The kitchen renovation: Part One

By Caitlin Kelly

When you’ve waited 25 years for something, it’s easy to get just a little obsessed.

The roasting spit in this European medieval ki...
The roasting spit in this European medieval kitchen was driven automatically by a propeller the black cloverleaf-like structure in the upper left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We start our kitchen renovation soon, and the next four to six weeks will be a crazy time. The fridge will be in the entrance hall, for a while, (called a foyer here, pronounced foy-ur). We’ll make toast and coffee and juice in the dining room and, hopefully, grill or eat cold food on our balcony.

As we get ready, packing up all our cookware and tableware, we’re giving away a lot of stuff we haven’t been using or are sick of, so it’s a fresh start in other ways as well.

The galley kitchen is small — eight feet long with a 39-inch wide floor between counters.

Our sexy new Italian stove, a 30-inch gas Bertazzoni, comes with a free microwave, an item I have never owned or wished to own, so maybe we’ll use that as well.


If you’re thinking of tiling a large space, photograph the tiles, then make enough color copies  — preferably to scale (i.e. their actual size) — to fill that space so you can visualize it.

Deciding to renovate is scary! It means making a big leap of faith — that Jose will keep his job, that we’ll be alive and healthy enough to enjoy it, that we’ll realize some of that investment if/when we sell the apartment.

It also means making a shitload of spend-y and permanent decisions: tile, counters, sink, faucet, flooring, walls, lighting, appliances. No wonder so many people freak out or hire a designer or just choose all-white as the safest default.

We’ve chosen, (yes, I’ll post lots of photos), a light green granite for the counters, a copper sink and oiled bronze faucet, these Restoration Hardware sconces and two sorts of tile, cream and an accent that is pale green, rust and cream.

The granite will be honed, which gives it a matte finish. I hate the glare and reflection when working on polished stone in a kitchen; we love it in our bathroom.

We’re skipping upper cabinets in favor of open shelves, also from Restoration Hardware. They’re about one third the cost and I just don’t like the hemmed-in feeling of cabinets.

Here’s the Farrow & Ball colors — cream for the walls, green for the cabinets.


The floor will be oak, either laid diagonally, (which visually expands the room) or herringbone, which I really prefer.

We’ve bought a Bosch dishwasher, super-quiet — I work a few feet from the kitchen and will be happy not to hear its noise.

In the mid 1990s I studied at the New York School of Interior Design, (and got an A in our color class, from our terrifyingly demanding Swiss teacher.) I did well and learned a great deal, so feel a little more confident than the average bear.

I know, for example, that red and green are complementary colors (think Christmas, but different) so the tones of red/rust and green will work together harmoniously. The cream will be variegated in tone and rough-edged but a neutral. We’ll choose the wall and cabinet colors after everything is installed and I can see how it all relates; we’re doing that work ourselves to save money.

But still…


A few things that have brought us this far:

— Reading shelter books — aka home design and renovation magazines — for years and creating a highly detailed file of photos for reference, everything from styles of electrical outlets to possible color schemes. When it came time to buy, I didn’t necessarily buy the exact items but I had a visual vocabulary and a coherent scheme. The look I wanted is English country kitchen but a bit rough-edged.

— Reading a wide array of design/home/cookware catalogs for inspiration and ideas.

My Farrow & Ball color chart. We already have F & B colors in our living room/hallway (Gervase Yellow) and bathroom (mustard yellow.)

— Carefully examining others’ kitchens and talking to friends who recently renovated about what they chose and why. Learn from others’ mistakes!

— Knowing our $25,000 budget would be blown before we began, by about $6,000. Fuck it. I’m happy chasing more assignments when I see the results in front of me every day.

— Knowing, liking and trusting our contractor and his workmen, who did our bathroom renovation about four years ago. They were friendly, meticulous and did a great job. We’re happy to see them again.

— Once you start choosing your elements, keep a file folder of photos of all of it for reference.

— If you are adding three-dimensional elements, (like our sconces which are each 10″ wide and 10″ deep), make a mockup and attach it to the wall so you can see it in 3D, and how it fits with everything else before you buy. We made a color photocopy and stuck in onto a 10″ deep piece of foamcore (reinforced paper available at office supply stores) or cardboard.

