by Kate Heyhoe
Everything I had heard about kitchen remodels is true: expect them to cost more than budgeted, take longer than planned, and don't be surprised if the end result isn't exactly what you had expected. In my case, the final kitchen was indeed different from my original expectations. Surprisingly, it far, far surpassed my dreams—it's even better than I had planned!
But getting here required sizeable research—about four months of it before the first hammer was wielded or the first dollar spent. In this series on Kitchen Remodel, I share my personal tips and insights for making a dream kitchen come true—as practically and as painlessly as possible. and unlike remodeling stories written by guys who build kitchens but don't cook in them, this one emphasizes a working cook's perspective—it includes unique ideas to make a kitchen both beautiful and functional—a kitchen designed with cooking in mind.
By Kate Heyhoe, the Global Gourmet
Prep Time: 2 to 4 months
Construction Time: 1 to 3 months. Longer for more complicated remodels.
Keep in mind that there is no one perfect recipe for every kitchen remodel. As with all the best dishes, you should adapt the following recipe to suit your personal taste.
The "old" kitchen.
1 old kitchen (this one was built in 1964)
1 design plan (yours and/or one by a professional)
1 contractor, plus subcontractors as needed
1 set of kitchen appliances (pref. Maytag)
1 set of kitchen cabinets (pref. Thomasville Cabinets)
1 custom countertop and sink (pref. Swanstone)
1 new floor (pref. Armstrong ToughGuard)
1 lighting plan and materials
A generous handful of patience
Plenty of dough
Plus: Assorted paint, hardware, building and decorative materials
1. Start with one old kitchen. In case, our "old kitchen" came as part of a 36-year-old house on five wooded acres in a rural valley, between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. As you can see from the "Before Photographs (1A—1G)," the kitchen was a cramped, galley-style, walk-through kitchen—I've worked in real galleys on sailboats that had more space.
2. Do your "mise en place." Before dropping a dime on a remodel, draw up an excruciatingly detailed plan. This step is so important it bears repeating: DRAW UP A PLAN. Don't stop at the layout: Include every detail, as minor as it may seem, and take the time to think about each element. You'll need to make a gazillion decisions for your remodel, so you're best off making them before the contractor needs a decision on the spot. (In cooking, mise en place refers to gathering all your equipment and doing your prep work before actually starting to cook.)
Consider the direction the cabinet doors will open, where to put electrical plugs, the type of crown molding, number of sinks, countertop height, where to store small appliances, wall color, cabinet style, backsplash size and shape, countertop materials, lighting, and more. Will a paper towel rack mounted under the cabinets prevent installation of undercabinet task lights? Will the dish storage be close enough to the dishwasher for easy unloading? Do you have enough space adjacent to the fridge on which to set grocery bags or fridge items? Can you work efficiently without running all over the kitchen?
Even if you use a kitchen designer, contractor or architect to create a design plan, I recommend first drawing up your own plan and making the bulk of the design decisions yourself. An expert can then offer suggestions for change, but you most importantly need to be comfortable with the space. If I had listened to all of the suggestions made by various experts, I'd have ended up with a kitchen that didn't work right for me. As it was, I thought long and hard about what I liked and disliked about my previous kitchen and drew up the plans accordingly. (More on the unique details and special features to come.)
Note the sign for "refrigerator" taped under the range top during planning stage. (Photo 1B)
TIP: Feel the space. I spent endless hours just sitting in and walking through the old kitchen and adjacent rooms. I envisioned various plans, mentally trying on the many options available. I also taped the layout outline on the floor—including the placement of the base cabinets, proposed windows and doorways. In photo 1B, I made signs with the words for each appliance (refrigerator, range dishwasher and also the sink) to mark their spots—taping these to the wall and moving them about with each newly considered floor plan. I physically counted the number of steps it takes to get from the peninsula countertop to the range, to the sink, and to the fridge. If your floor plan requires roller skates to make dinner, time to re-plot the plan.
3. Hire a contractor. You can act as the general contractor yourself—if you have lots of time, patience, good management skills, and you're a real DIY—Do It Yourself-er. But cooking and computers are our expertise, so we decided to hire a building professional.
However, finding an available contractor can be tricky. of the 20 contractors we phoned, only eight returned our calls. of those, only five actually showed up to give us bids. of those five, only three followed up and did give us bids. How did we decide among the three which to hire? We went with our gut.
One contractor in particular seemed like a genuine, reasonable and conscientious person, even though his bid and job time estimate were higher than the other contractors'. But, while other remodelers tell horror stories about their contractors, I can honestly say ours was terrific to deal with—and good communication combined with mutual respect on a project like this are crucial to its success. of course this contractor, Mike Barrett, isn't the average guy —he's the only contractor we met that was also a writer and aspiring novelist. Perhaps this contributed to his communication and people skills.
We checked out Mike's references and they all praised him. Only one problem: we had to wait nearly three months for his availability. But as I mention above, this time was well spent in coming up with "The Plan."
4. Get down to the bones. The decision for us to start fresh (tearing out every inch of old kitchen) came easily, but some kitchens can be remodeled without stripping them down to the bones. Sometimes simply refinishing old cabinets and countertops can do the trick. In either case, every decision translates into four elements: functionality, materials, time and money. To save money, we gutted the old kitchen ourselves, pulling out the hideous wood paneling and ceiling panels, and baring the walls to the studs—this way you can see exactly where the plumbing and electrical lines are set. The less you need to fiddle with these elements, the more money you'll save—or rather, the less money you'll be shelling out. Consider whether you'll be cooking with gas or electricity, and where the existing energy sources are set relative to your plan. But don't be pennywise and pound foolish: if moving the gas line makes for more efficient cooking and a more convenient range, then do it. If not, you'll regret scrimping on functionality later.
To be continued...
COMING NEXT WEEK:
The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Remodeling 101
Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created February 2001
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