The $1,000 kitchen

When we first thought about renovating our kitchen, we had grand ideas of knocking out walls and installing brand new joinery. But, as is often the case, when we started working out costs our plans had to be scaled back. We ended up spending about NZ$1,500 all up (less than US$1,000). This cost included all materials, as well as the plumbing. Apart from the main plumbing, we did all the work ourselves.

Materials used for main job

For the main renovations I used the following materials from my local hardware store:

  • 37 lengths of formica interlocking flooring panels
  • Underlay (sold with floor)
  • 1 3.7m (12' 2'') laminate bench top
  • 1 stainless steel bench with waste
  • 1 stainless steel tap
  • 15 small wall tiles
  • Plaster setting compound (to repair damaged parts of walls)
  • Quarter-round doweling to go round edges of floor
  • Glue, paint, nails, screws etc

As well as the basic tools (hammer, pliers etc) I also used the following:

  • Electric jigsaw
  • Skill saw
  • Tile cutter

Methods and tips

Replacing the bench and sink:

The old bench top came off pretty easily. I just used a small sledge hammer to knock it off the cupboards. It damaged the wall behind where the old taps were so I had to fill the holes with plaster and sand back.

I got the plumber to disconnect the pipes that fed the old taps, so I could remove them completely. He brought two new (hot and cold) water pipes up through the back of the cupboards.

The guys in the hardware store had cut the bench to size for me. I allowed a little bit of overhang at the front and the sides. I used a compass to draw the hole for the sink, but I could have just used a ruler had we gone with a square sink (we liked the look of the round sink). The old saying "measure twice and cut once" applies here.

I used a tile cutter to score the laminate and expose the particle board underneath. A router can also be used for this purpose. Then I used a jigsaw to carefully cut the hole. I attached the sink with the clips provided, squirting lots of silicon sealant under the rim first (to prevent water running under the edge of the sink). The clips attach to supports on the edge of the sink and then you use a screwdriver to tighten them.

Important: you need to make sure your hole (in the bench top) is big enough for the bits that the clips attach onto to fit through as well, as they stick out a little bit.

I then cut the hole for the tap in a similar manner, and used silicon to seal as before. Taps usually come with a steel washer that goes under the bench and then a kind of oversized nut and bolt is used to tighten it to the bench.

Once the sink and taps were in, I checked the cupboards were level. Had they not been level I could have used a plane to make them level. Then I put generous amounts of high-strength construction adhesive onto the cupboard tops. I lifted the bench into place and loaded some weights onto it to weigh it down while the adhesive dried.

Laying the floor:

Putting down the underlay that came with the floor was easy. It was just a case of taping it to the existing floor.

Then it was just a case of measuring and cutting. I found that it was best to start in the top left corner of the room because of the angle the joints lock together. Then I did a whole strip from wall to wall, locking the ends together. Then I did another strip the same, and slid the whole thing up to the first strip, lifted it and locked it together. I had to go along the join several times to make sure it was in properly.

This kind of flooring often comes with a DVD, which is helpful.

I left a small gap (you can get away with about the width of a pencil) around the edge and then covered it with some quarter-round doweling. I painted the doweling with polyurethane before installing. If you go for a darker colored floor, you may want to stain your doweling.

Making the best use of existing space

Knocking out walls and doing structural renovations will significantly add to your costs. When we first began thinking about renovating there were three main things we wanted to have at the end of it.

  • Space for a dishwasher
  • More storage (cupboard) space
  • More bench space

Because the existing cupboards were in good condition, we decided to paint them rather than replacing them. We removed the existing bench top and then restored the cupboards by filling any holes with a contact filler, giving a light sand, and then painting.

Although not having to replace the cupboards saved us a lot of money, it didn't give us the extra storage space we wanted. We considered buying or building a wall-mounted shelving unit. This would have been a good option, but it turned out we didn't need to.

Some time before we began our kitchen renovations, we had a plumber replace our ageing hot water cylinder. When the old cylinder was gone, it left an empty cupboard in the corner of the kitchen. We had planned to remove the cupboard, but then it occurred to us that we could work with the space.


For this project I raided the off cuts/seconds bin at my local hardware store. I got several large pieces of MDF particle board for $2 each. The plumber had already removed the cylinder, and so I cut out the old pipes and removed the timber up-stand that the cylinder had been sitting on. I also removed the lower cupboard door and the piece of timber that sat across the front on the floor (so we could slide a dishwasher in later).

I lined the entire inside of the cupboard with 3mm (0.12 inch) MDF, which I fixed to the wall with wallboard adhesive.

Using some lightweight framing timber, I created platforms for two shelves to sit on. I cut the pieces of timber to length and then glued and screwed them to the walls and the sides of the cupboard. If building shelves, use a spirit level to make sure that the supports on each side are level.

I cut the shelves out of 10mm (0.4 inch) MDF and used both glue and nails to secure them to the timber supports. Make sure you use a good quality construction adhesive in these applications.

I used a paintable gap filler in the corners, which I smoothed with my fingers. I went through almost a whole cartridge but they only cost a few dollars each.

Because the dishwasher was going to be in the lower part of the cupboard, I used an oil-based undercoat on the whole inside of the cupboard. This will help stop steam and water damage. Then I gave the shelves and cupboard two coats of standard interior paint.

I got the plumber to install a drain and tap for the dish washer when he did the other work for the kitchen sink. We were lucky that the dishwasher was a perfect fit, other wise things could have been more complicated (we bought the dishwasher before deciding where to put it).