The Great Kitchen Remodel – Part 1

By on 8 July, 2011 in DIY, Heather Coleman with 2 Comments

After the plumbing disaster last month, the last few weeks have been spent obsessively researching kitchen remodeling. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that kitchens can be terribly expensive!

Our house was built in the 1940s, but remodeled in 1964. When we moved in the kitchen looked mostly like it did in 1964, save a really lovely wine bottle border added sometime in the 1980s. There was a dropped ceiling, the cabinets were very dark laminated wood, the floor was a gold vinyl tile in a fake brick pattern, and the countertops were scratched and stained white laminate with gold flecks. The washer and dryer were also in the kitchen.  Soon after moving in we gave it a cosmetic makeover, painting cabinets and walls, removing the dropped ceiling and changing the flooring. We also added a dishwasher, moved the washer and dryer out of the kitchen, and added some inexpensive laminate countertops.  All told, we spent around $500 and definitely got a lot of bang for our buck. We lightened, brightened and updated the room significantly.

Initially I had hoped that we would be able to salvage most of the kitchen, but as the demolition  continued, those hopes were dashed. I still have a functional kitchen left, but it isn’t very pretty. In the end there was damage to the wall, multiple cabinets, the floor and the subfloor.  We looked at having a carpenter come in and try and match the cabinets, but problems with the wall and floor have forced us to abandon that idea. The flooring for the kitchen actually runs under the cabinet boxes, so trying to match heights would be a nightmare. Also, instead of plaster or drywall, there is some sort of weird thin textured paneling/fiberboard type stuff on the walls in part of the kitchen. Finding more of it has proved impossible.

After deciding that we had no choice, and that a complete remodel was in our future, I started to get a bit giddy with all of the possibilities. Knock down a wall, make a pantry, create an eat-in area and maybe even a little mudroom—what an amazing kitchen I was going to have! Google Sketchup and Ikea’s Kitchen Planner became my best friend. I obsessively searched through the forums at GardenWeb, the kitchen area at HGTV, and too many blogs to count. I bought magazines, checked out books from the library, and dreamed of what could be. And then I added up the cost and realized that unless we planned to live here until we die, that there was no way a house in my neighborhood could support the kitchen of my dreams.

So I reeled it back in a bit, regrouped and started over. Knocking down walls and moving plumbing are major expenses, but they can pale in comparison to the cost of cabinets. Cabinets are one of the biggest expenses in a remodel. They are also the hardest thing to change. Other things can be upgraded down the road without having to rip things out and start over. Cabinets you are pretty much stuck with, so you want the best quality that you can afford. In other words, if you plan to be in your house next year, don’t go out and get the premade boxes from Home Depot.

The budget that we decided to try and work within is small—really, really small for a complete overhaul. Remember, this was not a remodel that we saved and budgeted for; instead it arose out of necessity. We have done a lot of updating to our house already, and we are close to maxing out what we can get back out of it, so although a nice new kitchen may help the house sell when the time comes, it isn’t going to necessarily add value.

With that in mind, high-end custom cabinets like Mouser, Rutt, SieMatic and Craft-Maid were out immediately (although I still love to look at their designs and drool!). Kraftmaid cabinets looked a bit better, but the basic cabinets topped out our budget, never mind the higher end additions like soft close drawers, glass upper cabinets, lower cabinet drawers and solid wood fronts. Reading on the forums at Gardenweb and Chowhound led me to Ikea. Durability is incredibly important to me, and initially I wasn’t convinced that an Ikea kitchen could possibly be durable, despite the 25 year warranty.  Through the above forums, I found IkeaFans. I read, I asked questions, I looked at kitchens, I read some more. I posted my designs and got some great ideas that would have never occurred to me. I spent days upon days playing with the Ikea Kitchen Planner, which not only helped me with the layout, it automatically created a list of every piece that I would need and it gave me a total.  Birch front cabinets with solid wood doors, glass uppers and lots of lower drawers for pots and pans, and even a trash pullout could be mine for just under $3,000. Compared to the $6-7,000 that I was looking at for basic Kraftmaid, this seemed too good to be true!

In my research, I found that not only were Ikea cabinets a really great value, they were perfect for the DIYer. After a weekend trip to the Atlanta Ikea in my minvan I brought home my entire kitchen—the cabinets come flat packed and the guys in loading are masters at packing things to the gills. The cabinets are very simple to put together. The system uses a rail to hang upper cabinets  and adjustable legs to help level the lower cabinets—very DIY friendly. They offer a broad range of door options, so there is something to fit almost every budget. Had we chosen the cheapest option, we could have put in a kitchen, including countertop, for a little over $1,500. At the other end of the spectrum, there are several companies that make custom doors for Ikea boxes. Scherr’s is a very well known cabinetmaker with literally hundreds of options to choose from.

Now comes the hard part—ripping out the old kitchen and installing the new. We are trying to decide what parts that we can do ourselves and which parts of it need hiring out. I think we are going to start with the den adjacent to it. We will try our drywall skills there first (where failure does not mean using the toaster oven for a couple of extra weeks). So stay tuned! Hopefully in the coming weeks there will be some great demo shots to share!

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown.

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  1. Jay Croft says:

    Be careful! A few years ago we did a complete kitchen remodel, tearing out everything from the ceiling down to bare earth. Six floor beams had to be replaced.

    For four months our refrigerator and stove were in the dining room, and we had to use the bathroom sinks to wash dishes. (That’s the reason we didn’t have guests to supper durng that time.) The stove was hitched up to a special extension cord which an electrician made, and the refrigerator was plugged into a regular outlet.

    Came the glad day when we could move those appliances back into the kitchen. The stove wasn’t a problem as it’s nowhere as heavy as a refrigerator.

    Did I mention that the remodel included an island in the middle of the kitchen? And did I mention that the distance between the island and the counters is only 22 inches?

    The refrigerator is wider and deeper than that. There was no way to roll it into its assigned spot, not even by taking it outside and bringing it in through another door.

    The solution was to remove everything from the refrigerator including the shelves and the decorative magnets. Then four strong men lifted it up and carried it over the island. They did drop it a few inches, but the refrigerator is now where it should be. It’s going to stay there forever and ever, amen.

  2. Gabbie says:

    Oooo….I’m so excited to hear that you got IKEA cabinets. I’ve been casing them for a while, reading blogs and forums and such but I haven’t talked to anyone that I actually know who has used them! Be warned that I’m totally going to pick your brain! Can’t wait to hear more about your kitchen.

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