What You Need to Know When Remodeling a Kitchen Yourself

This post isn’t meant to scare you off from a DIY kitchen remodel, it’s to prepare you for what’s in store if you do.

Remember, we were able to turn this kitchen

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into this.

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If we could do it, you can do it too. I’m hoping this post will give you the basics on how to go about planning a kitchen remodel, or at least, give you some good ideas on how to start your renovation.

Before we re-did our kitchen, I scoured pinterest and all the home decorating blogs I knew to see if there was some definitive list of what to do, in order, for a remodel. Most of what I found was something to the effect of: 1. Set a budget. 2. Hire a contractor. I knew we wouldn’t have a  general contractor to walk us through the process, but I needed the steps to do broken down for me.

I never really found a good list of to-do’s, so I thought I would help you guys out by making a list of my own, based on what worked and what didn’t in our own remodel.

1. Look at A LOT of pictures of kitchens.

Go on pinterest. Read home magazines. Search real estate listings. You will want to know what you like and what you don’t. I’m a visual person, and have trouble imagining how something would look in my head. Seeing images of different kitchen options was crucial in deciding what I liked best.

2. Decide how big of a remodeling job you’re willing to take on.

Are you taking the walls down to studs or are you adding a backsplash? If your cabinets are in great shape, but you hate knotty pine, maybe you refinish the cabinets and get new countertops. Or, if you kitchen still has goldenrod appliances, like ours did, maybe it’s time to bring the kitchen into this decade.

3. Set a budget, knowing you will almost certainly go higher.

There’s your real budget, and what you will actually spend. The two are rarely the same. I would suggest being completely realistic about your budget, and allowing yourself an extra cushion at the top, once you’ve priced everything out. I debated whether #3 should be setting a budget or starting your research, but the two go hand in hand. How can you set a max budget without knowing how much new cabinets cost? Believe me, cabinets can wildly vary in price. My suggestion would be to set your budget for the whole kitchen, but understand that as you get more into the phase of picking out materials, that your budget may have to shift.

4. Research everything.

Visit at least three cabinet shops. Same goes for all of the big buys – countertops, flooring, even furniture. You want to have a good handle on what’s out there and what’s available to you. For me, this was one of the hardest steps because I’m the kind of person that wants to have all the information possible before making any decisions. A few times, I felt stunted from the sheer amount of options. That’s when you have to just stop your research and go with what you already know.

5. Decide on all the big items and where they will go before you even remove one old cabinet door.

This is completely where we went wrong. We destroyed the entire kitchen without having a game plan in place for the items we would need. All this does is leave you kitchen-less, and in our case, we were sans kitchen for close to four long months. Please, learn from my mistake and know what you need! This also includes any lighting you want to move. Don’t forget the lights!

6. Understand there is an order of how things are installed.

You can’t order the countertop if you haven’t decided where you appliances will go. There is a distinct order of how items are put in to a new kitchen. This part applied to us because we gutted the space, but if you’re ordering any new item, you will definitely want to see where in the installation order it goes. Here’s how it worked for us: Floors first. Then cabinets. Next, install the appliances. Finally, order your countertop (you’ll need to have a sink picked out before ordering). Everything else, in my opinion, is peripheral. You can use a kitchen if the backsplash isn’t up. You can switch out a pendant light later. Focus on the main items that will get you a working kitchen ASAP.

Make sure you have what’s needed for the next step. If you do, you won’t have a long gap in work, like we had.

7. Realize a remodel is a process.

Like I said at the beginning of the post, we’re STILL working on the kitchen. Not everyday and certainly not as difficult of projects, but we’re still working to customize the space, making it into a room we love for our home. I read somewhere that no room in a home is ever “finished,” it’s always evolving into an even greater space.

And there you have it – our kitchen renovation journey. I’ve tried to chronicle it all from demolition day to our current 95% finished kitchen. I hope that by the end of Kitchen-palozza 2015, you are convinced that you too can update the old kitchen you’ve been wanting to re-do for years.

 

I’ll end this kitchen series with a final thought. The kitchen is the heart of the home. Guests will congregate there to grab a tasty appetizer or to freshen up their glass of wine. I’ll make blueberry pancakes there while Dan gets the coffee going a few feet away. You will absolutely be using your kitchen every day. Make it into a space you love.

