(the "before" shot)

My husband and I had been planning a kitchen remodel for several years. We had heard horror stories from friends and relatives about the process. The same stories everyone talks about-the contractor who starts a third job while still on yours, the price doubling, the project taking twice as long, the anguish one goes through during the process etc. etc.

I am happy to say that we are about 2 weeks from the end of our long ordeal, and have somehow avoided the nightmares, and even have managed to enjoy the process (at least to some extent). I thought I would share with those of you about to undergo a similar experience some of the things we learned. I also would invite those of you with similar experiences to e-mail us so that we could post some of your experiences.

Where To Begin?

About a year ago we started to buy kitchen remodeling magazines and books. From those references we clipped pictures of things we liked. Cabinets, sinks, countertops, designs, tiles, room layouts and flooring options. We started a clip file of the things we liked. At the time, many of the magazines were talking about the "great room", the idea that the kitchen was now extending functionality beyond cooking to cooking, entertaining and maybe even performing the function of the family room with a TV and entertainment center. We liked this concept, maybe not for TV and entertainment center, but maybe for our unusually heavy load of computer equipment.

We began to create lists of things we wanted to do in our kitchen, as well as created lists of what we liked about our current kitchen and what we disliked. It turned out we did not like one thing about our current kitchen (this drove us to finally gut the entire thing in the end and start from scratch).

(gutted kitchen, starting from scratch)

We noticed as we collected our magazine clippings, and referenced brochures from showrooms that a pattern was developing. We were liking maple cabinets with glass doors, we also were both drawn to a wooden floor, we both wanted a skylight, and we both thought that adding bay windows to the side of the house from the kitchen would be a really cool idea (the bay windows were later axed as they added significantly to the price).

We even did some simple 2D floor plans on our computer kind of mapping out how various layouts might work. We spent about 3 months defining our needs and forming a wish list.

Who To Turn To?

After about 3 months of clipping pictures and nonchalantly visiting showrooms we decided that it was time to get some expert help. This was very confusing to us. Should we call an architect, a kitchen designer (a profession I have learned about this year), a construction company, an interior designer, a salesperson at a showroom? Again, confused, I turned to the magazines. I began to realize that all of the above might work. We talked to various parties and finally narrowed it down to two kitchen design/construction companies. (We originally had a third but they had an artistic designer who wanted to do some very strange things, like throw out the big oak kitchen table my husband's mother gave us as a wedding present, and pick a "feel" for our kitchen like autumn or summer and develop a seasonal "theme". We would spend entire meetings with this particular designer discussing our "feelings" rather than taking measurements of the kitchen and doing the other things required to come up with a preliminary bid).

The two companies we narrowed down were both excellent. Both had really great, experienced designers who each had years and years of experience (and it showed). They listened to our ideas, while both brought their experience to bear on the project. I have to say that picking one over the other was very hard, at one point, when the bids were almost the same financially we thought about tossing a coin. Both of these companies were designers who also provide the construction as well. They both were able to show portfolios of examples, came loaded with references and arranged for us to see kitchens they had completed at various job sites.

We probably saw about 10 kitchens installed in the homes of their customers. It surprised me how willing people were to let us come in to their kitchen and have a look around, open drawers, talk about the job and share their experiences.

The bid process was very tedious with both companies. In order for these companies to provide us with bids they had to create some pretty detailed plans. A lot of measuring was done with the designers coming over and meeting with us and surveying our kitchen several times. We went back and forth several times, revising things, and finally arriving at a plan and bid.

Sweating the Details

So we picked our company and now it was time to get down to business. More planning. An architect was brought in to finalize drawings which were submitted to the city. We had one pretty tricky architectural effort to raise the beam that holds up our entire house (yes, that beam). This was so that we could eliminate a floor to ceiling beam that landed smack dab in the center of the room. The architect was someone that the design/construction company works with regularly.

(holding up the house, raising the beam)

We also had to finalize all the appliances at this stage so that detailed construction drawings could be finalized. Appliance shopping took place over a couple of Saturdays and some weeknights. We found a great appliance store that gave a 10% construction discount to the company we worked with. This store had everything under the sun and provided very good personalized service. We purchased new everything because our appliances were old, or the design required slightly different dimensions for appliances.

