Archives for category: Kitchen Remodel

Today, Thursday, December 31st, in the last few hours of 2015, I paid off my new kitchen. 19 months after we started work on it, the final payment was just submitted.

Now we just have to finish the damn thing.

I realize that I have been a very bad DIY blogger. My last kitchen remodel post was about taking down the soffit, and how we accommodated for what we found underneath it. Hopefully, some of you are still interested in the process we went through, doing a complete from-the-studs kitchen remodel (and, as it turned out, playroom and laundry room remodel at the same time) entirely ourselves, for just around $8,000.

So, here’s what happened next: electrical.

Once the soffit was removed, Honest Husband got to work on the electrical and lighting. When we moved into the house in spring of 2013, the kitchen had one light: a buzzing fluorescent job that stretched across the island. We replaced that light almost immediately, with a cheap, domed ceiling light that was easier on the corneas, but still didn’t provide much light, even with 2 100-watt equivalent bulbs buzzing inside. The kitchen does have several, beautiful, large windows. But they face North, so they weren’t exactly flooding the room with sunlight. Combine all this with the original dark oak cabinets, and the kitchen was dark. Really dark.

Move-in day. April 2013.

Move-in day. April 2013.

Personally, I feel as though the kitchen is the one room in the house where you just can’t go wrong with light. There’s no such thing as an overly lit kitchen. The brighter the better.

Finalizing design plans, my lighting wish list went as follows:

  1. A light directly above the sink.
  2. Pendant lighting centered above the island (the electrical box for the ceiling light we had wasn’t centered above the island in the original kitchen, and it made my OCD twitch every day!).
  3. Recessed lighting throughout, following the countertops.
  4. Lighting above the stove.
  5. Under-cabinet lighting
  6. And the biggest, most luxurious wish list item of all? Have it all be adjustable. Dimmable. Since the kitchen is open to the playroom, where we all gather to watch TV and movies, I wanted to make sure that we could keep lights on in the kitchen (in case anyone needed to make some more popcorn during a show), but not have such bright lights blaring that they distracted or glared off the TV. A true “home theatre” experience.

True to form, Honest Husband spent weeks researching lighting options. We quickly determined that LEDs were the obvious choice. They provided the warmth and immediate light of an incandescent bulb, but were brighter and had a lifespan similar to a CFL (without the horrible fluorescence that I think makes light quality a real problem with CFLs). The local big box hardware store had a few options for retrofitted LED recessed lighting that seemed to fit what we needed, then Honest Husband found the absolute coolest thing: flexible under cabinet ribbon lights. So small, they’d be invisible once the cabinets were installed, but powerful enough to illuminate both of our glass-fronted cabinets as well as the whole countertop underneath the cabinets.

These are the lights!

These are the lights!

They're like something out of Star Wars.

They’re like something out of Star Wars.

Many products that retrofit premade cabinets to add under cabinet lighting include a light strip, a cord, a transformer, and usually a switch of some kind. The end result gives under cabinet lighting, it is true, but each bank of cabinet lights can only be turned on by reaching underneath your top cabinets to flip a switch. And there is still the aesthetic question of how to successfully hide the cords and boxes that come with the light strip. The flexible lights (as well as Honest Husband’s extensive electrical knowledge) solved these issues.

These small, compact lights would give us the slick appearance of custom built cabinetry. There would be no under-cabinet switch. No cords to plug in. But we also wouldn’t have to resort to the physical modifications that are required with many custom-built cabinets (most custom cabinets have a light box built underneath the cabinet, so small recessed lights can be installed seamlessly in what is essentially a fat piece of trim). With the soffit down and the studs exposed, Honest Husband was able to run electrical wires from the uppers to the switch next to the sink, adding a light switch for the under cabinet lighting next to the garbage disposal switch.

We didn't actually get the under cabinet lights hooked up until almost Thanksgiving, but you can see that the light source becomes almost invisible with the trim and door panels on.

We didn’t actually get the under cabinet lights hooked up until almost Thanksgiving, but you can see that the light source becomes almost invisible with the trim and door panels on.

The one “compromise” I had to make with this arrangement was that I wouldn’t be able to turn on the “sink light” independently from the rest of the ceiling lights. This has never been a problem.

