to my countertops, I decided to splurge a bit on the backsplash given I didn’t have that much area to cover. I ended up going with clear glass mosaic sheets at about $10 per square foot. They are sparkly and look great in photos, but the backsplash is still a bit of a toss-up for me. I’m certainly not unhappy with them but I think I would have been equally satisfied with something that cost less, like subway tile. In return, I could have allocated my budget more equally between my backsplash and flooring materials.
In the end, I exceeded my $10K budget by a bit, but only because I ended up adding some out-of-scope items, such as additional storage in the bathroom. Our investment allowed for greater function in the most important space in our apartment and made our day-to-day lives more effortless and organized. It was also mentally uplifting to see the new kitchen everyday – it added joy to our lives. And with some luck, it will be a good return if / when we decide to sell the apartment – kitchens ultimately do sell homes!
You can also read more about my renovation in this 2-part series on the Sweeten blog.