The one thing I loved was a refridgerator with clear shelves on the inside of the double doors. Being one of those people that crams those shelves I loved being able to see clear through to the bottom shelf. There seems to be a lot of attention paid these days to ease of access of our kitchen items. Things like pull out drawers and shelves, little nooks and crannies can be tucked anywhere hiding things like sponges and scouring pads. In designing our kitchen I appealed to the designer to make things as ergonomically comfortable as possible. I don't ever want to get down on my hands and knees again and rummage through a dark cabinet looking for a pot or pan I use once a year. I want to pull out a drawer and see it sitting right there.

Once we had our appliances selected and cabinet storage requirements defined, the designer provided us with a 3D print of our kitchen. That allowed us to see a very realistic viewpoint of our new kitchen. We would have loved a photorealistic rendering but were happy with the 3D wireframe rendition.

A final bid was formulated and then work began.

Who Are These People In My Kitchen?

Construction soon began. Tear out took place over a 2 day period of time, followed by orange outlines mapped throughout the kitchen designating the location of cabinets, island etc.

(The orange marks designate the island-the pole was removed when the cross-beam was raised. This is my husband pretending to take a turkey out of the oven-little did he know he was standing in the dishwasher!)

The next big project was raising the cross-beam and installing the skylight.

Electrical and plumbing adjustments followed, with lights being installed next.

What About Eating?

One of the things that everyone told us was that we'd be really sick of eating out at the end of this remodel. We were determined to find a way to eat at home most of the time.We set up a small table in a third bedroom (that substitutes as an office) and made a little makeshift kitchen with a microwave and accessories.

Between the microwave and a grill outside we have been eating in most nights. We also precooked and froze many dinners in tupperware containers. We made lasagna, jambalaya, lamb stew and an Indian recipe known as Aloo Ghobi. We purchased plenty of paper plates. The only thing we are really short on is sink space. We use a sink in our hall bathroom. Nothing is like the kitchen sink for washing and preparing vegetables and food, and for washing and rinsing dishes. It really is the only thing I yearn for at this point.

What Now

We painted this weekend, and I came home tonight to find 90% of the cabinets installed. It's like a dream kitchen to me. We still have to do the floor, countertops, some hand-painted tiles I want to do, and other odds and ends I am sure that I have forgotten. In the next issue I will give you an update as to our progress. I hope we're done by then.


The cat (Kiticia) temporarily lives in her own private room in the back of the house because all this work bothers her! Don't forget the pets, this work definitely upsets their schedule (even if all they do is sleep)

(End of Part 1)

Part II, November

(progress had been made!)

Our kitchen remodel is nearly ending. We have now been without a kitchen since the first week of September. For the past 4 weeks we have been dealing with custom tile designs and other details that have pretty much grinded the process to a halt while the contractor waits for us to make detailed decisions about tiles and cabinet door glass design.

Hand Painting Tiles

Early on in the remodeling process I had the idea that hand painting tiles should be fun. As an artist I have enameled pottery and painted on a variety of surfaces. I thought this should be easy. The painting itself was not so bad, but the selection of tile was a major headache. I think my husband and I have been very organized about this project, but I think we should have paid a little more attention to the coordination of the corian with the tiles. I also wish we had visited more tile stores early on in the process for ideas. There are so many creative possibilities with tile design that it deserves more time up front I now believe.

We decided on a grape and leaf design. Tile shopping was a grueling process. The stores on Saturday (when we went) were just jammed. We found that most of the tile stores we visited were not open at night, only bankers hours on weekdays and short Saturday hours. So when we were there on Saturday so was every other couple in our city currently remodeling. One word of advice-always check your tile selection under different lighting conditions.

We selected a tile we thought was just beautiful in the showroom. We got it home, put it next to our corian counters and everything looked just fine. We bought more of these tiles, I hand painted and fired 12 of these tiles only to find out that at certain times of the day the lighting made these tiles look horrible. There was a fine textured coating on these tiles that looked great under most circumstances, but in indirect light they looked peculiar and dirty.

Somewhat frustrated, we spent another Saturday visiting tile stores and finally ended up with another selection. We bought another 12 tiles and I began painting them again! I think the new tiles will be fine. They are now fired and home waiting to be installed.

The cabinets are installed and the corian sink and countertops are in place. The appliances have been in our garage for a month waiting to be installed. The floor is incomplete at this point as well. It turns out that the tile was quite a gating item for many things. The tile has to be in place before the final electrical and plumbing could be finished, and the contractor also wanted the tiles to be in place before the wood floor in installed. The big appliances cannot be installed until the floor is in place.
So getting the tiles in will be a big deal.

