On the Level

Kitchen renovation is not for the faint hearted.  Even if you are not doing any of the work yourself, it is still a roller coaster of decision making, crisis management, and active problem solving.  There is no such thing as an effortless kitchen remodel, just as there is no such thing as a perfectly level wall, floor, or ceiling.  While I am at it, there seems to also be no such thing as a kitchen remodel that comes within the original budget.  Maybe someone out there has done it, but if you have, please don’t tell the rest of us!  We would like to hold on to the feeling that our experience is the norm.

Anyway, this week, we are back with another  leveling problem.  I know I mentioned this last week, but I have to say that just because we managed to solve it on one side of the kitchen did not mean that the problem went away.  In fact, on the other side of the kitchen, it seemed worse.  Mostly, this is because of our design.

We have cabinets facing in all four directions.  One of them faces the family room here, while the other one is at a 90 degree angle and faces the fridge.

Kitchen renovation day 37: It turns out that yesterday was more of a layout day.  Today is leveling and installing.  Maybe.  I hope.  #kitchenremodel #crazyweirdhouse #tired

The two middle cabinets face the fridge also as well as does the end cabinet closest to the sink.  The last cabinet by the dining room door, faces the hallway.  Since the cabinets are facing different directions, we could not use the rail system.  The cabinets had to be installed to the floor.

This is when we found the biggest flaw to the Ikea cabinet system: the feet.

The base cabinets come with these plastic feet that do not get attached in any stable way.  There is a groove that they can slip into, but you cannot move the cabinet while there is any weight on the feet.   If you try to move the cabinet while it is resting on the feet, the feet will come off or break off.  This means that in order to move the cabinet, you have to lift it, even if is just an inch.  And these cabinets are hard to lift.

Why?  It’s the rails on top.   Most cabinets are box shaped.  Ikea base cabinets are U-shaped with rails connecting the top instead of another piece of “wood”.  This leaves you nothing to grab unto or lift from without risking damage to the cabinets.  Maybe we were being overly cautious, but we were afraid to lift these very heavy cabinets by the rails for fear of distorting or making the rails come off.  Once the cabinets were in place, the rails were a non-issue, but it took several days to get to that point.

Why did it take several days? Well, it took several days because not all of the cabinets were square and because they were not square,  they were having trouble sitting next to each other without unsightly gaps.  This problem also made it difficult to level the cabinets.  If you are just considering Ikea cabinets, just be aware when you are building them.  It’s much easier to make sure they are square during the building stage than it is to correct them when you are trying to install them.

Also, if you want your counter to be level, your cabinets have to be level.  If you want your cabinets to be level, it would help if your floor was level, which ours was not.

We had over an inch of variance in the level of our floors.  To deal with the floor and the problematic feet, the husband made plywood boxes that the cabinets could rest on.  This all meant that we spent a lot of time laying on the floor adjusting the height of the feet and the boxes underneath using shims to get all the cabinets level.

Eventually, after many hours of work, we got all the cabinets in place and leveled and could begin attaching them.  For this, we needed a special tool.

This is a right angle extension for a drill.  It helps to drill things in tight spaces, which we definitely had.  It was useful for the boxes underneath the cabinets and also the box which we built as a spacer behind the two middle cabinets.

Since we were not using the wall to attach the cabinets, we decided to pull everything away from the wall a bit to increase our counter space.  Oh, and I am sure you have wondered why we have a U shaped layout over on this side of the kitchen.  It is a bit unusual, we know.  Our first plan was to make a matching L shape to oppose the sink and stove side of the kitchen, but the space from the sink and stove to the other side of the kitchen was too wide, about 5-6 feet.  It was not enough space for us to put in an island (you need 3 feet of space all around an island), but it was just wide enough that it was not efficient.  It was two big steps from there to the stove or three little ones and when you are cooking, all that inefficiency adds up and we found that we did not use the L for cooking or prepping.  We decided to try adding another section of counter  and, despite the fact that it makes it harder to pass through the kitchen, we loved it.  We found that we used that little bit of extra counter more than any other bit of counter in the kitchen.  It was within easy reaching distance of the sink, stove, fridge, and the area where I have my mixer.  So, here is where we stand now.

Our base cabinets are all installed, including the one that the husband had to build for the dishwasher.

We have all the wall cabinets built.  This took us as a family, working in assembly line fashion, less than two hours.

