I took a break from writing recently to address a big problem in the kitchen. Too much space. Wait, what? No, I'm not talking about storage or counter space, I'm talking about the big empty space in the middle of the room.
You see, we used to have just an eat-in kitchen and no dining room. That changed recently and now that we're sporting a proper dining area in a different part of the house, the table in the picture above lost a leaf and was downgraded to a two-seater pushed up against that wall. The table was fine for grabbing a quick bite, but now that all that real estate opened up in the middle of the room, I started to get a hankering for an island.
Since I could go for one last indoor project of the season and had a good royalty month from my books with a few bucks to spare, I decided to tackle it myself. As you can tell from the picture, our kitchen is pretty modest, so we're not talking about granite counter-tops and fancy hardwood custom cabinets. The whole project cost me a little under 400 bucks and took a couple of weekends. Here's how it went:
For the base cabinets, I decided on using two unfinished units: a 36" and a 12" put together. This would provide me with a 50" counter which I reckoned was just about right for two stools side by side for the breakfast bar. They cost me $115 and $58 respectively, and come pre-assembled from Home Depot.
I removed the doors and drawer fronts to prime and paint all the surfaces. Luckily, I still had some left-over paint from when I did the cabinets you see in the back. The cabinets I bought are oak veneer and would look great with a nice stain and polyurethane job instead of paint. You can also fork over extra dough for pre-finished cabinets if you're not too concerned about matching your existing kitchen and want to save the trouble of paint or staining.
The big head scratcher of the project was how to secure the island to the floor. I decided to go with using L brackets screwed into the floor. Since the bottom of the units are solid, I could't screw them in from the inside.
I first placed the cabinets in the room where I wanted the island to go. I measured and remeasured. I eyeballed and measured some more. When I was certain I had the cabinets in their final resting spot, I marked the floor with markers. I was drilling into the floor after all, so I needed to be certain. Once the brackets were screwed into the floor, I did the same for the base cabinets.
Before I fastened the cabinet bases to the brackets, I used some shims and a level to make sure every thing was even. I forgot to take a photo of the back of these things, but they aren't meant to be seen (they usually face the wall, after all). The backs consist of thin, almost cardboard, board so I cut a piece of cheap pine 3/4" ply and screwed it into the back. It provided a nice uniform surface and added a little more sturdiness to the final product.
Time for the star attraction - the counter. I could have had a custom counter made for me but even the cheapest of laminates would put me over my budget of $500 so I decided to make my own. A few years ago I painted my old laminate counters (more on that later) so all I had to do to match the rest of the kitchen was provide a solid and decent looking surface to paint.
I decided to go with an oak veneer plywood from Home Depot. $41 bucks for a 4' x 8' sheet and they cut it to size since I don't have a table saw. I added an inch on three sides for a slight overhang and decided on a 12" overhang on the back for a breakfast bar.
The base cabinets come with plastic brackets in each corners for attaching the counter from underneath with screws. Just be sure the screws are long enough to bite into the wood but short enough that the screw doesn't go through the top.
Tossing a sheet of plywood on top of some cabinets, even nicely painted or stained, screams PLYWOOD! So I attached some 1.25" oak strips to each edge with some wood glue and 1.5" finishing nails. It gives the illusion the counter surface is thicker than 3/4 of an inch and looks nice.
Now for the paint. I mentioned earlier, I painted my kitchen counters and did so using a Giani Granite Paint kit. It's an $80 do it yourself kit that can transform any counter into a simulated granite counter top. After using it twice now, I highly recommend it. As long as you follow the directions and take your time, it's really easy and comes out looking great. The pictures below show the process of painting a layer of primer and building the pattern with three shades of paint. 3 coats of clear-coat after the paint dries seals the surface and protects it from the kitchen elements.
The last optional step I took was adding some handles to the drawers and doors. I say optional, because they're designed to not need handles but I think they add a nice visual touch. Plus I was lucky enough to find matching hardware with the rest of my kitchen which ties in a nice matching element.
The very last step which isn't shown in the photo below is the molding I attached to the base of the cabinets to hide the metal brackets on the sides. They are painted to match the rest of the cabinet.
So there you have it. For under 500 bucks I think I added at least $1000 in value to my kitchen and I couldn't be happier with the results. We gained a ton of storage space and oodles of counter space. The breakfast bar is a nice touch as well. Those stools you see in the picture were only $30 each.
Best of all, I took great satisfaction in doing it myself and you can't put a price on that.
This is just one example of a simple island you can do yourself. You could get fancy with a bookshelf on the side for cook books, running electrical through the floor and adding outlets on the side, putting in a permanent cutting board on the counter, a range-top, you name it. It all depends on your budget, your creativity and your prowess in the toolbox. Have fun!
Robert Brumm is the author of several books and his prowess in the toolbox has been exaggerated by the press.