— Reading blogs like Apartment Therapy, which features everyday renovations almost daily, with the backstory and a list of sources.

— Checking out Houzz for all sorts of design inspiration; they have 362,770 images of kitchens!

— Reading British, French and Canadian design magazines — whose editorial choices are often very different (and to my mind much more interesting) from that of American magazines. Europeans, especially, often live in much smaller spaces and so is ours. The monster American kitchen reno’s typically featured have no relevance for our needs. Nor their huge budgets!

53 thoughts on “The kitchen renovation: Part One

  1. Good luck on the renovation. Sounds like you’ve planned it all out. We’ve done two kitchens in the past ten years (don’t ask). The first one took six weeks and I was so ready for it to be done. The second took 12 days. . . don’t ask. But it turned out just fine. 🙂

  2. You absolutely know what you are doing, Caitlin. I love the colors and F&B colors are really wonderful. I usually buy the Canadian House & Home magazine. It is a bit more European in flavor. Of course, I also subscribe to Phoenix Home & Garden. Many of the houses are just way over the top but it is still worth it. The one thing I wish we had done differently when we built our Tucson house was to get a top grade gas range. That will be our reno project someday.

    1. Thanks! I always pick up Canadian H and H when I am in Canada. Very different looks.

      Our gas stove was supposed to come (sigh) in a gorgeous cream enamel…which is why I chose it in the first place. It has been discontinued so we are getting snoozy stainless. The only colors now are wine, red, black or white, none of which appealed to me. Red, but…

  3. So psyched for you!! I love those colors – and with you on open shelves vs. cabinets. I did a renovation on our apartment just a few months after Kaz died. Crazy timing but also gave me something to focus on. Glad to see you have a contractor you like and trust. It’s going to feel like a whole new place when they’re done.

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words! Having lived here for so long I am really ready for a totally new look, and much more luxurious one…those chipped Formica counters were meant to be temporary…

  4. Know exactly what you mean – I did kitchen renovation two years ago (also after about 35 years) – oh boy – it took over two months of “camp cooking” in living room, washing dishes in a plastic tub over bathtub, fridge in corridor or having take away – and to choose the “right” tiles, the “right” flooring, the “right” cupboards… the right everything – a nightmare. Not moving anywhere from here for the next thirty years. Good luck and make sure you have fun with it too

    1. I’ve really enjoyed the selection — having studied design makes me feel (rightly or wrongly) much more confident. Our bathroom was done 3 years ago (also my design and all my choices, including custom items I designed) and I love it.

      It’s a nightmare if you haven’t thought every choice through really carefully. We’ve measured everything and tried to anticipate as many pitfalls as possible….Our contractor usually works on much bigger budget projects so we are very lucky to get high-end advice and experience; his mom lives across the hall from us! But I do dread a long time of not being able to cook. We will be away for two full weeks of it, and that will help.

      1. Yes being away for a part of it will be good for you. But, hey, with all the inconvenience it’s truly worth it in the end – when you get what you imagined and planned. Happy days ahead for you 🙂

  5. Funny you wrote this. As I’m looking to buy an apartment, I realize most of the ones I see on sale have been recently renovated, especially the kitchen. As if people, once the renovation done, were not satisfied at all by their whole apartment.
    Before I left my long term relationship a few years ago, my ex and I also decided to renovate the kitchen. I left when the renovation was completed. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t leave for that reason. But I found this link very curious.

  6. Canadian House and Home is a great idea source; it’s seen me through several homes with renovations, basement developments and general updates. We’ve never had any trouble selling property after we’ve done them, either. We’re dreaming up a kitchen renovation for next year… this house will be our last for many, many years (we hope) and plan to make it exactly what we want it to be. I’ll be reading your upcoming posts with enthusiasm!

    1. Thanks!

      One thing to consider (depending on your age) if you intend to stay into old(er) age is the design concept of aging in place. I’ve written about it and it is worth factoring into your design choices…it means planning ahead for (it can happen) needing to use a walker or wheelchair and making sure your kitchen still functions for you…i.e. NOT a stove with the controls on a back panel but the very front, for example. It’s not sexy and shelter mags never talk about it. But it matters.