For the recessed lights in the ceiling, Honest Husband and I initially purchased the Sylvania retrofit down lights for our new ceiling lights. They had good reviews. They were a nice, name brand. They were in the lighting and wattage range we were looking for.

They didn’t fit.

We ended up using the Ultilitech brand retrofit lights. They were Lowe’s in-house brand, so they were cheaper than the Sylvanias, and—BONUS—they fit between our ceiling and the second floor above.

When it came time to prep the ceiling for lights, Honest Husband carefully measured where the new island would be, and cut holes for two pendant lights centered over it. Then, he cut for three recessed lights going along the long side of the “L,” one light centered over the sink, and two more on either side of the island. 8 ceiling lights in total for our 11×22’ kitchen. Awesome.

IMG_20140526_122922943

With the holes cut, the drywall torn down, and the new house wires being fed through, the kitchen looked like it was being attacked by giant space spiders.

I won’t bore you with the details of patching the ceiling, matching the knock-down pattern (we dabbed the patches with a dry kitchen sponge that had been randomly gouged then dipped in mud), and performing the horrible, horrible job of horribleness, painting the ceiling. Just know that Honest Husband did it all so well that I had trouble finding one of the patched spots on the ceiling this morning in order to take a picture of it (Which is next to impossible, by the way. I’m trying to take a picture of white texture next to a slightly different white texture. My cell phone camera skills are just not that developed).

Patching before painting.

Patching before painting.

What it looks like today. The patch is to the right of the light. Squint.

What it looks like today. The patch is to the right of the light. Squint.

So, there you have it. One more post about our kitchen remodel. One more step closer to reveal. The plan is to write future posts about how we scheduled each step, design details, and also talk about how we expanded the remodel to include the playroom and laundry room. Hopefully, once all of that is finished, we’ll be finished. Those final trim pieces will be installed, the caulking will be done, I’ll be able to clean everything, and take the final “reveal” pictures.

With some luck, the kitchen won’t be entirely out of date by then.

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The biggest question mark that remained, literally, hanging over our heads after we finally purchased our new Ikea kitchen cabinets was, What is behind the soffit? We bought 39” tall upper cabinets, and the crown molding that would bring them visually all the way up the ceiling. We had the doors, the frames, the plans for the under cabinet lighting. We were in it. That soffit had to come down.

Soffit_2

But what was inside it?

For months, I had been doing research online, asking the Gods of Google to show me what was tucked inside that 12×12 box above my cabinets. It proved surprisingly unhelpful. I read stories that detailed everything from the comforting—“There was nothing but insulation in ours!”—to the terrifying—“We opened them up and realized that we would have to replumb the entire bathroom and kitchen, as well as change all HVAC in the downstairs. Our contractor took the ceiling down in three rooms.”—to the underwhelming—“We opened it up, saw that it was full of stuff, and just shrugged and closed it all back up again. It wasn’t worth it.”  We knew that the master bathroom was directly above the kitchen, and I had nightmares about opening up the soffit, only to discover the down pipe for the toilet (what my uncle affectionately calls the “shitter stack”), winding its way through my kitchen, the horrors of its raw sewage mere inches and a thin PVC pipe away from my daughter’s fajitas.

It gave me more anxiety than anything else in the kitchen. I thought about it constantly. What is in the soffit?  I begged Honest Husband to let me just drill a small hole in it, from the inside of one of the upper cabinets.  Just a little exploratory hole, into which I could shine a flashlight. Just to see. Just to know what was in there. Just to prepare myself a little bit for whatever it was that we needed to do.

“What if we open it up, and there’s plumbing in there? Then, when we try to move the plumbing, rivers of poop spray all over my kitchen? That’ll never get clean! I’ll never feel clean again! Rivers of poop!”

Honest Husband, whose blood pressure is usually much more prone to dramatic spikes over home renovations, was surprisingly calm about the whole soffit situation. He shrugged, “Whatever is in there, whatever we find, we’ll move.”

“Rivers of poop!”

“Seriously, do you really think that we’re going to find something that is just impossible to move? Do you really think that wires, ductwork, and pipes can’t be moved? They’re not concrete. They were put in there. They can be put elsewhere.”

“Rivers of poop!”