The boys have really been very helpful throughout this whole process.

Next time, I will have to tell you more about the Countertop Saga.  Like I said, no kitchen renovation happens without hitches.  In our case, it seems that every part has to have some sort of obstacle. Stay tuned.




Setbacks and Comebacks

After last week’s transformation, I was in high hopes that we would be able to install the cabinets and by now be waiting for our countertops to be installed.  Cabinet installation turns out to be harder and more time consuming than I had originally estimated, especially when things don’t go quite as planned.

The first sign that things were not going to according to my schedule was that our brand new refrigerator arrived with a big dent on the side.  Now, if it had been the side facing the wall, we would not have cared, but it was on the side that would have been in full view of anyone coming into the kitchen.  So, we had to refuse it.

Next, we had to install the sink cabinet so that the electrician could come and finish his work.  However, in order to install the sink cabinet, we had to install the corner cabinet.  Everything looks installed in this photo, but it is not.

Ikea cabinets are installed using a rail system, which is supposed to make it easy to level your cabinets and line them up just so.

That all works great if your walls are perfectly straight and at 90 degree angles to each other.  Now, our plasterer did a fantastic job.  These walls were as straight as they were going to get with the shape they were in before he began.  However, there are still slight variations in the wall that made lining everything up a bit more challenging.  Just hanging and leveling those two cabinets took an entire evening.

And then there was a cabinet we were trying to modify.  We have an extra 6 inches of space to use up between the corner cabinet and the oven.  Now, most people would just move the oven next to the corner cabinet and make the cabinet to the right of the oven a little wider.  However, we wanted a little bit more space to the left of the oven.  Before, when there was only the corner cabinet there, the space to the left of the stover felt cramped and difficult to use.  If we had a little more counter there, it would make working at the stove easier.  So, we decided we would try to modify a base cabinet to fit that 6 inch space.  However, as often happens when DIYing, we were just winging it and made a mistake in cutting which made it impossible to build that cabinet.

At that point, I think we both realized that we were not going to make our Monday deadline of having all cabinets installed and leveled.  We had family arriving the next day for a little spring break visit and we were exhausted, mentally and physically.  So, we decided it would be wise to push back our schedule a week.

Which turned out to be a good choice, because the next day I discovered that the outlet in the wall that was supposed to be for the microwave hood had been installed at the wrong height.

Ikea cabinets are limited in the size ranges they offer.  For wall cabinets, they only come in 15, 20, 30, or 40 inch heights.  If we wanted our cabinets to go up to the ceiling, which we did (wouldn’t you?), we needed to have that outlet fully above one of those pieces of tape on the wall.  As you can see, it would not fit in neither the 15 or 20 inch cabinet.

Thankfully, the electrician we hired has a satisfaction guarantee and warrantees his work for up to a year afterwards, no questions asked.  He came the same day and moved the outlet.  I was sad to have our pretty wall blemished, but it will be covered up by the microhood once it is installed.

At this point, we took a couple of days off to enjoy time with the husband’s sister and her two delightful daughters.  It was really nice to have a break from working on the kitchen and a little time to ruminate on next steps.  In the meantime, our new refrigerator, sans dents arrived and boy is it big!

After another trip to Ikea to buy some more things to make the 6 inch cabinet and also to buy the wall cabinets, we were ready to start working again.  The husband carefully cut the pieces.

And then joined them together.

It did take a little adjusting, but we finally got it to fit and be level with other cabinets.

We still have a long way to go before we’re done.  There are at least 16 more cabinets to install and a new deadline of this coming Monday for the base cabinets.  Stay tuned!



Oh, what a difference a day can make!  And, if you add them up, a week later, things are quite transformed.  When we last spoke, the husband and I had just finished probably the latest and hardest night we’ve had since my younger son was born over ten years ago.  Let me remind you what the kitchen looked like at the end of that crazy night.

The next day, the professional plasterer came in and spent the whole day squirreled away in that kitchen.  He made a whole lot of noise and kicked up a lot of dust.  At the end of that first day, the kitchen looked like this.

All the bad plaster was covered up by drywall.  And look at that soffit!  You would never know there was a pipe hiding behind it.  He wasn’t done after that day, though.  The next day, he came back and did this.

Seriously, I was really amazed.  I never imagined that these walls would ever look this good after staring at their sad state for over three weeks.  I thought he would just smooth over the drywall seams and patch the damaged plaster.