It’s the Little Things

You thought the kitchen posts were finished, didn’t you? Nope.

I wanted to share with you the easiest way to save money on your kitchen remodel – bargain shop the finishes!

We identified the areas of the remodel where we thought we could save some money, and looked for low-cost options.

1. Lighting.

Our industrial lighting, the three pendant lights, and the big drum light over the pedestal table (not shown) are all from Ikea. The little guys were $14.99 each and the large one was $19.99. The small fan with a light over the island is a Hunter Orb fan that retails for about $150, but we found it at a thrift store for about $10.

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So, for around $75 + the cost of retrofitting the fan to what we liked (new light), we lit our whole kitchen. Maybe down the line we’ll switch out the Ikea lights, but even if we do, I think we still came out ahead by choosing inexpensive lighting during the remodeling phase.

2. Kitchen furniture.

All the furniture we have in our kitchen is second hand. You saw how we acquired and re-did the pedestal table, got a great deal on tabouret chairs, and painted the island.

We even purchased an additional display cabinet via craigslist for $90 not too long ago.

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I’m loving the extra storage, and I finally found a home for all my cookbooks.

3.  Hardware.

We knew we wanted stainless steel bars as hardware, but quickly discovered how expensive it was. We went to Home Depot and purchased a few different cabinet pulls in different sizes. Our plan was to bring them home, hold them up to the cabinets, and decide what sizes we liked best. Well, for the cabinets, we liked the over 6 inch long pull, which cost almost $10 a piece!

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Yikes! I did some research, and was able to find a similar, slightly larger pull, for $2 a piece! Sure, you had to purchase 25, bringing the total price to $50, but since we needed 13 of the pulls, it was way cheaper buying in bulk. We do have some extras, and that came in handy when we bought the kitchen cabinet and changed out the hardware and used three of the extra pulls. Always shop around for hardware. Unless you’re obsessed with something that’s really, really unique, you can probably find it cheaper online, especially on Overstock.

4. Sinks and faucets.

Overstock and Amazon are your best bets here. I was fairly set on the kind of sink I wanted: stainless steel for easy cleaning, and as big as I could get for the space. I bake a lot, and I hate having my cookie sheets soaking on the counter. They get bumped, and water goes everywhere.

The sink we went with is a 32 inch undermount. We bought it on sale, had a coupon code, and got free shipping, so it came out to around $250 or so. When our counter guy was over measuring, he asked to see the sink. When I showed it to him, he commented that it was a great sink and asked where I got it. He said he sells the same one for about $500 at his store. I think he might be sourcing his sinks from Overstock now.

5. Accessories.

Definitely have fun, personal items in the kitchen, but don’t break the bank. The runner I use for a rug by the sink was $10 from Urban Outfitters. The old timey scale is a $12 thrift store find during a birthday road trip to Michigan and the pineapple on top is a spray painted candle holder from a thrift store near our old apartment.

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A yellow owl timer I keep on the stove is a birthday gift from a dear friend. The vintage cutting board I have displayed on the stand-alone cabinet was my grandmother’s. The accents are fun, some have sentimental value, and they all help make the kitchen more inviting, playful, and less like a sterile space solely for food prep.

 

Well guys, this kitchen remodel series has been a fun ride. I have some bad news though – there’s only one post left! Check back in for my last renovation post where I’ll take you through a timeline of how you can DIY your own remodel as quickly and as pain-free as possible.

Let There Be (Under Cabinet) Lights

I always thought under cabinet lights would be nice to have, but it wasn’t a “must” for me when we were designing our kitchen. My house growing up didn’t have under cabinet lights, and neither did our apartment. I mean, how dark could the counter really be? Well, usually, not too dark at all. But, there was one corner where the mixer lived that did get pretty dark. I think the light just didn’t have a great path to that one corner. It made late night cake baking (which oddly happens more than you would think) a bit of a challenge.

I mentioned this to Dan, and he immediately went into planning mode to install some lighting. Here’s the end result:

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To start, Dan did his research to figure out what he would need. He decided to order these supplies:

4 20 inch strips

1 12 inch strip

2 power supplies

2 3 foot connectors

Dan picked a plug in system that all linked together with mini USB connectors. We also had some outlets behind the cabinets already, which certainly made the job easier, but involved a lot of drilling. Plus, we had always planned for eventually adding the lights, so when we ordered the cabinets, we also ordered light rail. The light rail basically hides the lights from being seen, as they fall reach lower down than the lights. The rail had been sitting in our garage since the cabinets were delivered, just waiting until we finally got to this lighting project.