“There will not be rivers of poop in your kitchen. I promise.”

“Rivers!”

No matter what I did, I could not excite his agitation. He made me wait, until Sunday, May 18th. The day before Memorial Day. My mother-in-law watched the girls for the night, and Honest Husband and I woke up revived, both having gotten a full eight hours’ sleep for the first time in months. We woke up, and he looked over at me.

“Wanna see what’s in that soffit?”

You give the guy one solid night's sleep...

You give the guy one solid night’s sleep…

By noon, the upper cabinets and the soffit were almost entirely taken down, the girls were loving the noise and excitement, and I was breathing easier.

Not because the soffit was empty (because it wasn’t), but because I now knew what it was hiding all this time. I had a clear adversary:

From left to right: 1. House wires, 2. Ducting for Vent Hood, 3.  4” insulated duct for master bathroom vent, 4. House wire, 5. Overflow pipe for master bathroom, 6. Phone line.

From left to right: 1. House Wires, 2. Ducting for Vent Hood, 3.  4” Insulated Duct for Master Bathroom vent, 4. House Wire, 5. Overflow Pipe for Master Bathroom, 6. Phone Line.

And this is how we defeated the adversary.

1.  House Wires, Stove Side: The stove side of the kitchen was a pretty easy fix. The wires were fit inside pre-existing slots along the headers, and a small notch in the drywall was made to accommodate them. Honest Husband was determined to fix everything according to code, so that our “DIY” project wouldn’t reek of amateurism. So no floor joists or headers were cut or moved in any way. The structure of the house was in no way compromised by any of his work. Mud and drywall tape covered up where the wires went seamlessly (we just had to make sure we marked where they were so that we didn’t accidentally run a screw into them while installing the upper cabinet to the left of the stove).

2.  Ducting for Vent Hood: The vent hood didn’t require a fix at all. We were pleased to discover that it was already fitted between the upstairs floor joists and vented outside of the house on the second floor. Based on manufacturer’s recommendations, we did replace the flexible vent ductwork with solid ducting, but no structural changes had to take place. Easy peasy!

3.  4″ Insulated Duct: The ductwork for the upstairs bathroom appeared to be our biggest issue (it was a giant black snake, after all!), but even that ended up being fairly simple. The duct went all the way across the kitchen, laying on the ceiling drywall, before making a left turn in what was once the soffit and going up into the floor of the master bathroom, underneath the double vanity.  It’s kind of hard to imagine, so I made a crappy illustration in PowerPoint to show you all what I mean:

The duct went across the ceiling, behind the drywall, then swept over and up into the master bathroom above.

The duct went across the ceiling, behind the drywall, then swept over and up into the master bathroom above.

To fix this, we simply cut the duct shorter, and routed it up through the floor of the master bath. The vent moved from being underneath our vanity to being behind the closet door.

Before. The vent came out underneath our double vanity in the bathroom.

Before. The vent came out underneath our double vanity in the bathroom.

After. The duct was already located between the floor joists just behind the bathroom closet. It was a pretty easy fix.

After. The duct already ran between the floor joists just behind the bathroom closet. It was a pretty easy fix.

I’m actually very pleased with this change. The old vent blew hot and cold air on our feet, and spilled haphazardly into the bottom of the cabinet. This new one looks nicer, is easier to control, and doesn’t make my toes chilly after a shower! The new white vent looks nice, and I don’t mind seeing it in the bathroom. (It’s a bathroom, after all)

4. House Wires, Sink Side: The second wire actually went from the light switch next to the sink, to the single floodlight above the sink. We rerouted it, and will use it to control the under cabinet lighting. It now goes from the switch next to the sink to a junction box that is hidden behind the large upper cabinet.

6. Phone Line: The phone line was disconnected and placed in the ceiling. If someone in the future really has a craving for a landline, they can access it through there. (I have to admit, it was a little thrilling/nerve wracking seeing our one phone line cut and removed. It felt taboo. Almost wrong. It always seemed like a necessity growing up, such a sign of home. And we cut it out, making jokes that a future homeowner is going to find it and have no idea what the hell it is!)

5. Overflow Pipe for Master Bathroom: Ahhh, the pipe. It was my worst fear: the gateway to the River of Poop. It came down from the master bathroom, twisted out around the headers holding up the second floor, and went down into the crawl space. It was definitely not what I wanted to see.

