Archives for the month of: June, 2014

Are we over budget?

Oh, hell yes.

Do I really mind?

Well, it depends, honestly.

We have spent quite a bit more on this kitchen remodel than we were intending. Our initial budget was $6,000: $5,000 allocated for the kitchen cabinets and lighting, and another $1,000 for the floors. My parents gave us a very generous gift card to Lowe’s for Christmas, and we received a few smaller gift cards from other relatives who heard about the upcoming project, bringing us up to right around $6,750.  The initial budget that we had created was a very rough estimate for what it would cost to purchase all of the big ticket items only, not counting incidentals. The five grand we had set aside was for cabinetry, our new farmhouse sink (a real steal at $312. A comparable porcelain, 36” wide double sink with attached drip rail was literally in the thousands. Believe me. I looked.), the new range hood (another incredible Ikea deal. $429 for a stainless and curved glass hood. We were debating between the one with the glass detail, and the all-stainless one, but decided to spend the extra $50 to get the one with the glass detail that matched the curves on all of our appliances), and all of the hardware (We had purchased new hardware for our existing kitchen already, but soon discovered that our modern style pulls with the old-fashioned cabinet doors just looked wrong. Besides, the number of cabinet pulls we needed to complete the new kitchen was different than what we had originally tallied. So now we can use the pulls we already purchased for the bathrooms and closets in the rest of the house. It was another expense we weren’t really anticipating, but I think it will be worth it in the end. And now we have a few extra pulls for some other projects around the house. Like a desk I want to repaint and update.).  With the wonderful Ikea kitchen sale (it happens annually, right around March and April in the States), we managed to score a 20% discount, bringing the total for our entire kitchen down to $4,200. $4,214.06 to be exact.

NOTE: You can ONLY get the discount if you spend over $5,000 at once in the kitchen section. I bought a corkscrew as well, and that $1.99 was considered part of “Food and Dining” and did not count towards our discount. It wasn’t a big deal because we had plenty of other stuff that did count, but if you plan on doing this at some point, keep those distinctions in mind. It caused a chuckle at check-out, because the girl ringing up our order had to ring up all of the kitchen stuff separately from the rest, and the thing that got flagged in this ENORMOUS shopping list was a two-dollar corkscrew. God forbid we get forty cents off of that!

Being a scant $785.94 away from our “max” just after buying the barebones needed to make a kitchen, Honest Husband and I knew that things were going to get much pricier than what we had initially believed. And that’s a painful truth to come to.

But, like any pain, we winced, got up, stretched, and moved on. We are still very aware of our budget (exactly how much did we go over? That’s for another post!), but I think that we’re wiser now because of it. So, here I’d like to dispel a few Myths and discuss a few lessons that we learned with budgeting our DIY kitchen remodel.

Myth #1: Going Over Budget Means You are Terrible with Money and/or Horrible Irresponsible as a Person in General

You may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you.

Honest Husband is an engineer.

I’m (almost) a PhD in Literature.

We’re smart.

Like, for real.

I have a spreadsheet that has all of our expenses for this kitchen listed on it.

We don’t pay our bills late.

We save for retirement and our girls’ colleges.

We have investments.

We pay down debt.

We’re good with money.

But it’s still really, really, really, really embarrassing to admit that we’re over budget. Because we thought we wouldn’t be the ones over budget. Oops.

Everybody thinks that they’ll stick to the budget. That they’ll be the ones who figure it all out ahead of time. That they’re smarter than everybody else. At least, that’s what we thought.

But we’re not smarter than everyone else.

We’re not special, unique little snowflakes.

We’re just clunky ole ice cubes.

Myth #2: “Plan” for “Surprises”

This myth always drives me nuts on a semantic level. Because, seriously. The nature of a surprise is that it is unexpected. It is therefore impossible to “plan” for. Now, having a contingency in place is not a bad idea.  Understanding that your initial estimates will almost always and completely be blown to smithereens at some point?  That’s pretty useful. But it’s a myth that you can “plan” for “surprises.” Because they’re (spoiler alert!) surprising.

Of course, what this common myth is saying is to expect the unexpected. Be on alert. Have some extra money stashed under your mattress in case, say, you discover black mould behind your sink cabinet (we did, by the way. Not enough to panic over, but enough to make us say, “Ewwww!”). But what this kind of thinking conveys to homeowners and DIYers is that we needed to be emotionally “prepared” when bombs that we thought had been diffused end up blowing up all over the place.  It places the emotional burden on us. We needed to have “planned” for the unexpected costs. We should have “expected” these things. Which implies that we have no right to feel mad, or frustrated, or embarrassed, or fed up. Because we should have been prepared.