I’m glad I wasn’t home when Dan drilled into our new, all wood, expensive cabinets to connect the power cord to the lighting. I would have had a panic attack! What if the hole wasn’t drilled correctly? We couldn’t ruin our new kitchen already.

Luckily, Dan worked like an old pro getting the wiring figured out and attaching the lights and wire under the cabinet with some staples. He put in two light switches – each on the front rightmost side of two of the cabinets, which makes the switches really easy to reach.

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The only downside was the light rail makes the mixer fit pretty snuggly in its little corner there. I can’t just pull the mixer out to use it anymore; instead, I have to sort of tilt it to get it out from underneath the cabinets. We talked about installing some kind of mixer lift, but I’m not sold on that solution yet. I would have to give up a cabinet, and that may not be a sacrifice I’m willing to make just yet.

Even with the unforeseen mixer difficulties, I’m still extremely happy with our roughly $150 (not including light rail) under cabinet light upgrade.

 

 

 

Built In Kitchen Nook

One of our last big kitchen projects was making a built in bench for our kitchen nook.

I want to remind you of the before. This is how the space looked on inspection day (sorry for the bad lighting and off center photo).

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Here’s how the space looks today.

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What a difference!

Since the post is about the built in bench, maybe I should give you a close up of it.

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I have to give all the credit for this project to Dan. He consulted a ton of tutorials on building bench seating, measured, re-measured, and came up with a rough design for the L-shaped seating. My only ask was that the seat lifted up and allowed me even more storage space.

Dan made it happen, even with the complication of there being both an electrical outlet and an air duct where the seating was. For the outlet, it’s still in there. We just don’t usually use it. For the vent, Dan cut some ducting and extended the duct to the front of the bench, where he installed a new register.

Hinges allow the seat to lift up, where I put in a bunch of storage totes I purchased at Target to hold miscellaneous, and not often used, kitchen supplies like seasonal cookie cutters, specialty baking pans, and the like.

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We made the seat cushions ourselves as well – can’t you tell from the photo? We started by cutting plywood to the length needed. We cut 2 inch foam to the same length, and glued it to the plywood with Liquid Nails. Then, we flipped each cushion over, laying some batting underneath. We pulled it tight (I even stood on the cushion, smushing down the foam, to get the batting as tight as possible), then used a staple gun to secure it. We did the same thing again with the fabric.

We knew we’d need the cushions to be moveable from the bench, so we could get into the storage. I was concerned the cushions would slide around if we didn’t attach them though. Dan thought up a great idea and used velcro tape on the bench and the cushions, so the cushions would stay put.

For now, I put some grey and white pillows (from our apartment bedding set that we no longer use) in the corner of the bench. Eventually, I’d like to get more matching pillows so the eating area is cozy and inviting. Maybe I’ll even make a cushion for the back part of the bench, so you’re not sitting against the hard wall without any padding.

So do we actually use the seating? I’m happy to say that we do. Not everyday, but we seem to find ourselves enjoying our weekend coffee and breakfast sitting in the nook, catching up from the past week, and just taking our time in the morning before our day begins. Plus, whenever we throw bigger family parties, relatives (especially kids) find their way into this cute little space.

It’s a comfortable little corner of our kitchen that I’m so glad we took the time to build.

Backsplash and Trim

This post won’t be super educational in that it won’t explain, in step-by-step detail how we installed our backsplash. Why? The backsplash installation is the one part of the kitchen re-model that we didn’t do ourselves. I was so pleased with the way the backsplash came out.

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We went with gorgeous marble subway tiles. Here’s a close up.

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It was one of our only splurges in the kitchen (the fridge was the other). Given how the tiles were pretty expensive, and we had no experience installing backsplash, we thought it was best to get an expert. Plus, as part of the quote, we asked the contractor to install the top trim to the cabinets. Installing the trim wouldn’t be too difficult, but it would be time intensive. The contractor said he could get it all done in a day, which sounded great to us.

