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Kitchen renovation on the smart budget

I see a kitchen renovation in our near future. We do not plan for a high-end renovation, neither will it be low-end. Knowing what YOU know now, what might you do differently, if you were to renovate your kitchen (remember: money does NOT grow on trees, and neither does square footage). It's a medium-sized galley kitchen. (We will not expand.) Please share your ideas about APPLIANCES, STORAGE, ORGANIZATION, AND WORK SPACE. Many thanks.

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  1. We did our kitchen ten years ago. First rule of all remodels is to read the contract. And negotiate. You're allowed to make changes to suit your own needs. You hire a contractor. That's the actual word. If that person can then do the work, that's a plus, but in any event you want a really good contract. Put a big payment at the end, payable on completion. Contractors love to do demolition and then head off to do something exciting elsewhere. You don't want a kitchen remodel to take forever. It gets old to live off a microwave and a toaster oven in your family room.

    Getting more specific about the kitchen . . . If you have the space, get your contractor to set up a cheap sink somewhere, like your garage or even your patio, so you can do dishes during the work. It's relatively easy to figure out how and where to cook while you're out of your kitchen, but doing the dishes gets nasty.

    If you don't have a big budget, make a list of things that really matter to you. We put bucks into getting a top of the line fridge. For you might be the stove-top. Whatever you do, get a stove hood that really works. It's not the sexiest part of the job, but if you hate setting off your smoke alarms it's a good investment. When it comes to storage, there are definitely things I'd do over. If you have deep cabinets, make sure the shelves slide out. And watch out for corners. You can easily end up with inconvenient spaces. Our designer goofed and we've got one. Be careful about lighting. You want several options of light level and you may want cans in one place, fixtures in another. And another small thing but if I had it to do over I'd be more careful: watch where you put your light switches. Make sure they're convenient.

    Finally, based on my experience with three major remodels, no matter what you do, figure it'll take longer and cost more than your original plan.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Judith

      Roll-out shelves. Roll-out shelves. Repeat as needed.
      They absolutely make the most of limited space. I have a pretty big kitchen, but still put them in most everywhere and am absolutely not sorry. They mean that I can easily stack all my bowls in a lower cabinet, and pulling out the shelf to "rearrange" big to small is no big deal like it was when they were on a standard fixed shelf. Similarly I have all my baking supplies (brown sugar, baking soda, chocolate etc) on a roll out shelf and I can just yank it out and grab stuff from the top instead of trying to look behind things to find stuff. It makes a huge difference in convenience.

      We extended our cabinets to (almost) ceiling height (with a crown molding then), which also gave us another shelf. That's a big deal too; it's not terribly convenient, but you can put stuff that you don't use every day. We have "christmas" china so that stays on the top shelf 11 months of the year, and then gets rotated down for the holidays.

      Plan ahead and *think* about where everything is going to go in the new cabinets; that may make you change a few things at the last minute (before the cabinets are ordered); you may find you need more or fewer drawers for utensils for example.

      vertical dividers for storing cookie sheets etc was very helpful for me.

      1. re: DGresh

        GMP or Cost-Plus contract - forget lump-sum it may cost more in the short term, but you'll be happier. as DG suggets invest in cabinetry (Hafele has the BEST hardware, hinges, slides etc.) over appliances - much easier to swap out the mechanicals down the road.

        we all love a Viking, but any range will do the trick.

    2. Having just finished our kitchen remodel, I absolutely agree with Judith: 'no matter what you do, figure it'll take longer and cost more than your original plan.'

      In our case, our kitchen planner assured us that we would not need to re-tile the backsplash, despite our doubts. We learned how wrong he was on demolition day - predictably, half the plaster came off with the tiles. Why would he think otherwise? It added £400 and 2 months for us to cover up his goof - our goof for trusting him.

      Inconvenient corners? We solved our problem with an under-counter cantilevered shelving system. See here:

      http://flickr.com/photos/68899982@N00...

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rq5so...

      We love it! It was the most expensive unit in the kitchen - more than the combi oven! - but we still think it was worth every penny. Also love love love the combination convection/conventional oven, especially in a small kitchen.

      Our last step is adding some racks and magnetic strips for things like utensils and spice tins.

      The only thing I would have done differently is planning the colour scheme better. We started off with the cabinets, handles, countertops and floor. However, we ended up with a different floor that was a different colour. And the tiles were a complete after-thought. In the end, we like how it all looks and managed to keep it somewhat coordinated. But if I had planned everything together from the start, I might have chosen different colours. I'll definitely have a complete colour scheme when we do the bathroom someday!

      Good luck... Have fun!

