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Phouka Home

Complete restoration of our Old House Kitchen

Mark and I avoid our kitchen. Sure, we go in there to cook periodically, but for the most part we don't spend time in there. It's dark and small, and has so little counterspace that you can barely make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in there. Frankly, we hate the kitchen. We have for eight years.

But, kitchen renovations are expensive, and we always had something far more important (heat, for example) that needed our attention. Even though current estimates are that you will recoup 100% of the costs of a kitchen remodel when you sell your house, each time I even thought about the possibility of fixing the kitchen, the pricetag caused some serious sticker shock. Cabinets can run tens of thousands of dollars in some cases, and new appliances will keep you in the good graces of your credit card company for years.

Still, with a little luck, we are in a financial position to actually work on our kitchen this year.

What do we want?

Our goal is to create a modern kitchen that is period appropriate -- I'm not quite adventurous enough to stick with a wood stove, but I want the style of the kitchen to be harmonious with the rest of the house. We have some splendid molding in the rest of the house, but nothing that is too grand, and I don't want to create a showpiece in the kitchen that is out of character. Most modern cabinets and fittings look out of place. Our planning centers on the goals of keeping the kitchen usable, spacious (as much as possible in the little space), and appropriate to the house.

What this meant to us is that we probably couldn't buy kitchen cabinets from the local home-depot, and standard sizes weren't going to cut it. Having 11' ceilings made the standard options of 36" tall wall cabinets out of the question. It also probably meant that we weren't going to do it ourselves -- neither of us has time to build cabinets (not that we have the skills!) and handle all the installation ourselves. Most of our house projects have been D-I-Y (Do-It-Yourself)...paying someone else for labor was going to pinch.

Check out the details of our kithen design session that we shared with the kitchen planner.

Where to Start

Nearly everyone has some clear ideas of what they want their kitchen (the whole house!) to look like. However, few people have taken the time to articulate their ideas.

Start by talking to everyone who lives in the house and who might ever be in the kitchen. Ask them to identify the things they like and dislike about the current kitchen. Then,

  • Identify when you spend time in the kitchen, with whom, what type of food you prepare
  • Decide upon a maximum budget
  • Begin collecting photos of kitchens you like, descriptions of kitchens you've seen, magazine clippings, websites, etc.
  • Organize a file system for papers and brochures and a box for sample materials
  • List everything that must be stored in the kitchen
  • Create a "must have" list of features for your kitchen, and identify the items you definitely don't want in your kitchen.
  • Create a wish list of features in your fantasy kitchen. Some of these may be possible, others may be entirely outside your budget.

Here is the result of our brainstorming session.

Who do you need to help? There are dozens of professionals out there who can assist you with a kitchen remodel/renovation. Architects, designers, planners -- even the local home store likely has someone with a computer program that can arrange cabinets. What do all these people do? And who should you be paying to help you with your kitchen?

An architect normally deals with structural changes and additions to your house. If you are adding on, enlarging your kitchen, moving walls, or changing windows and doors, you may need the help of an architect. An architect understands the structure of the house, loads, building codes, and other rules that are necessary to build safe structures. An architect may or may not know about the specifics of kitchen design, the current design guidelines, or the specifics of layout.

A Certified Kitchen Designer is up to date on the current design guidelines for kitchens. They may be able to design small structural changes, but are mostly involved in the design and layout process from beginning to end. They can lay out cabinets, lighting, countertops, and advise on all aspects of the design. They are up-to-date on the latest in kitchen gadgets, storage items, etc. These designers may be independent (and work with many manufacturers) or work for a company that deals with only one or two lines.

A kitchen planner may be a representative of a specific line of cabinets or an interior decorator. They can usually advise you on layout, product selection, and general guidelines, but are not necessarily qualified to design and build a kitchen. If your changes are mostly aesthetic and do not require structural change, a planner can help.

An interior designer can assist with choosing colors, wallpaper, cabinet designs, and the general accoutrements of the room. They are not qualified to handle structural changes, nor are they experts in kitchen layout. However, they may be a good choice if you are looking for a facelift or general change in the look of your kitchen.

Your general contractor may be able to handle simple layouts and minor structural changes in your kitchen, but must rely on you to design and possibly purchase the cabinets and other elements of your kitchen.

You may utilize the skills of one or more of the people listed, depending on what you need done in your kitchen. If you opt for custom cabinets, as we did, most of the kitchen showrooms offer the assistance of a designer along with the cabinets themselves. A deposit is required for them to start work, which is applied to cabinet purchases later on. If you decide to have the cabinets built by someone else, you have paid the designers for their work. The designer we are working with charges $1000 for the plans and design assistance. We don't know yet whether we are going with his 'cabinet line' or whether we'll have other bids. We don't need an architect, since we aren't making structural changes (other than repairs to the existing structure), and an interior designer just didn't fit our bill. We were careful to make sure that the designer we chose is certified with the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association).

Making Decisions

There are always a ton of decisions to be made in any renovation, and doing a kitchen requires even more than most. Most design magazines urge you to start collecting a 'portfolio' of ideas early on in the process. Cut out pictures you like in magazines, write down good ideas from other people's kitchens, or those fantasy home-project TV shows. Make lists of the things you love and hate about your kitchen, make lists of the items you have to store. Make lists of things you have to have, and things you want to have. Make lists of suppliers and materials. Make lists of...get the picture? I have notebooks full of ideas and DOs and DON'Ts and must haves and must NOT haves.

Buy a few of those expandable folders and start collecting. I'm up to three now, bulging with clippings and drawings and print outs from the web. I'm sure that our designer is going to have a heart attack when I drag all these things out, but they have helped me immeasurably in deciding what my kitchen is going to be. Sure, some of the ideas are out of the question, but there are some items that I'm not going to budge on. I don't care that it is going to break up the line of his carefully designed cabinets, I *will* have enough bookshelf space to store my cookbooks -- 12' or so. I don't care where he puts it, but it better be there.

Do all the work in the planning stage, if you can. Every single change you make later in the process is going to cost you -- either time or money or both. It's easy to move things around when they are still pencil lines and paper cutouts. Resizing the entire run of wall cabinets because you decided to buy a vent hood that is 4" wider is going to cause problems. Decide all this now. Choose your appliances and fixtures and lighting now.

Of course, problems will occur later in the process. Something won't fit, or wasn't measured correctly, or isn't the right color. You will still have to deal with these things, and it will probably be expensive. But, don't add to the problem by failing to make up your mind about the things for which you can plan.

This means taking into account construction, electric, plumbing, flooring, cabinets, countertops, appliances, sinks, faucets, lights, and other fixtures. It's going to be very hard to add another outlet once the walls are closed -- make sure you understand what the building code is, and that you've made your wishes clear to the designer. Want an outlet every 2 feet? Sure, but you had better get it in the plan now. Need a pot-filler spigot over the stove? Plan for it to be done while the plumber is moving the sink. Much of the work on a kitchen is very linear -- A must be done before B can be done before C. Make sure you get each item into it's appropriate order.

On to our Kitchen Renovation, step by step!

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All content ©1998-2009 R. Fingerson
Last updated 03/05/2009