Take our example.  Though we weren’t planning on putting down flooring just yet, I found some wonderful, beautiful groutable vinyl tile at Home Depot for $1.79 a square foot. It was only available for a limited time, so we decided to pull the trigger. The entire kitchen and laundry room retiled for only $500?? Score! We were such budget masters.

When we finally decided to pull up the old Formica tiles and the vinyl sheet flooring underneath it, we were pleased and relieved to find a solid, dry, somewhat-outdated-but-still-very-useable luan. Huge sigh of relief. All that needed to be done was to scrape off the old adhesive from the original vinyl flooring, pour some leveling compound on it, and place our new vinyl stick flooring down. A few hours of gruesome, hard work, and we’d be set! Cheap floors that looked like ceramic, but without the coldness of real tile, and with a more forgiving bounce and flex.

Two hours into scraping off the old glue (a horrible job. My hands were sore for days after!), I decided that I needed some “inspiration.” I went into the garage, grabbed a few of the new tiles, and set them on the underlayment to see what the results of all of this hard work would look like. Ahh, new floor!

Wait. What?

Why is there that huge lip between the oak hallway and the kitchen? A full half inch. Doesn’t sound like much in theory, but it’s a mountain in flooring terms. (As little as a quarter inch of difference from one section to the next is enough to make people trip regularly, especially in houses where we all naturally anticipate even, level flooring)

Honest Husband stood in disbelief, the putty knife still in his hand, “We pulled up two layers of flooring. The entire kitchen is a quarter inch too low. The entire kitchen is sunk down now.”

In situations like this, I turn into a character that I like to call The Constant Questioner: “What? No way. Do you think it’s noticeable? Can we just put a transition strip across? Do you think we’d get used to it? Maybe we’d get used to it?  Would people trip on it? I don’t want people to trip on it.”

The elation of the morning. The jokes we had told while getting covered in 25-year-old adhesive dust. The feeling of accomplishment as we scraped and cleaned off entire plywood sheets. It all came crashing down. There was no way to get around it. In order to make it right, in order to make it complete, we needed to add a layer of underlayment.

Luckily, we have access to things like pneumatic tools, so we didn’t have to spend money renting or even buying an air compressor, but at the end of the day, we spent a good $300 that we hadn’t expected just on birch plywood underlayment, 5,000 inch-long staples, and a giant bucket of wood filler.

It ended up being the best decision. Whereas the old underlayment appeared to be in good shape, and was useable, the new underlayment is truly great product. We spent the extra money to get a high end, solid plywood to completely cover the old luan. Because of its stability, even our not-entirely-level kitchen floor (there’s a dip in one corner of the room. You mostly only notice it in the dining room, or, say, when you’re on all fours, trying to chip away old adhesive with a 3” putty knife) now feels solid, doesn’t squeak or bounce, and having this good product underneath our groutable vinyl tiles ensures that the grout will remain solid and won’t crack with age and use. And it brought the kitchen floor up level with the rest of the flooring in the house.

But even with the clarity and calmness of hindsight, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a terrible afternoon in the Honest house. It sounds weird to say this, but we needed to progress through the stages of grief when we encountered this surprise. Denial, anger, depression, bargaining. We went through it all. Fully and completely. We were caught off guard and felt helpless. Our great, money-saving ideas were destroyed. Again. It was terrible.

But, we kept working, and we reached Acceptance. Even, dare I say, Joy.  It cost more money, but it was done correctly. It was going to be all the better for the bomb.

Though we knew that things were going to cost more than we had initially believed, once the surprise hits you, there’s no “planning” for it. So instead of trying to “plan” (and drive yourself crazy thinking of every possible worst case scenario), try to allow yourself to feel that disappointment. Go through your grief. This is your home. Your work. Your sweat. The thing that you do to make your family smile. You’re emotionally invested, and you deserve to take the time to have a meltdown, or freak out. Walk away for awhile (Honest Husband and I took a long lunch break and watched old sitcoms on Netflix for an hour or two). But, once that’s done, keep working and move on. It’s only money.

Myth #3: It’s Only Money

Money’s important. Money’s life-changing. Money’s not everything, but it’s a lot of things. Again, don’t feel shallow if you happen to have a healthy dose of anger, fear, or sadness as you see your budget fly out the window. When people shrug, “Hey, it’s only money,” they are speaking from a place of privilege that not everyone enjoys.

(And, remember, what they’re really saying is, “Hey, it’s only your money.”)

Myth #4: Look for Deals!

Yes, look for deals on some things.  But think very carefully about what can and cannot be made more cheaply.