The "Shitter Stack."

The “Shitter Stack.”

It came from the bathroom. The toilet, no less.  It jutted out into what was going to be my new upper cabinets. If we wanted to move it completely out of the way, we’d have to replumb the whole bathroom, rip out a bunch more of the ceiling, or even try to adjust the second floor header, which would be major money, and would probably require an engineer, architect, and permits.

Luckily, though, Honest Husband is a bit of a Houdini. But, like Houdini, he wasn’t going to need real magic. Just cleverness. Instead of making the pipe disappear, he was going to create the illusion that it was, in fact, gone. Trick the eye. Employ some sleight of hand. He decided to slightly adjust the pipe so that it pressed against the header, keeping it as close to the wall as possible.

Instead of a hard 90* turn, Honest Husband made the pipe follow the curve of the structure beneath it.

Instead of a hard 90* turn, Honest Husband made the pipe follow the curve of the structure beneath it.

Then, he cut out a hole in the back of the cabinet to accommodate the plumbing as well as the electrical boxes needed for the under cabinet lighting.

He notched out the back to make room for the pipe.

He notched out the back to make room for the pipe.

And cut a wide hole to have access to the electrical.

And cut a wide hole to have access to the electrical.

This is a 36" wide cabinet. The hole is about two feet.

This is a 36″ wide cabinet. The hole is about two feet.

Finally, he installed the junction boxes and transformer for the under cabinet lighting next to the pipe, and patched up the drywall around it.

After drywall.

After drywall.

After that was all done, he took a scrap piece of melamine shelf, cut it down, and made a false back on the upper cabinet that was screwed into place and could be removed after the cabinet was installed.

The false-back shelf.

The false-back shelf.

This false back could be removed to have access to the electrical components in the kitchen, is virtually invisible once the cabinets were installed, and only eats up about 1 inch of shelf depth on the upper cabinet.

The pipe, junction boxes, wiring, and transformer for the LED under cabinet lighting inside the cabinet.

The pipe, junction boxes, wiring, and transformer for the LED under cabinet lighting inside the cabinet.

The view from below.

The view from below.

Oh, and the Rivers of Poop? Turns out I didn’t have to worry about it at all. We cut into the pipe, and found that it was perfectly clean inside. It was just a vent pipe. Insurance for any flooding or backups we may experience. It had never been used, so far as we could tell.

 

So, there you have it. Everything that was in our soffit, and how we dealt with it. I’m not saying that the rest of the kitchen has been easy to deal with, or that it hasn’t been stressful (YOU try having no appliances or floor for ten whole days and see how well-adjusted you are by the end!), but if there’s one thing that taking the soffit down has taught me is that Honest Husband and I can tackle anything together. Nothing is impossible. And, even if we have to make some adjustments along the way, odds are good that we can make some magic happen.

Or at least chuckle at the illusion.

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.

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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.

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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!”

layout

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:

Lights

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!

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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.

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

Island

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”.

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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 . . .

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“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.

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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.

The Year of the Kitchen

Honest Dad and I moved into our home about a year ago. I love my new house. It’s spacious. It’s quiet.  It’s comfortable.  It’s not too big, nor too small.  Not too open, nor too closed.  And my father-in-law found it for us! True story. Honest Dad and I were starting to kick around the idea of moving back to his hometown, when out of the blue, my father-in-law called us. “I found your house!”

“Was it missing?”

He had been talking about the prospect of us moving back to town with a friend of his who is a realtor, and she told him about this property. He said that it sounded perfect. Skeptical (and still not entirely sure we were ready to make the big move across state lines), we came over for the weekend, “just to look.” It was the first home we had ever toured together (my husband had purchased our first home fresh out of college), and what can I say? The old man was right. It was our house.

Located in a premium school district, along a cul-de-sac, the house is a South-facing brick front home built with a nod towards a classic “four square” design. It has four bedrooms on the top floor, one on each of the four corners. Each bedroom is separated from the other by either a closet or bathroom, so even with two small children, all of the bedrooms are quiet and peaceful.  But, because it also has an attached garage, it has a large bonus room above the garage and a large family room behind it, open to the kitchen.  It had a fenced-in backyard with room for a swingset, and a deck that stayed cool and shaded in the summer.  It was perfect.

