Updating Your Kitchen on a Budget with Contact Paper

An open kitchen shelf, with faux marble contact paper shelf coverings and decor.

When we purchased our house we knew that in order to find something in the neighbourhood we wanted that there was going to have to be some compromise involved – and when we found our house in the exact location we wanted, my husband’s first concern was that the kitchen was quite small, at least for someone like myself, who spends the vast majority of her free time there. While the kitchen wasn’t big, it was relatively functional, and indeed larger than many of the kitchens I’d grown accustomed to in the UK and in Asia. I could make it work, I asserted, and had already begun planning how to make it mine.

The previous owners had created a ‘modern farmhouse’ aesthetic which is definitely popular right now, but not my personal style. I’m never really sure how to define my interior design style, but I guess I would classify it as ‘modern Mediterranean’ or ‘mid-century meets the Middle East’. In an ideal world I would have the money set aside to completely gut our kitchen and replace the inexpensive particleboard cabinets with something more custom, but I do not, and so for the moment I’m instituting simple fixes that are inexpensive but make the kitchen more ‘mine’. This cabinet had already been opened up, and sits next to our above-range microwave. It’s a handy place to store cookbooks and decorative items – as well as coffee and tea (in the canister), since the majority of our dishes and cookware are kept elsewhere.

When we bought the house these cupboards already had contact paper on them, and even with trying to warm it and gently remove it, it pulled the finish off of the shelving, removing the faux wood finish, and making even painting them tricky, since you’d be able to see the difference in texture:

The original shelves were damaged by the previous owners’ contact paper (which was super cute, but not in keeping with my neutral colour scheme), revealing the bare MDF underneath.

I opted for marble contact paper with some warm / gold tones through it to match my terracotta and earth-toned kitchen, spending $25 on a roll of this contact paper in the 23.6 inch width (giving me enough room to wrap around the front of the shelf). It was good quality (thicker than other contact papers I’ve used) and covered the existing imperfections of the shelves well. That being said, contact paper can be tricky, so here are a few tips for a flawless finish:

Tips for Applying Contact Paper:

  • Use a fresh, very sharp Xacto blade. I use this one, which is inexpensive and works well for this project, among many other crafty things.
  • Cut on a surface you don’t mind damaging. I used a simple cardboard shipping box on a flat surface, but if you have a large cutting mat that works great, too.
  • Leave excess contact paper / room on the sides and ends of the shelves. You don’t want the paper to run out by a couple of millimetres because you angled the shelf incorrectly when placing it on the paper (I have done this, wasting paper – don’t make the mistake I did!)
  • Use a plastic scraper, rather than a credit card, if you can help it. Most credit cards are a little too flimsy to push out any air bubbles, or can leave coloured marks on your contact paper (looking at you, Target Red Debit Card!), something like this can be helpful, or even a small plastic putty scraper can work in a pinch.
  • Peel back the adhesive backing slowly, while pushing the adhesive side down with your scraper. Don’t pull all the backing off and stick your shelf to it, as you likely won’t get the paper down at the right angle, or without large bubbles.
  • Be careful trimming off the excess. Using a sharp blade is imperative, as even thicker contact paper can tear if your blade is dull, ruining your finish.
  • Be patient and take your time. Contact paper can be frustrating to work with, and an extra set of hands can sometimes be helpful (though I completed this project solo).

The final result!

An open kitchen shelf, with faux marble contact paper shelf coverings and decor.
Contact paper is an easy and economic way to update kitchen shelving.

It took me about half an hour to complete, and the results are totally worth it! The contact paper is indistinguishable from actual marble, even up close, and ties together the feel of our modern Mediterranean neutral kitchen. A major improvement for a small amount of money! Keep in mind that if you’re a renter, or you care about keeping the faux finish on these type of kitchen shelves, removing the paper can damage the surface. While these shelves aren’t expensive to replace (around $20-$30) that’s probably something to consider when it comes time to return them to their original state. Using removable wallpaper could be a creative option for renters to look into.

Another view of our little kitchen. I hope to share more budget updates as we continue to make inexpensive edits to our existing kitchen space.

In case you’re wondering, since this is the first non-recipe post here on The Elegant Economist, it was always my intention to begin interior design blogging as it’s a major passion of mine, but it was set in motion after recovering from Covid-induced anosmia. In March/April I lost my sense of smell, which seemed to return to normal after a few weeks. A few weeks after that I began experiencing something known as parosmia (article here), where smells are distorted. I have been in the parosmia phase for several months now. Citrus, garlic, onions, and many of the foods I commonly cook with are affected, and I wanted to continue blogging, so here I am. Sweets seem to be mostly unaffected, so look for more sweets posts here in the near future.

July 24, 2020

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