For us, we decided to save money on the cabinet boxes, choosing less visually appealing and cheaper melamine boxes, as well as cabinet doors and cover panels made with a combination of solid woods and veneers.  We could have spent money on solid wood cabinet boxes, but it seemed like an unnecessary expense for us. You really only see the interior of the cabinets when you open it up, and how often are you standing there, examining the cabinet box as opposed to what’s inside of it? We also saved on the countertop and the flooring. The countertop is going to be laminate, and the floors vinyl. We decided to use these less expensive options for several reasons. Firstly, if you have attitude about these products, you really need to check out what’s available right now. Advancements in the technology to make and design these products have been taking off. It’s not your grandmother’s vinyl kitchen floor! Our goal is that both the countertop and the flooring will be virtually indistinguishable from solid-surface products until people actually walk up and touch them. My cousin recently remodeled her kitchen, and she put in groutable vinyl tiles throughout her kitchen, breakfast nook, and entryway. It wasn’t until the third day staying at her house that I realized the floor wasn’t travertine. And I had to be told.  These things look amazing now.

Secondly, the budget was a major consideration. Do I want a lovely, interesting granite with heavy figuring and bold colors? Of course! Do I want to spent $100 a square foot to get it? Not unless it comes with a happy ending! We’ll have about $500 in countertops, and around $1,000 in floors all told.

Thirdly, durability. I drop stuff. All the time. And I spill red wine. Basically any time I open a bottle (and I like to open bottles). And my daughters like to bang pots on the floor. And I let them. And life’s too short to spend it worrying about scratching my four thousand dollar counters.

One place where we didn’t try to be frugal? The kitchen faucet. In our last house, we bought a cheaper faucet (right around $100—you can barely find a kitchen faucet for less anymore), and I hated it. This is a piece of equipment that I use constantly. I needed consistency in flow. I wanted metal valves, not plastic. I wanted solid feeling buttons when I changed the spray settings. I wanted it to look nice. I wanted it to operate organically (those faucets with the on-off pulls on the side instead of the top? They never feel natural to me. Pull down for on? Forward for hot? Or cold? Or which? They’re also just another example of the tyranny of right-handedness in America today. Almost all of them are designed to be installed so the handle is on the right side of the faucet. Fascist. I was determined to find a faucet that turned on from a lever on the top. No exceptions). Just today I ordered a new kitchen faucet. I spent almost $300, but I’m confident in the brand. It’s made in America. It has a lifetime warranty. I love it. I loved it the second I saw it. I wanted something nice, and, dag-nabbit, I went for it!

Figuring out where you need and want to spend some extra money is just as important to budgeting as figuring out where and how to save.

Myth #5: Go for Classics

Honest Husband is like a fine hardwood floor: he needs a little time to adapt (which is why I needed to spend so long convincing him that Ikea was the way to go).  I’m like a giant block of granite: hard, decisive, and not necessarily for everyone. We’re a really good design combo.

He’s the rock, and I’m the kite. He keeps me from disappearing into dark sky, and I yank him up from the ground.

So he reels me back in when I get too extreme with my design ideas. And I get him to take chances.

And we both have concluded that the ultimate test of whether or not something is going to be permitted to bust our budget is love. Do we love it? Does it make us smile? Does it make us happy? Do we think about it, even after we walk away? Then we’re doing it.

Who cares if, in twenty years, our kitchen is going to look “so 2014”?

We are designing for nobody’s happiness but our own. For nobody’s aesthetic but our own.

Do people question our choices? Constantly. <<Check out this link. It’s a GIF of the light that we bought for our breakfast nook. We LOVE this light! Is it “timeless”? Hells no! Is it all kinds of awesome? Hell yeah!

Do people warn us about “getting tired” of things? Sometimes.

But do we love it? Oh yeah.

Budget. Busted.

Oh, yes. It’s gone away from here.

Because I haven’t had a sink in four days.

Because I just got a splinter in my foot from the exposed subfloor.

Because apparently the number one rule of subfloors is, “You can’t get them wet!” Meanwhile, I am in a house with two children whose singular goal in life is to make EVERYTHING wet.

Because my daughters have now eaten cheese slices for dinner for the third night in a row.

Because it’s just too hot to leave the house, but too uncomfortable to stay here.

Because I wanted to eat a nice, big salad tonight, but I have nowhere to slice my cucumber or broccoli.

Because the room looks less finished now, a month after starting this renovation, than it ever did.

Because there’s no more money, and no more kitchen.