      14 Replies
      1. re: WTBD

        as far as "taking longer than planned" ours actually didn't. The key was that we hired a builder who is a big enough operation that when they start your kitchen, they *keep doing* your kitchen until it's done. (They actually do 2 or 3 jobs simultaneously, but what I mean is that a crew and master carpenter is assigned *only* to your job). He's also a builder that has a very good reputation in the area. The *but* is, that these kind of guys typically aren't "budget" operations either. But we figured that the reduction in stress was worth the "markup". I have heard from *so* many people about contractors who mysteriously "disappear" for days at a time. Our job was very well planned; the two days of electrical work occurred just when it was supposed to and we weren't waiting around for the electrical contractors to be "free", with the walls and floors opened up and nothing going on. Get references!

        1. re: DGresh

          This is true. On our last remodel we had a bid from a big contractor who added in $20K for job management. We took another bid, and ended up with several delays and a fair amount of hassle around things that were poorly done. Ultimately the $20K might have been an economy. But that takes me back to the big payment at the end.

          And yet another thing . . . on our first project, my tendency was to just kind of ooh and aah as things progressed. My husband, OTOH, came home every day, whipped out a level and a tape measure and went to work. I quickly learned that when you've coughed up big bucks and people have just removed large chunks of your house, he had the right approach. So definitely monitor the project every step of the way.

          I'm with DGresh. We did our cabinets to the ceiling with crown molding. We have high ceilings and the verticality of the cabinets is gorgeous. I use some of the high up shelves for paper towels (which can't really do much damage if they hit you in the head :-) For other things, I just use a step stool.

          I'm really loving this thread. I've been meaning to retrofit our "appliance graveyard" with cantilevered shelves and put rollers in one of our cabinets, and now I'm feeling motivated.

          1. re: Judith

            Instead of roll-out shelves in the below-counter cabinets, we went all the way and just put in really big drawers. Works great. Also the idea of running the cabinets to the ceiling is good. Just include a small nook somewhere for the ladder you'll need, to keep it handy. Great place to put the seldom-used stuff.

            There's lots more information of the appliance and similar forums on Garden Web.

            1. re: johnb

              one advantage of roll out shelves inside cabinets instead of regular drawers is that the pull-outs are adjustable in spacing. Of course the disadvantage is having to open the doors to get at the shelves. We did both in our kitchen; some places put in big drawers, others the pull out shelves.

              1. re: DGresh

                True, but I believe most people, myself included, never adjust it after the initial installation. And with drawers it's not really necessary, since due to the enclosed sides you can stack stuff in there pretty much as you want. But the drawers should be really deep to start with. Under our 38" tops we have only three drawers, not the usual four, and the 2 lower ones are really deep. I easily put 12 qt. stock pots in there. It was one of the better (luckier??) decisions we made when specifying our new house.

                1. re: johnb

                  Drawers are good . . . we have two very deep, sturdy drawers for dishes, because this is earthquake country and storing dishes in cabinets is ill advised. I had never thought of drawers for other things. I have rollouts for pots, but they're down low. If this thread keeps going I might have to tear out whole sections and rework them :-)

          2. re: DGresh

            Well done, DGresh, for keeping your project on time! We actually had a similar strategy - went with a big, reputable company who assured us they would take care of the subcontractors and stay on top of timing & budget. We figured it was worth a bit extra for the long-term savings. In general we were right and we're happy we subbed the work out instead of trying to do complicated things ourselves. The only problem was the tiles and we're still trying to figure out how that happened. Everything else was completed with only minor delays (like 2-3 days).

            Judith: my husband was just like you - he didn't want to say anything to question or offend the builders. I was, ahem, not quite so restrained. I monitored everything!

            lifespan: what ideas are you currently considering?

            1. re: WTBD

              I worked for a GC (reputable) contractor once and it was kinda frustrating, cause our bid would come in at a realistic price, but the client would often go for the lowest, later to find significant over-runs.

              def. get believable refs. and aim for the middle price-wise (budget allowing).things will always go over budget and schedule and as Judith and WTBD caution regular oversight is neccessary. it's easier to correct flaws early. make sure they're fully bonded and licensed - in this economy it's easy to imagine another client defaulting, the GC folding, you in a contract for work not done and a lien slapped for non-payment (for non-work).

              Corian's not so bad, Colorcore is the crap product. But I'd go for butcherblock myself. few contractors can do concrete right as a countertop. granite is cool and will last a million years, but given its popularity I have to wonder what the attraction will be in 10 years (prospective buyer: "that is just SO 2008")

              my thought is people may go marble, but that would be a HUGE mistake - very liable to corrosion and high maintenance.

              and undermount sink. surface mount always fails in time.

              1. re: hill food

                What do you mean, "always fails in time?"

                Anyhow, the undermount/surface mount sink issue depends on one's choice of countertops. If you go for solid (granite, etc. , including Corian I think) you most surely will do an undermount. If you go for laminate, then you have no choice but surface mount.

                1. re: johnb

                  No, that's not actually true, johnb. We have laminate, but the sinks are integrated (looks like the Corian sinks, no lip above or below the counter). They're some kind of Swedish sink with a 50 year guarantee, and so far, with five years hard use, holding up very well. I like it better than granite, since with granite they are under-mounted and you still have the area below the counter but on top of the sink that traps crumbs, etc. I'm all about easy-to-clean, obviously!

