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Good for Now

Many people have been asking me lately if the kitchen is finished and the answer is yes.  And no.  Officially, according to the building department of our town, we are finished.  We had our final building inspection last Friday and we passed easily.  In a lot of ways it is true that the kitchen is finished.  All of our appliances are working, the plumbing is all functional, and the cabinets are all full.  (that last one took at least of week of unpacking and organizing to accomplish)

There are still some things that remain undone, though, most of which are cosmetic.  For example, we still need to replace the window trim.  It has to be remade because the old stuff won’t fit anymore over the extra layer of drywall that was added when the plasterer came to do his work.

There are also some trim panels that still need to be put up to hide unsightly bits of hardware and gaps behind cabinets. We are also contemplating putting up a decorative panel on the side of the peninsula next to the doors. It just looks a bit blank there. We’re not sure how that would work with the options that Ikea has, however. They do sell decorative panels, but they are flat and pretty boring, which is sort of what we have already. Another option is to buy a matching door and mount it instead so that it would at least match our cabinet fronts. My guess is that we will wait awhile to decide because none of us are really eager to make another trip to Ikea anytime soon.

Two other big things that you will notice that still need to be done are the toe kicks and the flooring. Those sort of go together and since we probably will not be doing the flooring for at least a year due to budgetary constraints, the toe kicks will have to wait as well.

The kitchen has seen a good bit of action already as a site for science experiments. I’ll be honest and tell you that I did not jump into the kitchen right away and start cooking and baking a lot. It took me a couple of weeks to get myself and the kitchen organized. It turns out that not doing something for a couple of months can really break some habits, such as cooking!

One of my favorite features about the kitchen layout is how we can open the dishwasher and unload most of our dishes and silverware right into the cabinet that faces it. The boys especially love this since it is their job to unload.

Now that I have used them for a little while, I have really been enjoying the new appliances, especially the stove. It’s wonderful how the burners light up right away and pots of water actually come to a boil.  Our old stove did neither one of those things.

I have yet to take the oven through all its paces, but so far, it has baked cookies, cakes, a few loaves of pan bread and a cobbler quite nicely. It has yet to be subject to my high temperature baking or any broiling, but I have no reason to doubt that it will do well.

Another thing that I love about the kitchen is the number of electrical outlets! It’s wonderful to be able to plug things in at multiple locations and not have to juggle them all out of one or two sockets.

So, this is about as finished as the kitchen is going to get for the time being and I am OK with that. We did enough home improvement work in the two months that it took to get to this point to last us for quite awhile. For now, we are just going to enjoy the fruits of our labors and get to the other things once we have the proper motivation. In the meantime, as you can imagine, we have a lot of other things to catch up on that we have been quite neglecting, not the least of which is the lawn.  It’s almost the end of May and we have yet to mow the lawn once.  I say we, but it’s really the husband.  Poor guy has lost of lot of sleep and time over the kitchen and now he has to go straight to yard work.  Home ownership is a lot of work!

Going Vertical

Our original plan with this kitchen was to forego wall cabinets all together.  If you have looked around at modern designs for kitchens lately, many of them have few or no wall cabinets.  Some have open shelving instead, but a clean, open look is a popular look for kitchens nowadays.  We liked the idea of opening up the feel of our kitchen a bit since there is only one little window and it s a north facing window.  The kitchen is the smallest and darkest room of the house (not counting the bathrooms), which makes me sad because I spend so much time there.

However, this plan did not work out for us because of one primary reason: the hood/mode of ventilation.  We did not know ahead of time whether we would be able to install a vent over the stove that would exhaust to the outside world.  Our dream was that we could, but once we removed everything, we found that it was not be possible without relocating the stove entirely.  This would involve relocating something else and then running the gas line to a different place.  All this would add up and since we were trying to sort of stick to a budget, we ruled it out.

This is what kitchen renovation is about: making decisions and compromising on what you would love to have with what you can live with.  We’ve lived with a recirculating vent for years and, though we don’t love it, we are used to its problems, so it was not a tough choice.

Decisions made also impact other decisions that have to be made and so it was the case with this one as well.  Because we chose to go back to a recirculating vent, we also chose to go with a microwave hood.  This would help us gain back some counter space but also meant that we would have to install a cabinet above the microwave hood.

So, you see where this is going, right?  Once we realized we would have to install one cabinet for the microwave hood appliance, we knew we would have to fill at least that one wall with cabinets because it would just look odd to have one cabinet with a microhood under it floating on a wall.

We decided to keep it to one wall, though, and Not turn the corner as many others would because I really wanted to keep the space next to the window free to let in as much light as possible.  I can tell you that it must seem strange to everyone because everyone who has come into the house has assumed we would turn the corner.

We did spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out what to do with the corner so that it would not just be wasted space.  As you can see there is a gap under the soffit and next to the wall cabinets that was open and blank.