Because when I try to make my toast in the morning, I have to set my toaster down on the floor of my dining room, get a knife from off my dining table, grab the bread and Nutella from my pantry, then when the toast is finished, unplug the toaster (it’s sitting on carpet, after all), sit down on the plywood-covered riser with my paper plate on my lap, and eat. Yay, breakfast.

Because there’s no more money.

Because there are always more projects.

Because the pile of boxes of new or unfinished pieces doesn’t seem to be going down at all.

Because I realized that without a table or countertops, there’s just no place to put anything.

Because we haven’t gone to bed earlier than midnight every single night this week.

Because I really need two hours to myself to get my hair done, but I need to spend that $50 on the kitchen, not the salon.

Because I feel silly taking my daughters all the way to the grocery store, just to buy bottled water and beer.

Because I really, really need that beer right now.

But there’s no more money.

Because I may just go insane.


May 18, 2014. Honest Husband starts to take down the cabinets and the soffit.


June 18, 2014. The “adventure” of this kitchen remodel has turned into a frost-bitten-toes-falling-off-halfway-up-the-mountain climb to the peak of Everest.


Happy one month anniversary.

I flipped through the pages of my new magazine, the Ikea Kitchen Dreambook 2013.  I stopped on the page “Common Kitchen Layouts.”

“There! That’s our kitchen!”


The L-shaped kitchen. Stove and vent hood along the short wall.  Sink and dishwasher along the long wall.  Room for an island in the middle.  There was a picture, with all of the necessary “zones” (cooking, washing, storing) highlighted and shown with optional cabinetry.  They already had a full diagram of a kitchen, similar in design to my own.  All that was left for us to do to finalize the design and plans of our new kitchen was to get our specific measurements, and follow the example already set for us.

It was so simple.

Except it wasn’t.

If you are doing research online and looking into an Ikea kitchen for yourself, you’ll find plenty of DIY bloggers and homeowners who spend hours in fervent hand-wringing over one thing: trying to make the Ikea kitchen look “custom.”  Apparently, the biggest fear for a homeowner is that her or his new kitchen will look like an Ikea in-store kitchen display as opposed to a free-standing, unique kitchen all on its own.

This was not a concern of mine.

Honest Husband, however? Well . . .

“It’s all in the finishes. The detail work. The way you get that custom look is to address every visible surface.  No blank panels.  No fillers.  No raw edges.  I’d love to make even the ends of the island interesting.  I’m not just going to let it be flat and white.”

I have no idea how long he worked.  How many hours he dedicated to the design. I know that I would wake up to nurse our baby in the middle of the night, only to find him researching and sketching.  He lost sleep.  A lot of sleep.

<Sidebar>He became so obsessed with the kitchen, that the night before we left to go order and pick up our kitchen, he woke up at three in the morning, ran into our office, and actually adjusted his parts list because he had a sudden inspiration for how to do the cabinet above the refrigerator.</Sidebar>

Here are just a few of the customizations that he’s doing in order to avoid that “Ikea display” look:


Our kitchen previously was dark. Dark oak cabinets, dark trim, dark pinky-beigey paint (my neighbor once jokingly called the paint color in the kitchen “Skin”), and very little natural light (the pantry was blocking most of the light that came in from our 6-foot tall windows in the breakfast nook).  Also, it had only one lighting fixture.  It was a brown cave.

So we are lighting it all up.

White cabinets.  White trim.  Six recessed lights, plus two pendants centered over the island. Under cabinet lighting from a thin, LED strip. All wired to be dimmable, so I will have the ultimate control over the look and feel of my kitchen.

Holy Recessed Lighting, Batman!

Holy Recessed Lighting, Batman!

Oh, and did I mention that the new LEDs underneath the cabinets look WILD? When I first saw them, I had no idea what they were, until Honest Husband stuck a nine-volt battery to them. Ta-da! Lights!



Over-Refrigerator Cabinet

The problem: Ikea doesn’t sell a cabinet that fits exactly into the space between our refrigerator and the wall. Our fridge is underneath our staircase, so we couldn’t expand the space to make room for a larger cabinet, and I didn’t want to lose all of that storage and have nothing above the fridge.  The next smallest cabinet would have been too small. It would have fit, but we’d have to have about three inches of just blank cover panels on either side of the cabinet. Oh, Honest Husband was NOT about to have that!

So here’s what he did.

First, he bought a cabinet box that was slightly too big, both vertically and horizontally.

Then, he cut the box down in both directions, so that it fit the space perfectly.

After he had fashioned the cabinet box, he then bought an Ikea drawer front. Though Ikea didn’t have any upper cabinets that would fit in the space, their drawers turned out to be exactly the perfect size.