Half way into the day, I got a call from Dan. Both of us were at work, and I knew it couldn’t be good. Apparently, the contractor informed him that he did not think we had enough of the marble subway tile to do the whole area. And the worst part is that Dan had been calling home improvement stores non-stop, and the type of tile we had wasn’t available anywhere quickly. O. M. G.

The contractors kept on working, while we tried to figure out a solution. We found similar tiles in that they were the same size, but they were glossy. Our tiles were more raw, and didn’t have any sheen to them. The contractor told us he could buff down the tiles to take the shine away, but we’d need to get them quickly if we wanted them installed same day. My wonderful mother-in-law went out and purchased a box of the shiny tiles for us. By the time I got home from work, the tiles were all buffed, and there was still a few feet of backsplash that needed to go up. Crisis averted.

Looking back, I think the issue was that between the time we bought the tiles to the time we were having them installed, we decided to put backsplash tile all the way up the wall near the window.

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We measured out the added area to cover against what the tiles should have covered and thought we were OK. I don’t know, maybe we missed something, but I think this was were we went awry.

Even with our unexpected setback, the contractors were done in one day. Given the slow and steady pace we had been used to, the drastic change by adding the backsplash and trim in one day was huge to us.

We’re rounding the final lap and coming up to the finish line now. Just a few more kitchen updates to go!

Adding a Kitchen Island

Once we found ourselves with a working kitchen, the speed of our kitchen updates dropped significantly. Since all the projects that were left were small ones, we took the approach of getting to them a little at a time, when we had a few free hours on a weekend here and there. In time, we added floor trim, vented the microwave, installed cabinet hardware, put in toe kick under the cabinets, put in a new fan (a Hunter fan found at a thrift shop and painted), added pendant lights over the peninsula ($15 each from Ikea), and finally put in the back board of the peninsula.

This whole time of smaller updates, I used the kitchen daily. Luckily, the layout was working great, and I was enjoying all the space. But, I felt like something was missing. I had always thought that we would need an island of some sort, but I knew putting in a permanent island would make the space tight. If we had an island similar to the peninsula (basically, cabinets with a countertop), I worried that the kitchen would look and feel cramped. But, after using the kitchen for a while, I  thought an island would be really functional. The kitchen worked well if was just me cooking, but not if Dan joined me in the kitchen. The main working space was the peninsula area, and there was only space for one of us to work at a time, especially if I was doing something that took up a lot of space, liking putting cookies on a cookie sheet. While we had other countertop space, none of it was really that functional as a prep space.

I looked at some islands that were selling at Crate & Barrel and Target online, and measured out the available area we had in our kitchen. I took some painter’s tape and taped out a rectangle on the floor to get an idea of how adding something to the middle the room would look. After a few weeks of tape on the floor, Dan reluctantly agreed we could look into purchase a moveable kitchen island off craigslist. His reasoning was that we could try a piece of furniture in the space, but if it didn’t work (meaning, he thought it was too cramped in the kitchen), we would just re-sell it.

After a few weeks of looking, I found an older model of this Crate & Barrel Sheridan Kitchen Island. I liked that it was open on the bottom, so hopefully, it wouldn’t looked sandwiched into the space. While the new model of the island was about $700, we were able to negotiate with the sellers to pay only $190 for the older piece. We picked it up, fit it into our teeny car, and got it home and into the kitchen.

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I knew I didn’t want to leave the raw wood unpainted, but, I also didn’t want to invest the time into painting it, then decide it wasn’t working for us. So, we left the island as it was for a while, to see if we liked it. I loved having the extra prep space, and even Dan had to agree it helped the kitchen be more functional. After a few weeks, we decided to make it a fixture in our kitchen. We were keeping it.

Now came the task of figuring out what paint color to use. We quickly discussed and dismissed painting the island white. Our kitchen was already white (cabinets and pedestal table) and grey (countertops). White would just look like more of the same. Grey was thrown out as well. With the stainless steel top, I wanted the island color to contrast, not blend in with the countertop. I took a quick look on pinterest and noticed many of the kitchens I was drawn to used a pop of color to really make their kitchen unique. To me, if you’re going to add a bold color to a space, it needs to be in an accessory piece. Like, you get a radioactive yellow pillow, not a radioactive yellow couch. Why not use the island as the kitchen’s pop of color?

