Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What It Takes to Remodel a Kitchen

When we bought this house, one of the first things that we knew we would have to take care of was the kitchen. It was ugly, unkempt and hopelessly outdated. Did I mention that this house was a rental property for quite some time? And it was rented out to a bunch of college students who apparently didn't bother cleaning up, like, ever.

So we were looking at a big project - installing all new cabinets, new counter top, sink, faucet, new stove and refrigerator, new lighting, not to mention all the painting and such. It definitely sounded like a big pain in the neck and an expensive one as well. Of course, we had no idea how big and expensive it would turn out to be. Or how long it would take for that matter.

First, we contacted a kitchen designer. I won't mention her name because what happened next was really not all her fault. We paid her $300 to come up and listen to our laundry-list of needs and wants. She make some suggestions, criticized our $10,000 budget as unrealistic, and took some rough measurements. In the end, she produced a very rough drawing of what the kitchen would look like and said that a more detailed blueprint would be available at Lowe's. At this point we decided to fire her and deal directly with Lowe's. Should've thought about it sooner - would've saved $300 bucks! And here's the thing - if you're planning on keeping the same footprint, just spend 2-3 evenings at a book store browsing through remodeling magazines and books for design ideas that can be copied. Even if you are planning on changing the layout of the kitchen, it would make more sense for me to hire a contractor, not a designer, for sound advice and estimates.

To make the long story short, we had to increase our budget to about $15,000 and try to stick to it. To accomplish this, Chris would have to do a lot of work himself - all the demolition and a lot of construction work as well. We also decided to keep the footprint the same and not move appliances or walls. All these savings allowed us to upgrade to semi-custom cabinets and a quartz counter top.

All this was ordered at the end of November. The refrigerator and the smooth-top stove arrived in the first week of December and the cabinets - shortly before Christmas. We had to use our empty living room as a staging area to a great delight of our cat, Xander, who thoroughly explored each box. With the cabinet installation scheduled for the second week of January, Chris started demolition. First, he removed ugly popcorn ceiling and worn and torn bead board. Even though he tried to isolate the construction zone by hanging sturdy plastic curtains and taping them to the floor, there was still a lot of dust all around the house.

The next step was to remove the existing cabinets and appliances. We were very nervous about it. In our old kitchen, we had a soffit going along the wall on top of the cabinets. These had to be removed as well to accommodate for the tall new cabinets. We were afraid that we'd find open ceiling joists. To our huge relief there was an existing ceiling underneath all but one of the soffits. We still had some nasty surprises. For example, we found out that the exhaust fan over the stove was simply a bathroom fan, rigged with, get this, a piece of an extension cord and vented to the outside. It was clearly not in compliance with any fire codes and Chris tore it down. He patched the ceiling with new drywall. For now we decided to live without an exhaust. The kind that we need, an island-style hood, is simply too expensive. But Chris made sure that everything was rigged right for when we do get one.

Another big thing was converting an existing under-the-stairs pantry to house a counter-depth refrigerator. Our designer made it sound like a very simple thing - just take the door down, remove the shelves and voila! In reality, Chris found out that he also had to enlarge the doorway, build additional supports, do extensive drywall repair, not to mention to wire a new outlet and connect a copper pipe for water.

The cabinets were installed in 2 days and they look absolutely wonderful. As soon as they were in place, we had the counter top templated. In the mean time, Chris was working hard on the pantry conversion, painting the entire kitchen, wiring new lights, and installing new bead board and chair rail in the dining area.

So far it's been one full month since the remodeling started in earnest. And we are still a few weeks away from completion. The reason is that the counter top installation is being delayed! Instead of 4 weeks we were guaranteed, it's taking close to 6 weeks. And of course, we have to wait for that to be done before installing a stove, a dishwasher, and a sink. And after all that's done, Chris will still have to work on installing back splash (we decided to do a bead board back splash) and hang some shelves.

In the mean time, the kitchen is absolutely unusable. We survive on hot dogs and frozen dinners. Saves on cooking time, of course. Plus in our search for the home-style frozen dinner, we have different menu every night. The other day I was flipping through "Every Day with Rachel Ray", reading through cooking instructions and just imagining myself cooking again. Pretty pathetic, isn't it?!