He bought the hardware needed to open the drawer front from the bottom, so that the whole thing flipped up towards the ceiling.

<Sidebar>Many, many people have observed that the Blum hardware Ikea uses is superb. And it really is. It is BEEFY. The hinges for this door are way overkill. They could probably lift about 20 pounds-worth of door up and out of the way with ease. And they are smooth, and really very easy to install. Yet another reason why we finally decided to pull the trigger on the Ikea kitchen is because for us to be able to purchase comparable hardware would have set us back a pretty penny. The kitchen hardware gets really high marks all around from me.</Sidebar>

Finally, after assembling it all, we realized that we wanted the piece along the bottom to look more finished than it did (to hide the unattractive melamine box that was exposed), so he attached a second drawer front to the bottom of the cabinet. You’ll never see the whole thing, just the finished edge, but it made it look completely different. High end. Finished.

(I am certain that I took pictures of this cabinet, but I can’t for the life of me find them right now. Oh well. Pics later!)

“Blind” Corner Cabinet

For the record, I am 5 feet tall. On a good day. With sneakers on. So I hate upper cabinets. I hardly store anything in my upper cabinets. They are just for decoration, and to make sure my teapot doesn’t get covered in grease when I cook bacon. Everything important in my kitchen is stored in the lower cabinets, drawers, and shelves.

So when Honest Husband suggested that we do away with the 45° upper corner cabinet and have a 90° “blind” cabinet instead, I was all for it.

But, of course, Ikea doesn’t make one.

So, in order to make the corner on the upper cabinets work correctly, Honest Husband had to purchase a 24” wide upper cabinet box and a 12” wide door.  He installed the door (using a special hinge that he found through Ikea fans that was a good $50 just for the hinge), and butted another 18” cabinet up next to it. The 18” cabinet is 12” deep, so, viola! The part of the cabinet that went all the way back into the corner is hidden, yet still accessible, the doors open up the “correct” way, I don’t feel as though I have an enormous corner cabinet looming over my very petite head, and it’s a perfect way to store vases, platters, and other stuff that I just don’t use very frequently.

In order to space the doors correctly so that they would open without interference, Honest Husband placed a single cover panel between the two cabinets to give them clearance.

In order to space the doors correctly so that they would open without interference, Honest Husband placed a single cover panel between the two cabinets to give them clearance.


You can see the blind cabinet, installed, in the above picture of the recessed lights.


One problem with many kitchen islands is that they are so standard.  A couple of cabinets screwed together. A countertop. Maybe a good space to hide a garbage can. Usually rectangular. Another problem with the kitchen island is that, as an island, it is visible from all four sides. Unlike the cabinets themselves, which are often screwed to a wall or to each other, you see everything that an island has to offer. And it’s usually pretty boring.

Honest Husband and I agonized over the kitchen island.  How big should it be?  What do we want to be able to do with it?  How can we maximize storage opportunities?  Seating options?  How do we make it feel substantial, but not overpowering or clumsy? We measured. We mocked up. We stood next to corners. We carried big pots and laundry baskets around the room, seeing how the spacing worked. I knew that we’d end up kicking ourselves if we did all of this work, only to feel cramped in our own kitchen with an island that was just too big for the space.

Eclectic Kitchen by Atlanta Design-Build Firms Dwellings Design Build

After finding this picture on Houzz, I knew that I wanted to have a countertop overhang that allowed for a single barstool. Not only would it give me a place to eat my breakfast in the morning, but it would also be a great way to hide some electrical outlets, while still keeping them accessible to the people cooking in the kitchen.

To make sure that the back of the island (which is the first thing you see when you look down the hallway leading from our entryway) looked just as inviting and “finished” as the rest of the kitchen, Honest Husband decided to forego the flat cover panels along the back, and instead bought extra Ramsjo doors to go on top of the cover panels.  Layering the doors on top ensured that every visible piece of the back of the island would be a single, uniform finish (the Ramsjo white is more of a whitewash color, as opposed to the bright white of the melamine boxes), and it would give him a great platform on which to miter and attach the rest of the cover panels, so that, once again, even in the corners, every piece of the island would look solid, continuous, and complete.

(I don’t have any pictures of this one yet, because we have yet to build the island.)

