I can’t start a story about our kitchen renovation without starting with the story of how we bought our house.
Well, how I bought our house. My husband and I weren’t married yet.
Disclaimer 1/26/2020: My (ex)husband and I are no longer married – he did some awful stuff (read the explanation here) and the renovation didn’t quite get finished as planned. The below post is still accurate though, so use it if you can!
Wait, I’m Buying A House?
One rainy, crummy day in September, I was sitting in the living room of my apartment watching Netflix and wishing the rain would stop. Suddenly, I realized that there was water dripping down one of the walls. I called maintenance, but it was a Saturday, so they couldn’t help me until Monday and since it was an apartment, I couldn’t fix it myself. All I could do was put a pot under the leak and watch the wall get wet.
That night, I was hanging out with a friend watching a Detroit Lions pre-season game, and he was complaining about his apartment and we just got going on a mutual rant of why apartments suck.
And then we got to wondering – was it a crazy idea to think about buying a house?
As it turns out, it wasn’t crazy – monthly costs of a house in my area are actually lower than apartment costs, even if you account for putting aside money for property taxes and repairs. And then you have a HOUSE with a YARD and if the roof is leaking you can – at the very least – put a tarp over the leak to prevent water from dripping down your walls. Did you know that water dripping down walls results in destroyed drywall and mold? I DO NOW. And by the way, that STILL hadn’t been taken care of when I moved out in January despite frequent promises from my landlord.
Before I knew it, I was talking to a realtor and spending every spare moment scouring Zillow and researching home buying.
Finding My Home
I got a lot of advice & help from my parents, and came up with 4 criteria for my house:
- Location: I wanted a home that was in my hometown and in a decent neighborhood, with good resale value – and not on a main road or too close to a freeway.
- Big, Sunny Windows and Sunny Garden Spot: I wanted natural light, and I wanted to have a vegetable garden. I didn’t care if the garden was in the front, back, or side yard, but I wanted a spot for it.
- Good roof, windows, and furnace (or a house priced low enough to replace what needed replaced right away). That way, I (probably) wouldn’t have crazy expensive repairs in the near future.
- A crummy kitchen so I would have an excuse to redo it. Okay, this wasn’t OFFICIALLY on my criteria list, but I couldn’t afford a super nice house, and if something had to suck, I wanted it to be the kitchen. I was used to working in garbage kitchens, and I loved the idea of redoing one and making it exactly how I wanted it.
Well, when I saw my current house, I fell in love with the large, west-facing windows and the new roof and vinyl windows. It needed a furnace, but was priced for that (and bonus, my brother-in-law is amazing, can install furnaces, and offered to do so for free).
Oh, and it had a great layout, private backyard, and decent appliances. It also needed a whole bunch of cosmetic things and a new kitchen.
Planning the Kitchen
Once I moved in, cleaned the house thoroughly, and put in my potted herbs…I got started thinking about that kitchen. I kept browsing Zillow and Realtor.com in order to see pictures of other peoples’ kitchens, and I started reading about kitchen renovations on the Internet. My (now ex) husband moved in, and we decided we could save up for the kitchen in about a year, provided we were prepared to do most of the work ourselves.
Considering that both of our dads are very handy, and my (now ex)husband’s dad lives only a half mile down the street from my new house, we were very prepared to do the work – and hopefully learn a ton of stuff in the process.
The real planning began shortly after we started saving up, and I think we drove a few salespeople crazy by talking extensively to them about the project and then announcing that we wouldn’t actually be buying anything for a year.
Tips on Planning A Kitchen Renovation (or any renovation, really):
- Ask for advice. We talked to both of our dads at length, and I emailed my brother-in-law (the one who can put in furnaces, along with pretty much anything else you can imagine). All three of them were happy to help us, and were very useful. If you don’t have family you can ask, watch videos and read articles on the Internet. You can also go to a showroom and ask the people there for an education on the differences between cabinet types, or whatever you are looking at buying.
- Measure. Then measure again. And again. We probably measured our kitchen upwards of 10 times throughout the process. It’s good that we did too, because when we had the kitchen professionally measured, they mismeasured and we almost had a disaster on our hands. Thankfully, we confirmed their measurements, and though it was tight, everything fit!
- Research. Don’t just go with the first design you see in Pinterest – really research the pros and cons of each option. Also, think about how your kitchen will fit together when you are done. You have to consider not only the appearance of the cabinets, but also the utility of cabinets vs drawers, lighting needs, electrical outlet needs, and workflow through the kitchen. Then you have to decide the quality level that you want (generally speaking, higher quality = more expensive, so you have to figure out what’s important to you and what you can afford).