It was like we had totally new and fresh walls.  The thing that is important about DIY work is knowing when to call in a professional.  We could never have made the walls look this good and compared to the electrician, the plasterer was really cheap.  So far, I think this is the best money we have spent on this renovation.

The plaster needed to cure for at least three days before painting, so the husband got busy assembling some cabinets.

While he did that, I was busy still trying to pick a countertop.  By the middle of last week, we had narrowed our choices down to soapstone and marble.  Yes, I know, we are definitely not in the mainstream here with our preferences.  Here’s what happened:  We really thought at the start of this process that we would go with an engineered stone, such as silestone or ceasarstone.  They are durable and easy to take care of.  However, the more we looked at them, the less we liked them.  They are basically chopped up pieces of rock all glued together and then polished.  That sounded like a lot of packaging to us and we started going off the idea.  So, we decided to go natural and the next logical thing to look at was granite.

Oh, there are a lot of granite choices out there and I liked some of them, but many of them seemed fairly boring to me.  The ones I really liked were really complex and did not seem to fit the style of our house and kitchen.  Wandering around the warehouses, the husband and I were really drawn to marbles.  They were classic and varied without being wild.  I also liked the idea of a light colored counter because our kitchen has very little natural light, so I wanted something that might brighten things up.

However, since the beginning of the renovation project, the husband has been advocating for soapstone.  Have you heard of it?  It’s the countertop surface that your high school or college chemistry lab probably had.  The reason why is because soapstone is inert.  It won’t react with anything.  This is not the case with most other natural stones, especially marble.  Marble and granite will stain and some will react with acids to create what is called etching.  I did a lot of reading about this and even tried it on some samples I brought home from the warehouse.  There was no question that the marble would etch with even just a short contact with lemon juice or a piece of fruit.  The soapstone remained unchanged.  The piece of granite I had was fine as well, but it was sealed.  This brings me to the next thing about choosing countertops.

Granite and marble are typically sealed to help keep them from staining and etching.  Soapstone does not need to be.  We liked the idea of choosing a completely natural product, one that did not have to be altered in order to fit into our cooking lifestyle.  The one drawback to soapstone is that it is softer than marble and granite.

The sample we brought home could easily be scratched with just my fingernail.  However, not all soapstones are that soft.  Some are quite hard, such as this one.

In the end, we decided to go with soapstone, even though it was darker than I would have liked.  I never found a granite I loved and I think that living with the marble and its etching would have stressed me out.  With the soapstone, I won’t be afraid of staining it and any scratches are easily buffed out (or so I am told).  It doesn’t require any sealing at all and comes in several interesting shades.

Once the countertop was picked and reserved, we could finally pick a paint color and move on, yay!

Since our countertop ended up on the dark side, we decided to go as light as possible for the walls and picked a blue to bring out more of the blue/gray tones in the stone.

Hopefully, the two will work well together.  We’ll find out when the counters are installed, which will not be for awhile yet.  First, we’ve got to get some cabinets installed.

The Darkest Hour

There comes a time in every Do-it-Yourself project when the self doubts.  DIY projects are by nature fraught with uncertainty because most of us are doing things we don’t do on a daily basis and have therefore have no formal training in the task.  What DIYers have, though, is a special combination of fearlessness, determination, and a willingness to learn new things, even from mistakes.  We also have to be flexible because when you don’t really know what you are doing, it is hard to make a plan and when you don’t have a plan, then things don’t go according to plan!

All this also means that every new DIY project feels like inventing the wheel all over again.  The other problem with DIY is that it is a side job, not a main job, which means projects have to be done after our “real” jobs.  This is only problematic if there are deadlines involved.  Since my last post events conspired to bring us to our lowest and darkest point on our kitchen renovation path.  As they say, things only get worse before they get better.

Let’s see, where did I leave off?  Oh yes, we got our building permit, which meant the electrician could come in and do his work.  He was here for two days.  The first day, he concentrated on putting in all these little boxes around the kitchen according to the present code.