Once Honest Husband and I finally decided to dive head-first into a kitchen remodel, the question of what to do with the cabinets was (understandably) the very first concern we needed to address.  We wanted the remodel to be significant enough that we wouldn’t feel compelled to do it all over again after ten years, but we needed to stay within a pretty modest budget (right around $6,000—$5,000 for the cabinets, and $1,000 for the flooring. We’ve managed to stay pretty close to that budget. More on that later.).  All of the labor and work would be done by my husband, with me providing modest backup support (we’ve been really lucky and had lots of babysitting by my mother-in-law during this project, so I’ve had several days where I was free to actually help—sweep, vacuum, make food runs, supply paper towels, hold tape measures, give feedback), and it had to be work that could be completed either on the weekends, or in that glorious hour in between when our girls went to bed and when we did.

Knowing that my favorite style of kitchen cabinetry is a simple Shaker, Honest Husband (who is in love with his router, and seriously tried for months to talk me into a more complex design, I think just so that he could use it more. To be fair, it is a pretty sweet tool) at first suggested painting out all of the cabinet boxes, then building new doors for all of the cabinets.  He figured the doors would be a project that he could tackle himself, with the help of his dad’s old table saw (having a mechanic/contractor for a father-in-law is a really big advantage) and some relatively cheap (but still better than builder grade) lumber.

But then I told him that I’d really like the old pantry to be removed and the entire kitchen opened up to the family/play room.

The pantry obscured my view from the kitchen to the playroom when I stood at the sink.

The pantry obscured my view from the kitchen to the playroom when I stood at the sink.

And the cabinet box under the sink needed some serious rebuilding after we discovered old water damage (and a little bit of mold. Again, more on that later.).

Also, the (empty) cabinet above the microwave needed to come down to make room for the new range hood.

That awful microwave. It was only 9" above the cooktop!

That awful microwave. It was only 9″ above the cooktop!

And the sink that we both fell in love with (an Ikea farmhouse/apron front sink. The only one we found that had the attached drip rail in the back where I could set sponges and soap—a major advantage for finding cheap countertops, too. Without the necessity for a large hole cut into a single piece of countertop, the square footage needed for the kitchen countertop was cut way down) was 36” wide, not 33”.

ikea domsjo sink 045

Image Credit

And, well, so long as we’re talking about what we’d ideally like to see, there’s the issue of that soffit . . .


“You’re never going to be fully happy with this kitchen until that soffit comes down, are you?”

“Well,” I was willing to be flexible.  I was at least willing to look like I was flexible.  “I just don’t know.  I’ve heard horror stories of people who tried to take down their soffits and wound up needing to do some major work because it turned out that all of their plumbing went through there.  So maybe we just don’t even want to touch it.  And, I mean, I’ve seen some soffits that are painted beautiful colors and designed to go with the cabinets that have been installed.  My cousin just remodeled her kitchen a few years ago, and they kept their soffit. You barely even notice it because everything else is so great.”

He looked over his glasses at me. “Rachel.”

“No, no, no. We can work with it.”

“Rachel . . .”

“Okay! Okay. I hate it and always will.”

He sighed. “I guess I’ll just have to build you some new upper cabinets then, huh?”

That was when I started to suggest Ikea cabinets for the whole kitchen.

My husband immediately balked.  “No. I don’t like them. They’re frameless. It looks cheap.”

“Really?  I think it looks really modern and clean.  And they don’t have any stiles or rails in the middle of their big cabinets. I’d be able to put everything in there. Now I have to wiggle and force it all.”

“It’s cheap. It covers up the boxes because the boxes are just MDF. Having some space between the doors shows off the real wood. I don’t want this to look cheap.”

“You just want it to be cheap.”

“Exactly. Besides,” he said, “I’ll be able to do this cheaper on my own.”

So, we started researching all of the different cabinet styles and options that we found and liked.  We wandered through the kitchen sections at big box stores, snapping photos and grabbing cabinet samples that we liked. He leaned towards a more traditional, raised panel design, worried that my simple Shaker style would look too clean, too plain. We compromised after finding these cabinets on display at our local Lowe’s.  They were Shaker with a twist. An extra detail of routing around the inside frame. Shaker and stirred. It was perfect.

KraftMaid Sonata cabinets, available at Lowe's.

KraftMaid Sonata cabinets, available at Lowe’s.

“Take a ton of pictures! Like, a ton!”

But I was still unconvinced that having my husband build the cabinets was really the best solution.  Please know, I wasn’t in any way hesitant about his abilities, or about the quality of work that he would generate.  I knew anything that he built would be incredibly durable, overbuilt, even.  I knew that it would be measured precisely, and give the whole room a custom look, fit, and feel.

But I also knew that I didn’t want to live with him while he was building these cabinets.