The painting and firing of the tiles went really smoothly. The key is to find a good ceramics shop or studio to work with. I found a very good shop that had the right kind of paint and a kiln. Always test the tile with the design and color you're thinking of as the firing process may alter the color somewhat.

I think we won't have a kitchen by Thanksgiving, but we should by Christmas! This process has taken over a year and it will be worth it when finished!
(End of Part II)

Conclusion, January
(Scroll up to see the entire article)

We have been using our kitchen now since Thanksgiving Day (literally-we didn't buy a turkey until the day before just in case). On Thanksgiving eve the electrician and plumber worked to get the sink and range top in working condition. Over the past 6 weeks all the finishing touches have come together pretty well. The big remaining items had been completing the hardwood floor, finalizing plumbing and electricity, installing the display cabinet's glass doors, and a few other odds and ends. What still remains is buying and installing window shades, some minor touch-up painting, sealing the tile grout and a few door knobs.

What We Really Like-Ideas That Really Worked!

One of the favorite areas of our kitchen is a built-in desk and computer area with bookshelves above. We are very happy with this design. The work surface, drawers and desktop all are consistent with the light maple cabinets. This pretty area is a pleasure to work in. For me it's also nice because I can have things simmering on the stove (recently vegetable broth) and be close enough to keep an eye on the food while I read my e-mail at the same time. I pay my bills here and do other work at the computer.

I also love the island we created in the center of the room. I had read about islands being "out" but there is no denying their great functionality. Our island is unique because we included the oven as part of the design. Range tops and sinks are common in island designs, but ovens are somewhat uncommon.

We have a skylight above the island which brightens up the entire room. The only minor complaint I have is that the skylight is smack dab over the island, however it is tilted so that we can see the sky view when we want to, but not as squarely as we might like. This couldn't be avoided due to the placement of everything in the room and the architecture of our ceiling.

I think my absolute favorite thing about the cabinets is the fact that the drawers all pull out. Working in this kitchen is now so easy. I feel as though nothing can get lost or fall back into some dark cabinet crevice never to surface again.

My husband and I love the Corian counter tops. They are very easy to clean, they almost seem to repel water. The Corian sink is also very nice. We made an error that we plan to correct in the future with the placement of the faucet on the sink. The sink has a slight platform good for mounting the faucet. We had the plumber install the faucet above this platform in the middle of the sink, only to find that the fawcett just makes the left bowl by an inch or two. (Luckily the right sink bowl is fine with regards to faucet placement). Luckily this is pretty simple to fix.

We are very happy with our new kitchen. It took a long time (longer than we originally thought), but it came in on budget and it wasn't a stressful process. We were however pretty consumed with it for Saturday's on end. It is time consuming but for us was a lot of fun.

Here's our tips for those of you who may be just starting a kitchen remodel, or thinking about it:

1. Plan, plan, plan. Make drawings (detailed as possible). Read a few of those annoying remodeling magazines you page through at the check-out aisle-they can be pretty enlightening. Clip pictures of things you see in magazines you like. Go to showrooms and look around. Right down lists of things you like and don't like about your kitchen.

2. Interview your contractors diligently, get references, go see kitchens they did, make them prove to you they can do the job. Kitchen remodeling is a very time-consuming and detailed process. As much as you need to keep track of the progress, you need to make sure the contractor is on his or her feet. Our contractor was very good and managed a team of people they worked with regularly so there were few surprises or problems. We relied on our contractor to manage the process and the people.

3. Get everything in writing. Every last detail. By the time we started the plan was very well detailed. We weren't surprised by any outrageous bills. Know were the "gotchas" can be in terms of the contractor's bid. Ask the contractor what makes a job more expensive than originally bid. Things like finding a pest problem for example might add to the bill. Ask the contractors you interview this question-and interview more than one.

4. Create a mini-kitchen somewhere else in the house. If you have a gas grill plan to use it a lot-we used ours almost every night. Get out your steamers and small electrical appliances that can be used to cook food (rice cookers and the like are nice). Have access to a microwave oven if possible.
Cook meals that can be frozen and used throughout the process (like lasagne, stews, soups etc).
Make sure you have a good place to wash a few dishes and vegetables. We used a bathroom sink. This was my biggest irritation through the entire process. I really missed a big kitchen sink!

5. Approach this as a fun project. Consider it an opportunity to design something that suits your personality and pocketbook. If co-designing with a spouse or significant other remember that the other person can say they don't like something. I got grumbly a few times when I really liked something that my husband didn't. Compromise is important-make sure you both can live with the decisions that are made.