- Talk It Through (Again) and Question Everything. Even after we were “done” planning, My (ex)husband and I spent large chunks of time going over our plans and questioning our decisions. Sometimes when you go through a plan in detail, you find errors or problems with your plan. Plus, questioning everything forces you to consider all of your options before you actually buy stuff. We even showed (Ex)Husband’s dad the plans over dinner and had him question us – and let me tell you, it helped.
Taking Action: First Steps
Partially due to some of the advice we received, we didn’t start destroying our current kitchen until we had done a lot of prep work.
- Drawing Plans. Since we measured a bunch of times we drew our own plans for how the kitchen would be laid out. When we ordered the cabinets, it was just a matter of figuring out what the cabinet manufacturer had that would fit our plans. In fact, our plans influenced our choice of cabinets – we never considered Ikea cabinets, for example, because we figured out from the get-go that the dimensions of their Lazy-Susan corner cabinets were too large to fit the corners of our kitchen, and we knew we wanted Lazy-Susan cabinets. Having specific plans ahead of time saved us time and frustration.
- Research & Buy Everything. Before we tore anything apart, we purchased our cabinets, overhead lighting, sink, faucet, appliances, flooring, paint, and as many supplies are we could. Shopping takes more time than actually renovating, since you have to really compare products and prices. And the last thing you want is to pause your renovation work and shop for a day or two. Plus, if you are buying things in advance, you can take advantage of sales and discounted items.
- Order of Operations. Don’t just tear apart your kitchen without knowing the order in which you are going to put it back together. Living without a working kitchen SUCKS, and planning ahead can really help. Try and think about what work you can do BEFORE you tear your counters & cupboards out, and try to do things in an order that makes sense for your project.
- The Best Laid Plans…We were told my many people that we would need to be flexible throughout this process, and let me tell you: that was true. So now I’m telling you that YOU need to be flexible in any sort of renovation process. Because I promise, you’ll find lots of surprises and you’ll probably break at least one thing in the process. Probably more than one thing.
Our Order Of Operations
You will see a post describing each of these sections, and when they are done, I will link them below. But here, I will just describe how and why we chose our order. We ARE NOT experts, and are really just learning about home renovation, but the project makes a fun story and hopefully reading about our experience can help you with your own.
New Stove & Vent Hood
For our kitchen, it made sense to do this first, because the new stove was going in a location that didn’t actually have any existing cabinets. Plus, our kitchen didn’t originally have a vent hood at all. This resulted in grease and junk collecting on the ceiling, which was disgusting. Also, the existing stove was garbage and I wanted a new one. Due to the way we designed our new kitchen, we were able to put in our stove and vent hood in March 2018, even though we didn’t do our full renovation until January and February 2019.
Painting The Dining Area & Installing Overhead Lights.
We have dining space in our kitchen, so there was a pretty substantial area that needed a fresh coat of paint, but had nothing to do with the actual cabinet area. We also were moving overhead lights around, so we took care of that, painted the ceiling, and painted the walls of the dining area before we got to tearing out cabinets. This saved time, because we didn’t need to lay down paint cloths or worry about dripping paint on the kitchen floor or counters.
Cutting the Hole:
One of the things unique to our renovation, was the “window” we cut between the kitchen and living room. We wanted to add a breakfast bar for entertaining and to increase the natural light in the kitchen. We had to remove some of the cabinets in order to do this, but we left as many as possible so that we still had a working kitchen.
Total Destruction & Plumbing:
We finally tore out the whole kitchen and got busy working on the plumbing. In our kitchen, this was a big job since we were moving stuff and found plumbing that really, really bad. This would be easier if your plumbing doesn’t need to be replaced.
Upper Cabinet Installation:
Importantly, we installed the upper cabinets first. This made them easier to install, and allowed us to put some kitchen stuff back in the cabinets right away. This increased the functionality of our kitchen, even before we laid the floor and finished some of the plumbing details.
Laying the Floor:
We laid the floor ourselves. Note that we only did this after we were DONE painting and cutting holes in plaster. This saved us a lot of mess.
Lower Cabinet Installation & Makeshift Counter tops.
Once everything was ready, we could put in the lower cabinets and some makeshift counter tops. Since we weren’t doing the counter top installation ourselves, we wanted makeshift plywood counters to improve kitchen functionality while we waiting for the counter top install.
This is pretty self-explanatory, especially since we didn’t do this ourselves.
Running Water – Sink and Dishwasher.
By necessity, this was one of the last things we did. And oh boy, it was a relief to not have to do dishes in the bathroom sink anymore!
Trim and Finishing
We aren’t actually done with this part yet…but the work can go A LOT slower once the kitchen is functional again!