I know the level of perfectionism and obsession that my husband possesses. I knew that every not-entirely-square corner of the kitchen walls will be discovered and thoroughly cursed.  I knew that he would break out his calipers in order to build cabinets with indistinguishable uniformity.  I knew that he would spend hours in the garage, leaving me to watch the girls while they scream for daddy, and telling them that they just can’t help daddy right now because he’s working with nails and glue and saws and heavy lumber and all kinds of dangerous things.

I knew that I’d start to resent him. Even while he was working to give me this incredible gift.

So I kept saying it, “Ikea.” I pointed out every kitchen I saw on the television (most of them are made with Ikea cabinets. Just about every advertisement that is filmed in a kitchen is filmed in front of Ikea cabinets. Also, even high end remodeling shows like “Property Brothers” use Ikea cabinets).  I looked up pictures on Houzz.  I found every DIY, lifestyle, remodeling blog I could find.  I slipped the suggestion into every conversation we had about the kitchen. “Ikea.” He started reading a few of the testimonials I had talked about. He looked through Ikea Hackers, and Ikea Fans.  He read articles on how Ikea constructs their cabinets.  Suddenly, he started talking to me about how the construction of the boxes for Ikea is the same as for the big box stores, as for custom cabinetry.  He started to research hardware, and found that the hardware Ikea uses is considered some of the best around. Especially for the price.  He started to think about ordering doors from some of the companies that specialize in replacement doors for Ikea cabinets.  But after pricing those out, we started to look at the options available from Ikea itself.

“I’m coming around to Ikea cabinets. Really, I am.”

Finally, we took a day trip over to our closest Ikea (about a two and a half hour drive away). When we saw the Ramsjo cabinets in white, it was all over:

Shaker, and stirred.

IMG_20140323_143436260 IMG_20140323_143429586

In the car that day, my husband concluded, “They’re not the best looking.  They’re not the cheapest.  They’re not the highest quality.  But they do seem to have a really good balance of all three.”

I had him.

It had taken months of convincing, cajoling, arguing, suggesting, needling, guiding. But I had him.

Now all we had to do was design the damn thing.

Last Saturday, to celebrate Father’s Day (and to get us the hell away from our construction zone/kitchen remodel), I took Honest Dad out to a concert. We saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the Bluebird in Bloomington.  It was our fourth time seeing this band (twice in Columbus, at a little dive called the Rumba Café, where they played to a laughably small audience but took it in stride and rocked our fucking faces off, and once in Cincinnati, at a venue that closed almost immediately after the show). They kick ass. Truly. Isbell is a top notch songwriter. He’s obviously a reader—well-versed in literature and language—and floors me every time with his creative turn of phrase. Several of my favorite lines from his latest album, “Southeastern,” include:

“Jesus loves the sinner

But the highway loves the sin”


“And the songs that she sang in the shower

Are stuck in my mind.

Like yesterday’s wine.

Like yesterday’s wine.”


“Take my hand

Baby, we’re over land.

I know flying over water makes you cry.

Where’s that liquor cart?

Maybe we shouldn’t start.

But I can’t for the life of me say why.”

He knows the art of subtle storytelling. His best work comes when he uses his songs as a way to explore the characters that, though I’m sure are mostly fictional, come across as real as flesh, blood, soil, and dirt beneath your fingernails. He describes young boys being thrust into adulthood by both the choices that they make and the ones they watch others make, a woman with “sharecropper eyes” dying of cancer, and the grief of losing a “good friend” with a “vandal’s smile.”  Some of his songs will break your goddamn heart, and that’s the truth.

But he’s also just a really good guy, as are all of the other guys in the band (Remember, we saw them twice in a TINY little bar. I’ve exchanged pleasantries with all of them at one point—with the exception of Sadler Vaden, the relative new member—and I have quite the crush on the bass player, Jimbo Hart. He’s got a great smile that he’s flashed at me several times while I danced like a fool and sang all the words by heart. Plus, he’s an awesome player. I like bass players. Honest Dad played bass in his band for years. What can I say? I’ve got a thing for guys who can keep a groove.). Totally unpretentious, Isbell would probably blush all kinds of adorable red if he actually read this review. (You would, Jason. You’ve got a little bit of a baby face, and you know it.) In the grand tradition of singer/songwriters, Isbell is surprisingly shy once you take his guitar away. I once sat at the same picnic table with him for twenty minutes, close enough to smell the freshness of the soap on his skin, in complete silence, both of us chain smoking and trying desperately to pretend that the other person wasn’t there.