This means I get four new electrical outlets in the kitchen, yay!  Before I was working with just two outlets in a 10 foot by 11 foot kitchen.  One of our outlets had to have a box on it to make it into a 6 outlet box.  Yes, I have a lot of small kitchen appliances and yes, I use them all, though not usually all at once.  Some of them, such as the stand mixers and food processor need to live on the counter because they are just too heavy to haul in and out of a cupboard and my general rule is that if I use it at least once a week, it can stay on the counter.  The only exception is the rice cooker, which is very light, so it is easy to move back and forth.  So, I am really excited for all the new outlets because now the small electrics do not have to be all crowded in one space.

On the second day, the electrician finished up the kitchen wiring and installed our new dining room light.  In the process of doing this, he discovered that the wiring for that light fixture was all wrong and, as a result, was very unstable.  It could have fallen on someone’s head at any time!  He also told me of a couple of other fixtures that were not wired correctly and were hazardous, including our overhead kitchen light.

It all helps to make us a little more glad that we opted to spend the money to get all the wiring done right.  Now, I will have some peace of mind for at least this one room in the house.  (we won’t talk about the screwy wiring in the rest of the house.  we’ll just hope that it doesn’t go bad anytime soon.)  The only problem with all this is that we now have to figure out what kind of lighting to put in the kitchen.  Recessed lighting is out because of the *&&$&^ drywall covered plaster ceilings.  Anyway, I will come back to lighting later.

Once the electrical rough in was finished, we had to take over and do some work of our own.  First, we had one exterior wall that had part of the insides exposed.  The building inspector told us we need to put some insulation in there.

For some strange and unknown reason, much of that wall has cinderblock in it.  Everyone who has come in to look at it has made mention of it.  This makes it hard to hang anything on it, so we first had to build in some strapping.  Then, we had to cut the insulation to fit into the openings.  And, of course, we had less that 24 hours to do all that before the building inspector was coming to check it.  Thankfully, we were able to get it done with a half hour to spare and we passed!

At that point, we were ready to do something a bit more fun, so the husband and I went countertop shopping at a marble and granite warehouse.

Whoa.  Let me tell you, there are a lot of options out there, from the fairly plain and sedate.

To wild and crazy, and frankly, quite amazing.

It was fun, but really overwhelming and I am concerned about the cost of our first choices.  I’ll save that discussion for a later post.

Our next big task was to build a soffit to cover that offending pipe that we found when we took down the old cabinets and soffit.  The old soffit was poorly built and not really hanging properly, so it all had to come down.

This is where things start to get dark.  I am really not much good at this kind of thing because I don’t know much about construction (though I know more now than I used to!) and also I am pretty weak.  It sounds simple to build a soffit.  After all, it’s just a box.  How hard can it be to build a box?  However, when you consider that the box has to be attached to the wall and ceiling so that it does not fall off and add to that the fact that the joists on the room are unevenly spaced and the walls are double thick in some parts, things get much more complicated.

We spent several hours alone drilling holes blindly in the ceiling trying to find the joists.  We did find a few, but we also found a drain pipe and a couple of water pipes and some other things that we could not figure out.  I can’t describe how exhausting and unpleasant it is to drill through the ceiling with plaster raining down on our heads only to find nothing.  And when we were done with that, we had to do the same thing with the walls.  Needless to say, by the end of almost an entire Saturday taken up with this, we had no soffit to show for the amount of time we worked.  I say we, but it was really the husband because I discovered that I am pretty much a weakling.   At the end of Saturday, the day we had hoped to have the soffit built, all we had was more uncertainty, discouragement and exhaustion.

It was time to take a break and so we did.  We took Sunday off and tried very hard not to think about the kitchen at all.  It was a great, almost normal day, and we needed it.

I am glad we took that day to rest because on yesterday, Monday, the plasterer called and said he was coming a day early, which meant we had exactly one night to build the soffit.  You know how sometimes big projects come to this?  When it starts, you think you have all the time in the world and you plan and puzzle things out and think about how to best do things to get what you want done.  And then the deadline is suddenly in front of you and all that kind of goes out the window and you just have to get. it. done.   That’s what happened.

We started right after dinner.  There was a bit of planning and setup that needed to be done.

At around 9, we were attaching some things to the wall and ceiling.  Our older son was really helpful with this as we were trying to hold up an 11 foot piece of wood and keep it in a straight line while the husband drilled.

Soffit building teamwork.  #kitchenremodel #diy #lovemyhandyhubby #likefatherlikeson

Then, we built part of it on the floor and I did my best impression of Atlas holding up the world while the husband attached it.  Sorry, there are no pictures of this part.  The boys were in bed and my hand were in the air!