      1. Aging in place is a hot topic right now… hear about it a lot on media, in show homes, community development flyers, etc. But you are right–specific design guidelines for people with disabilities are not feature articles in the dec mags. Too bad, as with the baby boomers this would be of interest to many people with need and money to buy both the ideas and the products!

  7. that sounds like it’s going to be beautiful! // good choice going with open-shelving {i agree!}. i also love your idea of putting up photographs of the tile to visualize what it will look like // i always think i know what i want, until i see it put together! // my twin sis & her husband just finished renovating their kitchen & a photographer from houzz came over yesterday to interview them & take pictures … they were super excited!

    1. That’s very cool!

      Having studied design and having designer friends’ advice has really helped me — we made a 3D model of the RH sconces, to scale, so we really could visualize the whole thing. I went back to the tile store yesterday and put the two sorts of tile and the counter stone together with my color chart — and asked for a second opinion — before choosing cabinet and wall color. I still have not seen the shelves, brackets or sconces in real life, but am going ahead anyway…F & B colors are terrific so I feel confident about the paint.

      The greatest challenge, I think is pre-judging scale and the colors/materials relationships…it’s virtually impossible to carry all that data in your head at once or for long…so as many ways to combine them and pre-judge those relationships is key. I hate stainless steel and will have 3 SS appliances….but am reading them instead as gray…and designing for/around that.

      We opened up our hammered copper sink yesterday to check it out. It’s gorgeous.

  8. themodernidiot

    Excellent advice! And jesus lord almighty it’s about time from the looks of it. Congratulations to both of you. Love the sconces, great choice.

    Best part? “foy-ur” HAHA that’ll have me chuckling all day 🙂

    1. Well, thanks. I know our kitchen is a mess! Our retirement funds have grown, though, with every penny we didn’t spend on the kitchen. On limited incomes, there’s only so much “extra” to go around! I still cooked some awesome meals in there. 🙂

      1. themodernidiot

        If you saw my kitchen you’d weep for me. But seriously, well deserved gifts to yourselves. Good choice of fund allocation. Hope it is a speedy and relatively painless reno 🙂

  9. Congrats on getting started! After “cooking” for a YEAR in our bathroom we started calling the bathroom sink the “kitchen counter”. Ugh! Can’t wait to see the Bertazzoni stove and you’ll love your microwave. Promise.

      1. Oven heated food tastes better too but I seem to run in and out in a rush so it’s all about convenience. We didn’t have room for 2 ovens and a microwave so we got a microwave/convection oven. Never tried one but people seem to love them….

  10. Wishing you much luck with the renovation. I had my kitchen updated a few years ago and it wasn’t a smooth experience. I learned so much about how to deal with contractors and what questions to ask. Next time I’ll be much smarter about it!

    Will you move out of your apartment during the construction? I did because my apartment is so small, it would have been difficult to maneuver around the equipment and supplies, not to mention the dust.

    1. Thanks…We have a contractor we like who we have used before, so I feel confident. But it’s a tiring, complicated and exhausting business to stay on top of every little detail. I am emailing and calling daily — and no one has even arrived to start work yet!

      I work at home in a one bedroom apartment. They will sheet the kitchen off to prevent dust spread; use dust cloths on our stuff and I may work in the bedroom and/or the library and/or rent a co-working space here in town for two weeks. We’re away for two weeks of it.

      Nowhere to move into!

  11. I liked what you said about living in smaller spaces, without the huge budget. It reminds of the post you did about personal debt – or was it about personal savings 😉

    You’d probably like the post I did last week – Small is Beautiful – part 1

    In regards to the micro wave, don’t forget they are more energy efficient than conventional ovens, alhough for years and years I wouldn’t touch one. Now Fran and I use a microwave convection oven, and it cooks great with less energy. Or if you have a small sunny deck, you could use a solar oven (if its not cloudy or dark of course ). I’m sayin this only slightly tongue in cheek.

    Here is a link to solar cookin 101 –

    I’m giving you a couple of my links Caitlin, not to blow my own horn but because from what you’ve written on Broadside, I know you care.

    Good luck with the reno – it sounds like you’ve planned it out well. Please post about the joy of cooking, when it’s all said and done . . . the reno, that is.

      1. With climate change we’re in for more of that . . . Get ready for a bit of a rant here Katilin, but please bear with me.

