Determined Rebecca Ruehl has the updated kitchen she wanted.
"I love that everything I wanted came together," said the 44-year-old Nashville mother of three who runs an inhome daycare.
With help from her husband, Scott, relatives and friends, the 2 -year project -- that was supposed to take three months -- is wrapping up.
"Now, I can see everything that goes on in the house," said Rebecca, leaning on the breakfast bar where the Ruehls has a wall removed in their 86-year-old home. "I have a lot more room. I didn't double my counter space but did real well."
She estimates the kitchen is 99 percent complete.
"Scott needs to put up the cabinet molding and (the walls)could use another coat of paint. It's been a lot of fun."
What did Scott enjoy most?
"Getting it done," he said from the couch where he was watching Sunday afternoon football. "I got to buy a lot of tools. It worked out great. My brother-in law (Chris Frerker) knew how to hang cabinets. I couldn't have done it without him. I had other friends help."
Rebecca's sunny yellow updated kitchen where she likes to make soup on Sundays has handsome red cabinets, some with glass fronts.
"I got lucky and found a craigslist posting from the floral district on Chouteau (in St. Louis)," said Rebecca. "They had display cabinets they were selling. Never used, with pull-outs, a pantry and glass fronts. It was a steal. For $400, I bought eight cabinets."
For the rich wood countertops, Scott planed cypress planks and glued them together. Rebecca applied layers of tongue oil.
"This is our peanut butter and jelly station," she said of the counter next to the sink. "It's more beat-up here."
The backsplash is subway-style white tile. Pendant lights she bought eight years ago now have a home over the deep white farmer-style sink. The floor may not be wood like she wanted, but vinyl squares that look like slate work well for all the action.
"To be honest, it's the best fit, as much water as ends up there."
The Ruehls wanted to keep their kitchen costs at $2,500, but spent about $7,500. They did everything but the wall removal, plumbing and electrical.
"I love telling people you can do a total redo for under $10,000," said Rebecca, "but it's going to take a lot of work, a lot of creativity, and a lot of willingness to go with Plan B if something doesn't work just right."
They knows all about the Plan B part.
Ask them about the surprise mold they found in one wall or the lack of structural support in the other.
'We thought we could just take out the wall (between living room and dining room), put up a support beam and keep the lower part for a bar," she said. "Nope, with no support, the wall was super-flimsy."
They had to rebuild the wall.
The moldy exterior wall?
To fix the leak, they tore out the wall to the studs and the floor to the joists.
When workmen came in on weekdays to install windows or rewire, the daycare kids wanted in on the action.
"Working at a daycare is like working in a prison," said Rebecca. "You have to keep your eyes on your tools ... Kids are so curious."
The Ruehls, whose own children are Grace, 11, Spencer, 16, and Emily, 22, moved into their home 13 years ago, planning to update, then sell it.
"But, as is often the case," said Rebecca, "life got in the way. We unexpectedly got pregnant with No. 3 and had to stay put for a while."
She made do.
In the kitchen, she used a chrome rack as a pantry.
"I can find my pans now," she said. "They're not in the oven anymore."
Their shiny new refrigerator was a gift from her dad.
"I found a scratch and dent LG French Door fridge (brand spanking new) for $1,200 that completes the kitchen very nicely."
The Ruehls haven't ruled out other updates.
"The house has so much personality," said Rebecca. "If I could buy a bigger house, I would, but then I'd spend the rest of my life griping about what doesn't work."
THE RUEHLS' tips:
1. Scan magazines for ideas. Rebecca looked through Southern Living, Better Homes and Gardens and This Old House.
2. Get organized, said Scott. "Overall, we'd never done a big project before," said Rebecca. "We were our own contractor and labor at the same time."
3. Have patience. "Rome wasn't built in a day, said Rebecca. "Your kitchen won't be either."
4. Be flexible. "I wanted a farmhouse sink but they are way too much," said Rebecca. "We did get a deeper sink, but then we had to call the plumber to move the pipes." 5. Be ready for a lot of mess. "On weekends, everything was everywhere," said Rebecca. "We'd put everything back together for the week."
6. Things happen that you don't expect, such as their mold-filled wall. Don't panic.
7. If you can't figure it out and don't have anyone to ask, sit down at your computer. "YouTube has some amazing things on there," said Scott.
8. Craigslist is a great resource, said Rebecca. "You'll need to spend a lot of time looking through it, but you can get some great deals." Best find? "Hands down, it was the cabinets."
How the Ruehls spent their money:
$2,700 wall removal
$1,400 cabinets from Lowes
$400 Craigslist cabinets
$200 subway tile
$125 ceiling (for pine planks and paint to redo bowed ceiling)
Ceiling fan, $100, online at Home Depot
$75 wallpaper (bought online)
$400 spray shop (cabinet doors)
$250 breakfast bar custom order Formica counter