                  1. re: Niki in Dayton

                    Hey Niki! The part of the sink that is below the counter but exposed is called the reveal. If you go with no reveal, you have nothing to clean up!

                    When undermounted sinks became popular, a lot of people opted for a reveal to show part of their cool new sink. Took a little bit of time to make them realize it's another spot to clean!

                    1. re: Dee S

                      Thanks! Learn something new every day :-) The only granite counters I'd seen had the reveal which is why I decided I wanted Corian, but I couldn't afford it. Our cabinet maker told me about the integrated sinks for laminate, and we've been happy with them so far...

                  2. re: johnb

                    with surface mount there's the issue of the gasket and seal, over time it will start to leak and the lip can start to pull up, catching bits and grunge.

                  3. re: hill food

                    granite with undermount sink.... 1.5 years use and about 1 year in it's leaking.

                    undermount is not the be all end all, it has it's issues too.

            2. My advice as far as budget goes is to decide what's most important to you, and then compromise on other things. For my best friend, storage space was the most important, and her cabinets have pull-outs, door caddies, and all kinds of organizational features that allow her to stock what I refer to as her Armagedden pantry :-) Our home/kitchen is somewhat bigger than hers, so those relatively expensive cabinet features didn't make our short list, nor did Corian or granite countertops. We went with laminate (which has improved greatly over the years and is the most economical choice) and five years later, we're still happy with that decision. We got some kind of Swedish sinks that fit seamlessly into the laminate so there are no lips (like Corian), and that makes cleanup much easier. My "splurge" item was a Blue Star cook top and a range hood that could handle the BTUs that bad boy puts out. We also went with double ovens, but not high-end, same with the dishwasher and refrigerator. You'll need to decide what's most important to you, then factor those things into your budget.

              1. Gas stovetop

                Granite, or anything but Corian

                Full backsplash (all the way to cabinets) instead of partial.

                Island sink, as it is where I do 99% of my prep.

                Island seating

                Easily cleanable stovetop

                1 Reply
                1. re: yamalam

                  We did Corian because granite seemed too grand for the space and there were less options ten years ago. It's attractive, easy to clean and it has held up well. Corian doesn't take big heat, but we brought the tile down from the walls next to the stove top so that we wouldn't have to worry about where to put a hot pot. So I'm wondering why you would say "anything but Corian?"

                2. we like the ideas shared on this thread.... thought we'd share more info about our plans:
                  1) verrry old kitchen - we will replace everything
                  2) we will sell in 3-5 years (Our home belongs to "starter home" category.)
                  3) we have a good and trustworthy contractor who will do a turn-key job. we used him for bathrooms previously. we were satisfied.
                  4) kitchen size: galley, 17"+
                  5) priorities: organization, storage, and convenience (we plan for high spash-boards and cabinets to the ceiling, drawers and other storage conveniences, as many suggested)

                  ** We wonder if a two-oven stove is impractical for such a small space. Does anyone have experience with a smallish version of two-oven stove?
                  ** Any suggestions are appreciated.
                  Thanks again.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: lifespan

                    my personal opinion is that for resale, I would *not* invest in really high end appliances. Most people don't care. OTOH, good storage would be a very attractive selling point.

                    1. re: lifespan

                      I'd just keep in mind that this is a starter home and while buyers will be thrilled with a new kitchen, they are not going to want to pay a premium for high-end appliances or something like a double oven that eats up valuable storage space and might never get used. I would focus on choosing materials that are durable and easy to maintain/clean, but are not too expensive.

                      1. re: lifespan

                        Hey lifespan -

                        Because you note that you're planning to sell in 3-5 years and your home belongs to "starter home" category, I'd suggest you ask a trusted real estate agent or someone who knows your market well to come take a look and give you some tips on where to spend your money. My aunt and sister-in-law are both successful agents, and they say the onslaught of HGTV-style shows that proclaim a kitchen renovation can at least double the investment has completely mislead people to "over-renovate" in recent years. They spent the holidays talking about people who'd spent fortunes in on certain parts of their kitchen remodels, only to discover that their improvements weren't going to get back what they cost. Professionals may be able to tell you whether it's worth the investment to put down granite slabs versus granite tiles versus laminate, or double ovens over a single. I'm only saying this with a mind toward your selling of course - when my mom renovated her kitchen last year, it was purely for her, not future sales, so she spent as she wished!

                      2. Granite tile can be done at a tiny fraction of the price of granite countertops. Thank you.

                        2 Replies
                          1. re: lifespan

                            do a good job on the grout and be careful, it's a bit porous and can stain, there are sealants available. any capable person can handle it up to and including re-grouting - but when it's re-sale time many out there can't see past the surface of things (so to speak)

                            buy a couple extra 12x12 tiles and use them in the oven like a bread/pizza stone - evens out the heat quite nicely.