The classic Four Square home.

The classic Four Square home.

After that first tour, my husband asked me to rate it on a scale of 1-10.

“8.5.”

“Where does it lose points?”

“The kitchen. But not because of function. It’s aesthetics. I’d say that, compared to the kitchen we have now, this kitchen is a lateral move. Everything else is a move up.”

It really was. The kitchen in our current house is very functional.  It has a small island, a great work triangle, good prep space, and plenty of cabinets (at least for my purposes. We do have a large buffet in our dining room that houses all of the bigger serving platters that usually only make an appearance around Thanksgiving and Christmas. But even that isn’t packed full. If push came to shove, I could certainly store all of my kitchen accoutrement in the actual, physical kitchen).  But it was clearly getting a little dated.  Built in 1992, it is a shrine to the dark, heavy oak and brass fixtures that were considered the height of sophistication at that time.  Honest Dad and I have an aesthetics of mid-century modern with a splash of old-school.  He loves large, shiny, clean black surfaces, and I love to dress them up with bright, patterned fabrics. We prefer grey and white to beige.  I think that certain shades of purple and blue can be considered “neutral.” Ikea has had a hand in the furnishing of every single room in our house. Dark oak, cathedral style cabinets with beige laminate countertops just ain’t our thing.

But it worked. It had a breakfast nook, and opened up into a sunken family room with a large, brick fireplace and 16-foot ceilings. The girls could play in that room while I cooked, enjoying the brand new, state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances, while Honest Dad and I saved up for the eventual inevitability of a fix-up/remodel.  And when we moved in, that was our plan. Live with the dark kitchen for now, and in a decade or so, as the girls grow, look into remodeling.

But we weren’t in the house very long before some very real concerns arose in the kitchen. The first thing that I noticed was that the countertops felt sticky.  All the time. No matter what I did.  No matter what cleaners I used. Sticky. Or at least, tacky. All over. I told Honest Dad about it. We scrubbed.  He brought back industrial strength cleaners from work (he works in aviation, so these cleaners are designed for some serious grime!).  I coughed and wheezed from the fumes, and worried about Honest Baby, swimming around in my womb and absorbing all of these horrific chemicals. Nothing worked. Tacky. Sticky.

And stained. For some reason, these countertops would stain within seconds. Red wine.  Fruit juice. Indian takeout. If any sauce or fluid dripped on the counter and sat for longer than 30 seconds or so, I had a new stain to add to my growing collection. I once set a bag of tortillas down on my island while putting groceries away, and when I picked the bag back up, there was a perfect mirror-image of the label. Emblazoned across my kitchen island.

Desperate, we started scraping and polishing. We scraped the entire top layer of laminate off.  The top layer of laminate was destroyed.  Melted, for all we could tell, probably by some kind of harsh cleaning product not intended to be used with laminates. Suddenly, my functional-yet-dated kitchen was depressing. As a stay-at-home mother, I spend about 80% of my time in my kitchen, and these countertops were making my time much more difficult and distracting than it needed to be. And potentially dangerous. Without the protective coating on the top of what is essentially pressed paper, I can only imagine the bacteria and diseases that are now setting up shop on my countertops. How could I keep Honest Girl safe while we baked brownies?  What about when Honest Baby starts eating solids? Every time I slice chicken or crack an egg, I just think about the horrors that are slowly seeping into my family’s space.

Then, there was the microwave. The old owners, in an attempt to make the house more appealing in a difficult housing market, had purchased an entire suite of beautiful stainless steel appliances. Including an over-the-range microwave with a built-in vent. But, in order to save money, the owners didn’t replace the upper cabinet on top of the microwave. So it was low. Very low. I only have about 11 inches of clearance between my stovetop and the bottom of my microwave. On one hand, that works great for me when I use the microwave. I’m only 5-foot tall, so if the microwave was six inches higher, I wouldn’t be able to even see inside it while trying to use it.  On the other hand, it means that cooking on the stove is a continuous challenge.  My tall stock pots fit, but not with a spoon and my hand.  Also, the bottom of the microwave gets splashed with grease and sauce no matter what I do. Finally, because it sits so low to the steam and heat of the cooking, the stainless steel has actually started peeling off the bottom of the microwave. Seriously.  There’s a little flap along the bottom of the buttons that has lost its ability to stay attached to the face of the microwave.  On a side note, I have to say that I have also always been less than impressed with the built-in ventilation capabilities of over-the-range microwaves. They’re just not powerful enough to actually move the smoke away fast enough.