There were horizontal supports to wedge in and screw into place to make sure it was a uniform depth.

And by 1 am, the soffit was finished and getting a little use as an American Ninja Warrior obstacle to prove its sturdiness.

Now, if you have any building experience, I am sure you can see that we did things the hard way.  That’s one of the pitfalls of DIY, you often end up doing things the hard way, at least the first time.

We only got 3 hours of sleep, but the soffit is done and ready!  #kitchenremodel #lovemyhandyhubby #diy #sotired #wishthatpipewasntthere

We still had some more odds and ends to do with the walls to get ready for the plasterer, so we still did not get to bed until 4am.  By that time, the elation of finishing the soffit had worn off and we were just plain exhausted.  In some ways, though, having that deadline really helped us and now we can say we are done with that, which is so very satisfying.  And while I know we still have some challenging tasks left to us, I hope that none of them will take us as low as this one did.




Last week at this time, I was feeling highly optimistic.  We had the electrician and plasterer scheduled and I was hoping to have all the cabinets and appliances installed by the end of next week.  I should have known that there is no such thing as a house project that goes according to the first plan.  The day after I wrote my optimistic post, the electrician came and blew away our schedule and our budget.

Kitchen renovation day 8:  the day in which the electrician comes and blows our budget up😟 #kitchenremodel #crazyweirdhouse #guesswearerewiringeverything #itsonlymoney?

It turns out that our entire kitchen needed rewiring and it was not going to be cheap.  Not only that, he couldn’t start for another week and it would take two days to rough it all in and then another day to install.  In addition to all that, he refused to do the work unless we got a building permit.  It was a lot to take in at first and we spent at least a day in a state of high anxiety over the expense and the time all this would take.  In the end, though, we decided that it would be best to get it done and have the peace of mind that at least this part of the house was wired and put together correctly.  (Did I mention that I have started calling this house the Frankenhouse?  You can probably guess why.)

Actually, the week of delay gave us some time to do extra prep work, such as look at counter options.

Kitchen renovation day 9: doing something a little more fun.  #kitchenremodel #somanychoices #betweenarockandahardplace

There are a lot of options out there.  Once I started looking in earnest, I was actually kind of surprised at how many counter patterns I did Not like.  You would think that would narrow it down, which it does, sort of.

I thought I liked this one quite a lot in the store, but now I am not so sure, especially because it is kind of expensive.  Counter shopping was a bit annoying actually, because a lot of places won’t give you prices up front, but want you to choose ones you like and then price them out for you.  I sort of work in the opposite direction when I am shopping.  I like to limit myself by price first and then choose from what I can afford.  But, I may be in the minority there.  Anyway, as much as I like to support small and local businesses, we ended back at the big box stores where the prices are transparent.

Despite all this, we are still having trouble making up our minds about counters, but since our schedule got pushed back by two weeks and it is really one of the last things that you do in a kitchen, we still have a little time.

We’re also picking appliances and dreaming about what to cook/bake in our new kitchen once it is done.  If you haven’t seen this cookbook and you like to bake bread, I urge you to go seek it out.  It has a great variety of bread recipes and the story is wonderful.

The boys also enjoyed having an art session in the kitchen with no fear of getting anything messy.

We might even let them color on the walls or write some sort of message on them in case some other future homeowner wants to tear down what we have done and do their own thing.  There was definitely some entertainment value in seeing all the different styles of wallpaper that we unearthed during our demolition.  This first one is my favorite.  So cheerful and 70’s.

There were others.  Some were hidden behind other layers of wallpaper.

Others we found behind cabinets.

And behind the brick tiling.

Which is your favorite?

We have now had a week of not much visible progress, but it has given us time to make a new plan.

Kitchen renovation day 14: organization, mine on top, husband's on bottom.  We have really different systems, but they work together well, as long as we have regular meetings.  #kitchenremodel #ihateorganizing #diy #tryingtodoneasap

It’s been  two weeks now since we have had no working kitchen and it looks like it will be another 3 or 4 before we get everything installed, fingers crossed!  At least now we can move forward.

Kitchen renovation day 13: the first in a series of bureaucratic hurdles has been passed.  He tried to convince us to tear down more plaster, but thankfully did not require it.  We decided to take an easier route and just cover it all up.  #kitchenremodel

Let’s hope there are no more surprises!





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