Now would probably be a good time to explain another
important part of remodeling, kitchen or otherwise. The
universe is filled with television shows portraying
homeowners tearing up some part of their house, under
the pretext that they are operating on a “budget”. Based
on my experience, their definition of “budget” apparently
means either the labor or the materials are free. I had
compared our plans to what I was seeing on the various
fixer-upper shows, and roughed out a “budget” which
would prove to be laughable, after receiving contractor
bids. All in, we spent about twice what I would have
expected from watching those silly shows, and that was
after we scaled back our dreams a bit.

Three weeks into the project, the outline of our new
kitchen was taking shape. The contractor’s crew had
framed up the roof and ceiling, leveled the floor,
relocated windows, and readied the project for
subcontractors. At this point we entered a new stage of
“the process”: Waiting for stuff to happen. During the
time the general contractor’s crew was onsite, every day
I came home to something new. Then the project went
into slow motion. We waited for electricians, then
plumbers, drywallers and painters. We waited for a guy
who did nothing but install the insulation. Another guy
specialized in trim. There may have even been a
doorknob guy; I can’t remember. During this time, the
cabinet maker would not even fire up a table saw until
he could take final measurements, and he didn't want to
do that until our new garden window was installed,
which was on order and weeks away. The countertop
guys wouldn't take measurements until the base
cabinets were installed. Days would pass with no
activity. Thankfully, Michelle’s patience was running
thinner than mine, and she was on the phone with the
contractor almost every day.

The handoff to subcontractors wasn't the end of our time
with the primary crew of workers. One day the crew
foreman asked if we realized our chimney was about to
self-destruct. I was indeed aware, but this potential
problem was filed away in a distant part of my brain
labeled “Deal with after catastrophic failure.” The
chimney ran along the oldest part of the house and was
not attached to a fireplace or anything else of value. So
we negotiated a side deal. Two of their guys would come
out on a weekend and take down the chimney, patch the
eave, pull off the asbestos siding and replace with
cement fiber board to match the newest part of the
house. All we had to do was paint the siding, which by
contractor error was actually done at no extra cost by the
exterior painting crew. It was money well spent.

By this time the contractor crew had become our
acquaintances, to the point that our timid daughters
(ages 5 and 2½) would almost speak to them using
words. The crew foreman showed up one day with a
battery-powered ATV that his grandson outgrew. We
had a similar ATV in the barn, so the girls didn't have to
fight over it anymore. We gave the crew fresh eggs from
our little army of chickens and ducks, along with a case
of Mexican beer that would have taken years to finish off
at my casual rate of drinking. When they were gone, I
missed their constant activity and the gifts they left in the
dumpster parked in front of our house (let’s just say their
version of scrap wood was not the same as mine). I
developed a bit of job envy, watching them start a
project, finish it, and move on to the next one. They
solved challenges using their wits and basic math, and
got some exercise while they were at it. Unlike my line of
work, they could describe theirs in a single word
understood by all.

Over on the other side of the house, we had perfected
our cooking and eating routine as best we could.
Nutritional sacrifices were made, and we did our best to
keep the Dixie brand in business. After a few weeks of
washing pots and pans in the bathroom sink, we
resorted to a garden hose in the driveway. The clothes
washing situation was better than expected, with the
washer running regularly in the garage and the dryer
consisting of about 100 feet of clothesline strung across
the barn lot. Once the laundry room plumbing was
ready, the contractor installed our new washer and
dryer, and that routine went back to normal.

By the middle of September, I could finally walk into the
kitchen and see…a kitchen. More than that, I could
sense an eventual end to “the process”. The arrival of
granite was a wonderful sight. Then came a sink and
running water. And finally, working appliances. Small
details remained, but by October the cars were back in
the garage and we were cooking, eating and socializing
like a normal family. I took on some additional work in
the laundry room, hanging off-the-shelf cabinets and
installing a laminate countertop. Once completed, we
could finally catch our breath and enjoy what we’d spent
a small fortune and a large chunk of sanity putting
together.