But it’s exactly that kind of awkwardness that I and so many of his fans find immensely endearing. Isbell is the best kind of musician: he does it because he loves it, because he has stories to tell, because his music moves him, compels him. And because he’s hella good at it. Honest Dad and I have been rooting for him since “discovering” his music around 2007, right after his first solo album, “Sirens of the Ditch” came out. We were simultaneously bummed and elated when, after releasing “Here We Rest” in 2011 (an album that garnered massive critical acclaim, and really marked Isbell’s maturation as a songwriter), we realized that he’d never come and play the Rumba in Columbus again. We’d never be able to stand on the floor, next to the eight-inch risers that passed for a stage, and shake his hand, congratulating him on an excellent set. This Saturday, while we walked up to the Bluebird, we both exclaimed with joy, “Hey! It’s a tour bus!” When we saw Isbell before, he and the band were taking turns driving a 12-passenger white van that (according to his highly entertaining Twitter account) broke down about every other day, stranding them and their gear on the lonely highways in between venues.  Those guys did the hard time that comes with being dedicated musicians today. They toured endlessly. They slept sporadically. They drank profusely. They loved prodigiously. Then, they picked up their guitars, and tried to play the best damn show of their lives. Every single night.

When Beck released the song “Blue Moon” from his new album “Morning Phase,” I looked at Honest Dad and said, “I’m so happy that while I was growing up, Beck grew up too. He’s not trying to pretend that he’s still just a kid with two turntables and a microphone. He’s an adult. I love it.” The same can be said of Isbell and his fans. We’re growing up together. We’re still able to carry a nostalgic torch for the young punks we used to be, but when we’re done doing that, we have to get right home because the babysitter has cross country practice in the morning. On Saturday, when Isbell played his 2004 song, “Never Gonna Change,” it was played with his typical energy and screaming guitar work, but there was also a knowing, wry smile that accompanied it. We all danced and sang along, pumping our fists in the air and shaking our heads. Defiant. Young. Stupid. Giving the finger to authority.  For those five minutes, transported by the music and the energy, we all believed that we were never going to change. But then the song ended, and I laughed in spite of myself. Because we all had changed. And we are all the better for it. The changes that our younger selves had feared so intensely had come, and left us all wondering why we had fought them for so long.

On Saturday, there were two large bottles of water sitting next to Jason’s microphone, instead of a fifth of Jack (Isbell’s journey to sobriety is well-documented in other interviews that he’s conducted). When he sang “I sobered up. / I swore off that stuff. / Forever this time” the audience, mostly full of other married couples enjoying their Father’s Day date nights, burst into uproarious applause. Because we’re all still rooting for you. The new you. The growing up you. When Isbell admits (as he freely does) to the stumbling blocks that he’s encountered on the way to the latest version of himself as a person and an artist, the fans respond. Because we’re having the same struggles. Monogamy. Adulthood. Responsibility. Shifting around uncomfortably within who we really are, and holding on by our fingertips to who we really want to be.

It was hard to see the band play, knowing that I wasn’t the lone girl in the middle of an almost-empty bar, dancing and singing along to every song. Knowing that I wouldn’t have the chance to sit uncomfortably next to him, frantically collecting, then immediately dismissing every single conversation starter that I thought of (“I’m a big fan.” “Tell me about the South.” “You’re taller than I thought.” “Which one of Faulkner’s novels is your favorite?” “Thank you. Just. Thank you.”).  His success is my lost opportunity, I suppose.

But it’s everyone else’s gain.


<Sidebar>I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Isbell’s incredibly talented, fiddle-playing, James Joyce-reading, sometimes-band-mate, songwriting wife, Amanda Shires-Isbell. Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” is a song written for her. It’s basically a perfect love song. Up there with Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluiah,” the Allman Brothers’ “Melissa,” and Elton John’s “Your Song.” Though I haven’t met her yet, she seems like the coolest dork ever, and I sometimes think that it would be fun to sit with her, discuss Modernist literature, and binge-watch old episodes of 30 Rock on Netflix. Call me up any time, Amanda. Any time.</Sidebar>

<Sidebar 2.0>Consider this my formal invitation, 400 Unit. If you ever find yourselves in Bloomington, Indiana. I’ve got a 5-bedroom house, a music room stuffed with guitars and amps designed and built by my husband, and I make a mean batch of fajitas. Stop by. Take a load off. Sleep. Do nothing. Just be. Consider us your traveling musician hostel. Minus the strange smells and German tourists.</Sidebar>


Ready to ROCK! . . . While breastfeeding my daughter. Oh, yes I did.

Ready to ROCK! . . . While breastfeeding my daughter. Oh, yes I did.

I’m not getting anything from writing this. Nobody even knows that I’m writing this. I like to support musicians. And I think that everyone needs to get away from their computers and go watch some live shows. Now. Go. Seriously. Now.