Sticking with our house color scheme, I knew we’d want something in the blue family. I thought about using the same blue color that I used for the pasta frames and cucina sign, but I thought the color was too dark. I wanted something bright, almost neon. We perused the blue spray paints (we thought spray paint would give the island a better, more even, less brush stroke-y look), and decided on Rust-Oleum’s Caribbean Blue to give the kitchen that little something extra.

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Bright, right? I thought that at first too, when I saw a couple coats of paint on it. But, I told myself that once we moved the island into our very neutral colored kitchen, it would complement the space nicely…I hoped. After three coats of spray paint and one coat of sealer, the island was ready to move into the kitchen.

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Not too shabby! I picked up some inexpensive blue colored kitchen towels (seen on the dishwasher and hanging on the island), just to finish the look. We have other towels too, so everything doesn’t always look matchy-matchy.

Believe it or not, the kitchen remodel STILL isn’t finished at this point. Items remaining on our to do list: adding under cabinet lights, installing the backsplash that’s been sitting in our garage for months, creating built-in kitchen bench seating, adding trim to the top of the cabinets (which has also been sitting in our garage for months) and finding a free-standing large shelf/cabinet for a bare corner. Still a lot to do, but we’re miles away from where we started.

Countertop Shopping

Once our kitchen cabinets were installed, we realized that we needed to order countertops, like, immediately.

Before getting too far into planning our kitchen remodel, we decided to go with quartz countertops. I didn’t like the look of granite, because the pattern throughout the slab wasn’t very uniform. Many houses we saw when we were home shopping had semi-updated kitchens, which almost always had granite countertops. I dubbed one house the “paprika house” because the counters looked like they had been permanently stained with paprika, due to the granite slab that was chosen. Plus, granite needed to be sealed every year or so, and I knew that wouldn’t be high on my priority list. And lastly, granite stained and chipped rather easily. We’re big cooks, and use the kitchen just about everyday. I needed a countertop that could withstand heavy use.

Quartz appealed to us immediately. It never had to be sealed, it could withstand high temperatures (for the pan that comes out of the oven and set directly on the countertop without a trivet), and it looked very uniform all over the countertop. But, quartz is more expensive than granite. Of course.

We reviewed our options of where to buy.

Option 1: Rock Counter

Again, we headed to Rock Counter to see about ordering our countertops there. The selection for quartz was somewhat limited. Still, we found a color we liked and got a quote.

Option 2: Local cabinet store

Here, there were more quartz options, but it was so expensive. Because of our long countertop length, we would require two quartz slabs. For the bigger shops, selling smaller slabs of quartz wasn’t a big deal. But at a store that doesn’t sell much quartz, we would be required to purchase the entire two slabs, not just a portion of the second one. That made the pricing too high for us. Also, we would have to find our own contractor to install the countertop. That didn’t appeal to me at all, as I was set on finding a seller who also installed. My biggest concern would be if the quartz breaks in transit or during installation. If you have different parties doing the work, what happens if something goes wrong? If you buy from a one stop shop, there would be no question that if the quartz broke, the company would have to replace it. So, even if the pricing was comparable, I wouldn’t have gone with a seller who couldn’t install.

Option 3: A larger local home store selling tile, countertops, and more

The selection was great, the price was the cheapest, and we would only be required to buy the actual square footage we needed. We quickly put in our order for Caeserstone quartz in the Concrete color. The salesman was going to come by in a couple days to measure, and then he would put in our order. The next day, he called us and told us they were out of the color we had chosen. OK, well, how long until it’s back in stock? Over 3 months! Every store in America was out of this particular quartz, and it wasn’t being shipped back into the country for at least 3 months. Waiting another 3 months without a functional kitchen was not an option.

We decided to head back in to the store to pick  a new color. We ended up with Silestone’s Cemento, which was very similar, just a little bit lighter in color. And it could be installed within  a week or so! Luckily, my dad agreed to head over to our house on installation day, as we were on vacation at the time. When we did get back home late from our trip, our countertops were in!

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There stood our kitchen in all its glory. Just ignore me lovingly stroking the countertop.

At this point, the kitchen still isn’t finished, and we’re now 3 months into the renovation. We still have to add backsplash, install/move the overhead lighting, install under cabinet lighting, finish the built in seating area, add floor trim, add trim to the cabinets, install cabinet hardware, and the list goes on. But for now, I could cook and wash dishes in the kitchen. For that, I was grateful.