With time to absorb our creation, we could assess some
of our decisions:

  • Garden Window – honestly, when Michelle
    suggested this, I thought it was expensive and
    unnecessary. After it was installed, I liked it a lot.
    During the day the sink is well lighted and we can
    see through the window in all directions. We’re not
    growing a garden in there yet, but it does open up
    the space.
  • Vinyl plank flooring – this might have been the
    most researched decision of the whole project. We
    wanted perfectly smooth floors, so that when the
    girls spilled food or the indoor cat barfed, it wouldn't
    end up seeping into a knot hole. We chose a
    woodgrain plank style, but the designs are endless.
    The manufacturers can make this stuff look like just
    about anything. It is heavy, and glues to the floor.
    The downside is scratches – it doesn't take much to
    etch a permanent reminder of temporary
    carelessness.
  • Countertops – we knew this was going to be the first
    and last countertop decision we’d make in this
    house, so it had to be right. When we visited a local
    granite warehouse, a dark “leathered” slab stood out,
    and we knew we’d come to the right place. We toyed
    with the idea of a butcher block island, to preserve
    the country charm of our home, but then saw the
    leathered finish on a granite style which somewhat
    resembled wood. I was fearful that having a texture
    on the surface would make cleaning more difficult,
    but they wipe up spotless every time. We've had
    several visitors ask what the countertops are made
    of. Most don’t realize they’re granite.
  • Cabinets – we went with a local builder, for two main
    reasons. First, they were willing to size the cabinets
    to whatever dimensions we needed. The home
    improvement stores were limited to what their
    contract builders were willing to build. Most often,
    the widths were available in 3-inch intervals. That
    may work well in new construction; not as much in a
    century-old space. We were also concerned that if
    anything were measured incorrectly, we’d be set
    back for weeks waiting for replacements. Many of the
    contract builders were located hundreds of miles
    from the home improvement stores, and lead times
    were pretty long to begin with. As it turned out, we
    did have an incorrect measurement, and the builder
    had to remake a small base cabinet. A few days
    later, all was corrected. The second reason we
    chose the local builder was because they happened
    to have a sample cabinet door on display from a
    recent job, which was exactly what we were looking
    for – color, glazing, panel style…everything. We saw
    it, declared “Exactly like that!” and we were ready to
    go. I asked my brother-in-law, a former cabinet
    maker, to review the pricing, and he replied “It’s not
    terrible.” Good enough for us.

As with any major project like this, we would have
chosen to do some things differently:

  • Don’t rely on the contractor to set up dust barriers or
    protect the things you want to come out unscathed.
    Whatever you don’t want damaged or destroyed, get
    as far from ground zero as possible. Our guest
    bathroom was in the path of destruction, and the
    door got banged up a bit. We also should have
    better protected the wood floor in the dining room, as
    that was the path from the kitchen to the front porch,
    where the workers entered and exited the house. It
    was a well-traveled path. If you need to set up a dust
    barrier with plastic sheeting, make it so you can get
    in an out easily. Had I known how many times we’d
    need to get inside the barrier, I’d have bought my
    own FastCap magnetic-close system. I used a
    FastCap “door” the following year with a bedroom
    remodel, and it worked very well.
  • Had we known in advance the laundry room would
    be relocated, we would have designed the island
    differently. With a larger space than we originally
    planned, we could have reshaped the island or
    enlarged it.
  • We should have put more thought into lighting
    placement. When the electrician was ready to install
    the recessed lights, we didn’t have much of a plan.
    We had him spread out the recessed lights evenly
    across the ceiling, which was ok, but we had to
    replace some of them with gimble-style heads so
    they could be aimed toward darker areas. And for
    sure, we should have put a light directly over the
    sink.
  • If the electrician suggests 5 electrical outlets, double
    it. You can never have enough.

So there you have it. From start to finish, this was about
a 3-month project, and one we would never choose to
do again. But the results were outstanding, and it turned
the house into a complete gem. A great thanks to my
wife, for her unending patience and great ideas. I am so
fortunate to have her in my life!!
The Great Kitchen Remodel of 2017
  • Ceiling raised
  • Floor leveled
  • Sliding glass door installed
  • Insulation
  • Drywall
  • Exterior work
  • Garden Window
  • Paint
  • Flooring
  • Cabinets - first set
  • Cabinets - complete
  • Trim work
  • Granite
  • Complete
Click on photos for larger view
More Photos:
The photo above shows how the remodel
changed the "tunnel" aspect of our kitchen.

One of the most accurate quotes I've ever
heard about remodels: They're nice when
they're done. This one turned out nice, but the
years (literally) leading up to the completion
were enough to test our life skills.