Fortunately, Ikea makes a nine inch wine bottle cabinet that matched the color of our cabinets and fit perfectly in that gap.  However, it is a bit long and hangs down past the bottom of our other cabinets.  We thought about cutting it down, but it is a made of a different material than the main cabinets and we were unsure whether it would be as easy to put back together.  Since we did not want a Humpty-Dumpty situation on our hands which would require yet another trip to the giant blue and yellow building, we decided to keep it as is, except we installed it upside down.  On purpose!  Really!  We don’t drink much wine and it would be too high to store wine bottles anyway, so my plan is to put cutting boards and smaller baking pans up there.

The microhood itself was quite a pain to install, but unlike many things in this kitchen, this was mostly our doing.  To achieve that space that I wanted between the counter and the wall cabinets, we had to stack two cabinet sizes from Ikea.  This meant that our hood, if we installed it the standard way, would be either too high or too close to the stove.  Well, I can tell you that too close is really a pain.  The one that we removed was only 16 inches above the stove and I was always running into it with the handles of my ladles or hitting it with my pots and pans.  If we had to go one way or the other, I would prefer higher.

However, the husband did not like the idea of the microhood living above the level of the cabinets next to it.  I can see his point.  Those cabinets would tend to get dirtier and be hard to clean.  The only other choice was to design some way to install the microhood at a level that would bring it down even with the wall cabinets.

Thankfully, between the two of us, we still had a few working brain cells and we devised something.

It took us a few days to figure it out and we needed three people working together to do it, but it was worth the effort.

Also, on a side note, if you are considering Ikea cabinets with a microhood, be aware that their cabinets are deeper than the standard 12 inches.  They are more like 15.5.  In order to open the microwave door, it will have to be installed to clear the cabinets, which meant for us that we also had to move it out an inch and a half.  This was easily done by attaching two thicknesses of plywood to the back wall.

And now we have half of the appliances in the kitchen hooked up! Don’t worry about those unsightly blocks of wood. We have some decorative trim pieces to hide them. More to come soon.

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!


A New Project

When we were looking for a house last year in our new state, we had limited time and funds, which of course limited our choices.  When I was a girl and dreamed of the time I would one day go looking for a house, I never dreamed that I would have so many limitations.  We are taught to dream big when we are little, but no one ever tells us what to do when reality comes knocking on the door and we finally realize that those childhood dreams will never come true.  What we don’t realize when we are kids is that those dreams are really shallow.  There is a richness and depth to life that cannot be got through perfectly behaved children or immaculately designed and cleaned houses.  Through our imperfectness, we learn how to love more fully, be thankful for little things, enjoy the good times, and help others through their difficulties.

Now, what started as a post in which I intended to describe our current home renovation project, has turned into something a bit more profound!  My intent was really to say that, much like life, this new house we bought last year is really in need of a lot of work, especially the kitchen.  On the surface, it looked ok.

The side where the dark cabinets live is what we inherited with the house.  They look pretty good, right?  Well, we didn’t really look close enough.  They were old and only good from the outside because they had been refaced.  Inside, the particle board shelves were slowly turning into particles and the face frames were driving us crazy.  I won’t go into the debate of face frame vs no face frame cabinetry here, but will only say that it is puzzling to me why no face frame cabinetry is not more popular.  There was only one option at Home Depot and none at Lowe’s.  Since the HD option was more than triple the price of Ikea, we have decided to go with Ikea, which is what you see here.

A couple of months ago, we bought a couple of Ikea cabinets to see if we would like them and how easy they would be to assemble.  Well, we like them just fine and the husband and boys love to put things together, so we decided to go for it.  Many people would pause here and do an extensive plan of the kitchen, but this was overwhelming to us.  Also, we were really unsure of what we would find once we started taking the kitchen apart, so we have decided to take the process one step and decision at a time.  To save money, we decided to do as much of the project as we could do ourselves.  As soon as we could get the plumber to come in, we began work.

Our plumbing is old, a bit convoluted and has been the biggest problem in this house so far, so we felt more comfortable having the plumber come in to do this part.  Once this was done, we started the kitchen renovation clock.  This marks the first day without heat, water, and a stove in the kitchen.  Everything else got moved into other parts of the house and we started working in earnest.

The cabinets were taken down.

Wallpaper was taken down.

Plastic sheeting went up in all the doorways.

We went to Ikea to buy the balance of the base cabinets.

By day 4 we had all the cabinets down and were ready for a day of rest.  And also, we needed to think about that pipe in the corner that we found.  Yes, it’s a drain pipe from the upstairs bathroom and it sticks out from the wall.  I told you this house has crazy plumbing!

Yesterday, we took down all the decorative brick in the kitchen.  This by far was the messiest and dustiest job.  The poor husband did all the heavy lifting out to our dumpster bag.  He estimates that he has moved over 2000 pounds of debris out of the kitchen so far!

You’ll notice that after everything was removed from the walls, there are a lot of walls missing.  And the walls that are there do not look so good.

This is where we stand now, after 7 days of demolition.  The question now is whether we can get a professional to come in and finish these walls for us or if we should go the total diy route and put up the drywall ourselves.  In any case, I am going to say that phase 1: demolition, is over.  Tomorrow begins phase 2: Rebuilding.  Stay tuned!