Right off the bat, then, we realized that the countertops needed to be replaced. And the microwave. And a dedicated vent hood installed. Which would mean taking down some cabinets (that are not being used anyway). Just these two issues—countertops and the microwave/vent—made us realize that perhaps we didn’t have the luxury of the next 10 years to “just live with it.”

So, we started talking about what we could do to improve it. First, we said that we could just paint out the dark oak, replace the brass hardware, and replace the laminate.  These were all jobs we had done before in our kitchen at our old house.  But as we discussed our needs and wants for our kitchen in this new home, in this place that would see our children start and finish school, in this place that was no longer a “starter home,” but where we will be for the foreseeable future, things changed.  As we discussed budgets, time, DIY projects, and, of course, style, it became clear that just a refreshed kitchen wasn’t going to give us the kind of return on investment we were seeking.

Thus began the planning of our full, floor-to-ceiling kitchen remodel.

For months now, Honest Dad and I have discussed and researched cabinet boxes, cabinet doors, floor tile options, backsplash tiles, paint colors, layout, countertop options, drawer inserts, hardware, sinks. We went back and forth on every aspect at least three times. We discussed, agonized, scaled back, then charged forward again, only to creep backwards.  We created 3D models.  I placed sticky notes on my cabinets, trying to decide where the optimal locations would be for spices, plates, spoons.  Would the optimum set up be something highly functional and streamlined, or should I try to shove the maximum number of cabinets in?  What was the best balance?  For months now.  Just last week, Honest Dad and I sat down and ordered samples of high quality laminates (the biggest bang for our buck, in my opinion. Sturdy, durable, able to handle two young girls who love to “help,” and cheap enough that in 10 years, if we decide to rip them out and install a beautiful granite or quartz, we can).

How much have we been working on this?  The other day, I was going for a walk with my next door neighbor and good friend.  I was talking about the kitchen.

“We’ve made a command decision!”

She just looked at me. “You know you make a ‘command decision’ like every week, right?”

Oh. Right.

And now?

Our laminate samples! The official start to everything. The bottom center sample is the clear winner, in my mind.

Our laminate samples! The official start to everything. The bottom center sample is the clear winner, in my mind.

It. Has. Begun.

2014 will be the Year of the Kitchen. We are giving ourselves an entire year to complete this remodel (I think that’s reasonable for a complete DIY project of such magnitude). We have things organized into stages. First, we need to level the floor.  It has to happen before anything else can be done (There is a noticeable slope from the island to the dishwasher). Then, we will rip out the floor-to-ceiling pantry that’s currently blocking the gorgeous natural light from our 6-foot windows in the breakfast nook.  We’ll convert the closet in the adjacent laundry room into a walk-in pantry.

Then, the real construction begins.

The uppers will come down. Then the soffit. The ceilings will need to be repaired.  Plumbing, electrical, and ventilation all moved. Recessed lights installed throughout (right now, we only have one ceiling light for the entire kitchen).  Ikea cabinets purchased, arranged, and assembled.  Countertops built. Drywall repaired.  Cabinets installed. Backsplash. Paint. Electrical outlets. Grout. Sealers. Plumbing. Gas. Water. And a million other little things that I’m sure we’ll discover as we go along.

So don’t be surprised if this blog suddenly transforms into a mostly-DIY blog.  I will still be writing about kids, current events, pee and poop, to be sure.  But I’ll be doing it from a construction zone.  I’m sure that I’ll need to get on here and scream a few times throughout this process. Or cry. Or justify. Or explain. Or lament. And I’ll need some encouragement. And maybe even some advice. This won’t just be a terrifying adventure for me and my family, but for you as well, my online community. So, get ready.

The Year of the Kitchen is here.

A little inspiration. This kitchen is almost exactly our layout. They also used the Ikea Ramsjo (Shaker style) cabinets we selected.