The kitchen renovation: Done! The Big Reveal

By Caitlin Kelly

After 25 years of ugly, we finally have our brand-new kitchen, which my husband Jose  — (thank you, Jose!) — took out a loan for, and which he allowed me to design.

(All photos here were taken by him as well; he is a professional photographer.)

Our contractor, Bruce, brought his terrific team: Tim, Mike, John, Ray and Kevin, whose patience, good humor, talent, experience, ideas and general fabulousness made this process as much fun as dust, noise and chaos for a month can be. I will miss their company, consultations and the chance to watch such skilled workmen doing amazing things.

If you live anywhere near us — north of New York City — hire them!

From initial demolition to “done!” took four weeks, as promised. That was even with a few delays — wrong tile, wrong door — that had to be dealt with and replaced.

Here are some photos — OK, lots of photos! — to give you an idea of the dozens of decisions we made along the way, and why, and how they all played together in the end.

COMBO 01A

COMBO 02A

Colors, Materials and Finishes

I chose the color scheme after reading dozens of design magazines, some of them French and English, like Country Living. I wanted something neutral, but not boring (not white!), something that would work well with the soft gray walls of the adjoining dining room and the pale-yellow-green of the hallway, visible beyond.

Having studied color at design school, I knew that red and green, (complementary opposites on the color wheel), would work — so I went with a sage green and rusty-red, accented with a rich cream, the color of very good vanilla ice cream.

I chose pale green granite counters, with a honed finish: I don’t like the high gloss of polished stone and this powdery finish is totally different in feeling. It had the artisanal quality I wanted.

I chose tile that is machine-made but appears hand-made, with minor curves, bumps and color variations. The accent tiles differ in size, shape, number and texture, but they contain all the colors in the room.

The new wooden floor is herringbone, a pattern more common in European homes.

RUG DETAIL ON FLOORA

The walls are painted a Farrow & Ball color, Clunch, a cool beige. The cabinets are painted French Gray, another of their colors. I’m a huge fan of this British company and its rich, calm colors.

Appliances

We chose a Bosch dishwasher primarily because they are extremely quiet — I work at home and the sloshing of our old dishwasher drove me nuts. If we ever sell this place, I also wanted to instal high-end appliances for re-sale value.

Our gas stove, four-burner, is 30 inches wide, and counter depth, made by Bertazzoni.

Lighting

I chose three wall sconces from Restoration Hardware, and ordered them on-line. I wanted a rustic, patina-ed finish to complement the hand-made feeling of the tile. Their color echoes the accent tile, copper sink and oiled bronze faucet.

Two high hats (ceiling pots) add more illumination. I didn’t want under-shelf lighting, as it would have been visible. The sconces and high hats are both on separate dimmers.

COMBO 08A

Faucet and Sink

Hammered copper sink, from Lowe’s, ordered on-line.

Oiled bronze faucet, bought off the floor at our local Home Depot; the small spout to the right contains dish soap.

I chose those colors and finishes as all hardware in the apartment, (replaced from ugly, cheap brass originals), is oiled bronze, creating a unified look. I also wanted the deep rich brown of the copper to echo the rusty-red of the sconces, the color in the accent tile and the objects on our open shelves, some of which is brown-and-white Victorian transferware, which I collect.

COMBO 09A

Cabinets

Custom-made, lower ones only. The kitchen is small (eight feet long). I’m short and hate reaching for stuff. All the messy things are now stowed in a cabinet around the corner.

Details

I blew $700 on outlets that are completely flush with the walls. They’re gorgeous.

DOOR DETAILSA

I specified no hardware on the cabinets. Styles date. They also get grubby. They also hurt when you bump into them, which in a small, narrow kitchen, you always do.

We chose to have cabinets custom-made. It was a no-brainer. I wanted what I wanted — no compromises. Yes, they were more costly than Ikea.

My reasoning? It’s an hour’s drive to Ikea; I didn’t want to waste even more time fussing with fitting the stuff into a room whose walls (it turned out) were in appalling condition. Time is money. I’m fine with this choice.

For those of you trying to decide which route to take, here’s a recent post from Apartment Therapy on the pro’s and con’s of Ikea kitchens; and 124 comments from another AT post on the same topic.

The wooden box with French writing was all of $12; I found it at a local garden nursery and, lined with plastic, it keeps salt, pepper, oils, sugar, peanut butter and honey (the bare essentials), nearby but hidden.

The cotton throw rug, $20 from Pier One, is washable and, we hope, will keep our floors looking lovely.

The shelves, and brackets, also from Restoration Hardware, were stupidly expensive, but I didn’t have time or inclination to shop around endlessly for something less, and possibly less well-made. They turned out to have a subtle pale green finish, which was perfect; had my color scheme been different — not so much!

FRENCH BOXA

I’m short, and so always need a step-ladder to reach upper shelves. Here’s the pull-out drawer I also specified that keeps the step-ladder handy, but hidden.

LADDER DRAWERA

We also re-made an adjacent closet into a stone-topped breakfast bar (that holds toaster, coffeemaker and juicer, with a built-in outlet in one wall.) The three drawers below it hold all work-related papers and documents.

PANTRYA

We are loving it — everything glides smoothly and quietly. It’s both efficient and sensual.