        Your idea of a small solar electric panel isn’t good. For example a 200 watt one (.2 kw) x 8 hrs of bright sun/day = 1.6 kilowatt hour electricity per day. At a going rate of sixteen cents per kw-hr that equals .24 cents of solar electricity per day. Not alot, right?

        Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking PV panels – we use a 1 kilowatt array combined with efficient LED light bulbs, an extremeely efficient fridge, a woodstove, etc. The bottom line is solar photo-voltaic panels are not a good way to run air conditoners. We need a different approach.

        Lets think out of the box:

        1) If you have incadesent light bulbs get rid of them. They are better at creating waste heat than light. If you replace 4 – 100 wat incadesents with 4 – 13 watt Compact fluorescents bulbs, the heat in your living space will be reduced with only slightly less illumination – ergo, a reduced air conditoning load as well! To be technical, your lighting load would be reduced from 400 watts to 52 watts – about 350 watts less. In essence you turn off 350 watts of heat – and that’s cool – get it?

        2) Consider replacing your hot water tank with an on demand water heater. This would eleminate the heat loss of the hot water tank leaking into your of your living space.

        3) Consider planting vines in front of your windows to keep out the heat. Climbing beans would create some nice vegies too.

        4) A solar cooker on the balcony like a mentioned before, would keep heat out of the kitchen, reducing air conditoning needs. A lot people use propane barbacues to achieve the same result. Solar ovens are better conversation starters at a party, minus the fossil fuels.

        5) Another way to reduce your energy bill is to consider a solar hot water panel (it’s different than solar electric). Although it will be quite expensive, (minimum 5 G) many jurisdictions have great incentives or tax rebates in this regard. It seems that since you and Jose have been renovating, you‘re in this space for the long haul. So any investments in energy savings will pay for themselves. An expert can crunch the numbers, but for solar hot water 5 years to break even is not uncommon – from then on the dividends come and it’s money in the bank!

        6) Overall, an energy audit is wise. Sort of like balancing the check book. 

        Some food for thought. Sorry I couldn’t come up with a short answer. 🙂

      2. Lots to think about.

        The single challenge is that I live in an apartment in a co-op; i.e. with MANY rules we all have to follow (annoying as hell, a NY phenom for more affordable real estate) so much of this is out of my hands.

        I know that incandescent bulbs are Satan’s tools…but oh how I loathe the nasty light quality of the energy-saving bulbs. I have one and I hate it with a passion.

  12. Ah Kaitlin – you have the wrong colour spectrum – aka kelvin. You probalby have a daylight CFL bulb – 6000 kelvin.

    Incadescents create warm white light (2700 Kelvin). This is the colour spectrum most people like and are accustomed to (including me.) Look for CFL’s called warm white @ 2700 to 3000 kelvin. (It’s on the box) You won’t notice the difference in light quality at all – (you’ll just notice a lower bill – and a cooler apartment). Buy them in a six pack cause it has a nice ring to it – and it’s better value! I mean, who buys one bottle of beer at a time?

    By the way – this is a common mistake people make – or rather, it’s a common myth, that CFL’s have bad colour quality – sort of like they have a bad smell. I’ve even had to tell my sub-contractor electrician to take out the friggin daylight CFL’s because people hate them. He told me his wife liked to put on her make-up with the daylight bulbs. Arghh…. I said, fine for your wife, but not fine here (satan’s tools, the daylight an all 🙂 ) He replaced them with warm white. Everyone was happy – I guess except for his wife!

    Seeing we’re on the topic, and to combat this whole Satan thing, here is the Holy Trinity of lighting – 1) How many watts of electricty consumed 2) How many Lumens of light created (1 lumen = 1 candle) 3) What colour spectrum of lighting, measured in Kelvin.

    There you have it – Lighting 101

    1. Thanks.

      I did study some of this in design school, and my husband is a pro photographer, so I know about Kelvin and color values and the huge differences this can make. I’ll see if I can find a better one. The greenish-yellow cast is really nasty…

      1. I just came across a photo from before we started our project and I can’t believe how disgusting our house was. We live with a BODY LINE that our friends spray painted into our carpet at our “Tagging Party” almost a year before we started the project. Don’t ask.

  13. Pingback: The kitchen renovation: Part Two | Broadside

  14. Pingback: White IS a Color | What Were We Thinking?

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