Now I’m looking for clients, locally and by email/photo/Skype consultation. Happy to help you choose colors, furniture, lighting, fabrics, even just one room. 

You’ll find me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com or 914-332-6065.

The kitchen renovation: Part Two

By Caitlin Kelly

It still hasn’t begun!

The apartment has been in chaos for weeks, as we excitedly (and too early) emptied all our cupboards in preparation for the work to begin. But because we live in a co-op apartment building, we have to submit a ream of paperwork and get it approved before any hammers can swing.

Here are the “before” photos, and a description of how we got to the decision to do this, and what we chose.

It will probably start next week, when we are (blessedly) far away from the noise and dust of demolition for a bit.

But I’ve already learned a few lessons useful to anyone considering a reno.

Each one ends in “ive”!

Proactive

Every single item that is going to be bought, re-used or replaced in your new room needs to be measured carefully and ordered, sometimes weeks or months in advance, so it’s right at hand when the workmen arrive and are now on a timeline.

English: Electric cables in old apartment building
English: Electric cables in old apartment building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Insensitive

To mess! Our living room and hallway are now a staging area, full of boxes of our stuff and boxes of the new items yet to be installed. The place is going to be nuts for a while. Focus on how gorgeous it will be when it’s all done.

Attentive

Make a punch list of every single element going into the new room or space and what is needed to have it safely and legally installed. This includes: lighting, outlets, faucet, tile, counter-tops, flooring, appliances, paint, primer, grout, hardware, etc. With so many details, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and forget something along the way.

Keep checking in with your suppliers and contractor to make sure they, too, are on top of everything and have agreed — in writing — to your explicit wishes. If there are points of disagreement, you’ll need a paper trail.

Decisive

This is one of the most tiring pieces of committing to a renovation project, endless, daily, sometimes several times a day, decisions that must be made quickly  — and permanently. (Change orders are really expensive and your contractor may hate you for making them, or — worse — bail since s/he always has a list of other clients awaiting his crew’s attention as well. Make a plan and stick with it.)

After designing our kitchen’s entire color scheme around the cream enamel panel of the Italian stove we’d chosen that color was discontinued by the time we ordered it. Shriek! I had to suddenly decide what to do, (fine, stainless steel, boring), and not freak out or rethink all the other choices and start again from scratch.

I don’t have time to do all of this twice. Most of us don’t.

You have to decide on a budget and then make every decision to fit within it, (or exceed it, and decide how you’ll handle that additional cost.) It’s tiring! And since most of us have never studied design and rarely spend tens of thousands of dollars (even thousands) within a few weeks, it’s a lot to handle.

Assertive

If you really want something to happen a certain way, or want a very specific product or material, say so!

No one can, or wants to, read your mind and it’s up to you, (or the architect/designer you’ve hired), to be very clear and specific with your contractor about what you have in mind. Don’t hand-flap and sigh and walk away in frustration. Some things will fall through. There will be some surprises, and almost all of them add expense — yours!

I went through three contractors to find the one we’re now working with, for the second time. The first two seemed to take personal offense at my custom designs. It’s your home, your taste and your budget. Trust your contractor to offer smart and helpful options, but don’t be afraid to say no if it really isn’t what you want.

A stainless steel countertop
A stainless steel countertop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Responsive

This is the other half of being decisive. In the middle (!) of writing this post, my husband called to ask me to read yet another email and write yet another email to the contractor. Gah! Has to be done.

I’ve probably answered half a dozen emails, so far, from the contractor and I do so promptly. We’re all busy and all juggling multiple projects. You should also expect this from him/her as well.

Creative/Innovative

Very few of us have an unlimited budget or space or timeline for The Perfect Renovation. How can you work most creatively within your space and budget?

Our kitchen is really small, (eight feet long, galley kitchen, no outlet for a stove hood), and our pantry is literally a narrow, tiny closet. We may not buy a microwave, which some people would insist is a must. Not for us; I’ve never owned one so feel no compulsion to have one just because we’re getting a new kitchen. It’s just as cramped as it was before!

We also moved a china cabinet from one room to another and are changing its purpose — we’ll use it to hide ugly cans and bottles and supplies, while we transfer pretty plates, glasses and platters to our new open shelves.

We were also able to reduce the quote by offering to prime and paint our cabinets and walls and by bartering my husband’s photography skills for the contractor — who always needs professional images for his website. That alone saved us $2,000.

Obsessive

I feel like I’m now surgically attached to our measuring tapes! I know the height of the sconces, the height of the legs for the holders for our platters, the width of our shelves…

Expensive

Oh, yeah. Assume that whatever you’ve budgeted is an amusing-but-naive attempt. Unless (lucky you!) you are a multi-skilled DIYer (electrical and plumbing work? tiles?), you’ll be paying other people considerable coin to bring their skills into your home. Tiles, stone, flooring, lighting, cabinet handles…it all adds up.

Sighed our contractor: “Those TV design shows make me crazy! They never include the true costs of this stuff. I have to keep explaining this to clients every time.”

Agreed our saleswoman at our tile/stone vendor, “You know Houzz? Forget it! Clients come in here wanting exactly what they saw in a picture there, but a lot of it is custom work. They have no idea that how expensive it is.”

Any other tips you can offer?

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